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 One, The 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 One, Batman 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.
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.