Batman. Jack the Ripper. When the Dark Knight takes on the most infamous serial killer of all time, who wins? Fans of DC animation, as it happens. The premier Elseworlds tale comes to the small screen in this adaptation of Mike Mignola's 1989 classic Gotham by Gaslight, pitting a Victorian-era Batman against the Ripper himself. Or an alternate universe version, anyway.
Don't go expecting the pitch-black Gothic mystery of Mignola's graphic novel though: this animated movie is the loosest of adaptations, taking the story's magnificent hook and discarding almost everything else. Batman and the Ripper brawl their way across the rooftops and gardens of Victorian Gotham City, even finding the time to punch one another aboard a moving zeppelin as they go. It's a far cry from the thoughtful slasher story of Mignola's work, closer in tone and style to Guy Richie's Sherlock Holmes than the DC Hammer movie it should have been.
Nevertheless, Gotham by Gaslight is a minor return to form for DC's animated sector, putting the rest of their recent output to shame (the charming Adam West movies aside, of course – no, we're looking at you, Killing Joke and Batman and Harley Quinn). The action is cinematic and flows smoothly, the animation far better than it has been recently (looking at you this time, Justice League Dark and anything which features stupid chin-strap Batman). It's curiously overlit and Batman looks quite ridiculous in his Victorian costume, but Bruce Timm's Animated Series influence shines through, not quite meshing with the Mignola influence, but almost working, all the same.
The voice acting, however, is the film's strongest suit. On paper, Bruce Greenwood - who played the Caped Crusader back in 2006's Under the Red Hood movie - might have been nobody's first choice to play the Batman, but he's a natural, his performance nicely reminiscent of fan favourite Kevin Conroy. Jennifer Carpenter too, is good fun as Selina Kyle. The widening of the story's roster to take in characters such as Selina and Harvey Dent (not to mention a version of the Scarecrow!) is predictable and shows a lack of confidence in the source material, but at least the Joker isn't shoehorned in there. Anthony Stewart Head, meanwhile, was born to play Alfred, and one bemoans his relatively small role in the proceedings.
In spite of its jettisoning of the classic source material and unsuitable visual style, Gotham by Gaslight should be counted as one of the studio's now-rare successes. In spite of its flaws, it's a ripping good tale.
Special Features: Audio commentary / Caped Fear: The First Elseworld featurette / Sneak peek at Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay / Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Brave and the Bold episodes
BATMAN: GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: SAM LIU / SCREENPLAY: JAMES KRIEG / STARRING: BRUCE GREENWOOD, JENNIFER CARPENTER, TARA STRONG, YURI LOWENTHAL, KARI WUHRER, SCOTT PATTERSON, ANTHONY STEWART HEAD / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 5TH