Is Gotham Changing the Mythos of the Batman Universe?

Batman is one of those characters that keeps coming back, in new movies, in TV shows, in comics. Even as one series of Batman movies ended, another series is starting up to include him – the Dark Knight returns, indeed.

As such, the very idea of Gotham is kind of refreshing. With so many instances of Batman out there, it’s nice to sit back and take a look at the famous fictional city before the Bat. A city full of greed and crime and corruption. A city run by organized crime. A city with a frightening place called Arkham Asylum that always ran a little too full.

I’ve been working through reading many of the iconic Batman comics in recent months, like Year OneThe Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns. In reading those, there is a strong point made that before Batman, crime in Gotham seemed pretty mundane – there was just a lot of it. Once Batman arrived on the scene, though, you started seeing super villains, and increasingly hear the psychological argument that it’s Batman who made this happen, made the crazies take over the crime business. You see this shift in the recent Dark Knight movie trilogy as well.

And it is this idea which I think Gotham is turning on its head, and I’m not sure what I think of that. So let me lay out the progression, but then you tell me what you think – is Gotham re-writing the script on Batman?

The Basics of Gotham

There’s nothing inherent to the premise of Gotham that changes the meaning behind Batman. Sure, in Year One, you have Batman and Jim Gordon starting in the city at the same time – one as a vigilante, and one as a detective. However, Gordon is also pretty much always iconically older than Batman, and to me he is a guy with a grey mustache. It’s a thing.

So when Gotham started with Gordon arriving in town, and landing the Wayne murder case, this worked for me. I like the idea that he is the good cop who shows Bruce there is hope, that you can do good. And then, the failure to move anywhere with the case, the roadblocks and the failure to find justice, show that the system, and the good work of one man, is not enough to save Gotham city. I think this all works well.

Gotham also started with organized crime running the show, Falcone and Maroni, just like in Year OneBatman Begins and The Dark Knight, and in The Long Halloween. But then, like in the latter two stories, we’re starting to see a transition – away from the mafia having power, and towards dangerous new players having the power.

The Transition

Okay, maybe Gotham hasn’t included The Joker yet, but it certainly has included a number of known, rogue’s gallery super villains. Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Victor Zsasz, The Riddler, Two-Face, Copperhead, and most especially The Penguin…

In The Long Halloween, the Batman story picks up a few years after Year One, and there are far more masked villains than there were before Batman. Gordon even starts to make this point before being hushed by Batman. However, organized crime is still running the show and, over the course of the comic, this dynamic shifts, as key players in organized crime are murdered. Eventually, the rogues take over and Batman has his work cut out for him! The Dark Knight chronicles this same shift on a smaller scale, and to great effect.

And then… I feel like we’re watching that same transition playing out a bit slower on Gotham. We’re seeing one takeover that makes the most sense early on, as well: Cobblepot taking over and becoming the super villain equivalent of organized crime. So this works, but he’s by no means the only super villain fraying things from the edges, not given the list above! (Or you can check out this list of references and Easter Eggs on IGN).

I think they particularly moved towards this being a world with super villains in it with the recent episodes with The Electrocutioner. Here’s a guy who took over Arkham Asylum from the inside, could mind control people through creepy sort-of lobotomies and electro-shocks, and who almost takes out police headquarters – with Sal Maroni there, too. So he defeats all the cops and almost kills a mafia boss… definitely seems like early days on the transition to super villains!

I love the super anti-climactic way in which Gordon defeats him, too. So mundane, in the face of this larger-than-life opponent and challenge. There’s still definitely a lot that this show can do, and a lot that Gordon as the hero can accomplish – but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s all leading to Batman. But will the super villains get there first?

Not the Hero they Deserve, but the Hero they Need

I feel like, given the young Bruce Wayne we have in Gotham, the world is easily 5-15 years away from Batman. That’s a long time, given we already have super villains attacking police headquarters and challenging the mafia.

In many ways, it was always likely that the show was going to include named, known super villains. There’s not a lot of point to making Gotham if you don’t – it could as easily be any other detective show then, and we’d rather watch Castle if so. Because as it’s going now, it’s not the good guys we’re rooting for, it’s not Gordon we keep coming back to see – it’s Penguin.

