With five major superhero movies having already hit theaters in 2016 – and one more high profile release on the way: Doctor Strange – not to mention the number of comic book films in various stages of development, it’s safe to say Hollywood is fully entrenched in the superhero trend. As a result, caped crusaders have also invaded the small screen, with many comic book-based superhero series airing across multiple networks and streaming services.
The CW has its shared DC Comics universe, ABC has the Marvel Cinematic Universe spinoff Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. while Netflix is focused on The Defenders; plus, Fox has the DC-based series Gotham, which follows Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), a young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz), and the city famously home to Batman. Now, Gotham showrunner Bruno Heller discusses the difficulty of bringing superhero mythology to life on television.
As reported by THR, during the Edinburgh Television Festival Heller spoke about Gotham as a mix between “crime procedural and a mythic, epic, grand comic book saga” with Jim Gordon at the center as a more human focus. Additionally, Heller voiced his belief that superheroes don’t quite work as well on TV and why that is:
I don’t think superheroes work very well on TV, probably because of the costume thing. … TV is about real people and faces, and not so much about magic and the supernatural things.
Certainly, with the rising number of superhero-focused television series, there has been talk of fatigue among viewers – that was, in part, the reason TNT passed on a Teen Titans series earlier this year – but many caped crusaders have found success on TV. Most notably, The CW’s DC universe has managed to balance comic-inspired costumes with compelling human drama, while Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones series have found ways to ground their superheroes in reality.
For Heller, the tricky part about crafting Gotham – a series that has its roots in comic book mythology but veers more toward crime procedural – is keeping it “real and unreal at the same time.” However, as Heller explained, he doesn’t necessarily write Gotham for fans of the comics:
The comic book constituency has become so large and visible with the whole Comic-Con thing that it is very easy to assume that the audience is purely comic book enthusiasts. But I operate the show on the basis that it is a mistake to just go there. … What we are trying to do is always give little Easter eggs, little gifts every episode to the real cognoscenti, but you don’t need to know more than the basic Batman myth.
While Heller’s strategy of appealing to casual audiences and comic book readers alike may help Gotham bring in more viewers, it may also alienate those Batman fans looking for a faithful adaptation of the DC Comics mythos – which, arguably, the Fox series has not achieved. That said, with Gotham heading into a third season, the show certainly must have found an audience who enjoy Heller’s mix of real and unreal in a world based on superheroes that is more grounded in human drama.
Gotham season 3 premieres Monday, September 19 on FOX.