I Believe in Gotham City

Guest blogger and comic book aficionado, Jason Major, takes an in-depth look at the Gotham trailer and offers some predictions on the upcoming series.

Gotham is an upcoming show on FOX TV Mondays that is about Detective James Gordon trying to fight crime in Gotham City after the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Far from just a Bruce Wayne origin, the show is described as a crime opera focusing on the cops and the fall of Gotham City and the origins of the villains and world of the Dark Knight.

The first full extended trailer has been released as well as a “Villains Themed” shorter trailer can be seen here:

My review of the trailer may be different than than that of the TV series itself, but so far it is shaping up to be fantastic. The trailer itself takes on a more cinematic look, and I’m sure if someone took the time to mash it up with a Batman trailer, it would almost look like the origins of a new Batman movie.

The look is very similar to me to the Batman: Animated Series of the 90’s — a modern yet retro look with retro-looking clothing, a very Noir-ish looking Gotham. Even the producers admit their influence is from New York in the 70’s.

One of the promising aspects is that they are looking straight at the source material for the cops and supporting cast for Gordon, using the Gotham Central comic book (a comic which focused on Gotham’s cops in a world with Batman) for reference and using established characters like Renee Montoya, Harvey Bullock, Crispus Allen and Sara Essen to further populate its world.

Villain-wise, we are being promised many of the “big bads” of Batman very early on. The Penguin is a key character here, more based on the newest Batman: Earth One graphic novel (a reboot comic version of the character), where Penguin is skinnier and smaller than round and fat, but also much more vicious. Selina Kyle (Catwoman) is also part of the cast, as a young homeless girl/thief, and Edward Nygma has been given a new origin as a forensic scientist with a penchant for puzzles and riddles. A young Poison Ivy was also shown in the trailer.

The Joker has also been promised sometime, very possibly by the end of season one, although “with great care and thought”. My own hope is that they go with the classic Jack Napier/gangster Joker. I would be interested in seeing a Noir-like origin for the Joker, perhaps as a gangster with a troubled past who eventually becomes the Red Hood before becoming the Joker we know. My guess is that Joker will become a supporting character once he is introduced.

The Batman: Earth One graphic novel is set on DC’s New Earth One, where they are doing graphic novel reboots of their characters separate from their New 52 line. Its influence on Gotham is seen both in Penguin and also a new approach to Alfred as more of a Butler/ex- marine bodyguard (this version was also used in the new Beware the Batman cartoon). In many ways, this version does make some sense, as Bruce is only 10-12 years old right now.

The trailer looks fantastic, and despite what else you may read from internet fans complaining about “this will suck because it is not Batman”, early reviews from critics and word-of-mouth suggest they are looking at this series to become a breakout hit at Fox. A full-season order would not be picked up for a show at this time usually, and a full-season order shows more confidence in the final product.

Also, I find many of the complaints unfounded. For example, comparisons can’t be made to Smallville. Superman’s mythology as Superboy/young Clark Kent has a lot less in the comics in terms of classic villains and world-building. I would argue that Batman has one of the greatest rogues gallery, but also one of the best supporting casts in all of comics. There is a lot of great world-building that can be done if they do a nice mix of gangster/street-level villains and classic rogues gallery. Also, none of the creators of Smallville have anything to do with the show. Both Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon were heavily involved in CSI, which is by far a better comparison for Gotham. CSI seems to have lasted for quite some time now and had multiple spin-offs. Other shows Bruno Heller has been involved in include Rome and The Mentalist, both critically-acclaimed shows. Ben Mackenzie was a cop on the crime drama Southland, as well as the voice of Batman on the animated movie Batman: Year One, which seems like good groundwork for his role to me. Donal Logue was also acclaimed on Sons of Anarchy and Vikings, (and also has comic book cred in Ghost Rider as Johnny Blaze’s friend) and the cast is surrounded by interesting characters as well.

Gotham’s challenges, in my mind, will live or die by the writing. For me, part of the problem with 21st century television is that shows are so serialized that they hard to follow from week to week and you give up and wait for the DVD/Blu-ray release. One way Gotham seems to be avoiding the problems of serialized TV is that the producers/directors have mapped out already the entire first season. This is a stark contrast to a series like Smallville, which in my opinion seemed to be made up as they went along. Also, here’s hoping the procedural-like formula will help it be a show that will be more easy to jump into. If done right, it should be simple for new viewers: Gotham is corrupt; Gordon is trying to stop the escalation; Bruce is one day going to become Batman.

The other potential problem is if the story becomes too repetitive. Will the series still feel fresh two years in, while we are continuing to wait? Will they use too many of the big villains too soon? Batman has a large encyclopedia of villains. If they mix the gangster-type villains, the classic more well-known rogues, and revamp some of the lesser-known rogues, plus the more traditional police procedural murders/cases, Gotham could have a chance at becoming a very interesting crime epic.

The actor playing Bruce Wayne has a lot on his shoulders. I would love to see this kid grow into Batman through the more classic origin: by studying hard and learning from the world around him. The producers have promised that you won’t see teen Bruce Wayne drama. Instead, you’re going to see a kid who knows early on that his calling is to become the saviour of Gotham. My hope is that they will play first with the classic origin where he tries to do this through the law until it becomes self-evident that this is impossible. It’s important here to remember that the classic origin for Batman is more rooted in Batman wanting to make sure that his personal tragedy never happens again. It’s less about vengeance and more about justice and taking his tragedy upon his shoulders and preventing anyone else from having to go through that again. The child actor has to interestingly portray a character going through this transformation into the Batman, rather than a character in a soapy teen drama.

I believe in Gotham City. I believe that a crime opera in the shadow of Batman could work. Only time will tell if I am right, but for now the Dark Knight rises on television. (Yes, I know, I had to.)


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