Lighting the Street Lamps, The Rise of Female Voices in Batman: Gotham By Gaslight

Gotham by Gaslight Featured Cover

Batman: Gotham By Gaslight was a risk for DC Animation. The elseworld story, by writer Brian Augustyn and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, was originally published in 1989. Unlike other elseworld stories it did not contain any Batman villains. Bruce only faced the Ripper in the comic. While beautiful on paper this comic could have plagued the animation department a lot of the same ways that Batman: The Killing Joke did. However, I was delighted to see that the story elements added and reworked to this movie’s narrative fit beautifully.

Many of Batman’s foes and allies are seen in this world, but they’re redesigned to fit the scene.  Despite all the odds, a movie about Batman and Jack the Ripper has a feminist undertone, and Selina Kyle plays a pivotal role. The last two DC animation movies, Batman: The Killing Joke and Batman and Harley Quinn, were—to say the least—not kind to their female characters. In addition, the original ‘A Tale of the Batman: Gotham By Gaslight’ comic did not have any prominent female characters who contributed to the main narrative. Here, though, we see some clear feminist elements through in the way women through different walks of life in Gotham support and later defend each other, as well as through Selina’s substantial role in the movie.

In the first few scenes of the film we get a taste of the Ripper and his first victim, this world’s version of Poison Ivy. This is an R-Rated movie so the violence is there but never gratuitous. The kill is mostly off-screen.

The scene where Batman finds Ivy’s body in the Gotham back alley is eerie. Earlier, we see the Ripper disappearing into the Gotham smog giving the figure a supernatural aura. This scene mimics the tone of the comic panels fairly well minus the addition of the this world’s Dick, Jason, and Tim as street urchins.

The city officials and police officers of Gotham are not concerned about the killings of the Ripper or the letter he sent to the Gotham Gazette. This is evident during the unveiling of the new Gotham World’s Fair’s Ferris wheel. Selina Kyle speaks out during the mayor’s unveiling about the lack of response from Gotham’s leadership in regards to the killing: “Women are being gutted in the street like wild game and the Gotham police stand twiddling their thumbs.” She is quickly dismissed by Harvey Dent’s off-handed comment implying her voice doesn’t belong here. Furthermore the Chief Bullock heavily implies the slain women deserves their fate when he says:

“No ladies have been killed Ms. Kyle; some gin-soaked women of the street have met their fate.”

The police chief Bullock took the title of this movie Gaslight by Gotham a little too literally.

However Ms. Kyle is not the only woman to speak out against the killings. This world’s version of Leslie Thompkins is a nun who threatens “to raise holy hell” if Jack the Ripper isn’t stopped. It’s also important to note Sister Leslie is the first character to call Jack the Ripper by his full title. This highlights one of the film’s feminist messages:  at this moment in the story the women of the universe are the only ones who take the Ripper’s threats seriously.

The women in the universe play an important role in assisting to get the police and Batman involved. Selina in particular plays the largest role. She finds out early on that Bruce is Batman. She saves his life multiple times throughout the movie from the Ripper and, later on, the police. Bruce could not have taken down the Ripper without her help.

Selina’s character stole the show for me. The Gotham of this movie is not Victorian London because at one point Bruce mentions coming back from Europe; I wish we had seen more diversity in the characters even around the city. My only caveat is I wish we had seen more of Batman being a detective in this Sherlock Holmes–inspired environment. In addition, I would have liked to see more solidarity or teamwork between the women. For example, Ivy worked at the club Selina owns, yet they never speak to each other on screen. It would have been nice if they included a moment of Selina warning her or any of the women early on about the killings since the police had not gotten involved yet.

The  animation style on this movie reminds me of a cross between 2004’s The Batman and the current New 52 style we have seen in movies such as Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. The costume designs are clearly inspired by Victorian London and steampunk. I have no doubt we will see our fair share of Gotham by Gaslight cosplayers in upcoming conventions. Overall while this may not be my favorite DC Animated movie, it is high up there.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 canonical victims.

Gotham by Gaslight is available now on 4k UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital UHD.

In addition to writing and tweeting into the void, Elizabeth Garcia enjoys applying ethical and political theory to modern comics while wearing leggings and drinking wine with her cat on her beat-up couch.

In addition to writing and tweeting into the void, Elizabeth Garcia enjoys applying ethical and political theory to modern comics while wearing leggings and drinking wine with her cat on her beat-up couch.

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