I really don’t understand what’s going through the heads of people at DC Entertainment/Warner Brothers. I’m not surprised the latter doesn’t care but former doesn’t either. Comics and video games seem to be ignoring their roots to try to match the movies, and while it leads to good stories in video games, it means the comic creators seem to hate making comics. Or maybe they just hate superheroes? DC Creative Director Geoff John is on record stating he thinks supervillains are more interesting that superheroes, leading to Forever Evil. Then you have Christopher Nolan as director of the Batman movies and producer of “Superman”, who has said he doesn’t want to do a comic book movie…just movies with comic book characters so I’m confused.
Now we have Bruno Heller working on Gotham, a show that is less Gotham Central and more Smallville with Batman. Or without Batman. In fact, Heller sits down with Entertainment Weekly contributor James Hibberd and talks about how he really doesn’t want to make a Batman story but a pre-Batman story. That’s fine and if that was all we had I’d tweet the link and discuss something else. At best there could be a Jake & Leon gag in there. However, Heller goes into why he doesn’t want to make a superhero story (despite courting DC into making a production) and his reasoning is so baffling I had to comment.
Bruno Heller’s previous credits include HBO’s Rome (which I haven’t watched but I can guess the tone based on their other period and fantasy dramas), the re-imagined Bionic Woman that bore no resemblance to the original, and The Mentalist, the only show on the list that actually has fun characters. That gives you an idea about what tone we’re getting with Gotham. The interview begins and the very first question & answer gives me THREE paragraphs of ranting. At least. And not all of it is about Heller’s perspective.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: My assumption has been that the reason this TV show can be done — rights-wise — is because Batman himself is not in it. That way, it doesn’t overlap with any films. Is that correct?
BRUNO HELLER: Certainly from Warner Bros. and DC’s business point of view, that’s why it can be done.
Fun fact. One of the problems DC had with doing a Superman origin story in theaters is that Smallville was on and people would be confused…as if we’re so dumb we wouldn’t realize they were two different products when the movie isn’t called Smallville. This is what movie studios think of you, the audience.
For me, if they said, “Do Batman,” I would have said, “No.” I would have not been interested at all. I don’t think Batman works very well on TV — to have people behind masks. Frankly, all those superhero stories I’ve seen, I always love them until they get into the costume.
And as we’ll see later he’s been trying to get DC to let him do something based on their characters. Most of whom wear masks. Oh, and we’ll get into his reasoning. It’s not a very good reason.
And then it’s, “Oh, okay, they’ve ascended, they’ve stopped becoming humans.” It’s their apotheosis. They go to heaven and they’re Superman. There have been so many great versions of it. This is a version of something else entirely.
“Stopped becoming humans”? “Ascended”? What the heck is he talking about? I’ve been watching and reading superhero stories in many different mediums. I’ve read comics and novels, I’ve listed to audio dramas, and I’ve watched TV shows and movies, both live-action and animated. And for the life of me (and this isn’t just Heller) I do not know where people started thinking of superheroes as gods. (Not counting Thor of course. And Hercules, who’s a demigod.) I know we think of superheroes as some modern myth, but so is Star Wars. Yeah, I see people getting a little too into the Jedi concept but nobody’s asked me to accept Anakin Skywalker as my lord and savior.
I’ve mentioned this scene from an issue of Superman Adventures, where a kid almost seems to be praying to Superman the way Christians pray to Jesus. (Adding the “Superman is a Jesus analog” thing that showed up in Man Of Steel.) I’m sorry, but no. They are not gods. They are relatable because of their secret identities. They are role models, fantasies, wish fulfillment.
THEY ARE NOT GODS!
Please stop acting like they are just because they have great powers. And why is it only DC superheroes getting falsely accused of godhood? I never hear that about Iron Man or Spider-Man. DC heroes are larger than life because they live in a larger than life world. Can we PLEASE get this straight!
I’ve been talking to Geoff Johns at DC for a few years about wanting to do something in the DC canon. I came in to pitch the idea that we’re doing, essentially, and they came to pitch me the same thing. The nut of the idea was What if young James Gordon was the detective who investigated the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents?
You mean because he did? He didn’t find anything and later it was Batman who found Joe Chill, but Gordon was the investigating officer. That’s how Bruce and Gordon became friends.
And once you make that connection, it opened up a whole world of storytelling that we realized hadn’t really been looked at before, which is the world before Batman — the world of Gotham, young Bruce Wayne, and young James Gordon and the origin stories of the villains.
