The war between DC Comics and Marvel is something volumes have been written on. One could argue that in its simplest and most modern form, it comes down to whether Batman and Superman are better than the collected Avengers. Regardless of your stance on this debate, fans all seem to agree that Batman is awesome. He’s symbolic of what one man can do without superpowers, and proof that we can bounce back from even the most terrible tragedy. Or maybe, Batman is evidence that revenge can consume but never create. Because the lessons of the Dark Knight are many and varied.
What we do know is that everybody loves Batman. And everybody loves Batman villains. Dick Grayson? Well, there’s a bit more gray area there. But Batgirl? Most everybody adores her too. One guy gets lost in the shuffle though, at least until recently. Police Commissioner James Gordon has been a loyal ally to both Batman and billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne for decades. Unless you’re a devoted long-time comic reader, you may be surprised to find out how much you don’t know about Jim Gordon of the GCPD.
Here are 16 Things You Didn’t Know About Commissioner Gordon.
15. His Disputed Origin
Jim Gordon has a disputed origin…in the real world, not the comic one. Most comic readers associate Batman first and foremost with comic writer and artist Bob Kane. Indeed, Kane is the guy who pitched the World’s Greatest Detective to the higher-ups at DC, and he is credited with inventing Batman/Bruce Wayne. He’s also regarded as the main impetus behind Robin, The Joker, Catwoman (originally called The Cat), and Two-Face.
But James Gordon? Word is that this character was actually a creation of Bill Finger—a Batman artist and writer that casual fans may not have even heard of. Apparently, collaborating on something great and then having it ripped out from under you by a devious partner isn’t just for The Walking Dead. It’s an issue as old as comics themselves (see what we did there?). Will we ever know for sure who really created James Gordon? No, but we’re glad they did.
14. Batman’s Identity: Contingency Plan
Knowing any superhero’s true identity is dangerous business for myriad reasons. Being a policeman is also a dangerous gig. The higher up in the department you move, the more valuable you become to the force. To people who hate law enforcement, higher ranking puts an increasingly larger target on the backs of the officers who earn them. So, being a police commissioner who also knows Batman’s secret identity? That’s the next most dangerous thing to actually being the Bat.
What fans might not know is that Jim Gordon considered that. As a guy who occasionally has a wife and kids (more on that later), he thought it prudent to come up with a plan in case he’s ever captured and tortured to reveal Batman’s identity. He and Batman decided that in the event of Gordon’s capture, he would give a false identity, one that would be used to lead the villains into a trap. Sounds obvious, right? But how many times have we seen heroes in this highly expected situation without any plan to deal with it?
13. Setup for the FOX show Gotham
The FOX show Gotham takes enormous liberties with every character. When the show opens, Sarah Essen (Gordon’s second wife in the comics) is Chief of the Gotham City Police Department. Meanwhile, Jim has recently made the move from Officer Gordon to Detective Gordon. Corruption in the GCPD is a side plot in a number of Batman storylines, but here’s what you might not know:
Usually, the GCPD does have a bad cop or two, and higher-ups in city government are also sometimes compromised by staple Batman villains, or Don Falcone and his associates. But the concept of the entire GCPD being crooked with Jim Gordon as the only righteous man? That comes directly from Batman: Year One, written by the indomitable Frank Miller. Even the police commissioner in this storyline is dirty, as Commissioner Loeb tries to have Gordon killed. One thing is certain: if something horribly dark is happening to a beloved character, Frank Miller is probably involved.
12. Gordon’s Wives
It’s pretty much common knowledge that Jim Gordon’s first wife is a lady named Barbara Kean. Sure, that’s confusing for Gotham viewers (since that Barbara Kean is a criminal now) but it makes sense for everyone else. Barbara left her husband and took the kids to Chicago—presumably thinking Chicago was less violent than Gotham. Wow. Jim and Barbara had two kids by some accounts (Barbara and James Jr.), and three by others (Anthony “Tony” Gordon; more on him later).
Jim got hitched again later on to his GCPD partner Sarah Essen. She was a good match for Gordon; fierce on the job and fiercely loyal to him. Just when it looked like Jim Gordon was en route to a happier life…Sarah Essen was murdered by The Joker. Funnily enough, that’s also what happened to Sarah Essen on Gotham, thought she never came to know Jim in the biblical sense. Another wife was hinted at in some comics, but Jim is never seen with any wives other than Barbara and Sarah.
11. The Peter Pan Killer
If you watch any cops on TV at all, you’re probably familiar with the trope of “the case that didn’t go away,” or “the one he never got past.” These refer to cases that affect the investigating detectives deeply, but that they were never able to sufficiently solve or understand. For detective James Gordon, that case was the Peter Pan Killer. He was, as the name suggests, a murderer who broke into homes and abducted children from their beds. Gordon did eventually manage to capture this killer—while he was trying to kidnap his own son, in fact. But there’s more to it than that, largely because of the Peter Pan Killer’s intense focus on James Gordon Jr.
