Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On The Air: Gotham (2014)

If there is any real difference between comic book giants DC & Marvel, it isn't on the big screen, but rather, on the small one.

While Marvel has tied its 2nd year series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to its "cinematic universe", DC is doing the exact opposite. As has been demonstrated with Arrow the last two seasons (season 3 begins next week), DC is letting the producers of their adaptations at Warner Bros. have carte blanche over their universe of characters, with each creative team developing its own, ah, pocket universe, if you will. This outside-the-box thinking also allows DC to save the more tried & true versions of their heroes and villains for the big screen, without risking any irrevocable damage to their television product.

Case in point: Gotham. Fox's new Monday night drama is meant to be a prequel to the entire Batman canon, but the focus, in truth, is on the city itself. The choice of characters surrounding a young James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) illustrates the cherry-picking mentality DC is allowing its writers to use. For example, most of the supporting cast, with the exception of Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett-Smith, ex-Hawthorne, A Different World), are taken from the Bat-books dating back to the early 80's. Of course, this does not include the future villains being showcased, whose history goes back even further.

Gotham Police Captain Sarah Essen, for example, was one of the characters in the post-Crisis On Infinite Earths era of the late 80's-early 90's, and, in the books, had actually married Commissioner Gordon before being killed off. Corrupt detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue, ex-Sons of Anarchy, Grounded For Life) made his first appearance in 1983, and his history was later ret-conned such that he & Gordon were actually partners early in their careers, which is the base point that Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon are using in this series.

And, then, there are the villains-to-be. Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), ironically, doesn't like the nickname, Penguin, which is, of course, his more famous ID. Instead of being stout, Oswald is more of a slender, nebbishy type, subservient to Fish before she discovers he betrayed her by revealing that a man who had supposedly killed Thomas & Martha Wayne in the opener had been framed for the crime in order to close the books on the case as quickly as possible. Gordon only pretends to kill Cobblepot, who instead swims away. Having had his kneecap broken earlier, Oswald develops the distinctive gait that gives more meaning to the name, Penguin. Edward Nygma, later to be the Riddler, is, of all things, working in the coroner's office. Who'dathunk? I'll give them points for that one.

As for Selina Kyle, the future Catwoman already has the aviator goggles that artist Darwyn Cooke bestowed upon her a decade or so ago-----at the tender age of 13.


Apparently, the idea here is to place Selina, or "Cat", as she's known here, as Bruce Wayne's childhood sweetheart, to further the whole dynamic of their adult relationship. They have yet to meet, but, rest assured, that seems to be part of the grand plan. The whole girl-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks thing, y'know?

The problem that exists, however, is that Gotham is trying to be two shows at once. One's a procedural crime drama, the other a soap opera. You really can't have or be both.

Fox has its own YouTube channel, which gives us a trailer:

One wonders, then, if DC has green-lit the same kind of formula for Constantine, which bows in 3 1/2 weeks on NBC, or for a future project like, say, Supergirl, which has been optioned at CBS. We know that The Flash, debuting next week, will, since it's a spin-off from Arrow, which will set it apart from an earlier version of the series nearly 25 years ago. Oh, yeah, there's that other advantage DC has over Marvel. They've been doing this more often, and longer, and with more success. A full chart will be up before the debut of Flash next week.

Gotham gets a B+.


Samuel Wilson said...

Glad to see you've actually bothered watching this one. By now every generation must have its retcon prequel, since a certain kind of fannish mind loves foreshadowing, and another loves the idea that characters added to a pop mythos over time have actually always existed. Some of the primal simplicity of those pop myths is inevitably lost in these complications; almost none of this backstory was necessary to get Batman started back in 1939, after all, when Commissioner Gordon was just an old fuddy-duddy Bruce Wayne subtly pumped for info about crime. Still, once you accept that this sort of storytelling has become inescapable, Gotham has proven fairly entertaining so far, with the actor playing Cobblepot the standout in the cast. Do try to keep up with the show.

hobbyfan said...

When all else fails, if I miss a week because of football, there's always On Demand, Sam.

I had seen a headline online that speculated that maybe, just maybe, the Dollmaker referenced in this week's ep is the same one mentioned on Arrow last season, which would tie the two shows together, but, given the difference in time frames of the two series, doubtful.

magicdog said...

Gotham and Arrow are definitely NOT in the same universe. Batman was referenced in Arrow in an early episode ("that costumed freak in Gotham City!").

I don't necessarily mind "retcon prequels" since not everyone knew how long Batman would run in the comics, remain popular despite the changes in tone, or how many characters would be created long after Bob Kane stopped writing it. It's as long as they are well represented and entertaining that matters most to me.

I saw the pilot and for the most part thought it had potential. I'm looking forward to more.

I have a hunch Jada Pinkett's character, Fish Mooney is going to end up dead by season's end as a casualty of the gang war and Cobblepot's desire for power and revenge.

hobbyfan said...

Gotham does take place a few years before Batman would debut, so maybe the reference in Arrow still fits, depending on the time frame the studio is establishing.

Neither Bob Kane nor Bill Finger are getting any credit, as fellow blogger Marc Nobleman soberly pointed out the other day. Bad move on WB's part.