With Penguin already making his moves, already climbing the ranks, I doubt that the world of Gotham is going to last too much longer with the current organized crime world intact. And will we get more of the rogue’s gallery? While someone like Mr. Freeze or the Joker might be a little harder to do – or might be saved for a season-long villain – there are others who could work quite nicely for an episode or two. Calendar Man, for instance (another The Long Halloween reference, I suppose). Hugo Strange (who we thought the Electrocutioner might be at first). Scarecrow (like in Batman Begins). Bane, given they’ve already mentioned the Venom. They’ll probably stay away from the League of Assassins though, given how they’re a major focus right now on Arrow

My point is, I expect far more super villains to show up, and for them to be a larger and larger problem and part of the world of crime that is Gotham city. As such, I think it’s very clearly going to be super villains everywhere, and it’s going to be a city desperately in need of a hero – in need of Batman.

Will we end up with a Gotham in need of a Batman? Or will it be Batman that finally tips the scale and leads to all the crazy in Gotham? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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11 responses to “Is Gotham Changing the Mythos of the Batman Universe?

  1. This looks really interesting, thank you for letting me know 🙂

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  2. I can’t wait for this to end up on Netflix. I’m a huge Batman fan and have been dying to watch this, but wanted to wait until I could watch it one go. The only problem I foresee with what I know about Gotham is that it’s a show that, by it’s nature, can’t go on or develop for too long, simply because at some point Batman has to show up.

    A character like Szazs is a good transitional villain, though; while he’s not a super villain by any stretch, he’s a scary and messed up enough dude to show how Gotham needs someone like Batman even if the mob’s power was eventually broken.

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    • Yeah Zsasz was great. He’s already at 20+ kills, and we saw him carving marks into his skin. And his start is as a mob enforcer, so he has fit in perfectly with the show and has been a recurring character.

      It’s been a great show. But Bruce Wayne is so young, I really wonder about how many seasons it can run. Because I agree – at some point they’re going to need a Batman.

      I wonder if they’ll flash forward in time with later seasons… Assuming they get later seasons!

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      • Yeah, there’s always a problem when an entire show exists as a prologue. which I assume is why the Flying Graysons never got out of development (I think, I don’t remember for sure). I imagine that if it went on long enough, Gotham would need to draw heavily from the Legends of the Batman flashbacks about the process of becoming the Batman. The real question will be “what is a good place to stop?”

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        • Oh, as to your other thought: I agree that this is a show that would be good to watch all in a row. The acting and characterizations, the known-character appearances, it’s all good stuff. But it’s not an edge-of-our-seats, must-watch sort of situation. Probably because it’s a prequel – we know Jim Gordon ends up commissioner, Bruce Wayne ends up Batman, and the crazies get crazier. The fun part is the journey, I guess, right?

          As opposed to other comic book shows right now, like Flash and Arrow – we can’t wait to watch those once they’re on Hulu the next day!

          And the other good comparison is actually probably Agent Carter, which is also a prequel show. It’s not quite a prologue, but it is… they’ve distanced themselves from directly influencing the other stories they have going on (like the creation of SHIELD), so that has made it a really strong show. Gotham on the other hand is very directly tied to the idea that Batman is what follows all of this.

          This seems like a good spot in the comments here to put in a plug for my Agent Carter series over on Sourcerer… https://sourcererblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/agent-carter-episode-recapreview-the-blitzkrieg-button-season-1-episode-4/

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  5. I’d love to see it just segue seamlessly into being a Batman show. 🙂 That’s a really interesting point though, that the whole place will be overrun with supervillains before Batman arrives.

    I’m also starting to get a little anxious about how NOT prologue-y it may in fact be. If that makes any sense. It’s not part of any other continuity. We have the general impression that we’ll end up with a Commissioner and a Batman, but we really don’t know for sure what kind of world they’ll be inhabiting. Not to mention the unexpected Penguin takeover of the show. Maybe this turns out to be a “what happens if the Penguin kills off Jim Gordon” show. We have no idea.

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    • Well, and in a lot of the continuity the Penguin has a bunch of goons and mobster-types working for him, so I could see in the next season or two being in charge of the organized crime, or being in a war with the older families.

      Of course, that would have him taking out the “known” mob families to do so – instead of it being Batman doing that.

      For including Batman one day, they’re kind of having to count on their child actor… he might not grow up to be who they want, and an actor change would be disappointing too. The chances of a lose-lose for them definitely exist on that front.

      We have no idea!

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      • True! I could see them having Bruce wander off to become Batman and then jumping a few years in between seasons, then bringing in an older actor. But the younger actor’s been doing a great job, so you never know!

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