Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham will premiere on streaming platforms and Blu-ray on March 28, 2023.
There’s a time-honored tradition of Batman stories paying tribute to the otherworldly horror works of H. P. Lovecraft dating back to the introduction of Arkham Asylum in 1974. One such example was Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and Richard Pace when they skillfully mined that connection in their 2001 Elseworlds comic miniseries Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham, and now its faithful animated movie adaptation offers a genuinely terrifying spin on the Dark Knight and his friends and enemies.
Set in the 1920s, Doom doesn’t slow its pace from the moment it opens, with Bruce Wayne (David Giuntoli reprising the role from Batman: Soul of the Dragon) and his ragtag crew investigating the failed Cobblepot Antarctic expedition and being attacked by mutated penguins. The film, like the comic it’s based on, is designed for fans who don’t need introductions to the huge cast of characters, ranging from Dick Grayson to Kirk Langstrom, and can just appreciate the way they’ve been altered to fit the pulp-horror setting. Anyone else might feel a bit like they’ve showed up for a test without doing the homework. If you’re coming from the comic you might notice that a few explanations have been added to the film, though they feel superfluous, like noting that Barbara Gordon (Gideon Adlon) has become a famous oracle. Anyone who knows the name Oracle would likely immediately understand the clever way the story riffs on that title.
A few characters have been combined to get the comic story to fit into a tight, 90-minute runtime, though the biggest modification has been diversifying Batman’s allies to provide a bit of counterbalance to the Orientalist villains and Lovecraft’s racism. Lucius Fox (Tim Russ of Star Trek: Voyager) is inserted into the story, though his comments about the discrimination he faces running Bruce’s affairs, combined with the decision to trade out Tim Drake for Kai Li Cain (Tati Gabrielle of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) as a version of Batgirl Cassandra Cain does undermine the film’s ending.
The art is less stylized than the comics, hewing closer to the style of Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series but with some of the too-sharp edges found in the modern, computer-animated DC animated works. Still, the numerous fights are excellently choreographed, particularly the especially monstrous versions of Poison Ivy and Killer Croc. The imagery is also hauntingly disturbing in quieter moments, like an eldritch horror lurking below the ice or an utterly hideous and tragic version of Two Face.
While the recent run of live-action DC movies have proved largely disappointing, the animated films have been a bright spot, and within them Doom is the best since Justice League Dark: Apokolips War reset the DC Animated Movie Universe in 2020. Like the other stand-alone alternate-universe films, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight and Justice League: Gods and Monsters, Doom is free to imagine new paths for its characters and leave a heavy body count without worrying how it will impact future stories, and it uses that liberty to great effect.
Doom also has similarities to Matt Reeves’ The Batman (which was not a disappointment), fusing its noir sensibilities with the Lovecraftian cliche of investigators who delve into mysteries that, if solved, may save the world but will certainly doom them personally. Honoring Batman’s skill as a detective rather than just a physically fit rich guy helped make The Batman one of the best adaptations of the character on film, and that same approach also works perfectly here as Bruce uses steampunk gadgetry to search for evidence while also beating up dirty cops.
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Like Reeves’ Gotham, this version of the city is rotten to the core, subject to a deep corruption tied to the Waynes’ past. That aspect of the story deals heavily with Oliver Queen, who was a highlight of the original comic; here he’s given an expanded role and voiced by Christopher Gorham (who played Barry Allen in several previous DCAMU films). Gorham shows off his experience by seamlessly transitioning Oliver from a Teddy Roosevelt-style rich boy turned big-game hunter to a drunken wreck struggling with how to deal with the sins of his father to actually becoming something of a hero.