Arts & Entertainment

Gotham puts Batman in the shadows

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As a die-hard comic book fan, I’ve been a bit weary of Fox’s new drama, Gotham, since it was first announced last September.

The appeal for Warner Bros. (the company that owns DC Comics) and Fox to make a Batman-related show is pretty clear: Since director Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Batman has been pretty much the most popular superhero in the country.

But at the same time, Warner Bros. wants to keep Batman exclusively for the big screen. That’s how you get Gotham — a Batman show without Batman.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. One of my favorite comics ever, Gotham Central, follows the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) instead of Batman.

In Gotham Central, normal police officers deal with crime in a city loaded with supervillains.  The book tells some fantastic stories with great writing and amazing art.

Gotham is essentially an origin story for Jim Gordon — the eventual Gotham City police commissioner and one of Batman’s staunchest allies. The pilot, which debuts Sept. 22, shows Gordon (Ben McKenzie) getting assigned to investigate the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne.

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Ben McKenzie as James Gordon

That was what disappointed me most last September when I first read about Gotham.

If they wanted to do a Batman show without Batman, Gotham Central was the way to go.

Having fully formed supervillains interacting with cops while Batman works in the background would be fascinating. Batman would never even need to appear — silhouettes in the background of shots or a disembodied voice coming from the shadows would get the message across just fine.

The problems with Gotham begin with Bruce. He is firmly established as a 13-year-old boy. While there’s no definitive answer in the comics for what age Bruce is when he first puts on the cowl to become Batman, one can use context clues in Batman: Year One (the landmark origin story for Batman) to put his age at somewhere in the 28-to 31-year-old range.

That means that Gotham is about 15 years away from actually having Batman. But if this show is just an origin story for Gordon, what’s the big deal? It’s a big deal because of some of the other characters in Gotham.

At least three traditional Batman villains have already been cast — possibly four, depending on how you classify Catwoman.

Penguin (alias Oswald Cobblepot, played by Robin Lord Taylor), Riddler (alias Edward Nygma, played by Cory Michael Smith) and Poison Ivy (alias Pamela Isley, changed for some reason to Ivy Pepper, played by Clare Foley) all appear, as well as Catwoman (alias Selina Kyle, played by Camren Bicondova). The characters are not yet their full comic-selves at the beginning of the show. Cobblepot is a mid-level member of a gang; Nygma is a member of the GCPD forensics division; Ivy is a mobster’s daughter and Catwoman is a street-kid.

Foley and Bicondova are both roughly the same age as David Mazouz, the actor playing Bruce Wayne — Mazouz is 13 and Bicondova is 15, while Foley appears to be the youngest of the three.  Taylor and Smith, however, are both in their twenties. That makes Penguin and Riddler at least 10 years older than Batman. Which is weird. In the comics, Batman is roughly the same age as all of the core members of his rogues gallery.

While the first season of Gotham will likely focus primarily on organized crime, it seems inevitable that Riddler and Penguin will eventually become their fully formed comic characters — true supervillains.

When that happens, my worst fear about Gotham will come true: It will break the Batman universe.

Every fictional universe has a set of rules. Without these rules, the universe doesn’t make any sense; break the rules and the universe collapses. Take Harry Potter, for example. Imagine that a new film series is being developed, but with the change that Harry’s parents are still alive. It just doesn’t work. For the Harry Potter universe to make any sense, James and Lily Potter have to be dead.

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Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin)

Penguin and Riddler showing up before Batman violates one of the rules of the Batman universe: supercrime exists because of Batman.

In Batman:  Year One, Batman succeeds in ending corruption and organized crime after he returns to Gotham. By the end of the book, all the mobs in Gotham are shattered and corruption is essentially rooted out. Then, in the very last panel of the book, the Joker is mentioned. Batman emerges, beats regular crime and then supercrime develops as a reaction to Batman.

It really seems like that rule is going to be broken by Gotham. The second that Nygma makes a riddle-based death trap, the universe will collapse.

Why? Because it means that either Gordon can beat him, making Batman pointless, or the GCPD will continually lose to supervillains for 15 years until Batman actually appears, at which point Gotham City will pretty much be nonexistent.

But here’s the deep, dark secret about Gotham: It could actually be good. It’s being written and produced by Bruno Heller — known for his work on The Mentalist.

McKenzie looks pretty good as Gordon and Donal Logue looks pretty damn perfect as Harvey Bullock, Gordon’s partner.

From everything I hear, the acting is solid, which could save the show’s faulty premise.

That’s basically the gist of Gotham. It could be a good show, but it will never be a good Batman show.

Gotham premiers Sept. 22 on Fox at 7:00 p.m. CST.

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