Comics Features

SECOND LOOK: A Tale of the Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Retroactively labelled as the very first Elseworlds story, Gotham by Gaslight: An Alternative History of the Batman sparked enough interest to spawn a sequel, Master of the Future. Let’s dive in then, away from the contemporary Gotham crafted by Christopher Nolan and Bruno Heller and into a Gotham set in the Victorian era, where a masked vigilante roams the city’s streets righting the wrongs of criminals via striking fear into their very hearts. But there’s one criminal who won’t go down so easily – his name: Jack the Ripper.

At only 48 pages long, Gotham by Gaslight is a breeze to read, its sequel likewise. The bulk of the story’s first act places Bruce Wayne’s origins as Batman in a Victorian setting while Jack the Ripper lives up his legendary tales of blood-curling murders via scouting out vulnerable women. What follows is a brief yet entertaining take on the Ripper not only nearly succeeding in foiling Batman, but framing Bruce Wayne for the Ripper’s own killings.

Written by Brian Augustyn with artwork provided by Michael Mignola, P. Craig Russell, David Hornung and John Workman, this collective of comic book folk mould an effective picture of the Batman in Victorian times – its a shame that a Victorian Batman was never picked up for a full series, as such a setting plays immensly well with a character such as Batman. Stripped of any form of mordern, urban roughness, the Gotham presented in both Gotham by Gaslight and Master of the Future is tantalizingly eerie.

On buying Gotham by Gaslight, one is treated to both the title story and Master of the Future, although the latter is the weaker of the pair. Once again written by Augustyn and assisted by a new team of artists including Eduardo Barreto, Steve Oliff, and Willie Schubert, there’s nothing wrong with Master of the Future per say, but its plot, involving the eccentric Vaudevillian-esque inventor Alexandre Leroi attempting to become an omnipotent force via a Zeppelin, feels more at home in the 1960’s Batman TV series than alongside Gotham by Gaslight. The artwork for Master of the Future doesn’t do it any favours either. Again, nothing wrong with it, but the bright brittleness doesn’t compliment Gotham by Gaslight’s haunting use of shadow and bare amount of colour.

Overall, A Tale of the Batman: Gotham by Gaslight provide an entertaining yet sadly unrealized vision of what Batman might have been in another era. Its popularity has yet to diminish either, yet one can’t help but feel that when the praise does come in, its for the title story and not for its sequel. Gotham by Gaslight does indeed triumph over Master of the Future, and its the real sign of a genuinely fantastic story that leaves its reader wanting to discover more of this Victorian Dark Knight.

Have you read Gotham by Gaslight? What did you make of Augustyn’s Victorian take on the Caped Crusader? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

About the author

Fred McNamara