Monday, January 26, 2015

Victorian Era Monday: Gotham by Gaslight

Mondays I try to keep open for inspirational ideas in either the Pulp Noir or Victorian Era for your tabletop role-playing games. Both genres have a pretty big following (within our small hobby, that is), especially if you add "Steampunk" as a sub-genre of the Victoria Era.

One of the reasons I love the Victorian Era for role-playing games is how it can be relatively easily integrated into a more standard Fantasy Setting just by advancing the more typical D&D medieval timeline. The Victoria Era is right on the cusp of all of the inventions of the Industrial Revolution but there's still a sense of wonder and mystery left. There are large unexplored areas of the world still left, but with travel becoming easier, people of all cultures were starting to get exposed to new ideas, some of which included things like "magic" and the supernatural, which many people believed in.

For today's Victorian Era post, I'll be taking a slightly different, slightly more realistic approach by looking at the concept of superheroes in the late 1880s. In this case, we're talking about Batman, which I'm assuming is the first hero that would come to mind if someone asked, "What superhero might be skulking around in the late 1880?"

Gotham by Gaslight was DC's first "Elseworld" title, before that term even existed (DC Comics has gone back and adjusted future printings of the book to include the Elseworld's tag). It's really more of a murder mystery than the standard superhero fare, and that's fitting due to Batman's mantle of "The World's Greatest Detective." This book is just oozing with atmosphere and all of the trappings that go with a late 1880s Victorian setting (including a very famous murderer of the time period), but also very seamlessly weaves in all of the usual and favorite characters and settings from Batman, including Jim Gordon, Arkham Asylum, the Joker, Alfred, and more.

Art-wise, this is a fantastic-looking book with the art provided by Mike Mignola, whom you may know as the creator of the comic Hellboy (on which the movies were based). Mignola's character design, architectural renderings, and even panel layouts are all just a perfect match for writer Brian Augustyn's script, and properly set the mood and atmosphere of a late 19th Century Gotham City. It really captures the time period so perfectly and will give you plenty of visual inspiration for a Victorian Era game, whether or not it includes supers.

The current version of the story that's for sale also includes a follow-up story called Batman: Master of the Future. It's intended to be the same Batman in the same 1880s Gotham City, but the similarities of the two stories are like watching the Tim Burton Batman Films and then the Joel Schumacher ones that immediately follow them and trying to reconcile that they're all supposed to be one continuous four-movie story. Where Gotham by Gaslight is subtle in its design and depicts a grimy, greedy, Gotham that's been touched by the Industrial Revolution and grown dirtier and grittier as a result, the art by Eduardo Barreto in Batman: Master of the Future is brighter, cleaner, and more "gee-whiz" with steampunky gadgets, robots, and sky pirates. It's not a bad story and some of the steampunk stuff can be fun (and is a treasure trove for those of you who really dig playing Steampunk games) but as a follow-up to Gotham by Gaslight, it's kind of just a huge disconnect.

"The Fleetist" (Gaslight Flash)
©2013 Sillof

In November 2013, I linked to one of my favorite sites,, who had created a bunch of custom Steampunk Era Star Wars Figures. The same artist has also created Victoria/Steampunk Era DC Heroes using Gotham by Gaslight as his inspiration, as well as a Wonder Woman story called Wonder Woman: Amazonia which is also a Victorian-era setting but otherwise is completely unrelated to Gotham by Gaslight. He calls is the Gaslight League, and you've just got to go check it out. It's a perfect way to give you ideas of how to integrate the genres of superheroes and Steampunk/Victoria era while keeping it fun but not silly. I'm posting a couple of his figures below just to encourage you to go to his site to see the full line.

Gotham by Gaslight has received critical praise and is frequently ranked in the top Batman stories ever written. It's a perfect example of what the comics medium can do, especially when the writer and artist are working in sync like Augustyn and Mignola do. This is a self-contained story that doesn't rely on any "continuity baggage" or anything like that, so it's a perfect story to pick-up for first-time readers or people who have been away from comics for a while. It's a "one-and-done." It's also a great source of inspiration for people running or playing in Victorian or Steampunk games, and is an excellent example of integrating supers into a non-modern setting without making the aesthetics of the setting get too goofy.

"The Emerald Lamper"
(Gaslight Green Lantern)
©2013 Sillof
  • Format: 112 page full-color paperback
  • Where to Buy: If you can, try to buy this at your local comics shop. You might see some other things that you like while you're there! Use the comic shop locator to find one near you. You can also buy the digital version on Comixology, where just the original Gotham by Gaslight is available for $2.99 (you can buy Batman: Master of the Future separately). Lastly, it's available on Amazon, of course.
  • Price: The list price is $12.99.
  • Rated: Comixology has this rated at Ages 12+, but as always, you should at least skim it for yourself before decided if it's right for your kid. Your child might be able to handle it at a younger age, or it maybe be too intense for some kids.
  • More Information: Here's the official DC Comics page for the title, although honestly Wikipedia has a much deeper overview.

Hanging: Home office (loaner MAC laptop - still!)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Like I Want To" by Lisa Shaw

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