Review of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight
The Dark Knight in the Victorian Era
This graphic novel reimagines the story of Bruce Wayne and his crime-fighting persona—Batman—as taking place in America’s late 1800’s.
These are two stories put together and told about Batman in the time of carriages, gaslights, and pre-modern police work. The effort bears fruit in that readers can see a replay of essential elements of the whole Batman story but witness how different settings alter the details surrounding the superhero. The stories take a more fabulist, steampunk approach to the character while retaining the grim and investigative elements that are a part of Batman storytelling.
Turn of the Century Gotham
The first story, “Gotham by Gaslight,” is the unofficial kickoff of DC’s Elseworlds, and it is a worthy start. Readers can see Bruce Wayne become Batman and make his start in Gotham. Batman is just in time as Jack the Ripper arrives in Gotham, ready to continue his killing spree in the New World. The pursuit of the Ripper becomes more personal as Bruce Wayne is eventually accused of the killings and made a suspect.
Both the art and story work well. Several frames are memorable for bold color among the many muted hues, and Gotham is rendered in almost Dickensian magnitude with factories and other paraphernalia of the Industrial Revolution populate the pages. Furthermore, the story allows the audience to see the Batman investigate and solve a series of crimes without the use of any modern policing tools or techniques. Often the detective nature of Batman is forgotten alongside the daring action and gadgets, but in this story it is the pursuit of a particular criminal that takes center stage.
Master of the Future
The second story picks up a year or so where the previous one ended with Bruce Wayne reluctant to continue with his double life and questioning his vigilante motives in the first place. As the city prepares for “The American Discovery Exposition,” a mysterious figure calling himself Master of the Future threatens the city and judges the alleged progress civilization has made in Gotham.
Though the second story is longer, it involves a lot of red herrings and theatrics mostly avoided in “Gotham by Gaslight.” Bruce Wayne’s ambivalence about his actions as Batman forms the most interesting note in this story as it deals with the character's psychology, but it is mostly overlooked as the plot rushes toward the fireworks and climactic showdown. This story, more so than the first one, plays with a lot of steampunk elements, consciously mimicking some of the styling of authors like Jules Verne. While “Master of the Future” is not a bad story, it does not strike the same chords or attract the same interest as the preceding story, a disappointing development since Brian Augustyn authored both of them.
Tales of the Batman
This graphic novel makes for a good read, especially for Batman fans interested in seeing the hero operate under alternate circumstances. There are plenty of little allusions to other elements of the standard Batman world such as the up-and-coming Inspector James Gordon and the police sketch of a crazed criminal with a paralyzed face that bears a resemblance to the Joker. Discovering these minor asides is nearly as good as following the main stories.
While it lacks the length and weight of a graphic novel such as Watchmen or even The Dark Knight Returns, Gotham by Gaslight is a worthwhile book and an excellent addition to any Batman collection.
Augustyn, Brian. Batman:Gotham by Gaslight. Illustrated by Mignola, Michael, P. Craig Russell, and Eduardo Barreto. New York, DC Comics. 2006.
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© 2010 Seth Tomko