DC Comics is to television what Marvel Comics is to the cinema. The former has long-dominated on TV, and by the end of fall will have four shows on three networks. “Gotham,” a Batman prequel series, premiered Monday, September 22, on Fox enveloped by positive buzz. But does it live up to the hype?
“Gotham” is essentially “Smallville” for Batman. Not only are the titles equivalent (both are the names of the town/city where their respective heroes grew up) but both explain, in reimagined continuities, the origins of those heroes and their villains. The difference is that while Clark Kent was the star of “Smallville,” young Bruce Wayne—so it seems—is only a guest star (though the shadow of Batman does hang over the series). The focus is actually on Jim Gordon, who will one day become the police commissioner of Gotham City and become Batman’s greatest ally. This is a welcome change in perspective. Few comics have focused solely on Gordon, and it allows viewers to see just how much of a hero he is in his own right. It takes courage to be a good cop in a corrupt city run by the mob.
The pilot episode begins with a fascinating concept: Gordon is investigating the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. It links his story with Bruce’s, thereby strengthening his connections he will unknowingly have with Batman. What follows is a dark, gritty and slightly off-kilter crime drama, though it isn’t quite a police procedural. At least not one in the vein of “CSI.”
Gordon meets many familiar faces, most of whom will join Batman’s iconic rogues gallery. Edward Nygma is a consultant for the GCPD. Oswald Cobblepot is a goon for a female crime boss. Ivy Pepper’s father is suspected for the Waynes’ murder. A cat-loving teenage pickpocket observes many of the happenings of the episode. There’s even a nervous comedian with a bit of dark sense of humor. How much these characters will be developed remains to be seen, but Lex Luthor’s slow descent into evil was one of the strongest aspects of “Smallville,” so if handled right, it could prove to be this show’s greatest asset. On the other hand, these frequent cameos did border on being excessive and almost seemed like winks at the camera. Thankfully, they walked the edge dexterously and were smart about making most of them fit into the story.
The GCPD also has recognizable faces, especially for those who are fans of “Batman: The Animated Series.” Renee Montoya is Gordon’s rival and Harvey Bullock is his partner. The lackadaisical Bullock serves as a foil to Gordon. He’s a dirty cop who has settled into Gotham’s corrupt system. His presence reminds the audience Gordon is not just fighting Gotham’s criminals.
The downsides of the pilot are that both Gordon and Bullock are saved from death at the end by another villain, albeit one attempting to be noble: Carmine Falcone. It slightly undermines Gordon as the hero, but it does serve the story. The Waynes’ murderer is still at large by the end, and one can assume that Gordon’s search for him will be an ongoing story throughout the season. However, unless there are plans to radically alter his identity, most Bat-fans already know who he is: a petty criminal named Joe Chill. This will require the show’s writers to make the process of solving the mystery compelling.
Stylistically, the pilot has much in common with Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy.” Its vision of Gotham is closest to those films, so fans will feel like they’re in familiar territory. It’s doubtful that it’s in the same universe as the CW’s “Arrow” and “The Flash,” though.
Overall, this is a solid start to an intriguing reimagining of the Batman mythos. Hopefully, as time goes on, Bruce Wayne (or Batman) won’t overshadow the other characters. The focus should remain on Jim Gordon. Otherwise, it risks becoming “Batman Begins: The Series.”