Years after his capture, the Peter Pan Killer is about to be released from prison, so Gordon goes there to interview him. The interview leads to a sprawling story that involves Jim Jr., a mirror that reflects your worst self back at you, and an adulterated medication that turns regular babies into psychopaths. Suffice to say, Gordon’s inner turmoil gets worse before it gets better. This is one of the Scott Snyder stories, and many fans love that Batman takes a back seat to Gordon here.
10. Jim has a Batsuit…or two.
Any time there’s a new incarnation of Batman, fans get excited (or cautiously optimistic, depending) to see what the new Batsuit can do. The suit, most often assembled with input from guys like Lucius Fox and even Alfred, serves to protect the wearer, but it’s also loaded with weaponry. The Batsuit is designed to terrify bad guys and keep the wearer’s identity a secret, which makes it better than Spider-Man’s costume. If they weren’t in different universes, one might presume the Batsuit gave Tony Stark a few ideas.
There are times in the Detective Comics or general Batman mythos where the Caped Crusader is missing and presumed dead. It’s in one of these times that Jim takes up the Bat-mantle and dons his own Batsuit. Jim Gordon had his own proper Batsuit, and another that is mostly an exoskeleton. That one is called “Rookie.” Rookie accepts voice commands, is thermal protected, has missiles on the shoulders, and can emit an EMP without shorting itself out. More importantly, though, Rookie and other makeshift Batsuits keep the Batman alive even when we’re not sure that he is.
9. The Secret Star
You know how on Arrow, Oliver Queen gets a band of interns together to fight crime by his side or in his absence? When that happens in the Batman universe, what you get is the Secret Star. Here, though, it’s not about a moody guy moping around and blabbing about how he’s going to quit the vigilante business every other day. No…Gordon assembles an impressive collection of military trained, athletic, crime solvers and keeps them handy in case The Bat ever takes a long leave of absence. Batman even helps train them.
Who are these people? What do they do? Unsurprisingly, they’re all dudes. There’s Lt. Grey, the military guy. Then there are four other guys you don’t really need to get to know because we never see any of them again after this story arc. The point of this story is to let us know that even without Batman, Jim Gordon is gonna do whatever he can to make sure Gotham is safe. At least he’s no Amanda Waller.
8. No Man’s Land
In a mythos as sprawling and changeable as Batman’s, you’ve got to expect characters to be forever changed by the things that happen to them. In Gotham City, there exists a constant stream of villains hell-bent on domination, fulfilling their desires, or just good old fashioned revenge. In No Man’s Land, Gotham is cut off from the rest of the country due to a combination of earthquakes and general shenanigans. When this happens, Gordon and his new wife, Sarah Essen, do their best to keep the city from devouring itself during Batman’s unexpected absence.
Once Gotham is cut off, the bad guys (many from a now unsecured Arkham Asylum) divide and conquer the whole city. It gets so bad that even Superman offers to help. Batman isn’t having it though. This leaves Gordon in a position where he has little choice but to ally himself with Harvey Dent (AKA Two-Face). As you’d think, this doesn’t work out so well. When all is said and done, Gordon’s wife is murdered by Joker, while Gordon somehow manages to not become as bad as the villains he opposes. He’s even able to forgive Batman for his departure, which is more than many of us would do.
7. Gordon and Bruce Wayne
If you watch FOX’s Gotham, you might be left with the impression that Jim Gordon was the rookie detective working the case of the Thomas and Martha Wayne murders. In fact, the dominant Gordon story is that he was already an established detective when he moved to Gotham from Chicago. The person who befriended Bruce as a child and helped him through the murders of his parents was…Leslie Thompkins, who was also Bruce’s godmother.
Knowing that, it seems unlikely that Jim Gordon would have any sort of relationship, let alone a friendship, with billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. But Jim is one of the few people who saw past his façade of being a boorish imbecile throwing his money around for fun. Surely there are other good reasons for the police commissioner to befriend local moneybags—donations and such. But Wayne and Gordon enjoyed a long and cordial relationship that existed totally separately from Gordon’s relationship with Batman.
One of the coolest things about creating art is that you never know when it’s going to take on a life of its own. Campbell’s designed very nice soup cans, but they weren’t high art until Warhol got ahold of them. A cute little frog cartoon might become a rallying cry for garbage people, or the symbol of hope on your planet might just look like the letter “S” to everybody else. You never know what will happen to your characters, images, or sayings once the world at large gets involved.
