Book 2 Screen: The Batman Universe As Seen In ‘Gotham’

Gotham City and the comic book world of Batman and Bruce Wayne have a long and storied history of adaptation to screens both big and small. You are probably most familiar with the Batman universe via the Christopher Nolan film trilogy beginning with Batman Begins in 2008, or the Fox drama Gotham beginning its second season this week. But the character of Batman dates back to its first release in comic form back in 1939 from DC Comics and creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, when our Batman was known simply as “the bat man.”


Robin, Alfred, and Batman

Over the years the Batman comic has endured many different media adaptations including film and television and now, of course, even video games. You might’ve seen on nostalgia TV channels the super-popular 1960’s TV show Batman starring Adam West and featuring a lot of zingy, neon graphics of words like “POW!” and “Kaboom!!” For those who didn’t read comics, this was most likely their first intro into the crime syndicate of Gotham City and the Caped Crusader sworn to protect the city from itself.

Following the popular TV show, the next BIG representation of Batman was in 1989 with Tim Burton’s imagining of Gotham on the big screen starring Michael Keaton (Birdman, which is itself a take on Batman), Kim Basinger, and Jack Nicholson. The quirky and murky Gotham of Burton’s mind was wildly popular and inspired a slew of sequels throughout the 1990’s with different actors donning the black cape–Keaton again in Batman Returns, Val Kilmer in Joel Shcumacher’s Batman Forever, and even George Clooney took a swing at superherodom in Batman and Robin.


Keaton and Nicholson as Batman and the Joker in 1989

But the goofy outlandishness of Schumacher’s Gotham (in contrast to Burton’s sullen gloom and doom) turned audiences off of the dark knight for awhile. After 9/11 in 2001, the cultural mood shifted, and suddenly, the cartoonishly diabolical villains of the Batman universe as envisioned by Hollywood no longer had a place in a society sobered by terrorism and fearful of real threats from actual diabolical villains. During this time, a British director named Christopher Nolan created a mind-bending indie film called Memento, a dark and twisty warping of time, memory, consciousness, and identity. Memento achieved cult status, and Nolan found himself with free rein over Hollywood, and he sought to apply his unique style of storytelling to an icon known and beloved the world over. Following in the dark vein of Memento, Nolan’s Batman as embodied by Christian Bale is at times bitter, vengeful, noble, and/or zen…in a word–human. And the crime-ridden Gotham he inhabits is darker than any one we’d seen in the Batman universe. It’s monumentally bleak and corrupt.


Bale as Bruce and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises


And after the ending of the Nolan trilogy in 2012, fans were given another opportunity to enjoy an arguably even bleaker version of Gotham City in Fox’s take on the beginnings of the city’s corruption, Gotham, premiering this week with new episodes on Monday nights. In Gotham, Bruce Wayne is just a boy, Commissioner Gordon is newbie Detective Gordon working with vet detective Harvey Bullock (Twoface, anyone?), and all our various villains and heroes are teens, tweens, or young adults. So, in other words, there is no Joker, no Catwoman (as we know her), and not even a Batman. In fact, the show’s creators have often stated that Gotham audiences will never see actual Batman.

Instead of focusing on the dark knight or even Bruce Wayne’s transition from grieving orphan to bad ass bat dude, Gotham focuses on, well, Gotham and how the once flourishing and safe city devolved into a dark, dangerous world ruled by mob bosses and crime kingpins. It’s not an origin story for Batman, it’s an origin story for gritty Gotham.


Detective Gordon with a young Bruce Wayne on Gotham

And how does this take stack up to the source material of the comics? While much of the comic universe addresses the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents and even some comics address his transition as an adult from Wayne to Batman, there isn’t much in the comics dealing with this era of Bruce’s life or Gotham’s history. In a way, the creators of Gotham are fleshing out a period in the Batman cannon, giving life to a previously unvisited era in the Batman universe. And for that reason, Gotham has a bit of leeway in how it does things. For the most part, the show portrays its characters with fidelity to the source material, adding its own flourishes. And this freedom that comes with operating in the space of previously uncovered territory allows Gotham to explore new themes and flesh out characters with little page time in the comics. Audiences get to see more of the beginnings of Catwoman than we have previously, and ignored characters like Calendar Man, Grundy, Dollmaker, Rag Doll, Hush, and Bronze Tiger are being introduced in the Fox reimagining.


Cameron Monaghan as Jerome, the Joker

And season 2  continues to branch out in to new territory with a bit of a shake up in the way things have been progressing thus far. Season 2 is being touted as “The Rise of the Villains,” and with that danger looming, Jim Gordon has been fired from GCPD. What else is coming your way on season 2 of Gotham? It looks like Gotham creators are fleshing out their own interpretation of the Joker in the form of troubled mental patient Jerome Valeska, as played by Shameless’s Cameron Monaghan. And that whole “Rise of the Villains” thing hints that the story will focus more on the Riddler’s rise to evil. On that note, there’s a new baddie in town, a mysterious businessman who appears to be working on creating what is basically a group of supervillains. Oh yeah, and Bruce has found finally found the Bat Cave. Wait. Whattttt? Have the creators been stringing us along this whole time with their “No Batman” promises? Will we actually see baby Bruce transform into the bat man? Hmmm…anything is possible, but there’s a long time until Bruce grows up, so don’t hold your breath. In the meantime though, with the Joker and Riddler story lines getting a lot of play, take your seat and strap in tight, because it’s looking like this Rise of the Villains is going to be one hell of a roller coaster ride.

Check out a season 2 trailer below!