What would have happened if Batman had been alive during the era of Jack the Ripper? That is the concept explored in this Elseworlds story arc. Originally conceived as “Imaginary Stories” in the Superman series, and a few other comics including Batman, DC’s Elseworlds are self-contained continuities. Taking actual DC characters and placing them in non-canon worlds, times, and universes is an imaginative way to broaden the scope of possibilities for creators to play with. Gotham by Gaslight is considered the first Elseworlds title, retroactively named so because the concept didn’t exist at the time it was printed in 1989.
Taking place one hundred years before it was published -- 1889 in Victorian Age London and Gotham -- Gaslight is 112 pages of graphic novel genius. Blending actual historical events revolving around Jack the Ripper, including quotes from letters the mystery murderer sent to police, newspaper clippings, and multiple historical and cultural references from the era, Gaslight is overflowing with references like an Easter basket. When we found out it was being released as an animated feature, we couldn’t wait to see it on screen. Here are some of CBR’s favorite Easter Eggs from Batman: Gotham by Gaslight!
15 IVY THE PLANT LADY
Pamela Isley steals the opening scene as “Ivy the Plant Lady.” “This ivy is poison -- Dare you taste her forbidden fruit?” Performing burlesque at the Gotham Gaiety Girls club in an iconic bikini made of green leaves, Poison Ivy is difficult to miss. Red hair and leaves trail down her back, eyes like emeralds gleam from heavy lidded eyes.
Even when the show is over and Pamela has her full attire back on, she is head to toe in shades of green. If Ivy had the full brunt of her powers in this story, Jack the Ripper may not have lasted very long in Gotham. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, after all. This is especially true when that woman has powers capable of controlling the entire plant kingdom!
14 MARLEEN MAHONEY IS HARLEEN QUINZEL
Even Harley Quinn makes an appearance in Gotham by Gaslight, but not in a directly identifiable way. She totters onto the screen late at night when she should be in bed, startling Sister Leslie. Marleen Mahoney complains that she couldn’t sleep and “needed her medicine” -- referring to the alcohol she was harboring somewhere on her person. The voice of the character is immediately recognizable as the one and only Harleen Quinzel.
Research shows that Tara Strong did indeed do the voiceover for this character, which is perfect considering she has voiced Harley for video games and animation countless times. It is not just Marleen’s complaints about sleep, references to meds, and her voice that point her out as Harley, it is also how she uses it. Calling Bruce Wayne “high and mighty” and police officers “coppahs,” the Harley-tude is pretty easy to spot.
13 UNION JIM
James Gordon is recognized as an experienced and highly decorated war veteran in the DCU. Considering The American Civil War ended in 1865, and this story takes place 33 years after, the Jim Gordon of this era would only be fitting had he served in the War. We find out that he did, fighting on the Union side until resolution was found and the war was declared officially over.
This is mentioned several times in the film, and in some detail during a late night conversation between Batman and Jim. Gordon mentions incidents occurring at a “Union camp in Culpepper during the war,” along with an apocryphal tale comparing B-man to feral cats. This is fascinating because Culpepper is another actual historical event mentioned in Gotham by Gaslight.
12 SELINA THE LION TAMER
Although she is never referred to by the moniker “Catwoman”, Selina Kyle is very much the part in this Elseworlds interpretation. Raised in the circus, Selina specialized in being a professional lion tamer. She loved those cats, and kept the whip she used to train them to defend herself on the mean streets of Victorian Gotham. It only makes sense that Selina Kyle would be a women’s suffragist during this time in history.
She is as outspoken about her thoughts on women’s rights as she is a hundred years later on the protection of wild animals. The script is loaded with cat references, and we are told that Selina cares for the stray cats of her neighborhood. It is her independent streak that really shows her for who she is in this film. “Listen carefully kitten, I am many things, but I am nobody’s pet.”
11 SISTER LESLIE THOMPKINS
Leigh Thompkins is most known for her role on the show Gotham. She is portrayed as a young and beautiful doctor who once loved Jim Gordon. In Gaslight, we are given a more true to the source version of her, as an elderly nun caring for the disenfranchised out of a local parish. In the comics, Leslie is depicted as doctor old enough to date Alfred, and does for a time. She was also the one who comforted young Bruce after the brutal murder of his parents.
In this movie we learn she filled that role for 19th century Bruce as well, after his parents were similarly murdered. With her Irish accent, sharp wit, and no-nonsense attitude, Sister Leslie is a favorite in this film. We like a nun who can dish out a good punchline as well as loving compassion.
10 JEKYLL AND HYDE
Like the standard DCU, 19th century Harvey Dent is an eloquent and handsome county prosecutor. Best friends with Bruce Wayne, Harvey is every bit the risk taker and wise-cracker we know him as. Instead of flipping a coin and winding up with a horribly disfigured face and split personality as a result of a Joker scheme gone right, here we have a man who seems whole.
Harvey Dent struggles instead with being able to hold his booze, becoming ever more jealous and aggressive until he passes out. He is never referred to as “Two-Face,” but instead as a “regular Jekyll and Hyde” by Selina -- which is an interesting reference considering Two-Face is partly a derivation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde -- which was based upon a man’s struggle with alcoholism.
9 THE ROSE CAFE
Gotham City has been around for a while, so it would make sense that there would be buildings during the time of Gaslight that would still exist in the standard DCU. Sharp eyes will note that in the background of one scene in this film lies The Rose Tavern. It just so happens that The Rose Cafe is an upscale restaurant in Gotham that sets the scene for an episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
In “Pretty Poison” Harvey Dent invites Bruce Wayne to meet his date and betrothed -- none other than Pamela Isley. This episode is the 5th in the series and the first time Poison Ivy was introduced to the animated show. This was a fun way to weave multiple story-lines and universes together, like vines growing up a tree.
