Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham (2023)
Screenplay by Jase Ricci
Based on the graphic novel by Mike Mignola, Richard Pace, and Troy Nixey
Produced by Jim Krieg, Kimberly S. Moreau, and Sam Liu
Directed by Sam Liu and Christopher Berkeley
Rated PG-13, 1hr 26m
It’s definitely an Elseworlds title, in case any of you had any doubts. And it almost seems a foregone conclusion that out of all the pantheon of DC Comics heroes, of course Batman would be the one in the middle of a Lovecraft story.
Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham is full of clever twists on the familiar, from origin stories to villains to sidekicks. Set in the 1920s, the story follows Bruce Wayne (Grimm‘s David Giuntoli) in the Antarctic with his sidekicks Dick Grayson (Jason Marsden), Sanjay “Jay” Tawde (Karan Brar), and Kai Li Cain (Tati Gabrielle) as they search through the wreckage of an expedition led by Professor Oswald Cobblepot (William Salyers). It’s a type of beginning you’d find in almost any Lovecraft story about an expedition gone horribly wrong upon the discovery of an Eldritch Horror. And as soon as I saw that first beast in the ice, I knew I was in for a wild ride. I was not disappointed.
This works mainly because Batman as a character has evolved into this superhumanly brilliant genius-level smart guy who never gets anything wrong, and we’re almost at a point where that actually makes him less interesting. Here, though, he’s challenged with a situation that goes beyond logic and book-learning. He’s confronted with something that his mind can’t fit into a box. He can’t “science” his way out of it. Add that on top of the Lovecraftian elements, and you have a Gothic tale that really works with Batman’s origin as a darker “in the shadows” type of character.
And yes, there’s the obligatory origin scene, but even that is presented with a filter that ties it into the overall story. It’s also not teased out with the camera lingering on pearls hitting the streets, for once.
Things ramp up once we’re back in Gotham City, where Bruce has brought the last survivor of the expedition, Grendon (David Dastmalchian) — for all intents and purposes, the Renfield analogue — because Bruce knows something’s about to come apart in Gotham. And the situation very quickly escalates with the death of Kirk Langstrom (Jeffrey Combs) and the arrival of Talia al Ghul (Emily O’Brien), who’s goal is to revive her father so that he can open a portal for Iog-Sotha, the darkness out of time (Yog-Sothoth, anyone?).
There’s death. There’s chaos. There’s a dark horror descending into Gotham, and only the Batman has the power to stop it. The final solution is, shall we say, unique.
There’s also the surprisingly emotional sub-plot involving Oliver Queen (Christopher Gorham). His quoting “The sins of the father are heaped upon the son.” is something that comes back to play a very big part of the ending. This is not your usual free-wheeling liberal hippie Ollie. He’s got layers. And where his story goes is an interesting twist on his “Robin Hood” swashbuckling schtick. The fact that he’s friends with both Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent adds a new wrinkle to the dynamic between Bruce and Harvey, and the Oliver Queen we see at the beginning of the story is quite a bit different from the one we get towards the end, as those layers get pulled back by circumstances.
Most of the Rogues Gallery is in attendance, and the twists on their stories are right in line with the dark cosmic horror aspects of the setting. I don’t want to give too much away, as their appearances in the story are organic and fresh takes on their usual origins, and I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery as the story unfolds. Suffice to say, I think you should see for yourself.
Stefan Smith’s music score is definitely influenced by Danny Elfman’s work. I suppose at this point, Elfman and Tim Burton are the standard by which all Batman projects will be measured, just as Christopher Reeve and John Williams have become synonymous with Superman. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. That kind of tone works just fine in the 1920s horror setting here. But at some point, someone needs to throw in a little Nelson Riddle for balance.
I was surprised at how well David Giuntoli works as Batman. I don’t remember his voice being that deep in Grimm, and I’m glad that he doesn’t exaggerate the tonal switch between Bruce Wayne and Batman. It’s there, but it’s more Kevin Conroy and less Christian Bale. Not too much guttural growling here, which is good. We need to get away from that mess. Tim Russ is an inspired choice to play Lucius Fox, and Emily O’Brien turns in an appropriately mysterious femme fatale in Talia. The biggest surprise for me was John DiMaggio as Police Chief Gordon. DiMaggio usually sounds like DiMaggio, but here he’s using a voice that sounds less stylized, and it works very well to help ground the supporting cast of “normal” people as Gotham becomes the center of cosmic nightmare fuel.
The biggest disappointment, if you can point to one, is that the demon Entrigan isn’t in it as much as the trailer hints. He and Jason Blood (Matthew Waterson) make an appearance, but I was figuring he’d get more screen time, given the subject matter in the story. But I guess we can’t have everything.
This is one I figure I’ll be watching more than once. It’s a good one to have in your collection. The animation recalls Mike Mignola’s art without getting too blocky, and the performances are rightly balanced to ground the more fantastical elements of the story. I’m definitely recommending this one.