I’ve already brought up my concerns with Fox Network’s Gotham when the producer was discussing his plans. Bruno Heller doesn’t want to make a Batman series, he wants to make a police procedural set in Gotham City. This is the network behind Sleepy Hollow, so considering some of Gotham’s disturbed and occasionally superpowered or high-tech villains that makes a form of sense. Except this is before them as well.
Gotham is a prequel to Batman the same way Smallville is a prequel to Superman…and we know how that went. Clark was fighting bad guys before he put on the costume; in fact Welling never wore the costume. And it’s highly possible the kid playing Bruce won’t get to play Batman even if the show doesn’t last that long. Heller has said he doesn’t like Batman, doesn’t think you can emote with a face mask (even though it’s a cowl with his eyes and mouth exposed in every live-action version ever made). This is also a prequel so we know Gordon will never find the Wayne family’s murderer even if they adopt the silly assassination motive over being a random mugging. Instead of adapting Gotham Central, thus setting it when the villains are established and telling what the GCPD does when Batman is out of town with the Justice League or chasing Ra’s Al Ghul and making an actual twist on the traditional crime drama (or crime dramas with paranormal elements where nobody believes in the paranormal except the hero, like Grimm), it’s going to be a crime drama where Heller gets to mold the origins as he sees fit. Remember, he who controls the origin has the power. Maybe he’s hoping he can do for other characters what Bruce Timm did when he created a new backstory for Mr. Freeze.
However, since I review both comics and television as well as knowing the difference between a bad story and a bad adaptation it only seems right that I go into the show with an open mind. While I haven’t seen a lot of high praise on Twitter I’ve avoided the other reviews so I can properly form my own opinion. So, it’s time to finally sit down and watch Bruno Heller’s Gotham. WARNING! There WILL be spoilers!
Here’s an early impression from the first few minutes. Whatever city they’re using for Gotham is beautiful. I’m not sure you can capture the usual gothic style given to the buildings in the comics without being accused of ripping off Tim Burton or giving it that feel. Heller wants to go as normal as he can, and that’s not a bad thing. It worked in Nolan’s Batman movies, whatever I thought of the last two storywise. I’m also going to bet they’re going for the assassination angle. In the original story Joe Chill shot Thomas and Martha when they fought back. Chill grabbed for Martha’s necklace and Thomas went to protect his wife. Here she took the necklace off to hand to him. It broke before he shot them, maybe a bad string or something. Also, Selina is now there having seen the murder after doing some Parkour and stealing milk and someone’s wallet. I guess Selina Kyle never gets rich or we see how she did. At least she’s not a prostitute in this version. Also, we only get two lines from Alfred but he’s either British or Australian. We were told he wasn’t going to be British. Do the British have Marines or did he join the US Marines rather than a British military?
Now that I’ve watched the whole episode…what about this had to be set in Gotham City? Somebody point me to that. It wouldn’t be the first cop drama on Fox in the past year that involved a cop with a mild tie to the mob looking to fight police corruption as much as the bad guys. Nothing about this episode screamed “must take place in Batman’s past”. Why, because a girl hops on rooftops? Because some guy just happened to have an umbrella one time and is named Oswald? (I’ll get to the lack of subtly in a moment.) The names are there, and you can even make a case for early versions of the characters, but this is no different from The Shield or Gang Related, the latter being the cop drama I mentioned in the third sentence of this paragraph.
I do like this version of Jim Gordon, and I don’t know what Bullock was like in the comics but a quick search showed he used to be a bad cop who turned over a new leaf after nearly killing Commissioner Gordon. Here he is the senior partner of a young Detective Gordon. They make for an interesting team and we’ll see what influence Jim has on him. And I use “we’ll” in a general sense because I won’t be watching. They’re the only character I like. Fish Mooney may not be here long. Oswald hates being called Penguin but walks around in a tux. He’s a manipulative coward. Think Starscream from the original Transformers cartoon but more subtle. Edward Nigma, the forensics guy, would speak in riddles if he could. He could easily become the most annoying character on the show if he’s like this all of the time. Like I said, this episode has the subtly of a sledgehammer at times. Gordon’s fiance, Barbara (and yes, the future Batgirl was named after her mom so that’s accurate) has the last name Keene and she apparently has a connection to Montoya. It’s hinted that it’s exactly the connection you think. I literally said something like “no, they’re not really going to do this, are they”, as in they’re not really going to open a love triangle with Jim, Barbara and the b#$$h version of Montoya, right? Right? Oh, Montoya is now about Jim’s age and a glory-seeking member of the Major Crimes division. Because the comics didn’t ruin one of my favorite original show characters enough.
I don’t get these characterizations. Montoya and Bullock are now Jim’s superiors and not younger than him. Bullock maybe, but Montoya shouldn’t even be on the force yet. I don’t recall Nigma (the future Riddler) ever being on the police force. Oswald certainly isn’t crime boss material. It’s another example of names slapped on characters. Selina isn’t named in the pilot but we all know who she is. She sees Bruce’s parents get killed and Bruce’s reaction (outside of the obvious hint this was assassination–sledgehammer again–it’s the only adapted bit they got right) and keeps following him around. She shows up at the funeral and even the mansion when Jim leaves. This is the other scene I liked, as Jim goes there to tell Bruce at least the truth that they got the wrong man, thanks to framing by crooked cops. He actually asks Bruce’s permission to being his mission to fight the corruption and bring Bruce’s parents to justice. Alfred’s kind of a jerk but Bruce is willing. You see the forming of the friendship between Bruce and Jim and the hint of the later alliance between Jim and Batman. Basically, Bruce gets the two best scenes.
I will follow recaps to see if this gets any better, but otherwise I don’t think I’ll be bothering with Gotham. It doesn’t feel like Batman’s backstory or Jim Gordon’s rise to Commissioner. It feels like another crooked cop story and that’s not what I want to see. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. The sets are good, the characters are well-done thanks to the acting (even if they’re poorly adapted) with only Nigma and Oswald annoying, and outside of the scenes where Gordon chases Mr. Pepper (who has a daughter named Ivy…there’s that sledgehammer again) that gives us this weird view of Gordon running at a couple of points that made me laugh, the cinematography was good. It’s a good show and I wouldn’t talk anyone out of watching it unless it really does turn into Smallville. That said, there hasn’t been a proper live-action superhero series not involving Power Rangers since The Cape. DC and Warner Brothers need to either stop being afraid of superheroes or stop making them. They can’t have it both ways. Give them to people who wants to make superhero stories. It’s working great for Marvel Studios.