Every other week, Jason Shayer will highlight an issue or a run of issues pulled from the horde of comic book long boxes that occupy more room in his house than his wife can tolerate. Each of these reviews will delve into what made that issue or run significant as well as discuss the creative personalities behind the work. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
“Wrong. Dead wrong. I fooled all London. And I could fool them anywhere, even in Gotham City, if that’s where I chose to appear.
Yes, I know the name. And perhaps he’ll soon have reason to remember yours truly,
JACK THE RIPPER”
This clever preface, written by horror writer Robert Bloch who penned several Jack the Ripper tales, was the perfect introduction to Batman: Gotham by Gaslight .Gotham by Gaslight was the first Elseworlds’ story, basically DC’s take on What If? In this case, it was: What if Batman faced off against Jack the Ripper?
Set in 1889, Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City after a five-year journey through Europe learning his “trade”. Bruce Wayne begins his adventures as the Batman and the crime-ridden streets of Gotham are in need of his vigilante help. Unfortunately, Jack the Ripper has started a new campaign of murder and it isn’t long before Bruce is suspected as they suspected the timing to be to coincidental. They then discover the murder weapon in Wayne manor and arrest him. After a speedy trial, Wayne is found guilty and sentenced to death. While imprisoned, Wayne deduces Jack’s true identity. He escapes and confronts Jack as Batman and puts an end to his legacy of death.
Augustyn interlaces the further exploits of Jack the Ripper with a Batman: Year One story. It’s a lot of fun to see Gordon and Wayne in the 1880s setting. There are cameos by Sigmund Freud and a teaser of the Joker as well as an appearance by Harvey Dent as the prosecutor looking to convict Wayne of the Ripper murders.
Mignola’s work was better suited to this 1880s tale than his efforts on the 1988 Cosmic Odyssey miniseries, not to say his work there wasn’t noteworthy. Mignola’s style, in particular his approach to Batman, had a strong steampunk feel to it. It’s not hard to see that book and the Victorian-Era Batman could have contributed to the steampunk movement, which was blossoming in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
DC editor and writer Brian Augustyn would go on to co-write The Flash with Mark Waid in 1992, as well as other titles co-written with Waid.
This story was successful enough to generate a sequel called Master of the Future which was published in 1991, written by Augustyn and drawn by Eduardo Barreto. And of course, Gotham by Gaslight was successful enough to launch the Elseworlds franchise of prestige edition books.
Jason Shayer has been trying his best not to grow up for that last 30 years and comics books are one of the best ways to keep him young at heart. He’s also known as the Marvel 1980s guy and has probably forgotten more than you’d ever want to know about that wonderfully creative era. Check out his blog at: marvel1980s.blogspot.com.