Unbeknownst to me, not being a huge comic book guy, DC have been running for some time now with a series known as the Elseworlds stories. This takes familiar heroes and places them in unfamiliar settings/times. Perhaps an alternate universe, perhaps a different time period, perhaps something that feels very similar to what we know but is just a bit of a sidestep to make it all seem fresh.
Batman: Gotham By Gaslight sees Batman prowling the streets of a bygone Gotham. His job is the same, there are familiar characters populating the city, but the biggest public enemy of the time happens to be a dangerous killer who carves up women and goes by the name of Jack. Yes, this is the Batman Vs Jack The Ripper tale that you never knew you wanted, and I must say that it's pretty damn great.
First of all, if you haven't realised by now that the DC animated movie universe is where they have been churning out all of their good stuff then you have a lot of catching up to do. Not all of them are brilliant, but I can't think of any that are truly dire. Second, this is one of their very best, thanks to the premise lending itself well to a perfect blend of the familiar and the reimagined.
Based on the graphic novel by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola, writer James Krieg has taken the storyline and embraced the more fun elements that fans will get a kick out of, which helps to balance out the darker aspects of the whole thing (e.g. the actual identity of Jack). The relatively brief runtime, just under 80 minutes, is in line with most of the other DC animated features, and ensures that things move quickly enough, even if it's not crammed full of action sequences. This is definitely a case of quality over quantity, and ain't nothing wrong with that.
Director Sam Liu benefits from some gorgeous visuals and animation, a superior voice cast (Bruce Greenwood is a great Bruce Wayne/Batman, Anthony Head is a fine Alfred, and Jennifer Carpenter delivers a very effective Selina Kyle performance, without excessive purring or wordplay), and the sheer fun factor of the core idea. Some purists may balk at a few of the character changes, but I don't have a problem with them being here, considering we're very much seeing everyone involved in an Elseworld context.
Unless you're one of those purists I just mentioned, Batman: Gotham By Gaslight is guaranteed to entertain you and give you your Bat-fix until the next adventure comes along. The story could have easily been put together with much less care, and one or two of the supporting characters are obviously here without being all that necessary to the plot, but everyone involved actually takes the fine silk of the material and spins it into gold.
Buy it here, Batfans.
Americans can buy it here.