If you’re a Batman fan, the name Poison Ivy should be familiar. The plant-controlling supervillainess has been a mainstay of the Caped Crusader’s rogues’ gallery for over fifty years now, and I think it’s safe to say that she’s a pretty popular character. Anyways, in GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT, Poison Ivy is a powerless stripper. Jack the Ripper stabs her to death in the first couple minutes.

…And, that in itself is a pretty good description of what watching GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT is like.

GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT
Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation/DC Entertainment

To be clear, it’s not the treatment of Poison Ivy that bothers me in particular. It’s just that GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT as a whole feels like a letdown. But, before I explain why I don’t particularly like GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT; let’s take a step back and talk about what the film’s actually about. For those of you who don’t know, GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT is an alternate take on Batman that pits him against Jack the Ripper in a Victorian-era version of Gotham city.

In my list of Batman Animated Films to look out for in 2018, I put GASLIGHT at the top, and for a good reason: An rated R horror-mystery-action movie where an alternate universe Batman faces off against a legendary serial killer seems like a guaranteed fun time. So why isn’t it?

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Visuals

Contrary to what you might think, I’m not that picky when it comes to animation. I can stand the art styles in BIG MOUTH and HOT STREETS. STEVEN UNIVERSE going off model doesn’t bother me. I’m a 12 OZ. MOUSE fan.

For whatever reason though, I can’t get over some of the art style choices for GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT.

GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT
Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation/DC Entertainment

Admittedly, this sort of art style does look a lot better in motion than it does in stills. But the animation in GASLIGHT does appear half-baked at times. Characters will go from serious to joking without changing facial expressions, the art style looks undetailed and off-model in certain scenes, and the use of CG doesn’t blend well with the 2D animation.

The character designs are underwhelming as well: besides Batman, everyone else looks like run-of-the-mill Victorian stock characters. 

GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT
Two-Face, Commissioner Gordon, and Catwoman, respectively. Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation/DC Entertainment

Comparisons to Other “Action” Cartoons

When it comes to the murder and fight scenes, the animation works fine, but it’s not enough to merit the film’s R-rating. Sure, there’s a nosebleed and a blood splatter here and there. But all of the death scenes in the film are portrayed in a “screaming offscreen” kind of way, and the fight scenes aren’t particularly violent, even in comparison to the more “kid friendly” Batman films out there. BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD and BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER (link contains spoilers) featured death scenes that more detailed than the ones in GASLIGHT. They’re PG-13.

To be fair, it’s possible that my standards for R-Rated action animation might be a bit out of balance. Recent series aimed at adults like SAMURAI JACK Season 5 and DEVILMAN CRYBABY makes GASLIGHT’s bare-bones approach pale in comparison, especially at a time when even RICK AND MORTY can pull off elaborate action sequences when it needs to.

However, all those series I named definitely had a lot more funding than the usual direct-to-DVD movie. So, let’s quickly compare the visual stylings of GASLIGHT vs. the other animated Batman movie that came out this month: SCOOBY-DOO! & BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD.

GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT
Images Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation/DC Entertainment

Having watched both, I feel the need to point out something. The Scooby-Doo tie-in is more visually dynamic than the alternate universe Jack the Ripper movie. 

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The Characters

Okay, so the animation isn’t up to my standards. But what about the writing? Let’s start with the leads: Selina Kyle, known in other universes as Catwoman, and Batman. Selina Kyle here is the typical fiercely independent female lead who doesn’t need a man until she goes all doe-eyed for our hero.

Batman himself is what you’d expect Batman to be: A buff version of Sherlock Holmes with a cool outfit and a belt full of throwing knives. Neither of these characterizations is reinventing the wheel, but they both work fine within the film. 

And, The Dialogue in GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT

However, there is one thing, in particular, that doesn’t work so great. There’s a scene where Selina and Bruce are out on the town with Harvey Dent, who’s best known in the comics as the supervillain Two-Face.

Selina says this about Harvey: “When he drinks he’s an entirely different person. A regular Jekyll and Hyde.” The thing is, Dent never becomes Two-Face in the film. In fact, all things considered, he’s a pretty minor character, so the line comes across as an obnoxious self-reference.

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The hamfisted Two-Face reference brings me to the main issue I have with the dialogue in the film: it’s about as subtle as a brick to the face. In first couple scenes of the film, Selina Kyle goes on naturalistic spiels like “Women are being gutted in the streets like wild game, and the Gotham police stand twiddling their thumbs.” and “You fool! I’ll never have a better chance of stopping that butcher, and you squandered it, playing the knight in shining armor.”

