'Batman' TV prequel: What we can expect from 'Gotham'

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Image Credit: DC Comics

Fox chose an auspicious moment to greenlight a Batman prequel show. The same day the network announced Gotham, eternal rival Marvel saw its multi-punctuated Avengers spin-off Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deliver a dominant series-premiere ratings performance. S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s success is proof-of-concept for a new Superhero-Adjacent genre: A show set in a familiar super-universe that focuses on the less-super (and decidedly cheaper) heroes.

Gotham is superficially similar. Like S.H.I.E.L.D., it transforms a supporting character into the lead: The show will apparently constitute an origin story for Commissioner Gordon, the chief lawman and Friend-of-Batman played by Gary Oldman in the Dark Knight trilogy. But it also appears that Gotham will prominently feature other characters from the comic book mythos. Fox has indicated that iconic villains will also appear, in some kind of fetal prequel form. Expect to learn more about the show in tantalizing tidbits released in regularly Internet-imploding news releases over the next few months, but here are five talking points about Gotham:

1. It will probably have a strong narrative foundation from Batman: Year One. Although less famous than Frank Miller’s other grim-and-gritty ’80s Caped Crusader adventure, The Dark Knight Returns, Miller’s four-part origin-story collaboration with artist David Mazzucchelli has arguably been more influential. Year One provided the structural backbone for Batman Begins and strongly influenced the grounded portrayal of Gotham City through Christopher Nolan’s trilogy.

The new series might be Batman-free, but Year One is just as much an origin story for Jim Gordon. A younger Gordon arrives in Gotham as a Chicago transplant with a pregnant wife and discovers the Gotham police department is filled with corruption. He becomes a kind of Elliot Ness figure, a hero cop who refuses to take money; meanwhile, his personal life falls into shambles. Since Gotham is on network TV, the rampant corruption will probably be toned down, but don’t be surprised if Gordon becomes a great-at-his-job/bad-at-his-life procedural protagonist.

2. It will hopefully have characters inspired by/taken directly from Gotham Central. This Greg Rucka/Ed Brubaker/Michael Lark monthly comic was short-lived but absolutely fantastic. Essentially Homicide: Life on the Street where the criminals are all costumed lunatics, Gotham Central focused on the nitty-gritty police work performed by its gigantic cast of detectives. At one point, a Gotham Central TV series was actually in development. (It was a long time ago; the network developing it was the WB.) While Central focused on the whole department, the new Gotham will probably zero in on a squad of badasses — but if we’re lucky, some of those badasses will have names like Renee Montoya, Crispus Allen, and Maggie Sawyer.

3. It will almost certainly be a procedural. At least at first. The new hot concept for a broadcast drama is a Mission-of-the-Week drama set in a larger world that might eventually transform into something more ambitious. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Sleepy Hollow both had pilots that simultaneously set up long-running story arcs while promising hour-long monsters-of-the-week. Fox’s own upcoming Almost Human could be a model for Gotham: set in a fantastical world, but with weekly cases that mix the fantastical with viewer-grabbing cop work. Gotham executive producer Bruno Heller created The Mentalist, one of the more durable procedural concepts of recent years. I wonder if the first season will gradually build up through a series of cases that point to an ultimate villain, à la Red John.

4. But the show’s ambitions could grow, as it explores the history of Gotham. Batman’s hometown has probably the most substantive history of any superhero city. Over the years, various writers and projects have used Gotham’s dark-side-of-America persona as a chance to explore just about every bleak thing that has ever happened in the history of the American City. Will Gotham feature anything about the history of the Wayne family? Or the tangled families of the Gotham underworld? Could we ever get a trip to Wonder City, a prototype utopia fallen into disarray that appeared in Arkham City? Could season 5 of Gotham just be a long Batman-free retelling of the incredible earthquake-apocalypse story arc of “No Man’s Land“? Remember: Heller also produced Rome, HBO’s proto-Game of Thrones, which constantly set its characters’ struggles against the history of their society.

5. Clearly, the Riddler should be the Big Bad. Has any Batman villain had a rougher go of it in the modern era? He’s the most famous Bat-baddie to not get a Nolanized reinterpretation — which means that his most prominent appearance in the last two decades of pop culture was Jim Carrey’s green-tights performance in Batman Forever. But the Riddler could make for a great antagonist in a procedural: His whole existence is based around coming up with ever-more-elaborate mysteries. Also, if the creators of Gotham want to slowly back up into the crazier aspects of the Batman mythology — no Mr. Freeze, no Clayface — the Riddler is a real-ish psychotic. They could even play around with the Riddler’s iconography: Maybe, in this retelling, he’s Gordon’s main nemesis. Or maybe he’s initially working with the Gotham PD in some kind of expert capacity, like Hannibal in Hannibal. Come on guys, the Riddler! He makes riddles!

What do you want to see from Gotham, fellow Bat-people? And who should play Jim Gordon? Patrick Wilson? Garrett Hedlund? Casey Affleck?

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