DCAU: Gotham by Gaslight: A Victorian Easter Egg Hunt
By Meg Downey
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight offers a thrilling mystery and steampunk-inspired take on Batman, but that’s just the beginning of what there is to uncover in this adaptation of the classic Elseworlds comic.
Welcome to Victorian Eng—wait, I mean, Victorian Gotham. Sure, it may not be quite as famous as its European cousin, but I think you’ll find that the turn of the century DC Universe has all sorts of strange and wonderful things to offer in the just released Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, which just so happens to be the animated adaptation of an Elseworlds story by the same name.
If you’ve been reading comics for a while, you’re probably pretty familiar with the term “Elseworlds,” but if this is your first encounter with the idea—don’t worry! BATMAN: GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT the comic is actually the very first official Elseworlds story, so even if you’re coming to the animated movie without having picked up the comic, you picked a great place to start with the whole idea.
To catch you up to speed, an Elseworlds story is a story that takes place in an alternate universe—one that isn’t as beholden to the rules and formalities of something like the “official” DC Multiverse. Elseworlds stories are a lot like superhero remixes, taking your favorite characters and storylines and re-contextualizing them into something totally new, all in their own specific canons and continuities. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Batman were a vampire or if Superman would have crash landed in Soviet Russia instead of small town Kansas, Elseworlds is the place to go.
Now, back to the matter at hand. Gotham by Gaslight the movie is actually almost an Elseworlds story twice removed because it’s not actually a direct adaptation of its comics source material, but a whole new twist on the story originally published back in 1989. There are, of course, some similarities. Most obviously, it’s still a reimagining of Bruce Wayne and Batman into Victorian times, and it’s still centered around solving the murders of Jack the Ripper, but that’s really where the similarities start to dwindle. After all, it’d be a pretty boring mystery if you already knew the twists right from the word “go” because you read the comic, right?
As a bonus, a lot of those deviations from the comic give the movie a chance to include all kinds of new and fun Elseworlds-flavored Batman Easter eggs. Of course, I don’t want to spoil the whole movie for you, but I will give you a little break down of some of the best (or the hardest to catch).
First, there are the Robins—or, well, there are sort of the Robins. Jason Todd, Tim Drake and Dick Grayson all have supporting roles in the movie, but you might not recognize them right away since they’re a trio of orphaned street urchins rather than yellow-cape sporting sidekicks. Also, you might notice that little orphan Jason has a raggedy mop of red hair, instead of the Bat Family trademark black. That’s another little nod to the comics. Way back in the day, before CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, Jason Todd was actually a redhead who dyed his hair black in order to pass as Dick Grayson when he first took over the role as Robin. The more you know!
Then there’s Sister Leslie, who you might recognize a little quicker by her full name: Leslie Thompkins. In normal Gotham, Leslie is a doctor and close friend of Batman who runs a clinic that helps treat superheroes in Gotham. In Victorian Gotham, Leslie is a nun who helps run an orphanage that assisted Bruce immediately after the murder of his parents.
Another of Gotham’s antique citizens is Hugo Strange, who, in this story, serves as an alienist—a fancy, vintage term for a court psychiatrist who assesses the mental culpability of those standing trial. (As a bit of kismet, this movie’s being released at the same time the similarly set Alienist TV show is on the air, so many may already be familiar with the term. By the way, if you’ve been watching and enjoying that show, you’re going to LOVE Batman: Gotham by Gaslight.) If you’re a comic reader, you might be more familiar with Hugo Strange as a villain who made a name for himself by being completely obsessed with deducing the identity of the Batman, even at the coast of breaking his own mind.
You probably don’t need anyone to explain Harvey Dent to you. He remains instantly recognizable in just about every Batman story out there, even with a pencil mustache and a fancy Victorian tuxedo. Harvey hasn’t taken up any of his truly villainous antics in Gotham By Gaslight, but if you pay close attention, you might just catch a few winks to poor Dent’s inevitable, monstrous future. Even without his trademark facial scarring, Selina is quick to assess Harvey as having a bit of a split personality—in fact, he’s almost got a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on.
And we absolutely can’t forget about Pam Isley who may not be the Poison Ivy we know in Victorian times, but has a pretty apparent affinity for green—and for plants—even without her powers.
There’s one last major Easter egg to be found, but it’s one you’re going to have to hunt for on your own. I promised I wouldn’t spoil things, didn’t I? And I meant it! Just realize that when it comes to Batman’s enemies and allies in this alternate world, not everything is as it seems…
You can travel back in time and unravel the mystery for yourself now that Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital. For fans of the comic, or more casual Batman fans looking for something a little different, it’s a thrilling night in.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is now available on Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital HD. For more on the movie, be sure to check out this week’s DC All Access!