8 SAME OLD BULLOCK
Harvey Bullock is about as boisterous and slovenly as Jabba the Hut. Long-running jokes show him always eating -- “You gonna have that roll, Montoya?” -- belching, sleeping, and eating some more. We’d imagine his desk resembles something similar to Dennis Nedry's from Jurassic Park -- covered in crumbs and sticky from multiple forms of sugar and fast foods.
In this Elseworlds version, Bullock comes off as just as poorly put together -- one of his most notable moments is when he openly yawns at a funeral. Harvey is also a bit of a misogynist, always suspicious of the Batman, and anyone who seems to be friendly with him. This too is carried out in Gaslight, even going so far as to try to attempt to forcibly remove some “disruptive females.” That is, until Bruce Wayne steps in and smooths things over.
7 THE MONARCH THEATER
One fateful night, Thomas and Martha Wayne took their young son, Bruce, to see a movie. The movie they saw and the nature of when and why they left the theater differ throughout DC incarnations. Two things remain the same -- the name of the movie house the family went to, and the murders that took place outside it after. Poor Bruce saw his parents robbed and shot on the steps of The Monarch Theater.
Those quick enough will note that this very theater is also utilized in Gaslight, where Bruce and Harvey start out a night on the town. Instead of movies, the theater features live performances with lots of singing and legs. Thankfully, nobody gets killed in front of The Monarch on this night.
6 SOLOMON GRUNDY
Born sometime in the 19th century, Cyrus Gold was your average Victorian Age man -- you know, living his life and having affairs with prostitutes. He had an unfortunate encounter with one of his ladies’ pimps, taking a deadly blow to the head before being buried in a swamp. Left for dead, Cyrus got the Swamp Thing treatment and was slowly transformed by the murky depths into something beyond human.
Fifty years later, he emerged as the zombie we call Solomon Grundy. It is satisfying for the more meticulous DC fans to note that Gold makes an appearance in Gaslight’s Blackgate prison. Considering this story takes place in 1889, and Cyrus met his fate in 1895, the timing and placement of this character are Easter Egg perfection.
5 ARKHAM ASYLUM
Considered “Harvard for psychopaths,” The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane was built by Amadeus Arkham in the 1850’s. He had the intention of building the “greatest asylum the world has ever known,” and named it in honor of his mother. Amadeus had euthanized her when her dementia became too much for either of them to handle -- what a sweet way to memorialize Ma Arkham! Unfortunately, Amadeus wound up losing his mind and became locked away in his own asylum.
We get to visit Arkham in Gaslight, complete with Victorian era equipment and a Dr. Hugo Strange running the facility. Strange is of course a proponent of lobotomies for remedying mental illness, which was all the rage at the time. If you look closely at the Arkham scene in this movie, you might notice multiple modern DCU inmates, including a terrified member of the Crane family.
4 THE LEGEND OF JOHNNY GOBS
It’s no secret that part of what makes Batman such an effective crime fighter are the urban legends surrounding him. One legend that stands out from the rest is that of Johnny Gobs -- a villain who has never actually been seen in the DCU, only discussed in hushed tones. Some say Johnny “got ripped and walked off a roof,” but more believe it was The Bat who got him.
Batman isn’t known for killing even the worst criminals (see Joker), but somehow Johnny Gobs fell five stories to his death that night. The legend is mentioned in Gaslight as well, by some street kids while in the process of committing their own crimes. Considering Batman has a funny way of showing up whenever criminals are up to no good and happen to bring up this topic, it seems like a bad idea, on top of the whole committing crime thing.
3 SHERLOCK HOLMES, I PRESUME?
Batman is considered the ultimate modern day detective. Heck, he originates from a series of comics called Detective Comics! On March 30th, 1939, Bats was introduced to the world in Issue #27, and crime fighting has never been the same since. Most fans consider another fictional detective to be the predecessor of Bats, laying the groundwork for many modern conceptualizations of what a “detective” is.
This would be none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes -- who would have been alive during the time Gaslight takes place. It seems prudent then that there would be a reference to Sherlock Holmes in this movie. Bruce says in one scene, “A mentor of mine once told me, 'When you eliminate the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth'.” This is one of the most quoted things Doyle wrote, and is an elegant homage to the original ultimate detective.
2 MACABRE BAT-SIGNAL
There are at least a dozen ways to reach the Batman, as we’re told by Lucius Fox in The Dark Knight Rises. Why use an arcane method such as a beam of light to draw his attention? The Bat-Signal is a symbol for justice that strikes fear into the hearts of criminals and inspires hope in others. Originally crafted by Commissioner Gordon as a means to draw in Bats for nightly conversations on rooftops, we get a different origin here.
This high beam was created for the Gotham World’s Fair, which was to be lit using electrical light -- a technology that was new at this period in history. Improvisation transformed it into the first Bat-Signal when a desperate Selina used her own blood to create a bat-like image across the lens -- a far more intense way for the Bat-Signal to come to fruition!
1 THE ORIGINAL ROBINS
One of our favorite Easter Eggs in Gotham by Gaslight has to be the reference to the first three Boy Wonders -- Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake. Dressed as orphan thieves wielding knives and bad attitudes, they are immediately identifiable by their names, ages, and demeanors. Dick is the oldest, wisest, and more seasoned of the three. Jason is focused primarily on himself -- stealing from most anyone under any circumstances without thinking twice about it. This specific habit reminded us of when a later Batman found a later Jason attempting to steal the Batmobile.
Tim is the youngest and shyest of the group of orphan Robins. The boys even have the same hair and eye color as their standard DC timeline equivalents. Unlike other DC universes, in this interpretation Bruce Wayne finds himself in the possession of three new foster sons simultaneously. Talk about a full nest!