DC Comics’ line of original animated films tends to be very consistent. It’s hard to come across a dud in the decades-long direct-to-video franchise, offering a reliable way for fans to get their fix while big-screen cinematic portrayals have faltered. Fortunately, that upward trend only continues with Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham, the latest entry that pushes the bounds of comics lore and viewer expectations in creative and innovative ways.
Set in the early 20th century, The Doom That Came to Gotham is as Lovecraftian and fantastical as you’ll ever see the Caped Crusader. It’s of course still Bruce Wayne beneath the cowl (voiced by Soul of the Dragon‘s David Giuntoli), but almost everything else is different. After his parent’s brutal murder – yes, we have to see it again – Bruce leaves Gotham to explore the world, setting on a trip to the Arctic to track down missing socialite Oswald Cobblepot. What he finds is grotesque: living up to his name, Cobblepot has almost entirely become a penguin, melded with mutations to the brink of humanity. As Bruce returns to his old city, he discovers an ancient demonic curse ties closely to his family history, leaving him as the one responsible for saving the day.
As mentioned, it’s quite unlike any other Batman story out there, least of all in a DC Universe animated film. It mixes the period aesthetic of 2018’s Gotham by Gaslight with the otherworldy plot of Soul of the Dragon, but is fiercely creative on its own. Without going into specifics, The Doom That Came to Gotham goes to places no other Batman film has ever dared. It’s difficult to say whether all of these bold narrative swings come off, but I’m all for a fresh and creative take on such a storied lead character.
It’s aided by the script, which mostly does a good job of juggling so much distinct lore. Mike Mignola and Richard Pace, who co-wrote the early 2000s comic run upon which this is based, return to helm the screenplay alongside Jase Ricci, and it retains most of the unique flair that made this a story worth adapting. It’s one of the most desolate and tormented takes on Batman I’ve ever seen, while also shaking up the chronology in fascinating ways. DC has always been darker than Marvel, but this film revels in it with gruesome monsters and some Cronenbergian body horror to boot.
The only issue with so loyally adapting a comic book run is just how much lore, plot, and characterisation it has to fit in – and at times the film can’t quite spin all of these plates. The Doom That Came to Gotham is a veritable cameo-fest, with a seemingly endless list of Batman’s rogues gallery popping up alongside other supporting DC characters. At times it detracts from what is ostensibly Bruce’s personal story, but the third act very successfully zeroes back in on the quirks of this new spin, and sticks the landing in incredibly confident style. That said, throughout the 90-minute runtime you’ll meet so many familiar faces, all with a role to play, that you may yearn for the expected streamlining you’d get from a film adaption. Especially for those less accustomed to all these characters, its cast can feel slightly overstuffed.
But none of that detracts from what is one of the best DC animated films in years: bold and creative, bloody gruesome at times, and a really memorable perspective on the Caped Crusader. It’s very different to every other Batman animated film out there, and yet further proof that even while its cinematic outings have yet to find their voice, the direct-to-video market is where DC thrives.
Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham is out on DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital on March 27, 2023.