Frank Miller did a lot to build up Batman with his comics in the 80s. Gene’O of Sourcerer wrote a two–part review of The Dark Knight Returns last month. It sounded great, and I requested it from the library. But it was checked out, and I got Batman: Year One first. Well, that’s good too, right?
It sounds like Frank Miller wrote this comic after his Dark Knight comics. Because while Batman had a known origin story, which was good and which worked, there was still room to go back to the early days. To go back to the beginning. So that’s what this comic does: Bruce Wayne has just returned from his 12 years abroad, and Gordon has just moved to Gotham as well. The comic follows not only the origin of Batman, but the origin of Gordon as well.
And really, it’s Gordon’s story that I found much more compelling in this. Batman becomes Batman! Who knew? Everybody knows. But what Gordon had to go through? A good cop in a bad town? That’s a story. So that leaves me excited for the new show this fall, Gotham, which won’t star Batman, but instead the cops, the early Gordon. So I’ll close with that!
Batman’s First Try
Eventually, Batman is Batman and kicks butt, but that’s not nearly as exciting: that’s the expected. This year is Batman’s 75th anniversary, so we have 75 years of that.
However, Bruce Wayne does not return to Gotham City with Batman in mind.
Vigilantism, certainly. Dealing with the filth and corruption at the heart of the city his parents loved, sure. The hubris to think he could take any comer, yes.
And so, he gets some makeup going – including a fake scar – and heads out in secret into the red light district. And then, pretty much, the first opportunity he has to pick a fight, he does. It goes how you might expect: he could beat any one of them in combat, but there are many of them, and no one is on his side. He’s doing the wrong thing.
He has a great moment then where he’s thanking his dead parents, for giving/leaving him everything he needed to fight crime. The resources, the butler trained in combat medicine, and the giant, hidden underground lair. And finally, of course, the bats.
Meanwhile, and at the same time, Gordon, with his young wife Barbara, transfers to Gotham. Barbara is pregnant, so he has a family at home to be worrying about. So he should play it safe, right?
Which on the one hand, you might think that means play it safe with the bad guys. But that’s not a concern – not really at all. The bad guys have paid into the system, into the cops – so they don’t really get messed with. If Gordon just plays along with that, he’ll be really safe.
Well, except eventually from Batman, but he doesn’t know that!
Except Gordon, as we know, is a good cop. Is willing to stand up to the corrupt police establishment, all the way up to the corrupt commissioner. He gets the press on his side too, which is good – it makes him into a bit of a hero, and makes it so that getting rid of him would be really suspicious, or rather, not suspicious at all.
In fact, the commissioner decides he needs to be out of town for alibi and plausible deniability reasons – for when the cops are going to beat Gordon up. Not so badly he has to go to the hospital – just under that level. But it’s Gordon. So he figures out who did it, where they meet, and goes and beats up their ringleader – his partner. You know – just to the point where he doesn’t have to go to the hospital.
I also like that Gordon is a good fighter, and also doesn’t like guns. It’s a fun parallel between he and Batman – not sure how much that is an aspect from the existing comics, I suppose.
He also, while a good cop, is not a completely heroic good man. He fools around on his pregnant wife, with the new lady cop who comes to town. He knows it’s wrong, she knows its wrong. She eventually transfers. And the bad cops, of course, have photographic proof – so Gordon tells Barbara before they can use it against him.
So he’s not perfect. He’s not supposed to be. But he’s strong, and human, and he tries to be better. He is a good connection for Batman who, by the end of the comic, understands that he needs a friend. And so Batman befriends Gordon, the two men separated really only by a fortune and the luck of the draw. Separated by an origin story.
Excited for Gotham
So a bit of the scenes from this comic made their way into the Nolan Dark Knight films, mainly Batman Begins. Things like the bats being summoned by a high frequency sound, swarming the cops and letting Batman escape and live. And the story elements like Batman returning from abroad, or the good DA Harvey Dent getting his start in internal affairs.
However, so much of that is the Batman side of things that we’ve seen before. But Gordon? There’s a lot they can do with that! His early days, and the really just completely corrupt and broken Gotham, the city screaming for a hero. And Gordon wasn’t the hero they needed, but the hero they had at the time.
I’m worried, though, too. They’re including the known heroes and villains as kids, including young Bruce Wayne and the death of his parents. Some of what’s great with Gordon is his relationship with Batman, is him understanding he has to seek help outside the system. The firm belief in the law and what’s right, and the understanding that a vigilante might help with that. But this show as presented won’t have Batman.
Without Batman, is this just another take on the police procedural?
So I’m excited for Gotham – it has so much potential! – but I’m worried, too. Will it be like so many other shows on TV? Maybe with a bit more of an internal affairs vibe to it, a bit more mafia? I hope they don’t bore us, but time will tell!
Gotham starts on September 22 on Fox! Here’s the trailer: