With all the buzz surrounding DC’s upcoming live action movies, it is easy to forget their animated counterparts. Yet DC and Warner Brothers animated offerings have been coming out like clock work year after year. Like their live action counterparts, they vary in quality, from the excellent Crisis on Two Earths to the badly executed The Killing Joke. But I am always excited when a DC story gets animated. Superhero hijinks play well in animation, and this particular upcoming story is an exciting and memorable one.
Discovered in the credits of Batman & Harley Quinn, DC’s next animated feature is an adaptation of Batman, Gotham by Gaslight. Written by Brian Augustyn and drawn by the incomparable Mike Mignola, the original story re-imagines batman as a turn of the century crime fighter hunting down Jack the Ripper. The story was a success, and launched the Elseworlds series of reimagined superheroes, a genre I have great fondness for. If DC and Warner Brothers are going to get Gotham by Gaslight right, it needs to be careful in how it brings it to the screen. Here’s are six things that need to be done to capture that 19th century magic.
6. Turn of the Century Gotham
A huge part of Gotham by Gaslight’s appeal was how it perfectly evoked the late 1900s. From street lamps to billboards, Mike Mignola’s art evoked a growing city, straining at its edges as the new century approached. With animation, this effect can be enhanced and expanded. Patent medicine sellers, street toughs, ladies of the night, they can all be given voice and substance in a moving Gotham. The Gotham of 1893 needs to be a vibrant place, recognizable as Batman’s home city but different and unique. By keeping Mignola’s evocative art style and adding in the sounds of the city, DC can make this Gotham can truly come alive.
5. A Period Soundtrack
Gotham by Gaslight does a great job of feeling period, from dialog don to the art. But the animated version has the potential to do the original one better with the addition of an old-time soundtrack. The jangly ragtime piano tunes and patriotic marches of the era are perfect for Bruce Wayne’s foppish daytime persona. Likewise, a darker classical score fits perfectly with Batman’s nocturnal escapades.
4. Historical Cameos
Gotham by Gaslight opens with Bruce Wayne conversing with Sigmund Freud, and its sequel, Master of the future, has him going to a boxing match with Teddy Roosevelt. Keeping both is essential to Gotham by Gaslight’s charm. Additional cameos, say by a feuding Edison and Tesla, Susan B Anthony, or Mark Twain, could help cement the feeling of Gotham in 1893.
3. Sub Plots
Gotham by Gaslight is a great comic, but its also very short, coming in at a little more then 50 pages. To bring it to the small screen, it will require some padding to make it to the full hour and a half. The original comic contains very few fights aside from the final confrontation with Jack the Ripper, adding some in, perhaps with transposed villains, could give some extra kick to the movie. Seeing The Riddler as an old-fashioned huckster, or scarecrow as a turn of the century scientist could bring some extra flair and needed space to proceedings. The comic already provides some inroads. James Gordon has his hands full tackling the city’s exploding crime rate, perhaps Batman could give him a hand.
The 1890s were a time of frenzied innovation, as engineering and natural sciences began to come into their own as the driving forces of society. Often, these inventions simply didn’t work, or misfired in comical ways. Gadgets are such an important part of Batman’s identity, and seeing some old-fashioned bat-tools could really spice up the story. A bat balloon, autogyro, or other steam-powered tools would not be out of place in the story. They’d certainly be a nice visual treat.
1. Jack the Ripper’s Voice Over
As anyone who has read Gotham By Gaslight knows, Jack the Ripper’s letters and monologues frame the story, and it’s import that an animated version get that right. Regardless of who is cast as the ripper, Jack’s monologue has to convey a sense of menace, obsession, and subtle taunts of his pursuers. A good ripper voice over could further accentuate the air of menace that pervaded the comic, and prepare the stage of the final confrontation.
With Gotham by Gaslight, DC and Warner Brothers have the opportunity to tell a very different story from the ones they’ve told so far. To really capture the spirit of the original comic, they need to revel in the time period and the slow burning plot. If Gotham By Gaslight can capture the sense of place of the original comic, it could open the way for future Elseworld stores. I think we can all agree that would be a good thing.