That’s why we were so amused to learn that among many fans, the term “Commissioner Gordon” is used to describe someone who only calls you when they need something. Sure, it’s probably an important something, but it’s about favors all the same. While we might think it’s rude of Gordon to only call on Batman during a crisis, how annoying would it be to drop what you’re doing to respond to the Bat-Signal only to find that Gordon wanted to know if you’d had dinner yet?
5. James Jr. – Bad Guy
James Gordon Jr. is a child of divorce. His mom moved him away from his father and to the city of Chicago, somehow believing it to be less crime-ridden than Gotham City. But this isn’t what turned James Jr. bad. Even as a wee kid, James was a budding sociopath (normally, sociopathy isn’t diagnosable in children because most kids are totally selfish and impatient). Jr. may have even killed a girl who was mean to him. The boy is medicated and seems fine, though, even after he is almost kidnapped and killed by the Peter Pan Killer.
Eventually, James Jr. tries to kill his own sister, plots to murder Batman just to see if he can, and develops a kinship with Joker in such a way that we suspect he might have had a hand in Sarah Essen’s death. But why though? How does a kid from a nice family go so wrong? Turns out, Jim’s “medication” was altered to produce the opposite effect. It’s like they say on South Park: “Drugs are bad, mmkay?”
4. Anthony “Tony” Gordon
In the landscape of Commissioner Gordon’s family, Tony Gordon is like Chuck Cunningham—the kid on Happy Days who went upstairs to his bedroom during season one and was never heard from again. Anthony Gordon might do a little better than Chuck. After Tony disappeared for decades following a hot-air balloon mishap, he eventually showed up again. Unlike his brother, Tony Gordon managed to avoid the pitfalls and happenstance that lead to villainy and psychosis. But these are comic stories, which means that all the perseverance in the world might not save you.
Tony Gordon did come back to his family eventually. When he did, the Gordons learned that their non-psychotic son was involved in some terrible mob stuff, and was eluding some bad guys when he went dark. Ultimately, Tony died saving his little sister Barbara. In Earth 3839, Tony Gordon becomes Commissioner after his Dad retired. Eventually, he becomes POTUS despite almost no political experience. Imagine that!
3. The Joker couldn’t break him
There are wide swaths of Batman readers who will tell you that The Killing Joke is the pinnacle of the comic maker’s art. And they ain’t wrong. If you only read one Batman comic in your life, that’s the one. We’re not going to tell you what happens, but we will advise against seeing the animated version. You’d have a better time watching Alfred prepare Bruce’s dinner.
In The Killing Joke, Joker goes to enormous lengths to prove his theory that anybody can be as horrible, villainous, and insane as he is—all it takes is one bad day. And he’s not wrong; not entirely, anyway. There are a great many people who would lose their grip on humanity after something truly awful happens. But Gordon doesn’t crack. What’s more, Joker accidentally creates a nemesis (Oracle!) that he didn’t even see coming. Villains tend to underestimate the power of goodness, and Jim Gordon exemplifies that beautifully in this story, despite the horrors he endures in it.
2. Barbara Gordon isn’t always his daughter
In most incarnations of the Batman’s story, Barbara Gordon is the daughter of James and Barbara Gordon. She eventually becomes the vigilante known as Batgirl, fighting crime alongside the Dark Knight and the rest of the Bat Family, up until the events of The Killing Joke.
Barbara’s origin was changed in the series Crisis on Infinite Earths, however. In it, she’s actually the daughter of Jim’s brother Roger, and his wife Thelma. When Thelma and Roger are killed (remarkably, not by traditional Gotham villains), Jim and Barbara adopt the girl.
Barbara enjoys a long career as Batgirl. Leaving aside any unfortunate animated additions to the story, Batgirl is shot and subsequently crippled by The Joker. Now in a wheelchair, Barbara eventually became the heroine known as Oracle—honoring Batman in a “world’s greatest detective” sense. Her father is thrilled when he eventually finds that out. Later on, Barbara became a congresswoman. You’d think that storyline would reveal what US state Gotham City is in…but no dice.
1. Deathbed Validation
One of the cool things about comics and animation is that people don’t have to age. After all, Bart Simpson should be almost 40, which would make Abe Simpson…no longer with us. Detective Comics and Batman stories have played around a lot with timelines and alternate Earths, but eventually, people are gonna end up on their deathbeds. This is even more true when people try to murder you on the regular—like the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery does to Jim Gordon.
Unsurprisingly, Batman is with Gordon as he lives out the end of his life. Gordon has a lament, or several, we imagine. He wanted to be a good husband, a good dad, and feels he came up wanting. When Gordon tells Batman that he wished he could have been a hero like him, Batman is as close to dumbfounded as we ever see him. Duh, he says (we’re paraphrasing), you’ve been a hero the whole time. We agree.
Did we miss an obscure super-cool fact about Commissioner James Gordon? Tell us all about it in the comments!