BATMAN GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT
USA, 2018, Animation/Action
Director: Sam Liu
Cast Voices: Bruce Greenwood (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Jennifer Carpenter (Selina Kyle)
DC animation knows how
Gotham by Gaslight, the new Batman animated film, was released by Warner Bros animation. And once again, DC Comics has shown that in animation it has found the formula that it seems unable to replicate in Live Action, achieving a wonderful movie that works from the beginning and engages the viewer throughout its 80-minute duration.
Liu newest success
Sam Liu manages to create a dark environment that takes us immediately to the end of the 19th century. Liu provides a dark atmosphere, full of fog and gaslighting so that the atmosphere accompanies the story. The director, who has already been responsible for delivering some of the best-animated installments with the animated series The Batman, The Batman vs Dracula, Justice League: Crisis on two earths, Justice League: Gods and Monsters, and The Final Joke.
Also, this year he will present Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay. It shows why Liu has become the great darling of DC Comics when it comes to animation and why it is much better than its counterparts in Live-Action – which is still the great debt slope of DC.
Graphic novel adaptation
Gotham by Gaslight is a graphic novel published in 1989 written by Brian Augustyn. It was considered the first work of what would become known as the Elseworlds, where DC superheroes move from their usual enviroment to act in different times or worlds. The film mantains significant changes with the novel, and although in the vast majority of cases this ends up ruining the adaptations in this case it is one of Liu’s greatest successes. He manages to create a horror story much darker than anyone could have waited.
Plot with spoilers
As of this moment, the article contains some spoilers for both the novel and the film, so it is recommended to continue reading at the reader’s discretion.
In the novel, Bruce Wayne has just returned to Gotham after spending a season in Europe, during which he was a disciple of Freud to try and learn his novel approaches to psychology. During his return trip, he meets Jacob Parker who is a great friend of his family and whom Bruce knows as «Uncle Jake». Upon his return, Bruce visits Gordon who tells him about a criminal who poisoned his wife, and when he tried to commit suicide with the same poison, he was disfigured with a permanent smile – a wink at our favorite villain.
Jack the ripper
Shortly after Bruce has returned, a series of murders of women shake Gotham. The murders are identical to those he witnessed in Europe so he realizes that Jack The Ripper has left London and is right now in his city, The people and the police are convinced that the murderer is Batman and while Bruce investigates to try to catch the ripper, he is framed and imprisoned. During his trial, Uncle Jake defends him but Bruce is found guilty and sentenced to die by hanging. Meanwhile the date of his execution approaches, he must work against the clock to reveal the true identity of the murderer.
Batman the detective.
Bruce discovers the identity of the murderer and escapes from prison to arrest him. He finds the assassin just as he is about to murder his latest victim and it is discovered that the murderer is Uncle Jake, who also ordered the death of Bruce’s parents. Despite being a great friend of Wayne’s marriage, he went crazy when Martha rejected him so he began to kill women who looked like her to silence Martha’s laughter that he kept hearing in his head. In the end, the police arrive in time to hear Parker’s confession and Gordon shoots him dead when he tries to kill Batman.
Different from the novel
The novel presents us with a traditional Batman story in which the detective tries to find the murderer of his parents while fighting crime in Gotham City. This is traditional, albeit novel in terms of moving the narrative world, structure, and the roles of the story are what we have always known. Bruce Wayne and his group of friends like Gordon helping him to catch criminals, black and white, a manichean narrative that we already know, is where the movie differs.
Same charachters, new roles.
The film does not depend on this formula in which the role of each character is known and therefore predictable. On the contrary, it decides to adopt the role of Elseworld in full and take it to the limit since none of the characters are in their usual role. Everything is new and familiar at the same time. The friends wear a disguise even deeper than that of Batman himself and the old enemies may not be so.
Poison ivy is not as we know it. Pamela Isley is a dancer who also agrees to satisfy men’s desires, which is why she falls victim to the ripper when the film is just beginning.
Gotham is not used to Batman. In fact, in the beginning, the bat is more of an urban myth than a well-known hero. Someone who some have heard stories about but who in reality no one knows or has seen. People fear him even more than the criminals. The same night that Pamela is murdered, Batman appears in an alley to defend a couple and prove that he is real, that he is not an urban legend.
At the funeral it is discovered that Pamela is one of the orphans from the same orphanage where Bruce grew up and that she was also his friend. In addition, most of the characters appear for the first time here, including Selina Kyle. Selina does not play the same role that we are used to. Here, she is a dancer like Pamela, although with very different morals and principles. There is nothing like a Catwoman in her, and more than a dancer she is an infiltrator who in this way seeks to place herself on the ripper’s radar to catch him. One night she finds the killer, but when the Ripper attacks her Batman arrives to help her, and the assassin manages to escape.