Don’t get me wrong here. Heller actually does have some good ideas for this show; for example the above quote. Then again, I said the same thing about Smallville for the first season or two. We all know how that turned out.
When thinking about how to enter the DC world for TV, certainly on network TV, to do shows about superheroes — about people who wear spandex costumes — that doesn’t work very well. We want to see people’s faces. TV is about emotion and character, not stunts and special effects.
Okay, who is this “we” and if nobody wanted to see that THEN HOW DID SUPERHERO SHOWS EXIST FOR SO LONG? Adventures Of Superman ran for six seasons and only George Reeves death ended the series. Batman ran for three seasons, Shazam also for three seasons, Wonder Woman for two, and that’s just the DC heroes. The Power Rangers have been going on since 1989 and even longer in Japan. Marvel’s movies have been kicking butt in the theaters. Who are these “we”?
“TV is about emotion and character”? A nighttime drama perhaps. For a crime drama or superhero tale (and Batman has elements of both) you can have character development and emotions and still have the stunts and special effects. Again, the Power Rangers franchise has character development, relationships, and action, stunts, and special effects. And that’s a kids show! Body language not enough for you? Power Rangers has cutaway shots so you can see their face inside the helmet, and some helmets have visors that open up without removing the helmet or are damaged in battle.
Also, Batman’s cowl has eye holes and an opening around the mouth. Catwoman and the Riddler have eye masks. You’ll be hearing Heller go on about how his choice for Bruce Wayne is the bestest Bruce Wayne in the history of ever and ever and ever, and he can’t emote through his eyes, mouth, and body language?
The first thing was starting with Jim Gordon, who is the most human and real and normal person in the DC pantheon. What would the city of Gotham look like to a young rookie cop coming into this world? And that’s where we calibrated. This is a world that’s going to become that familiar world of Batman, but it’s not there yet. It’s an embryo. A lot of the work was reverse engineering the story to look at what these characters were like when they younger. Penguin, for instance, is not a powerful gang leader, he’s a gofer for a gangster. It’s about giving the world room to grow, but at the same time giving the fun and pleasure and drama of that heightened world. One of the great things about the Batman world is [the characters] have no super powers. Nobody flies or leaps over buildings. You start with psychology and that’s where we build from.
I’m not going to get into the “anti-superpowers” rant that every Batman writer and fan nowadays seems to break out whenever possible. It’s getting old. Besides, there are some good ideas here. Penguin could rise to power as Bruce grows up, although the name comes from his look, manner, and minor deformities (looking at you, Tim Burton!) he has. I also wonder if he’ll go by Oswald Cobblepot.
Just remember that the Joker’s origin is tied to Batman and not Bruce Wayne. That was the kind of thing that finally chased me off of Smallville.
I did a lot of research, and what it told me is this world is a little like Greek or Roman mythology. There are so many iterations of the story and so many great versions [that] there is no one road to go down. And if you stick to one of those roads, then you lose other parts you could go down. I read everything I could and then — I didn’t throw it away, but I started fresh. I would hate to pick a particular Batman iteration because I would be dismissing others. But for me, The Killing Joke was one of the great ones in the comic books. Obviously the [Frank] Miller version The Dark Knight, as well.
Not found of his two examples for various reasons but otherwise I’m glad he said that no one version of Batman should be the “one true version”. Just that he has preferences.
How much of the first season story do you have mapped out?
All of it.
I don’t understand people who do shows who don’t know what episode 3 is. I like to know what episode 6 and episode 20 is going to be.
How serialized will Gotham be vs. how procedural?
Good again! We always hear, “Oh, the show will have stand-alone episodes but with serialized elements,” trying to make a program into two different things in an attempt to keep everybody happy.
There’s a procedural framework for it, but the world of Gotham is too big and operatic and complex to do it any other way but serialized.
Well, it’s nice to see serials aren’t completely out of style. Creating a grown world is a good idea, but again this isn’t a nighttime drama. I hope cases (except for the Wayne family murder of course) don’t get dragged out for episodes on end.
Heller talks about the various characters he wants to bring in…at least some of them because why spoil everything? Naturally conversation turns to the Joker
Some feel Heath Ledger’s performance was so iconic it would be a mistake to try to do that character again so soon.
