In keeping with my resolution to become a “better informed geek,” I decided to check out Gotham. I initially passed on this series when it debuted in 2014. My thought was that if it took off, I could always catch up. Over sixty episodes later, I’m just getting around to it. Therefore, I watched the first two episodes from the first season.
My Initial Reluctance
Gotham tells the story of a young James Gordon before he became commissioner of the Gotham police force. One of his earliest assignments is to investigate the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Yes, they are the parents of Bruce Wayne, also known as Batman. Chances are you already knew that about this show. My initial reluctance to embrace this show was the pitch. I had heard that series featured Gordon combating Batman’s enemies while Bruce Wayne grew up. This wasn’t appealing. I had visions of Gordon with a bushy mustache taking shots at Penguin complete with his top hat, caw, and umbrella. I’m pleased to say that the final product is far better.
Caution: Not a DC Guy
So, up front, I should say that I’m more of a Marvel kind of guy. I always have been. Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero. Over the past few years, I’ve read an increasing number of comics and focused on Thor, Iron Man, and The Avengers. As for DC titles, I have only read a few issues here and there. But…Batman. Who doesn’t love Batman? If there is one character from the DC universe for whom I feel I have a reasonable knowledge base, it is Batman. So, even though he wouldn’t be appearing in this series, that is why I decided to check out Gotham. How does it do?
In nearly any Batman story, there is a theme of corruption. That theme primarily presents itself in the police force. Gordon, whether as commissioner in the comics or a as young detective in Gotham, struggles combating that corruption. In Gotham, his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) is a little too comfortable with a local crime boss known as Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith). Later, in episode two, when a homeless veteran is murdered in the streets, Gordon confronts the first responder that should have secured the crime scene. When the first responder retorts that he was at a restaurant that pays him $50 a month to look after the place, Harvey sides with the first responder. These examples demonstrate how corruption is both subtle and patent in this series.
Bullock’s and other officers’ ties to the criminal underworld create difficulties for Gordon. Another crime boss, Carmine Falcone (John Dorman) takes notice when Gordon is taken hostage by Mooney’s gang. Before Gordon and Bullock are butchered, Falcone and his gangsters show up to save them. Falcone explains to Gordon how he had an understanding with Gordon’s father, a former district attorney, about the criminal underworld and how it should be run. Ultimately, Gordon must fake the murder of one of Mooney’s henchmen, whom DC fans will recognize, but more on that later, in order to save himself and family.
Gordon’s fight against corruption puts him at odds with the rest of the police force. He clearly doesn’t approve of Bullock’s methods, but as a novice detective he has little leverage to push back against them. He certainly tries. A certain amount of corruption is expected by the police force in this series. It is the cost of doing business in Gotham. Clearly, Gordon’s resistance to and fight against corruption is a theme of the series, and it is done well.
Bruce Wayne and Alfred
Bruce Wayne, played by David Mazouz, teases behavior that might one day lead him to become Batman. In the premiere, he balanced precariously on the roof of Wayne Manor until Alfred (Sean Pertwee) noticed and called him down. Later, Bruce holds his hand over a candle attempting to see how long he can stand the pain before Alfred barges into the room. Alfred has a heavy burden. He is clearly the guardian to a troubled ward. Pertwee turns in a good performance as a firm parental figure who is both loving and stern when needed. However, he knows Bruce needs a mentor in a fashion that he cannot provide. Therefore, he turns to Gordon.
Likewise, Mazouz plays a young Bruce Wayne very well. Bruce is clearly confused and conflicted. He doesn’t know how to handle the death of his parents. He understands someone is to blame, and he wants some sort of vengeance. His inner conflict leads to self-destructive behavior. Of course, audiences know he will grow up and don the mantle of the Bat someday. His scenes in the first two episodes were short but adequate. Bruce clearly respects Gordon. So far, he is showing just enough hints that he’ll one day become the man under the cowl.
Batman’s Rogues Gallery
What is a good Batman story without his rogues gallery? Gotham gives a fresh take on many of the Bat’s enemies. There aren’t any vats of chemicals or other terrible, random accidents to give rise to these villains. They are all grounded in the grittiness of Gotham city itself.
First, there is the “Cat.” Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), the Catwoman from the comic books, is a young, and apparently homeless, woman who witnesses some of the largest crimes in Gotham. In the premiere episode, she is a silent witness and petty thief. That changes with the second episode. She takes on a much larger role. As an orphan child, she is often overlooked on the streets until someone specifically begins targeting such orphans. She hasn’t yet become the expert burglar seen in the comics.
Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), the Riddler, is already in the habit of asking annoying questions. He starts the series as a forensic examiner working in the lab of the police department. At least in the first two episodes of this series, he isn’t a villain. However, it is easy to see his style develop. He cannot resist teasing out his discoveries to the rest of the police force when he has a bit of forensic discovery to share. Bullock has little tolerance for Nygma’s antics and shouts the examiner down rather than indulge him.
Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin, was a henchmen of Fish Mooney. He made a power play to displace her. Unfortunately for him, his power move failed, and he fell out of Mooney’s graces. It was Cobblepot that Gordon had to pretend to murder. Of course, Gordon doesn’t murder in cold blood, and he let Cobblepot go. Whatever you do, don’t call him “Penguin.” These first two episodes set up an ongoing plotline detailing the Penguin’s rise to power.
Finally, there is Ivy Pepper. Ivy is the daughter of a man framed for the murder of the Waynes. She is a witness to his demise. Although she is just a child, there are clues to her alter ego. First, of course, is her name. Second, she is surrounded by plants in her parents’ apartment. Compared to other children, she is a quiet child. Like Bruce Wayne, she has her own tragic childhood that will likely shape her future.
Gotham is not as colorful as many superhero themed shows. At least in the first two episodes, there are no super powers displayed by anyone. Of course, Batman didn’t have any. However, he had plenty of enemies that did. Instead of telling stories of epic battles between heroes and villains, Gotham focuses on Gordon’s detective work and the rise of Batman’s many enemies. In that way, it is similar to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
This show has piqued my interest. I’ve heard unflattering reviews of this series. However, I found it engaging. Batman has been done many, many times. Some, such as the aforementioned Dark Knight trilogy, are successful. Others, not so much. Batman’s story is well known throughout geek fandom. Therefore, it is difficult to engage those fans who have high expectations. This show may not have met everyone’s expectations, but I’m enjoying it. I didn’t expect to like watching a young Bruce Wayne, but I find his development intriguing. Gordon is the white knight of this series. His armor is slightly sullied, but he is a man of principle. I’m looking forward to following his journey and the rise of Gotham’s most vicious criminals.
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