To anyone unfamiliar with the Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham comics miniseries, or, perhaps, familiar with the way DC animated movies can drastically change things, the animated adaptation feels awfully rote at first. The opening is cool, literally, as Bruce Wayne in the Antarctic discovers ancient evil creatures, in a sequence that evokes The Thing and At the Mountains of Madness. (Also the Penguin gets butt-naked, which is horrific in of itself).
Once Bruce and his three young sidekicks — Dick Grayson, Jay Tawde, and Kai Li Cain — return to Gotham, however, events unfold predictably. It’s the Victorian era, so here’s Victorian Mr. Freeze! Victorian Killer Croc! By the time Victorian Talia emerges to summon a demon, the trajectory seems inevitable. Yet it isn’t. Talia and her father, Ra’s al Ghul, may act predictably, but the story doesn’t, and the character twists become steadily more disturbing. By the time the film goes full H. P. Lovecraft, it should win skeptics over. It’s been a while since we’ve seen an Elseworlds tale this pleased with its out-of-canon freedom to just kill characters gruesomely. And sometimes the movie inflicts gross body horror on them first.
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Then Etrigan gets butt-naked, too. We’d blame M.O.D.O.K., but the timing doesn’t work. DC and Marvel just must have independently decided that monster ass would be the next trend.
The artwork style feels like a blend of Bruce Timm and Mike Mignola, who co-wrote the original comic. Screenwriter Jase Ricci, usually associated with lighter fare like Teen Titans Go!, expands the story by making things more personal, beefing up Thomas Wayne and Lucius Fox’s parts, and making Oracle a psychic medium, among other touches. And what would a Lovecraft homage be without Jeffrey Combs? The veteran actor voices would-be Man-Bat Kirk Langstrom in flashbacks. Meanwhile, another Dr. Herbert West has a profound, “divisive” effect on Harvey Dent. Star Trek: Voyager veteran Tim Russ voices Lucius Fox.
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David Giuntoli, who previously played Batman in Soul of the Dragon, continues his alt-universe Batman run here, depicting the detective as supremely rational in the face of utter madness. Christopher Gorham, previously the official DC animated universe Flash, switches things up as an extremely drunk Oliver Queen, whose demise is assured despite — or because of — some memorable scene-stealing.
Until we get a DCeased movie, which this may indeed pave the way for, this has more corpse and zombie action than most, plus a large-scale reptile attack. Just when it seems to be a typical alt-history Batman, The Doom That Came to Gotham goes mad. And removes any qualms fans might have had.
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Recycled Blu-ray extras include trailers for previous projects like Gotham by Gaslight, and some older Batman cartoons. New extras include a making-of featurette that includes comments by a psychologist, and some really silly fake archival footage. There’s also a commentary track, with Ricci, co-director Sam Liu, and others, in which they call out all the specific Lovecraft references, note the changes from the comic, and generally position the film as horror. There are horror elements, to be sure, but does the movie ever actually scare? Perhaps not, but its ability to visually translate madness is bold enough to impress and maybe slightly disturb. As for 4K, it doesn’t look much different than the regular Blu-ray.
As noted on the commentary track, Batman is a pretty malleable character who can work in almost any setting or tone. And yet… it’s a shame it takes a Batman to sell a Lovecraftian horror story like this one. A similar story that wasn’t full of spot-the-reference could be even better, but since this is DC, and they know their characters are the selling point, at least they’re going to crazy places.
Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham is available now on digital, Blu-ray, and 4K.
Recommended Reading: Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham (New Edition)
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