The change of roles continues. Harvey Dent is the great friend of Bruce Wayne but is far from being the man of iron moral and unwavering rectitude. So when they attend Selina’s show, Harvey falls in love with her despite being married. An infatuation that has more of carnal desire than feelings. At this point Bruce rebukes him and reminds him that he is married and Dent accuses him of being an old man whose morals have not evolved according to the modernity of the time where they live. Once again Liu exchanges the usual roles of the characters. It is as if we sawing everything through the reflection in a mirror, although it looks identical in fact it is inverted.
That night they both go to have a drink with Selina but it is evident that she is not interested in Harvey, but Bruce. At the end of the night, the ripper murders the nun in charge of the orphanage. Bruce, who realized that she would be his next victim arrives too late to save her and finds her corpse in the yard.
Hugo Strange and Arkham
During the funeral, a beggar confronts Bruce and tries to extort money from him. She saw him in the courtyard the night before and threatens to tell the police that he was at the orphanage when the nun was murdered. During the funeral, Doctor Hugo Strange, who is the director of Arkham, approaches Bruce and asks him to transmit a message to Batman: he will wait for him in his office at midnight.
Strange is the one who comes closest to his original role. He is still an unscrupulous scientist. Although he is not exactly a villain, because he does not want to do evil traditionally, but feels contempt for those in his charge and therefore does not doubt to experiment with them. It is this character that serves to mislead the viewer. So far we have seen how all the characters seem to be the evil / benevolent reflection of the original, but Strange is the same, so one could assume that others characters can be too.
The murders continue
After the murders of Strange and the beggar, there is a spectacular fight between Batman and the Ripper aboard the Zepellin of the police. While they observe them from below and shoot them, Bruce Wayne becomes the main suspect both of being Batman and of being the Ripper, for which he is arrested and brought to trial.
During the trial, Harvey Dent gets revenge on Bruce for having beaten Selina and betrays him by sending him to jail. But he also betrays himself, since it is clear that Dent more than Justice seeks revenge against the man who despite being his friend deprived him of his carnal desires.
Bruce escapes from jail and decides to go for the Ripper. The clues lead him to the house of his friend Gordon. Dressed as Batman he finds a secret room inside where is all the evidence he requires to prove that Gordon is the fearsome murderer. Gordon’s wife tries to explain to him that he’s doing his job cleaning Gotham of undesirables and dirt and Batman realizes that Gordon has disfigured her with acid.
Selina, who had come to Gordon for help to free Bruce, realizes too late that the commissioner is the murderer. She tries to escape and uses the Gotham fairground searchlight to signal Batman asking for help. Batman arrives at the fair and after a long fight with Gordon where he explains his reasons for becoming the ripper he defeats him. However, before he manages to stop him to hand him over to the police, Gordon, handcuffed to the rail of the Ferris wheel, commits suicide among the flames where he burns alive
In the end, Batman and Selina leave with Alfred and the orphans. While they watch as the Gotham fair burns and hope that it is the sign that something new, and better, will come for the city.
It is all these role changes that make the film so unpredictable and pleasant, nothing is what it seems. At least no one responds to the role to which we are accustomed. The classic friends are villains, the villains of yesteryear are friends or victims. But above all, all the characters are human and behave as such. They react to what happens to them, succumb to their passions and thereby give much more credibility to character development than what superhero cinema traditionally offers us.
The film takes too many risks but comes out well off of all of them, hence how it differs from the graphic novel is so important, although the novelty of creating diverse worlds was important and of great impact when Gotham by Gaslight saw the light in 1989, Liu understood perfectly that almost 30 years later that was not enough and that he needed to transform the story even more to surprise and conquer viewers, the name of the film refers to the gaslight so common of the late from the 19th century that grayish light that we have seen in so many photos and films from the beginning of the 20th century, and it is in that terrain precisely where history moves, in a dense haze where there is neither black nor white but a thick gray layer that covers it and stains everything, rendering it indeterminate.
On the other hand, violence is much more graphic than we can expect in a film of this type, closer to graphic novels like From Hell than Batman – It is evident that when the director decides to mix both worlds, he does so in a thorough way. It adopts much of the aesthetics and stylistics that prevails in graphic fiction about Jack The Ripper-, it is crude but without falling into excesses and it is present when it should be, even the bat-signal is drawn with blood, all this coupled with the atmosphere Darkness and Steampunk stylistics make Gotham by Gaslight the darkest Batman movie –and superheroes in general- that we have seen to this day, and incidentally one of the best.