— By Carly Twehous —
I think it’s fair to say—although I may get burned at the stake for this one—that Batman is a little… overhyped. I mean, come on! How many Batman movies are there now? And that’s not including the successive animated television shows and movies or the comic book source material that predates the amazing and ineffable Captain America. Sure, The Dark Knight was amazing, but how much of that was actually the genius of Heath Ledger’s Joker, as opposed to that of Christian Bale or Christopher Nolan? Seriously. The other movies in that whole series were, well, not great.
Risking my own crucifixion, I still have to ask: Is Batman really that special? Really? Everyone knows his story. They make memes about it. Genius rich kid who watches his parents die suddenly realizes his city is corrupt and he decides to do something about it. In there somewhere is a bizarre obsession with bats, combined with abandonment issues, a scraggily voice, and a cocky Golden-Boy façade in order to fool the locals.
Die-hard comic book geeks always seem to throw in their hats with Batman, pointing to his brooding character and stubborn adherence to moral ambiguity as D.C.’s consistent leg-up on Marvel. (Personally, I’d disagree. All-New, All-Different Marvel aside, you want moral ambiguity? Talk to Frank Castle or Matt Murdock or Tony Stark or Bucky Barnes.)
For reasons I can never seem to comprehend, Batman is most people’s end-all, be-all of superheroes, especially if popular merchandise is in any way a determining factor. For a lot of people, up until The Avengers made superheroes way too popular to ignore (Point: Marvel), Batman was the only exposure to the genre most people had.
But come on! Batman hardly qualifies! He’s completely, one-hundred-percent normal. There ain’t nothing super about Bruce Wayne.
I guess maybe that’s the appeal: That a normal guy, completely devoid of divinity, genetic enhancements, or strangely beneficial radiation poisoning, could stand up to the greatest evils in Gotham City with just his wits and a deep voice. In a non-lame version of Batman vs. Superman, Batman defeats a god by pretty much outsmarting him. Maybe that idea—the one that man can topple gods—is so unbelievably powerful that its fueled generations of Bat-fans, despite the increasingly horrible depictions of the Caped Crusader in the movies. Maybe what few character strengths Bruce Wayne has are enough.
Maybe, but I’m not sold. It’ll take more than that to get me to buy a Batman T-shirt.
Here’s the thing. You—as a Batman connoisseur—have to convince me, a true Marvel fan at heart, that Batman—a very ordinary guy with emotional issues up the wazoo—is enough to stand up to the insane evil of Gotham City and the world of D.C. comics around it. You have to convince me that one man can tear down every malevolent being who dares to call himself a god.
Surely, one man—even the widely-heralded Bruce Wayne—cannot live up to such a task.
So maybe that’s the genius of Gotham, especially compared to the plethora of other depictions of this particular story. Gotham shows us the evil. For a network TV show especially, it really doesn’t shy away from it. We get super-villain origin stories that are both terrifying and far from the campy, cheesy, botched attempts at character depth we’ve seen in the past. Shameless’ Cameron Monaghan, for instance, portrays a Joker before the Heath Ledger days of scary scars and killing people by slamming their heads into #2 pencils, and it’s the most bizarre and bone-chilling depiction of evil I’ve seen since Negan whipped out the baseball bat.
Honestly, it’s kind of fun. Even a Marvel fan can admit that much. Batman has never been short of fascinating depictions of various stages of lost humanity in their villains and Gotham certainly doesn’t shy away from embracing the demented source material.
You want to know the best part, and what I’d argue is the key to Gotham’s success? Bruce Wayne is a kid, not the famed billionaire-playboy-vigilante that we know and love. He’s twelve and for whatever reason, he’s a key to stopping all the crime in his city. God only knows why, but this is the Batman origin story I can get on board with, because I get to walk with Bruce from the time his parents are killed to when he first thinks of donning a mask. I know what’s happening next with everyone—it’s inevitable and ineffable just because it’s Batman—but I guess I’m here to see the why behind it all and beyond the lame excuse that, “My parents were killed in front of me and… BATS!”
Admittedly, Gotham is fascinating, especially, I think, for the fans and those that need a little more convincing. It’s a little heavy with Easter eggs—sometimes annoyingly so—and a little too strong with the foreshadowing bits. Sometimes the timeline of all this doesn’t quite fit with what we already know of Batman.
But maybe I’ll forgive everything just this one time, because for once, I’m on board with this Batman story.
Batman’s had his day in the sun. He sure as hell doesn’t deserve a second chance, let alone a hundredth. Nonetheless, here’s Gotham, and for once, his city is exactly what Batman needs.