Being a more “reserved” nerd – one who does not attend conventions, camp out in line for things, spend time playing games, watch animated shows, or read comics – I generally do not obsess too terribly much over adaptations of famous graphic novel characters. Generally. Especially in today’s filmic world of oversaturated, overhyped overhauls – which have sucked all the life out of once-sacred heroes of printed pages for the sake of other printed pieces of paper. Marvel’s movie-making machine has managed to produce seventeen-gajillion motion pictures this year alone, including reboots that officials are already set to reboot once again due to the fact that someone, somewhere, always manages to toss a monkey wrench into the production.
The world of DC Comics – and its two characters the public genuinely gives a rat’s ass about, Superman and Batman – have also been quite busy with numerous adaptations of the same entities. Most of which have failed. Around the Interwebs, ghostly shadows of an abandoned film to have featured Nicolas Cage occasionally enthrall the odd fanboy or two. Bryan Singer’s loving ode to Christopher Reeve’s Superman series resulted in something only a few people enjoyed. Instead, the world seemed to enjoy Zack Snyder’s glossy, violent, empty Man of Steel reboot – which somehow managed to destroy what little dignity the character had after Smallville ended its miraculously overlong ten-season stay on television.
As a rushed sequel was quickly announced and hurried into production after Man of Steel managed to part fool from money en masse in 2013 – wherein our balding British American hero will be set to meet an aging bloated Batman on-screen for the first time – it seemed like a good time to reboot the Gotham City universe once more. After all, it had only been, what, one year since The Dark Knight Rises hit theaters? Alas, panicky studio executives kept announcing word that they were squeezing more of the “lesser” DC icons into their unnecessary sequel just so they can make a Justice League of America film (well after the public will have lost its desire to see more Avengers movies).
This, naturally, carried over into what can only be described as the adult-oriented Smallville of the Batman franchise, Gotham, which debuted to smaller screens in late September, 2014. But I’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s check out this newly revamped world. Here, Ben McKenzie – who has desperately been looking for a series to use his patented form of starring in after the welcomed collapse of The O.C., but whom I won’t harp too terribly hard on, as he’s the only actor out there who has my nose – takes on a career changing (or “career forming“, since, you know, The O.C. and all…) role as Jim Gordon: the man who will someday be Commissioner of Police in Gotham City.
Here, however, Gordy is a plain ol’ detective with the Gotham City Police Department. And anyone even remotely familiar with the name of Commissioner Gordon will probably know that the character is synonymous with “good guy” – dating back to the very first on-screen portrayal in the guilty pleasure 1949 Columbia cliffhanger serial Batman and Robin, wherein the part was played by the esteemed B movie actor Lyle Talbot (who also, interestingly, was the first actor to play Lex Luthor). Indeed, Gotham‘s Detective Gordon is a good man. He’s determined to clean a very dirty city up, even if he has to do it single-handedly. As fate would have it, however, he has to do just that: as nearly everyone else in the metropolis is corrupt.
All, that is, except for a young lad named Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) – a mere boy and a beardless youth who has to kiss both good-bye (thank you, Groucho Marx) after his parents are gunned down by a masked assailant for what appears to be no good reason. Entrusted to the care of his Cockney-accented (?!) butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee), the young Mr. Wayne is also devoted to truth and justice. Which is fine and all, except for the fact that he’s just a bit too young to do anything about it at this point in his life (this isn’t Kick-Ass, after all – and thank God for that, as then we might actually have to see Nicolas Cage in a costume again!). So what’s a boy to do? Depend on the solemn promise of a determined detective.
But it’s just not that easy to do in a place like Gotham. Especially once Gordon and his seasoned (corrupted) partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue, the first actor to play a canon character – who has always wound up being omitted in all of the other moving picture incarnations – on-screen) begin to realize that the untimely demise of the elder Waynes may have been just a small cog in an elaborate plan between parties on both sides of the law. Meanwhile, a sniveling but highly intelligent nobody named Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) – whom everyone harshly compares to a penguin – begins to spread his wings after being dismissed (and presumably destroyed) by his former employer, gangster Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith).
But the rise of The Penguin is not the only subplot going on here. The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents serves as a bloody catalyst to the mentally unstable and flat-out villainous folks of Gotham. The city’s only real benefactors are dead, and it is now open season for freaks and geeks galore to start committing heinous crime after heinous crime. Essentially, it’s a case of do or die here. Even young cat burglar Selina Kyle (played by Camren Bicondova) – who starts out as an eyewitness to the Wayne murders before befriending Bruce Wayne – is not immune to the “kill or be killed” nature of life in Gotham City. The same goes for bullied, geeky GCPD lab assistant Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), whose true destiny is questionable.
