By Drew Mollo
DC Comics’ 1989 hit Gotham by Gaslight
In July, Comicbook.com revealed there would be a behind-the-scenes feature in the upcoming Batman and Harley Quinn animated release about the next DC Animated film: Gotham by Gaslight. Based on the 1989 comic written by Brian Augustyn and drawn by Mike Mignola, Gotham by Gaslight is a significant story for one important reason: it was the first comic to be published under DC Comics’ alternate-universe Elseworlds line.
In the Nineties, DC Comics started publishing stories that reimagined their classic characters in alternate timelines or environments. These stories (later dubbed Elseworlds) opened the possibilities for iconic characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman or The Flash to be written in stories outside the confines of current day continuity. These characters were given a fresh slate where anything was possible – literally opening up a multiverse of possibilities.
Gotham by Gaslight would be the first Elseworlds book – and for good reason, as its story is widely regarded by critics and fans alike to be brilliant. The first page establishes the tone of the book with a letter introducing the book’s villain, a historical serial killer known only as Jack the Ripper. Jack explains that he will be changing settings from London to a new metropolis in America named Gotham City. The setting is Gotham in the late 19th century and we are introduced to businessman Bruce Wayne, haunted by the highway robbery which stole his parents. His travels through Europe to better his mind and body eventually return him to Gotham, where he witnesses the prominence of crime in his hometown and becomes the Bat-Man to fight those forces- especially when a series of murders announce Jack’s presence. With a few familiar faces sprinkled throughout the story, the Bat-Man’s battle to stop the famous murderer quickly takes a turn for the worst. Bruce Wayne must not only find his place as Gotham’s protector but also uncover answers tying into the murder which changed his life.
Gotham by Gaslight presented a new but exciting challenge: taking Bruce Wayne and Batman and putting them in the context of a world in the past. Here, we have the story of Bruce Wayne traveling and learning the skills that would make him Batman but in an era and style of genre unfamiliar to Batman fans- now more commonly known as “Steampunk”. There is still Gotham City, there is still Alfred and Inspector Gordon, and even the appearance of a “villain” or two but they are not the same faces we know. Some are similar and yet some are completely different- showing us new ways that they contribute to this Bat-Man and his crusade against evil. The story is completely entertaining and Mike Mignola’s artwork does not disappoint. This early entry in his career still has elements of his signature style involving shadow, body language, and movement that Mignola would elaborate when he created the character he’s best known for, Hellboy. The book was so successful that it spawned a lesser known sequel Batman: Master of the Future, written by Augustyn but drawn by artist Eduardo Barreto, in 1991; the universe labeled Earth-19 by the DC editorial after 2006’s Infinite Crisis was revisited in 2008’s Countdown: The Search for Ray Palmer.
Another reason that this new entry into the already impressive DC animated film’s collection is important is this universe does not need to adhere to continuity. Similar to Justice League: Gods and Monsters, this is a classic story which presents an iconic hero but almost as if he was a new character. We can have different voice actors portray the characters, we can have events relevant to their timeline intersect with the events in the story, and new generations alongside their elders can see their characters in a new light. If Gotham by Gaslight is well-received, it could open the possibilities for more Elseworlds to be developed as full-length animated feature films. (If that happens, I have two words for you regarding the next contender: Kingdom Come.)
-Drew Mollo is a freelance writer specializing in Comics media