For the years the creators behind these DC Animated films have been teasing fans with an animated adaptation of the critically acclaimed Batman story Gotham by Gaslight as a dream project high on their list. Well, dream has finally become reality as an animated feature Batman: Gotham by Gaslight has now been officially announced for a 2018 release. During NYCC weekend, press interviews and a panel were held with director/producer Sam Liu, executive producer Bruce Timm, and screenwriter Jim Krieg shedding new light on the project.
Considered the first official “Elseworlds” story for DC Comics, taking the publisher’s familiar characters and placing them in alternate worlds and timelines, the original Gotham by Gaslight one-shot comic from writer Brian Augustyn and artist Mike Mignola was set in Victorian era Europe and saw the Caped Crusader trying to bring the infamous Jack the Ripper to justice.
The distinct art of the Gaslight comic by acclaimed creator Mike Mignola, regarded for his iconic minimalist style best exemplified by his Hellboy series, wasn’t quite feasible for this particular project. As Timm explained, “One thing about Mike’s style is the way he shadows his characters and the way the characters are colored, you’ll notice there’s not a lot of gradations and shadow on his characters. Like a brightly lit character with very deep shadows which is just a black area. Doing sold black shadows in animation is really, really tricky. Not only that but another thing about Mike’s style we thought what would be a little bit difficult to translate directly is that he has a tendency to draw his comics as if he’s shooting a stage play. Everything is kind of at eye level and moves left to right. He doesn’t do a lot of dynamic forced perspective shots or tilt the camera angle. Modern cinema is all about dynamics.”
Director Sam Liu echoed Timm’s sentiments, “We try to do something that’s not exactly Mignola but hopefully in the spirit of it. There’s way too many blacks. It’s hard to animate just black shapes.” The character designs for the film are by Steve Choi, but interestingly enough both Liu and I shared the belief that certain aesthetic elements resemble those of artist Jeff Matsuda, whom Liu worked with on the The Batman animated series a decade ago.
In regards to the story itself, the short nature of the comic required that writer Jim Krieg add new material for the Gotham by Gaslight world in order to create a satisfying full-length movie. Besides Inspector Gordon and Alfred, hardcore DC fans can expect many more supporting Batman characters to make appearances such as Sister Leslie Thompkins. In fact, a clip shown during the panel revealed at least three of Batman’s Robins including Tim Drake and Jason Todd (who appear to be voiced by Tara Strong and Grey Griffin respectively), serving as Bruce Wayne’s Baker Street Irregulars from Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
Speaking of which, Krieg a self-professed Holmesian, felt infusing Gaslight with Sherlock Holmes sensibilities was completely natural, “taking Batman’s identity as ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ and marrying it to the ‘World’s First Consulting Detective.'” Additionally, the Gaslight version of Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, one of the new additions to the film adaptation as previously mentioned, was influenced by Irene Adler, a companion and romantic love interest for Sherlock Holmes. The film’s portrayal of Selina Kyle as an actress/adventuress also has some root in the Kitty Langley character from the classic 1944 film The Lodger, appropriate since that film involves Jack the Ripper.
As for the cast, Bruce Greenwood, who played the Dark Knight in various animated projects, will be voicing Batman/Bruce Wayne while Selina Kyle will be voiced by Jennifer Carpenter, best known for her role as Debra Morgan in Dexter. Although Timm expressed concern over Carpenter’s slight Southern twang, Carpenter eventually proved her ability to adjust her voice for this period piece. Though the most spot-on casting without a doubt has to be Anthony Head (Buffy Summers’ erudite Watcher) as Alfred.
Because of the dark and grim subject matter not the least of which include depicting the Jack the Ripper murders, described by Krieg as “flipping disturbing” during his research, the animated feature leans between PG-13 and R-rated territory. While Batman: Gotham by Gaslight has yet to be officially rated by the MPAA, Timm said the violence is not excessive and done tastefully. Writer Jim Krieg expressed similar feelings, hoping that ultimately that, “[audiences be] engaged mentally, emotionally, and viscerally.”
During the press interview and at the panel, Bruce Timm voiced interest in tackling an animated adaptation of Mark Millar and Dave Johnson’s Superman: Red Son comic. Of course, Timm hinted the likelihood of doing another Elseworlds animated feature was dependent on the success of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight providing incentive for fans to pick up the movie when it’s officially released in nearly 2018.