By Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola
Since it’s October, it’s time to revisit an absolute classic.
First published in 1989, eventually labelled as being part of DC Comics’ Elseworlds line, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight might just be one of the best alternative stories that DC Comics ever told. Even to this day, people look fondly on this series. Just look at the uproar over the proposed Gotham by Gaslight video game that was scrapped and then had footage leaked after the project was dead.
Gotham by Gaslight takes place in 1889 during the end of the Victorian era—an era that Mike Mignola has a certain fondness for—and pits a newly cowled ‘Bat-man’ against the legendary Jack the Ripper. For better or for worse, a very green Bruce Wayne stumbles onto this case, his first major one, and has to solve it before his time runs out.
The idea behind this couldn’t be more interesting; Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola throw a character like Batman into a very superstitious time, add a little steampunk to it and what results is nothing short of magic. Everything just works beautifully, even if we might not get all our customary gadgets, within the confines of that time period. There’s so much care and detail to every character and situation, even the not-so-subtle Joker reference that you can’t help but wish we had gotten more from this team. Something of this magnitude today would undoubtedly get an ongoing series probably before the two-part mini-series ended.
And, hey, then there’s the art. It might not be the exact Mignola style we’re used to these days, probably because Mignola tried to fit more into what was normal for DC back in those days and at the time he wasn’t the legendary artist/writer we know and love, but it’s still fantastic. The movements and action right to the simple conversations between characters is brilliant. This is the kind of work that helped shape Mignola into the Hellboy mastermind he is—a character he debuted only four short years later in Next Men #21—and if nothing else it’s interesting to see some of his earlier work in the industry. While you’re at it, check out his fantastic work (which one might dare say is a homeage to Kirby) on Cosmic Odyssey with Jim Starlin from around the same time.
25 years later, Gotham by Gaslight stands up. It stands tall, in fact, and if you call yourself any kind of Bat-fan you’d best go out and pick this up. Fairly recently (I want to say last year?) DC republished this, and the Mignola-less follow up, so you should have no problem finding a copy or three. Go forth and check out this gem of a comic you will not be sorry you did.