The Penguin, Catwoman, and The Riddler aren’t the only personas being born here in Gotham: The Complete First Season. We also see nods and the early origins of a few other familiar entities here: Scarecrow, Red Hood, Poison Ivy, and a young pasty-faced man with a devilish grin whom we shall have to wait for Season Two to see more of. A one-faced Harvey Dent (as played by Nicholas D’Agosto) also makes his debut here as part of the small-staffed team of good guys. Mobsters Carmine Falcone (John Doman) and Sal Maroni (David Zayas) are both already at play as the series opens, the former of whom is the head of Gotham City’s underworld, which Fish Mooney (a character constructed entirely for the show) serves as a part of.
While it’s fun to see these future villains have their own individual origin stories being played out, it suffices to say that there is an awful lot of oversaturation in doing so. Smallville – a show made for the adolescent crowd – suffered from the introduction of too many DC characters in the latter half of its run. How do the creators of the adult-themed Gotham intend to keep introducing origin stories of major villains while Bruce Wayne is still a kid? The math just doesn’t quite add up right (maybe that GCPD lab guy can answer the question) – especially if they’re hoping to make a long-lasting show. Unless Jim Gordon dons a cape and cowl or the series jumps ahead a few years every season, the writers here just might find themselves in a corner very soon.
But I generally do not obsess too terribly much over adaptations of famous graphic novel characters. Generally. So long as the writers of Gotham don’t grow overzealous with their storytelling or try to cram in more villains (have people truly already forgotten why Spider-Man 3 – while successful – still resulted in the entire series being rebooted?) and instead focus more on the series being a crime drama (which it is), they might succeed in making this one last two or three more seasons at best. Otherwise, they might have a genuine mess on their hands. Just as long as they don’t start crediting previous Bat-killers Akiva Goldsman and Zack Snyder, I’ll be down to see how this series progresses over time. (Whereas Bob Kane gets no credit anywhere in the series. Interesting.)
Stylishly, Gotham is most appealing. Buildings of the 1940s with cars of the 1970s combined with mobile flip phones from the 2000s create a deliberately anachronistic, unestablished time period, which is lovely. The casting works quite well, too, with the exception of Jada Pinkett Smith, who is the weakest link in the cast, but who will thankfully not reappear in Season Two. Story-wise, there could have been a little more polishing (I guess, somedays, you just can’t get rid of a bomb). The initial 16-episode order was extended to 22, which may have resulted in some rushing, and may account for the mysterious vanishing of canon characters Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones), who will also not return in Season Two, despite pledging their loyalty to young Bruce Wayne in one of their final appearances.
Let’s talk about some other appearances. Erin Richards plays Barbara Keen, who will someday give birth to Yvonne Craig. Here, however, she’s a former junkie and the past lesbian lover of the very possessive Renee Montoya (really, the only gay character in the series is not only Hispanic, but gets written out without an explanation?) and starts out as Jim Gordon’s love interest. Morena Baccarin is Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who appears while our hero (Det. Gordon, just in case you got lost there) is temporarily transferred to working as a guard at Arkham Asylum, becomes Jimbo’s second love interest. Zabryna Guevara as police captain Sarah Essen stands in her office and raises her voice a lot. Even Lucius Fox (Chris Chaulk) makes a cameo towards the end of this season.
Truly, there are even more canon characters whom I’m not familiar with due to my not being a big nerd like that. Anthony Carrigan has a memorable, recurring part as serial killer/hitman Victor Zsasz, who really looks like he took some Blue Sunshine a few years earlier. But the surprise hit of the show – for my money, at least – is Drew Powell as very devoted Fish Mooney henchman Butch Gilzean. Undoubtedly the most likeable bad guys (and actors) in the whole series, he’s also one of the most sympathetic characters to be found here, especially after Zsasz rewires the poor clod’s brain to obey The Penguin’s every command – even if that means “Kill Fish Mooney.” Hopefully, he’ll get a bigger part in the forthcoming second season.
Speaking of the second season, Warner Home Video has expertly timed the release of Gotham: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray and DVD to hit shelves a few weeks before the Season Two premiere on September 21. Though I had hoped to experience this one in High-Definition, some Joker sent me the six-disc SD-DVD set instead, which looked and sounded just fine – although some of the show’s CGI moments stick out like one of Jada Pinkett Smith’s eyes or fingers during a fine display of her patented “acting” skills. The menus for this set are so hideously generic, you can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a rushed job of its own, as they reflect the gaudy simplisticness of early (ugly) menus from the dawn of DVD.
Gotham: The Complete First Season hits DVD in a 1.78:1 anamorphic aspect ratio with English 5.1 Dolby Digital Sound accompanying and a variety of Asian-language subtitles as well as the proverbial Latin Spanish and Quebec French options (what, did I get the export box set or something?). Special features include a number of deleted scenes, a gag reel, and over two hours in assorted featurettes diving into the making-of this (at present) enjoyable series. Give it a swing.