Gotham reaction: Is a world without a bat still super?

I didn’t want Gotham.  When I heard about the show getting made, I knew it wasn’t the Batman story I needed, and it wasn’t the Batman story I deserved. But having watched the pilot, Gotham is the pre-Batman story I want.

As much as I try to be a pretty laid-back nerd, I sometimes fear change. The concept of the Fox series, premiering tonight at 8 p.m., rankled me in that James Gordon would arrive in Gotham City right around the time of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s murders. 

There was no interest in seeing Detective Gordon mentor a young Bruce Wayne, having a direct influence on the boy who becomes a bat. The additional potential that, week to week, we’d get a villain-led episode that winked and nudged toward the future rogues of the Caped Crusader, frankly, irritated me.

Basically, I didn’t want a Smallville for the Bat-verse any more than I might crave the early adventures of Uncle Ben Parker as he learns lessons about great power and responsibility. 

In the premiere, Gotham does introduce a lot of colorful characters with names familiar to Batman fans. There is much packed into the episode, and the groundwork laid for the futures of the Riddler (Cory Michael Smith), Poison Ivy (Clare Foley), Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor), Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) and more. Viewers will be spending a lot of time with a moralistic James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and his ethically compromising partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). We’ll also be hanging out with young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) and Carmine Falcone (John Doman), as well as the new character, mobster Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith). 

But the crime drama by way of comics succeeds, at least in the pilot, because the main player here is the city itself.

I have come to loathe “gritty” as a description of comic-book-based projects, but it is an appropriate adjective here. Recognizable as a modern, slightly timeslipped city -- more so than Christopher Nolan’s version but less than Batman: The Animated Series -- this Gotham is in such an advanced state of decay that the very notion that a hero might one day become synonymous with it is ridiculous. It is both colorful and bleak, perpetually rainy but always covered in grime. 

Creator Bruno Heller has locked onto a novel idea within the live-action superhero movie and TV universes: These worlds are worth exploring in spite of, and sometimes because of, the absence of marquee players. ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. also focuses on the moving parts beyond the capes and tights, but whereas the Marvel-verse show is often reacting to the ripple effects of the superhero stuff, Gotham is looking at a world that exists long before that comes into play.

Gotham piques my interest because it shows how bad things are getting in the big city -- and how bad things might get that a weirdo dressed in a cowl or cape might be a welcome relief for the weak and at least one beleaguered cop.

Curiously, Gotham is also taking a stand in the debate about whether Batman’s presence created the monsters who terrorize his city. At the end of Batman Begins, Gordon talks about “escalation.” In the small-screen city, it seems things have been escalating for some time. The Joker isn’t mutating the city’s fish population here, but there is a dramatic tension within Gotham that its denizens are already tipping over the edge. Batman’s introduction might be a final push toward insanity within Gotham City, but the inmates are well on their way to running the asylum.

However, Gotham isn’t merely an extension of a comic book, nor is it Law & Order: GCPD. The series doesn’t appear to be targeting comic readers or crime show fans, but instead is playing between those territories. If it goes in the direction I hope it might, it could be bizarre companion piece to the weirdest, but satisfying, episodes of Dexter

Assuming they accept some change, and relax their continuity craziness a bit, Bat-fans can should be able to dig into Gotham. I still remain somewhat concerned we’ll start seeing Jim Gordon pulling too much Obi-Wan duty with Bruce. But if it continues to flesh out the freaky fabric of the city, then Gotham has the potential here to be a pre-cape semi-procedural crime show set in a not-yet-super universe.

What did you think of the premiere of Gotham? Are you on board for more from Bruce Wayne's home city? Let us know in the comments, or tweet at us at @blastr!

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