DC Animation has been on a roll for the last several years, and at least some of the credit for that success has to go to Jim Krieg. Arguably his most prominent work has been as a writer and producer on shows such as ‘Justice League Action’ and ‘Green Lantern: The Animated Series’, Krieg began contributing to the studio’s successful line of direct to video DC Universe films with ‘Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox‘ in 2013, for which he provided the screenplay. Krieg’s next contribution to the line is the screenplay for the upcoming adaptation of ‘Gotham by Gaslight’, a landmark 1989 one-shot by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola that saw Batman confront Jack the Ripper in a Victorian-era Gotham City. At New York Comic Con, we had the chance to sit down with Jim to discuss the film and his process for adapting such a highly regarded story.
What goes into choosing which stories get adapted?
We have these meetings with Warner Home Video, and DC also chimes in, and they do a lot of research at conventions or at Fathom Events screenings they’ll hand out questionnaires. And they’ll often have a list of famous graphic novels and people kind of rate which ones they’d like to see most. We also kind of have a… Here’s a big insider secret: a lot of us are nerds. [laughs] So we already know a bunch of these. We’ve read most of them and have kind of a wishlist ourselves. It’s kind of shocking how often our wishlist lines up with those of the geeky public.
For someone who hasn’t heard of the graphic novel before what would the elevator pitch for this movie be?
Well now the pressure’s on, because now I’m in the elevator with an executive and I’m sweating! Okay, so! The elevator pitch is that this is Gotham City, it’s 1888, there’s a new costumed vigilante in town called the Batman, and his arrival basically coincides with the arrival of a killer named Jack the Ripper. Now our Jack the Ripper is not the Whitechapel Jack the Ripper. It’s Jack the Ripper who originated in Gotham City. And also, we’re fairly careful to portray him as he… Because there are also people who are, I don’t want to say “fans,” but are interested in Jack the Ripper. So we tried to recreate the letters that he sent to the newspaper in the same way. We don’t know. We think it’s maybe going to be an R, because of the subject matter, but it ain’t ‘CSI’. You know, we aren’t going to be seeing dissections. But it’s a little bloody and it’s not for kids. And I’ll reiterate that it’s not for kids so that you know that it’s not for kids.
What’s your process for adapting it? Do you just look at it and go “Okay, how do I break this into three acts?”
It was a one-shot. It was very short. So we knew right away after rereading it… And it’s a good story, it’s just a short story. And these are seventy-two minute movies. It would be a really short film. So what we did is we just delved into that world. So it’s not going to be a beat for beat adaptation of that story. But I think it is a very faithful adaptation of that world. And we just kind of extrapolated what Brian and Mike already did, which is “Let’s see our cast of Gotham in the 1880s. Who are they in this world and how will they interplay with this new scary Batman and the specter of Jack the Ripper menacing Gotham City?” So in some ways we added a lot more characters than you’re familiar with. So I think there will be some joy – I hope – in watching the movie and going “Oh! That’s Bullock!” and recognizing the cast as you know them, but now with muttonchops and top hats.
Were there any particular characters or story beats that stood out to you as something to expand upon?
It was more like the original graphic novel ended up serving as sort of a window into this world that just kind of whetted our appetite. And I think we’re all so familiar with the Batman mythos that people just automatically got ideas. We just started writing characters on the dry erase board and saying “Who would they be in a Sherlock Holmes story?” And it really lent itself to it. There are certain elements of not only the first graphic novel, but the second ‘Gaslight’ that took place at the World’s Fair that lead into this. And that also was not a direct adaptation either. Because that’s more… The first one is a real Penny Dreadful, you know, mystery, murder, bloody thing, and the second one is much more like an H. Rider Haggard, over the top, master of the world type of story. But I think we cherry picked some of the things you remember. If you remember those pieces, things come to your mind. We tried to include all of those, but then put them in a format that made sense in a linear story, and specifically a mystery. And I’m telling everybody, when you do see it, please do not spoil it! It’s not ‘The Crying Game’, but you know… [laughs]
So it’s very much a detective story?
It is a detective story. In this, Batman is the world’s greatest detective and he is absolutely our ersatz Sherlock Holmes. And there are more Sherlock Holmes Easter eggs in this than there are DC Universe Easter eggs. Now, I actually didn’t go through and count them. That’s a generalization. Because someone is going to do it and come out like “Krieg lied! There are actually two more DC Easter eggs!”
You said that you guys are fans, that you come to it as a fan, and this is a really well known book. So when you’re adding content, is that intimidating for you?
Well, another thing about a mystery is that if you know the ending, it sucks. And this is a super well known graphic novel, so I think it would be disappointing if we knew every beat. I mean, I’m excited to go see ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ when it comes out, but mostly I’m going for the production design and the acting. Like when Poirot pulls the curtain, nobody’s going to go “Oh!” You know? But in this one I do want you to go “Oh!” I hope that whether you’re familiar with it or not, it’s a satisfying experience. I hope it’s satisfying for Brian and Mike when they see it!
What kind of research did you do for the additional material?
Wow, thank you for that! Because I actually did do a ridiculous amount of research. And I have to say, so did the animation side. There are more hats in this movie than probably any other Warner Bros. movie, I mean, they really researched hairstyles and mustache styles and sideburn styles. And every character is a new character design. And you’d think it’d be exhausting, but just the opposite happened. They were all invigorated and excited to do it. I’ve been a lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan. My dad read me those stories growing up, and I’ve read them to my son and my daughter, and so it’s super satisfying to do it. But I really… I also picked up books and there’s a lot of literature that is Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper. And I read a bunch of those. I don’t remember all of them off the top of my head, but it’s in the audio commentary. But they’re great books. One is, I think, ‘The Last Case of Sherlock Holmes’ and it’s just creepy and weird. I’m not recommending it, I’m just saying there’s a lot of stuff out there and it’s quite interesting. And there are movies too. Like ‘A Study in Terror’. And you should google that poster. It’s not Hammer, but it’s like Hammer-adjacent. It’s a British movie from 1966 and it’s Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper, and the poster is trying to cash in on the Adam West Batmania craze. And it actually says “Pow! Biff! Bang!” on it and they call Sherlock Holmes “the original caped crusader”. And that’s the poster I want in my office. I’m not recommending the movie, but that kind of movie does influence it. We watched a lot of stuff. ‘The Lodger’ and… There are so many movies that are just kind of part and parcel to this feeling. And I think this is a good mystery, but it’s also a mood and a tone and a feel, and I don’t think it’s one we’ve seen in and of these DC animated movies yet. I think it’s going to make it really special and interesting.
The animated adaptation of ‘Gotham by Gaslight’ stars Bruce Greenwood and Jennifer Carpenter. The film is due for release on blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats in 2018.
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on ‘Gotham by Gaslight’ as it becomes available!