The Batman comics have a long history of exploring Gotham’s past, but Fox’s new show is the first attempt to really explore that material on film and delve into the lives of the supporting characters. There’s a lot of potential here for a long running show, but also a number of pitfalls that could prove challenging in the future. As a longtime comic reader, here’s my take on the first 2 episodes of Fox’s Gotham.
Possible spoilers ahead.
1. Concept and Tone: When it was announced, many speculated the show would be similar to Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka’s Gotham Central, and while the show does share some of the elements of the series it is less focused on the smaller, intimate picture. Essentially Gotham is a ‘what if’ take on the idea that most of Batman’s primary villains started on their career paths a good ten to fifteen years before Bruce suits up. The show clearly takes a number of cues from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, mixes in some of the thematics of Nolan’s film, and a healthy dose of the more freakish and pulpier comic elements. The tone is a bit oddball and I like that; it feels like an interesting mashup of the Batman aesthetics.
Brubaker and Rucka's Gotham Central, art by Michael Lark
2. Death in the Family: The Wayne’s murders took place a little early. While, we know the Waynes have to die eventually, I was hoping that this could be held off until the middle or end of the season. On one hand, it does give Gordon and Bullock a case that the show can sustain and twist around for a while, but on the other it denies the show an opportunity to explore a facet that even the comics haven’t opened much: Bruce’s relationship with his parents. There haven’t been many opportunities to really know the Waynes (Greg Rucka’s Batman: Death and Maidens and Scott Snyder’s Batman: Zero Year are probably the best at example at injecting the Waynes with some character). For most of Batman’s 75 year history, Thomas and Martha have never really been taken off the mantle and made into real flesh and blood human beings. I think an exploration of this would have added a greater sense of understanding to Bruce’s drive and his inability to heal. While Bruce had a positive relationship with his parents, his reaction to their death is by no means normal. So what kind of parents were the Waynes to shape a boy like that? Maybe we’ll be treated to some flashbacks that touch on this later down the road.
Batman #0 (1994) by Doug Moench, art by Mike Manley
3. Dynamic Duo: Gordon and Bullock’s relationship forms the crux of the show and both Ben McKenzie and Donal Louge make compelling leads. Their buddy cop banter also adds some levity to a rather somber show. I appreciate the fact that so far the show has given them actual cases to solve, and hopefully this continues and they don’t simply turn into superheroes with badges. Despite the fact that Gordon and Bullock are the shows leads they sometimes feel sidelined by the introduction of too many characters. Hopefully this will even out as the show progresses, but at this moment I’d much rather see more of Gordon and Bullock than whatever sub-plot is happening with Gordon and his fiancé, Barbara.
Batman:Earth One by Geoff Johns, art by Gary Frank
4. Master Wayne: David Mazouz gives an impressive performance as Bruce, capturing not only his intense fixations but also his earnest compassion and interest in doing good. I hope that as the show goes on we get to see all of the training Bruce went through in his preparation to become Batman, a preparation far more exciting than any of the films have shown. I’m not crazy about Sean Pertwee’s Alfred. There’s a bit of Michael Kane is his performance but he creates a much harsher figure, more like the grizzled soldier in Geoff Johns’ Batman: Earth One. While he seems far more capable of rearing a child than comic-book Alfred, he also makes Bruce’s transformation into Batman seem far less likely from a standpoint of character consistency.
Batman:Earth One by Geoff Johns, art by Gary Frank
5. Organized Crime: The mob element of the show is working well so far and ties in pretty closely to the comics and the idea of the mob being supplanted by the freaks. Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney is over the top but entertaining. Her character, who doesn’t exist in the comics, is an interesting choice for a first season baddie. I’m calling it now that she doesn’t make it out of the first season alive. The show’s mob boss Carmine Falcone is a bit of a bland cliche, and I would’ve liked to see something more akin to his representation in the current Batman: Eternal. Right now, I’d be far more fearful of Mooney than Falcone.
Batman Eternal #2 (2014) art by Jason Fabok
6. The Cat and the Penguin: Robin Lord Taylor’s Oswald Cobblepot is definitely the show’s highlight and he completely steals every scene he’s in. I think his progression over the seasons will be the most interesting to watch. Of all of the show's villains (or pre-villains) his inclusion feels the most necessary in staying true to the comic mythos. Carmen Bicondova has a strong handle on Selina Kyle’s personality and while she hasn’t had much to do yet, her storyline could end up rivaling Cobblepot’s. I do hope, however, that show will stop trying so hard to shove the fact that these characters will become The Penguin and Catwoman at every chance they get. For a show based in the world of such iconic characters, the writers don’t have to try so hard to remind people of that.
Catwoman #21 (2013) by Ann Nocenti, cover by Rachel and Terry Dodson
7. Future Plans and Hints: Gotham is delivering some very off-key characters, which is part of what makes the show so interesting and different from the usual police procedurals. Episode two points us to the villian responsible for kidnapping Gotham's homeless youth, Barton Mathis-The Dollmaker, a fairly recent Batman villain who’s most noteworthy act was removing the Joker’s face (at his behest). Barton Mathis’s father was a cannibal and a serial killer who was killed by Jim Gordon. Barton eventually became The Dollmaker and wore a mask made from his father’s face. He’s a particularly grim character whose close connection to Jim Gordon may be something we see play out later this season.
Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: Faces of Death by Tony Daniel
8. Concerns: My main issue with the show thus far is that we’re getting a lot of concepts and characters very quickly. While I think it’s interesting to see some of these characters before they became the iconic villains, there comes a point when the planned introductions of Harvey Dent, pre-Joker, and unfrozen Mr. Freeze take away from the believability of this world for the sake of convenience. Batman comics have long relied on the concept of Batman’s villains emerging because of his existence (Christopher Nolan termed this “escalation” in Batman Begins.) So assuming this show is aiming to be on for the long haul, there will come a time when these pre-villains will need to become full-fledged criminals in order to maintain momentum. And if we’re getting supervillain monikers, masks, and crimes that Gordon and the rest of the GCPD can handle before Batman, what then is the point of a Batman? While I may be getting ahead of myself here, I do think it’s an interesting conundrum that the show may have to deal with at some point.
Verdict: I think the first few episodes show that Gotham is still finding its footing as network shows must do, but it’s off to a much better start than most comic-based shows.
Gotham airs Monday on Fox 8/7c