How can Gotham be an interesting show if it doesn’t have Batman?
It’s a question I’ve been asked numerous times since Fox Television announced that Gotham would join their fall schedule. The show will focus on a young Jim Gordon investigating the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and track the evolution of the city that becomes the eventual home of Batman.
For casual fans of Batman, Gordon and the police department seems an odd focus. But to comic fans, there are two clear influences for this show and they’re two of the best Gotham-focused stories ever written: Batman: Year One (1987) by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli and Gotham Central (2003-2006) by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark.
Year One has influenced life-action adaptations before. Batman Begins obviously cribbed bits and pieces of Miller and Mazzucchelli’s masterpiece to tell the story of Bruce Wayne’s coming of age. But the real star of Year One is Lt. Jim Gordon, a transfer from Chicago, an honest cop among a corrupt force who comes to see the need for an outside actor like Batman to bring real justice to Gotham. Gordon grows in influence throughout the story even while his private life is falling apart. He’s torn between his pregnant wife, Barbara, and his partner on the force, Sarah Essen. (One of the macho Miller’s few three-dimensional female creations.)
Gotham Central exists in a city with Batman but the series focuses on the police officers of the Major Crimes Unit, detailing the struggles of ordinary people against supervillains. It’s very much like a Hill Street Blues-style police story only with supervillains.
It begins with the murder of a police officer by Mr. Freeze and follows the psychological after-effects of that crime on the rest of the MCU. It’s this series that dealt with the coming out of Renee Montoya, a staple in Batman stories since her creation for Batman: The Animated Series. Montoya’s partner, Crispus Allen, also appears extensively and there’s a story arc that focuses on then-disgraced former officer and force-of-nature Harvey Bullock.
If those names sound familiar, it’s because they also appear in the cast listings for Gotham. The focus on Gordon and his role as an honest cop taking on corruption comes from Year One, as does his complicated romantic life. In the show, he’s engaged to Dr. Barbara Kean and Sarah Essen is now Gordon’s superior in the force. The show has even improved on Barbara’s character, giving her a profession instead of having her in the background as a long-suffering wife. Zabryna Guevara, has been cast as Sarah, adding some much needed diversity to the show.
From Gotham Central comes Gotham’s focus on the ordinary officers of the force. Bullock (the wonderful Donal Logue) will be Gordon’s partner and whether he’s friend or foe is unclear yet. He’s been both in the comics but ultimately comes over to the side of the right, though his methods are often troubling.
But Gotham has added other, more familiar elements of the Batman mythos by casting tweens as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, and adding young supervillains at the beginning of their careers. I’m not sure how the children will fit into what should be a gritty crime show and I’m worried that too much focus will be on the villains rather than the Gotham cops that I find endlessly fascinating but I can’t help but be hopeful. Year One and Gotham Central are two of my favorite comic stories ever.
In short, Gotham is my dream show.
Please make it good, Bruno Heller.
Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, though not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom blog at Wired and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.