I’ve written scenes for Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. So while that is a serious and valid note, you can’t get into doing this without going there. That was a wonderful performance and — apart from everything else — wonderful make-up. And we should try to live up to that. It will be a different character. It’s certainly going to be more Heath Ledger than Cesar Romero. But like I say, all of these people are real people with feelings and emotions and history and parents. I just build from that.
Personally, I’d rather they went with Jack Nicholson or Mark Hamill. Leger gave a good performance, but Nolan did not give him the Joker. Just some jerk in makeup that was out to prove humans can turn against their principles under the right circumstance. I didn’t care for him as a Joker. Sorry.
Part of the scuttlebutt on ABC’s Agents of SHIELD is that it’s struggled because — despite trying very hard to communicate its concept before it launched — it felt like a story that took place in an exciting universe without the people who are the usual focal point of that universe, the superheroes. It focuses on these human investigators who are normally on the sidelines. Is there a similar concern aboutGotham— that people are going to say, “Well, what do you mean it’s a Batman show without Batman?”
Not to comment on Agents of SHIELD, but [the SHIELD agents] are in the same temporal space as their superheroes. So while watching it, I imagine you feel, well, it’s kind of mean not to show us Thor. If Thor is there in the next room, or the next town, why not come by and see us? For Gotham, if we could bring Batman in to say hello, he’d say hello. It’s not that the celebrities are in the VIP lounge while you’re out front wondering where they are. In this case, the heroes aren’t “born” yet. They’re kids. I am cognizant of that as an issue. But look:em>Most stories that people tell don’t have Batman in them. You’ve just got to make the story you tell as compelling as it can be.
Of course most stories aren’t set in Gotham City or a superhero universe, and you’re doing both. As for Agents Of SHIELD, I need to ask…what were you people expecting? Thanos? The Leader? Galactus? This is SHIELD! SHIELD! They handle the crazy stuff, but this isn’t a superhero series. It’s a series set in a universe where super science and magic are real. It’s practically Captain PSA. At best they’re trying to stop new supervillains from coming into play. If you want Ultron, wait until the next Avengers movie.
Is there a certain concern about the story being limiting because it’s a prequel? Like, you can’t kill the Penguin or do something that changes their destiny?
No. Because there’s lots of other people in the world, and one of the conceits of the show is, where did they get all their ideas? There’s precursors to that for the villains and the heroes. They got inspiration from other people, and it’s about how they got to that point in the world. It’s invigorating and expansive how many stories you can tell once you get away from the gravity of Batman.
I just wanted to point out there are some good ideas here. Because the next two sentences are more “I hate superheroes” nonsense.
What happens with superheroes is they suck all the air out of the room. You can’t play a scene between two people when there’s a guy in a cape and a mask in the corner of the room
For someone who claimed to look into every version of Batman, you kind of missed the Bruce Timm animated series. It was even on Fox for a few seasons. If the Nolan movies really are considered the best version of Batman it’s at least tied with the DC Animated Universe.
The decision to make Alfred into a tough Marine — there are hints of that in the canon, as well, but I thought that was a cool move.
That was part of the story that I had to reverse engineer. What kind of man would allow their teenage charge to turn into Batman? Obviously, someone with very original parenting notions. So yeah, he’s both a father figure and a dangerous father figure. He’s a tough character, and Sean Pertwee plays Alfred with gravity and humor. We’re lucky to have him.
So Alfred isn’t British anymore? Even Beware The Batman got that part right and they made Alfred unrecognizable. Also, just because he’s a Marine doesn’t mean he’s going to tell a 12-year-old kid “you want to dress up as a bat, create gadgets, start your own secret crime lab, and swing around the city beating guys up? Go for it! Semper Fi”, which I’m sure they’ll use wrong.
And then he finishes with aforementioned praise of his choice for not-Batman Bruce Wayne. Look, I’m not saying this is going to be a bad show. I don’t know since it hasn’t aired yet and there are some good concepts here at least, while others feel like they won’t be a good Batman prequel (mostly the re-imagined Alfred). I could just be having flashbacks from Smallville though. My point is that DC, in both comic and live-action forms, keep giving the DC Universe over to people who seem to hate superheroes and the things that made people like me fans of the DC Universe and I’m tired of it. I will never understand why I have to give up what I love to people who hate anything that isn’t angst-ridden and supporting their vision of “realism” that really isn’t the real world at all. If you hate superheroes don’t write them. But don’t deny me my superheroes.