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NYCC 2017: The “Batman: Gotham By Gaslight” Panel Previews a Steampunk Mystery

by on October 12, 2017
 

Late Friday afternoon at New York Comic on an official panel was held for Batman: Gotham By Gaslight, the 31st installment of the DC Animated Original Movie line. The movie is based on the 1989 comic of the same same by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola. The storyline takes place in a 19th century steampunk setting and finds Batman matching wits and fists with serial killer Jack the Ripper, and Gotham By Gaslight is considered the original “Elseworlds” story for DC Comics.

Warner Bros’ “Super PR Guy” Gary Miereanu moderated the panel with three key guests: producer Bruce Timm, director Sam Liu and head writer Jerry Kreig. One key thing the panel ¬†emphasized early on is the fact that Gotham By Gaslight is a relatively short comic story that wouldn’t amount to a feature-length film with a straight adaptation, so the decision was made to expand on the story and include supporting characters not in the original work.

And so, what can fans expect to see? “More red herrings” in the plot for starters, according to Timm. In the original comic Jack the Ripper’s identity really only had one suspect, but the creative staff made the film’s story “more of a mystery” so the events of third act wouldn’t be so transparent. As for characters, Harvey Bullock and “Sister Leslie” (as in Leslie Tompkins) are two examples of familiar characters that will appear in the Gaslight setting.

The panel was asked about reconciling rating demands with creativity, given that Gotham by Gaslight involves such a serious subject matter. Timm acknowledged that Jack the Ripper was a “tricky” subject matter and that the movie would be a horror movie as much as a superhero tale, so early on the team approached the home video company and asked if they would accept the prospect of a R rating. Approval to go forward was given, clearing the way for the creative crew to do the film as they thought it should be done. That said, Gotham by Gaslight has not been submitted for a rating yet, and how the film’s content will ultimately be judged is an open question.

Following up on the content issue, the team made it clear that this is not a movie to be shown to kids. Timm feels the movie is simply “as bloody as it needs to be”, but at the same time it also focuses on a serial killer singling out women and “it’s our version of White Chapel.” Krieg jumped in to note that “there is more black ink then red ink in the movie” and that “it’s bloody, but it’s not CSI.” Timm agreed, although he thinks there are one or two intense moments that could make viewers squirm.

Another question to the panel concerned the art style of the movie compared to the original comic. According to Timm an early determination was made that recreating Mike Mignola’s art style would take more time and money than available, but they did examine the color palette of the original work and the art of the characters and setting and took cues from that.

At this point the audience was shown a video clip served to introduce Batman and the criminal element of this alternative Gotham City. An adult criminal puts a small group of street urchins up to mugging an innocent couple on the street, only for Batman to intervene. The boys’ attacks against Batman are ineffectual but he directs the real violence toward their handler, crippling him before advising the boys to seek out “Sister Leslie [Tompkins]” for help rather than resorting to crime to survive.

With the clip over, the panel discussed the casting of Bruce Greenwood and their intent for this depiction of Batman. Greenwood also played the Dark Knight in Young Justice and Batman: Under the Red Hood, where the panel felt he gave an “emotional” performance. At first Greenwood recorded the part thinking scaling back from that approach was called for, but the creative crew wanted him to emulate that performance. For Jim Krieg “there’s an emotional arc” for Bruce Wayne in the film, and he believes viewers will emphasize with him. For his part, Timm considers this version of Bruce Wayne “more a romantic hero like Don Diego and Zorro” as opposed to the interpretation of Batman where Bruce Wayne is the “mask” that he wears. The team also highlighted Batman as the “world’s greatest detective in the film”, with his head being his best weapon – although fans can also expect the inclusion of certain “bat gadgets”.

Beyond Batman, the adaptation expansion of Gotham By Gaslight extends to the inclusion of characters that the comic didn’t have space for. Jennifer Carpenter plays the role of Selina Kyle, “the equal to Sherlock and Bruce Wayne” according to Kreig. She and Bruce will end up on a mission together toward the end of the film. A video clip at the panel depicted Selina on the trail of Jack the Ripper, leading to a dangerous brawl in the confines of a slaughterhouse. Here Jack’s lethal skill is on full display, as Selina puts up a good fight with her trademark whip but still gets into trouble. Fortunately Batman intervenes, but he is soon hard pressed himself. Eventually Jack raises a meat cleaver for a potential death blow, at which point the clip cruelly ended. Other characters include Alfred (Anthony Head) as Wayne’s “devoted manservant”, a particularly good fit for the Victorian-Era-influenced Gotham City of the film. Hugo Strange exists as the director of Arkham Asylum, which fans can expect to be even more horrible than its modern incarnations. As for “Sister Leslie” Tompkins, per Kreig “she’s Irish and doesn’t suffer fools.” Sam Liu noted that she was capable of being both very “strict with certain things” and also kind in the next moment. On the topic of characters, Sam Liu remarked that Gotham By Gaslight is “very rich with character” and that has a director, what interests him in scripts is the psychology of each character.

A major theme of the panel is the degree of effort that went into building the world for Gotham by Gaslight. As this was a period piece there were no assets or designs that could be reused or adapted, and completely new outfits and environments had to be designed to recreate the appropriate feel. According to Timm the creative staff were mostly a younger lot in their 20s and 30s, and eager to do research into the Victorian era in order to come up with appropriate designs. The team consciously wanted aspects of Victorian-era London and the industrial age to manifest in Gotham, which led to the “pea soup fog” and look and feel of a more confined and “congested” Gotham. A third clip shown at the panel featured a lower and more antiquated Gotham skyline, though one could be forgiven for not noticing amid the intense battle between Batman and Jack aboard a blimp.

In closing, assorted tidbits were divulged during a Q&A session. If Gaslight is successful a leading candidate for another Elseworlds adaptation is Superman: Red Son, which imagines an alternative reality where the Man of Steel crashlands in Soviet Russia as an infant instead of the United States. Timm noted that the story was opposite of Gaslight in terms of its scope and length, but that he wants to try it even so. One fan asked Timm if there was a DC Animated Movie he wishes he could “go back and “fix”. Timm does have one that he believes he shares with Sam Liu, but he won’t say what it is! Other questions concerning antagonists revealed that The Joker, Ra’s al Ghul and the Court of Owls will not be a factor in Gotham By Gaslight.

Batman: Gotham By Gaslight is planned for an “early 2018” release on home video. Stay tuned for roundtable interviews with the creative talent of the film, coming soon.
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