On the flip side, from Jack the Ripper we get riveting gems like “Your blood shall christen this fair, woman. Your corruption and decay will spill down over this carnival as a warning to your kind.” and “Wives? They’re the worst prostitutes of all!”  Stories in Victorian-era settings naturally tend to be a bit melodramatic. But GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT’s tone is not tongue-in-cheek enough to pull off lines like those.

A Cameo From The Boy Wonder(s)

If you think the dialogue’s cheesy, wait until you meet the Cock Robins.

GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT
In hindsight, probably not the best name for a group of young boys. Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation/DC Entertainment

In the main Batman-verse, multiple young men have taken up the mantle of Robin, Batman’s sidekick. So, in GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT, several of those boys show up as a gang of cutesy orphan thieves called the Cock Robins. Nothing terrible happens to them, and at the end of the movie, they get happily adopted. It might just be me, but this sort of thing seems out of place in an R-rated Jack the Ripper movie.

It is true though that both the PG-13 death scenes I posted earlier featured bad things happening to Robins. Maybe the MPAA just has a weird vendetta against the character.

Why GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT Doesn’t Work

Obviously, I didn’t like GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT very much. In all fairness though, I think what I wanted the film to be and what GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT wanted to be are two very different things. GASLIGHT is trying to be a gritty, down-to-earth murder mystery story, whereas I was expecting something more bombastic and visually driven.

In my defense, a guy in a bat costume taking on Jack the Ripper seems like a pretty exaggerated premise. But I know some people do like Batman to be “realistic” and understated. So, to each their own I guess.

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However, I think that’s what bothers me so much about GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT. It wants to be a gritty crime thriller set in Victorian times, but it can’t fully commit to it. The plot is that of a straight-faced murder mystery, yet it’s portrayed through a loose cartoonish art-style and melodramatic dialogue.

The characters are supposed to be relatively down-to-earth, but they’re based on well-known superhero comic icons. The main villain is a serial killer, but the movie keeps most of the gore off-screen and has a subplot dedicated to cute street urchins. In other words, GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT can’t quite pull off the balancing act it has set for itself.

Other Films You Can Watch

I think it’s fair to expect something more from GASLIGHT. DC Animated movies like BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD and JUSTICE LEAGUE: GODS AND MONSTERS were better written and animated than GASLIGHT was, and I can’t think of a reason why we shouldn’t hold it to the same standard.

GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation/DC Entertainment

Anyways, I feel like I haven’t pissed off enough people yet in this review. So I’d like to take a moment to recommend SCOOBY-DOO! & BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD. If nothing else, Poison Ivy makes an appearance in it. She summons a man-eating flower and doesn’t get stabbed to death. It’s great. 

4 Comments

  1. G

    April 11, 2018 at 3:50 pm

    Everything you deemed wrong with the movie I found made it great. It’s a different era and a different approach to the caped crusader so why should it try to be something that already exists? Also instead of bashing the viewer over the head with visuals, it chose to trust the viewer’s intelligence and took a more stylized approach to the violence which makes me applaud the art. The winks and nods were all they needed to be. This story wasn’t about two face, ivy, or robin(s) in turn their presence was an homage to the characters within the universe. As for the animation, it was nice to see them rely on story and bring back a more classic style as opposed to these overly drawn, proportionately exaggerated and shadowed renderings.

    It seems to me that your real problem with the movie is that it’s rated R. For its theme and where it’s set, it’s executed quite creatively. In an era where everything is shown to us and overly depicted (movie previews alone), this movie leaves room for the viewer to flesh out scenarios to the depths of their own imagination. Perhaps you wanted something that required less effort on your part. (ie: Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street…) I wouldn’t be opposed to a live action “Jack the Ripper” movie in the future, but this movie’s focus was Batman in a period where Jack the Ripper is a suitable choice of villain.

    Loved the movie. Intelligent, artistic, and imaginative. Very refreshing to see how one of our favorite vigilantes would exist in another time and place.

    Reply

  2. Lasitha

    January 28, 2018 at 4:03 am

    Well, can’t agree entirely. I know there are some things to consider like the character utilization. But the story is good. Dark. Character blending is good. And the characters pick sides. By nature. And it also touched the heart with some romance and kids. I see much better things.

    Just a side not about your (this) site. Please fix the issues. This takes 100% cpu. Very difficult to read or esp. comment.

    Thanks,

    Reply

  3. Dusty

    January 27, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    I disagree with you, however, not everyone likes the same things, it would be pretty boring if we all did. This is markedly better than The Killing Joke, and Batman Harley Quinn. I also enjoyed Scooby Doo and Batman the Brave and the Bold, very entertaining.

    Reply

  4. Bill

    January 27, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    Comepletly disagree

    Reply

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