Batman rarely tops the superhero list in my books. I like old favourites like the Killing Joke or The Dark Knight Returns, and the second of Nolan’s recent imagining of Batman was one of the few that I like (too bad I hated the third with blinding passion).
I admit to being increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of a billionaire hero playing vigilante. Much of this is based in ideology. Let us move on.
So it goes without saying that I had no interest in the show Gotham, which is set in the time just after Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed. Batman isn’t even in the show, only a very young Bruce Wayne, damaged by grief and unable to retreat into the dual life that marks the fully grown superhero.
Yet I watch the show now. This, despite a mediocre pilot that tried a little too hard, screaming “HEY THIS GUY WILL BECOME VILLAIN X (Y or Z)” every time a new character was introduced. I think geeks in general will like the show, although hardcore Batman fans might not like the way it retreads continuity (although, to be honest, I would bet they are used to it by now).
The acting is pretty decent, especially the interplay between Benjamin McKenzie as Jim Gordon, the main character of the series, and Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. The key to the series, in my mind, is how these two interact, along with the magnificent machinations of Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney, the shows current leading villain. These veteran actors ground the series nicely, allowing the characters who will later become super-villains to develop without the series losing its way.
Donal Logue in particular, is a treasure, as a sleazy, but down-to-earth Harvey Bullock. I liked him in Vikings, and I love him in this.
The show has a lot of obstacles to overcome, especially without Batman there to satisfy the fans, but so far it seems to be getting better and better. Here are some of the reasons why I love it.
- The Reverse Dirty Harry: After my recent diatribe about Dirty Harry, I sat down and watched an episode of Gotham. Eventually it hit me that one of the things that I love about the show is how neatly it turns that old idea of the the loose cannon, screw procedure, shoot first and ask questions later kind of cop on the head. At one time police procedurals were full of rebel cops who flaunted the rules, and the law, to get the bad guy. Gotham is too, but the main Character, Jim Gordon is the rebel because he wants to impose a sense of law and order on Gotham, one where respect for justice and following the law are not divergent. Essentially he is the only honest cop in a corrupt city, without the other cops coming off as goons. Benjamin MaKenzie plays him well with grim, unbending intensity as he uncovers just how bad Gotham can get and gets his own good actions thrown back at him.
- Harvey Bullock: Harvey is both Jim Gordon’s partner and his nemesis in many ways. Harvey is the everyman of Gotham: he exists to show us what the people of the city are like and how it became so corrupt. It pleases me to the core that Donal Logue plays him as a lazy, self-serving, ignorant redneck, but that the character is still immensely likeable, even lovable. This is something I feel is lacking in many stories about corruption and broken systems: the idea that the people behind them are not necessarily evil, unlikable, or even ugly. Harvey Bullock is deeply flawed, very cynical, and nicely human, and played with a fine nuance thus far.
- Bruce Wayne: Young master Wayne is just a very smart, very odd boy with a lot of money and a drive to find out what killed his parents. What they seem to be using this character for interests me as he uncovers the inner workings of Gotham in a determined fashion. In many ways he is the reader identification hero, helping us get to know Gotham’s upper crust from a confused outsiders perspective. In this, he is a counterpart to Jim Gordon, who is getting to know the workings of the city from street level. This dichotomy works nicely for what is a series that has an epic scope.
- The city itself: Gotham is a wonderful mix of the familiar and the fantastic, blending street scenes with casual glimpses of mad opulence and crazed gothic grandeur. Thus far it adds a very distinctive character to the show, one which I hope develops without going over the top like some of the older batman movies did. A good example is the Gotham police station, a beautiful old hall with wood and brass and wonderful railings and staircases which is just a hive of people crammed full of desks and impromptu jail cells always full of activity. It reminds me of some of the wonderful old schools that we had in Ontario before a certain government sold them off cheaply to the private sector. It is just the right mix of ancient and modern, and speaks of good art direction at some level.
- Ambition: The scope of Gotham is bigger than it seems. The writers seem to want to tell a tale of a city, of grand plots in slow motion, of the clash between order and chaos, and yet to keep it on a human level. With superheroes and comic book villains thrown into the mix. Part of me wonders if the show is good enough, will they keep it running until Bruce is old enough to become Batman and wouldn’t it be interesting to see how that plays out with all of the rich backstory they have examined and exposed over several seasons…
So yeah, give it a shot. I certainly don’t regret watching it thus far.