As a rule I try not to get too excited by previews. A well-crafted preview can make even the dullest material look intriguing. As a rule I also try not to get too excited by concepts. Even the coolest concept is worthless unless it’s supported by the writing and production to make it come alive. I’m going to break my rules on this one. Fox’s new Batman prequel, Gotham , slated to air next fall, has me excited in a way that no TV show has in a long time. Here’s why.
1) It tells the story of how Batman became Batman — In one sense, we all know the story. The young Bruce Wayne watches his parents gunned down by a murderous thug, powerless to do anything about it. He vows never to be helpless again and trains himself into the perfect crime-fighting detective. But in another sense we don’t know the story at all. There’s a lot of story to be told in the space between that traumatized child and the man he would become, and that’s a story that deserves to be told. One of the most intriguing things about Batman is the fact that he’s a superhero by choice. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider. He didn’t discover a magic ring. He’s not a strange visitor from another planet or a mutant. His parents’ death may have inspired Bruce Wayne to become Batman, but the actual process was the slow labor of many determined years. What does that look like while it’s happening? It remains to be seen whether the writers of Gotham and the young actor portraying Bruce Wayne are up to the task of exploring the psychologically rich landscape of this era in Wayne’s life, but I’m allowing myself to hope they get it right.
2) Jim Gordon — Since it seems unlikely 12-year-old Bruce will be doing a lot of crime fighting in the early seasons, Jim Gordon and his partner Harvey Bullock will take center stage in the battle against Gotham’s various predators. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the future commissioner. Gordon always struck me as the archetypical good man in a bad world, and it will be interesting to see how he navigates the shoals of so corrupt and dangerous a city with only the resources of an ordinary cop. I’m also interested to see how the Wayne-Gordon relationship evolves. It’s apparent from the early preview that Gordon will act as a kind of mentor and father figure to young Wayne. I suspect Gordon’s humanizing decency may go a long way to explaining why Wayne ‘s trauma doesn’t lead him to the dark side.
3) The young villains — Batman’s origins won’t be the only ones explored. We already know the show will feature the origins of Catwoman, Penguin, Riddler, and Poison Ivy, and I doubt they’ll be the last. They should provide an interesting counterpoint to the Bruce Wayne storyline, especially since several of them appear to be children at the start of the show’s timeline. How could one child’s trauma lead him to become a hero while others are driven to evil? How fine is that line? How easily could Wayne himself trip over it? It should be fascinating.
4) Gotham — The title says it all. This is a show about a great and terrible city that combines the worst aspects of gangster-era Chicago, corrupt crony politics, and social breakdown. The Batman universe has done a good job of portraying how easily authority can be corrupted, and in Gotham the people nominally in charge of protecting people are often in on the crimes. Batman works outside of the system for a reason, because institutionalized abuse of power if hard to fight on the inside. Batman always believed the people of Gotham were basically good, but there’s a world of rot eating away at it. I hope the show tells us more about how it got that way.
5) The preview — Notwithstanding my prior four points, it does speak for itself: