Sunday, 24 June 2018

Batman - Gotham By Gaslight

Gas Expectations

Batman - Gotham By Gaslight
USA 2018 Directed by Sam Liu
Warner Brothers Blu Ray Zone B

Well... my blood is still boiling after watching this new, animated feature which purports to be an ‘adaptation’ of the brilliant one-shot comic Gotham By Gaslight. I can’t imagine what the creators of the original, Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola, think of this travesty but I do feel for them.

That original comic was one of the first, possibly even the first, Elseworlds comic by DC. I’m not sure if my old copy from 1989 even has the Elseworlds logo included on the cover but it was a popular imprint (with me at least) and DC’s answer, or so I assume, to what Marvel were doing with their What If? comics.

Okay, so people who know me have probably figured out that I find it quite interesting when characters and situations from different sources or universes come together and are cross pollinated to give an alternate feeling to the familiar elements of their individual stories. There have always been comics where some of the characters 'separated by time', for example, have come together in a single story. I might mention The Shadow debuting for DC in the pages of one of the Batman stories (Batman Issue 253) or my favourite of the Marvel Two-In-One comics featuring The Thing from The Fantastic Four alongside Doc Savage (kind of). One of the more interesting titles that Marvel used to put out was What If?... which literally took famous moments or characters in Marvel history and said... well hang on, what if that hadn’t panned out that way at all? So you had some great issues like What If Conan Had Walked The Earth Today? and What If Elektra Had Lived? Of course, Elektra did live... or she got really confusingly reincarnated at any rate... but at the time they brought that issue out she was still very much dead in the comics.

Anyway, as good as this long running comic book series was, when DC finally decided to get in on the act, they came up with the Elseworlds series of one shot comics (and occasional mini series). Their explanatory blurb on the front or back covers was always pretty much the same... “... where DC Comics heroes are taken out of their usual setting and put into alternate timelines or realities.”

So I have some great comics like Metropolis, where the idea of Superman was literally displaced into a version of the famous Fritz Lang movie of the same name. Or Batman: Red Rain.... where Batman goes toe to toe... or is that fang to fang... with Dracula. Or Amazonia... where a Victorian era version of Wonder Woman takes on Jack The Ripper etc. There were quite a few of these things published in one format or another and Gotham By Gaslight was where a Victorian version of Batman took on Jack The Ripper, who had journeyed to America. It was a great little tale and even inspired a sequel, Batman: Master Of The Future, which the makers of this hideous mis-step of a cartoon have also slightly plundered for their own take on this story.

Frankly, as I was watching this new animated version, Batman - Gotham By Gaslight, I could barely remember any of the events, characters or situations I was seeing portrayed on screen as being in the comic. I had to go back and check that I didn’t imagine the original incorrectly but, there you have it, there are so many liberties taken with this one it’s pointless calling it by this title. I know a movie adaptation has specific demands that make it essential, in most cases, to change a few things to help the flow of the film but this one goes way beyond the old and dubious scapegoat of artistic licence. In fact, it feels like ‘artistic licence’ met ‘art’ down a back alley sometime and anally raped said masterpiece before slicing it up with a chainsaw and then jumping up and down on the bloody remains of what was, in this case, a once great story.

I can barely write these words without being enraged as to what they have done to this, in all honesty. There is a slight similarity in the costume that the Batman variation wears in this (which was my favourite costume variation in the comics, to be honest) and the killer is still Jack The Ripper... but even that is not as it seems because the person who ‘was’ Jack The Ripper in the comic is not who it turns out to be in this travesty of a cartoon version. Seriously, it’s like what the producers and writers of the James Bond franchise of movies used to do more often than not... just buy the title and then come up with their own story, characters and situations with absolutely no regard or, as in this particular case it seems to me, no respect for the original material.

Honestly, I can’t stress how different from the original source material this movie is. In this version, Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) is one of the main players and... yeah, you guessed it, she’s not even in the comic. The Joker was referred to in the comic but... oh, right... makes no appearance here. Instead you have throwaway versions of characters like Poison Ivy, Harvey Dent and Adam Strange. This really has got nothing to do with Gotham By Gaslight people! And there were so many other things from the source they could have thrown into the mix, like Sigmund Freud but... no... we have something far less interesting here.

I remember the artwork in the original comic being fairly gritty and very ‘Victorian’ish and it all worked really well. In this cartoon, however, everything seems so 'xerox smooth' and flat and it just seems like the most simplified, child-like version of 'Batman Victoriana' you would ever hope to stumble upon in your worst opium nightmare. They’ve managed to take what was an impressive story and not only completely change it so it’s barely relatable... they’ve also managed to make it look as bland as possible. I just don’t understand this approach. All the animation looks kinda slow and somehow cheap. Like a 1970s/80s Filmation cartoon.

Also... why the heck is this a 15 rating? There’s a modicum of blood in it and the occasional ‘slightly naughty word’. This is not worthy of an adult certificate... especially since it seems like it was made by a kid. Honestly, it’s like a bunch of stuffy old conservatives got around a table and put their hands over their mouths while grinning as they put in a swear word or two. This is beyond childish and not anything close to adult oriented entertainment.

Okay, so good things?

Well... the fist fight choreography was kinda okay. It was mildly entertaining although, it has to be said, Batman never actually wins any fist fight in this thing and even in the last one, he only escapes fiery death by using a trick he learned from Houdini. 

Okay, so other good things...

No, wait. That’s it.

There are no other good things and don’t let me get started on that awful song which is desperately failing to sound like the period its trying for. I bought this Blu Ray because I loved the original comic book and now I feel like I’ve been completely hoodwinked by Warner Brothers. I thought I was buying a version of Gotham By Gaslight but it turns out this is in name only. There should be a huge disclaimer on the front cover of this thing telling people that any event or characters portrayed in this movie are completely incidental and in no way meant to resemble the one thing it’s supposed to be an adaptation of. After seeing two amazing Batman animations (reviewed here and here) by the same company putting this one out, I’d have to say they should hang their heads in shame at committing this atrocious misrepresentation of a great Augustyn/Mignola work. Don’t bother with this one... go read the comic instead.

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