Gotham – The Danger of Reinvention

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I recently had the dubious pleasure of watching several episodes of the television series, Gotham. As a life-long Batman fan (to the extent that I even have a tattoo of the Bat signal), I was underwhelmed.

Firstly, do we need yet another Batman prequel and if so, does it warrant an on-going series? It seems to me that the origin story of Batman has been covered in depth in far more compact mediums like 4 issue story-arcs (such as in Batman: Year One) and movies (Batman Begins.)

Of course, Gotham is meant to be different because it’s about Gotham without Batman. Bruce Wayne is but a smooth-cheeked and vaguely irritating child in the show. His future villains are all in their embryonic stages – there is no Joker, no Riddler, no Catwoman. Just a variety of civilians and petty criminals that will become the rogues’ gallery.

In the place of Batman and his entertaining opponents, we are offered two supporting characters. Gotham City and James Gordon.

Gotham City has always been more a character than a city. It’s a living background, both Batman’s first love and his nemesis as he struggles to redeem it. In the comics, some of his internal dialogue directed towards the city reads almost like a love poem.

So I was surprised at how flat, generic and – dare I say it – camp Gotham appeared in this television series. This is not a nightmarescape of Tim Burton’s films nor the stripped-down urban hell from Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. With its mishmash of operatic lighting and overdone gritty backgrounds, the city in Gotham comes across as a stage set. Artificial and jarring.

In fact, those words can sum up the series with its wildly veering tone. On one hand, the audience is offered a slick, clichéd detective series. On the other hand, there are moments of grating camp and heavy-handed comic book references directed at fanboys.

I, for one, couldn’t help but feel that creative team behind Gotham doesn’t consider their core fan base to be particularly bright. Certainly not bright enough to catch subtlety. So the comic book references and introduction of future villains are hurled at the audience with all the gracelessness of a rock thrown by a child.

The characters, especially the nascent super-villains, have no real identity other than what they will become when Batman finally graces the series. In a desperate attempt to keep the audience’s attention, we’re constantly reminded that Cobblepot will become the Penguin or that a particularly unlikable member of the supporting cast is the future Riddler.

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Worst of all, the show betrays the complex mythology and history of the characters. It’s one thing to reinvent (within reason) certain iconic Batman villains. It’s quite another to simply attribute their names to random improbable characters.

For example, Cobblepot’s origin bears little relation to that shown in Gotham. The background of the future Poison Ivy in the show has nothing to do with the origin of the character in the comic book.

This isn’t putting a new spin on iconic villains within the framework of their decades-long history. This is simply hanging their names on a collection of forgettable characters in a glossy but mediocre detective show.

Very little relates to the comic book incantations of these characters. Gordon himself is barely recognizable as the younger version portrayed in Batman: Year One or on the big screen. Instead, we’re giving a flat one-dimensional cop who believes in the rules. It’s a generic character type that could have stepped out of any cop drama.

While a young Gordon may have been able to sustain show, this isn’t Gordon. The history of Gordon, Gotham and the characters seem to have little relevance to the show.

Gotham continues the trend of diluting a comic book mythology in order to market it to a larger audience. At the same time, it tries to exploit its tenuous connection to the world of Batman as a selling point or gimmick.

The cynical side of me believes that the network was counting on brand recognition to sell an otherwise unexceptional cop show.

LJ Phillips
About LJ Phillips (82 Articles)
LJ Phillips is an ex-bodyguard and professional artist who has had three solo exhibitions. He has also published numerous articles and pieces of short fiction. His interests include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, over-analyzing pop culture and staring into the abyss. Currently he lives in SA and spends his free time working on his various creator-owned comics.

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