Fox’s ‘Gotham': Can A Batman Show Succeed Without Batman?


Photoshopped posing promo via Gotham Facebook

Photoshopped posing promo via Gotham Facebook

It’s a great time for us comic nerds. Comic book adaptations are at an all-time high in both quality and quantity. While everything isn’t a winner (coughAmazingSpider-Man2cough), we’ve got things like Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier on the big screen.

Adaptations on television have been increasing as well. Arrow has been a big hit for the CW, so much so that they’re spinning it off into a new show focused on The Flash. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had its struggles, but it improved towards the end of the first season and did well enough for ABC to earn itself a second season. ABC feels confident enough in the S.H.I.E.L.D. property that it’s also moving forward with Agent Carter, revolving around Hayley Atwell’s character from Captain America: The First Avenger and the Agent Carter one-shot that Marvel put out with the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray. That’s set to premiere in January.

There’s also a fresh adaptation of Hellblazer set up at NBC in the fall. You might know that property better from the 2005 Keanu Reeves movie, Constantine. NBC’s Constantine has some promise, even if the character isn’t allowed to chain smoke on TV, because someone needs to think of the children!

The big fish this fall is going to be on Fox. Gotham revolves around a young, pre-Commissioner Jim Gordon as he deals with the mean streets of Gotham City. That’s all well and good, but you’d expect Batman in a show about Gotham City, right? Yeah, this isn’t the droid you’re looking for. Gotham starts with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, so he’s just a wee lad here.

Even stranger is that the show features all the familiar Batman villains. The Penguin and Catwoman are featured prominently in Gotham’s advertising. Since Catwoman and Batman typically end up having real adult sleepovers, does that make Catwoman a cougar? And the Penguin’s some skinny creep. Are there going to be a number of scenes showing him overeating, like young Clemenza in The Godfather Part II?

The problem with prequel shows like this and Smallville are that people want to see the primary hero in action. Smallville had Clark Kent doing Superman thing, without donning the Superman costume. We don’t even get to see Batman in action, unless the show decides to skip ahead by 15 or so years at some point.

I wish that they had gone for the Gotham Central approach. Gotham Central was a terrific comic written by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka that focused on the police department and what they had to deal with in a city overrun with supervillains. Batman operated in the shadows. He wasn’t the focus. You wouldn’t have to worry about cheesy prequel elements and foreshadowing with an approach like that. Gotham is a war zone and the GCPD is in the trenches.

I get the approach to focus the show on a young James Gordon. Commissioner Gordon is one of the key Batman supporting characters, right up there with Alfred, Robin, and Bat-Mite (wait, what?). I always loved the portrayal of Gordon in Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, where he’s coming back to this corrupt city at the same time as Bruce Wayne. The two men work from different ends to clean up Gotham City and eventually meet in the middle. Gordon goes through struggles as a new father dealing with a legion of dirty cops, the mob, sexual temptation in the workplace, and the mysterious vigilante that dresses up like a bat. It’s compelling stuff, so much so that it can be argued that Year One is more of a Gordon story than a Batman story.

Instead we have a young Gordon played by Ben McKenzie trying to solve the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. McKenzie is best known for his work on The O.C. (don’t call it that), although he actually voiced Batman in the animated version of Year One (Bryan Cranston voiced Gordon in that same film, and now I really want to see him play Jim Gordon on the big screen). McKenzie’s most relevant work for this role can be found in Southland, in which he played a young cop. He’s well cast for the lead in Gotham, even if he isn’t rocking Gordon’s signature mustache.

Better

Much better

The ace in the cast is Donal Logue, playing Gordon’s partner Harvey Bullock. Bullock was one of the best characters on Batman: The Animated Series. He’s an old school detective straight out of a noir film. He’s dumpy, grumpy, and not afraid to get dirty to close a case. Logue looks great as Bullock in the promotional photos and trailers for Gotham, and should bring the right amount of world weariness and cynicism to the role. Bullock could very well be the backbone of Gotham.

What has me nervous is the villains. It’s strange to have them operating in a world without Batman. The Penguin, Riddler, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman will be in there. There’s been talk about Two Face and the Joker. It’s just strange and doesn’t feel quite right. The show at least created a villain in Fish Mooney, played by Jada Pinkett Smith. There will be some mob elements, like Sal Maroni and Carmine Falcone, which makes a lot of sense. But, will the show mainly be the Gotham police taking on Batman’s future super villains?

Usually the villains rise up after Batman appears, not the other way around. The Dark Knight used this to great advantage, looking at the evolution of crime in Gotham from the mob to the so-called freaks like the Joker. Shuffling the deck so that the egg comes before the chicken gets rid of these questions, and if anything makes Batman more necessary. There’s no questions of escalation and inspiring the wrong elements. Batman is merely fighting fire with fire.

Because of all this, Gotham is an odd property. Even if the majority of the audience isn’t going to care about these questions, will they want to watch a Batman show without Batman?

Gotham premieres on September 22nd.

Steve Jacot

I'm from Philadelphia but only throw a handful of batteries at hapless strangers a year. You probably know my sarcasm and dopiness from following me on Twitter.

I specialize in TV, movies, and the nerdy side of things on Untied, regularly posting about Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Star Wars, and the comic book movie of the moment.