Commissioner Gordon has been an integral part of the Batman mythos since the very beginning. During that time he has gone from a poorly developed secondary character to a leading man in his own right. In the early days, he was a stodgy uptight old gentleman fascinated by the Bat but beholden to the ways of law and order. As he and the Dark Knight grew more familiar with one another, though, they found a mutual respect that continues to this day.
Of course his friendship with Batman as well as his choice of profession make life difficult, and few have had it worse than Gotham City’s key protector on the side of conventional law and order. Guarantee you wouldn’t want to trade places with this guy, even if it did mean you could talk to Batman any time that you liked. Let’s roll. To illustrate this point, we now turn to the 15 Worst Things That Have Happened to Commissioner Gordon.
15. Commissioner Gordon retires
When you’ve devoted your entire life to a job you feel so passionately about, it’s hard to walk off into the sunset, especially when said sunset feels more like the gray clouds of death. Gordon, however, didn’t feel like he had much of a choice after one of the worst years of his life. Following Sarah Essen’s reentry into his life, he experienced tons of ups and downs. At one point, his original wife was said to be dead (later retconned). He had a heart attack and got married to the second love of his life only for the Joker murder her in cold blood. Following that, he was shot in the back and nearly died yet again.
With more years behind than in front of him, Gordon said goodbye to the job in Batman: Gotham Knights No. 13, but he did so with the heaviest of hearts. At this point, the job and his daughter Babs were all he had left. His go-home caption as he informs his colleagues of his decision says it all: “God, I’m going to miss them.”
14. Commissioner Gordon’s family is kidnapped in Batman: Year One
Young Detective James Gordon and his pregnant wife Barbara’s move to the mean streets of Gotham City may not have been the wisest the pair made in their ultimately doomed marriage. Not only does Gordon seek solace in the arms of a female partner, he also places Barb and their young family in a situation where they’re at the mercy of scum mobsters. This culminates in Gordon being blackmailed by the corrupt Police Commissioner, which leads to a difficult confession of his affair to Barbara.
Worst of all is the climactic showdown with Carmine Falcone’s men, who take his wife and young son hostage. After Gordon guns down most of the party, he is forced into a helpless situation with his kidnapped baby boy. The evil Johnny Vitti has taken Gordon’s son as insurance, but after Gordon gives chase and tries to blow out the tire on Vitti’s bike, he must watch the gangster spill off a bridge, child in tow. Luckily, Batman is there to save the boy (though not Vitti). Happy ending, but imagine those few moments where Gordon helplessly watched his son take a plunge he couldn’t possibly survive with the full knowledge that he was to blame for it.
13. Commissioner Gordon shoots two parents in front of their child and creates a supervillain
Two small-time hoods trying to beat their landlord out of rent ran afoul of a young Jim Gordon in Batman Special No. 1 (1984) and wound up dead as a result. This story got a more certain reworking in Batman Confidential Nos. 13-16 where Gordon catches the pair in commission of a crime and inadvertently kills both in front of their young son. In both versions, the couple has a child, and the incident has a profound influence on the rest of his life.
He becomes the villain Wrath, who is a sort of anti-Batman, wearing a crimson costume similar to the Dark Knight’s. His main order of business in Gotham City is to exact revenge on Gordon and, while he is unsuccessful in doing so, we know enough about the Commissioner to know that gunning down parents in front of their child wouldn’t have been the easiest pill to swallow. While Gordon knows better than anyone that collateral damage goes with the territory for criminals, it does not help that he is an instrument of that collateral damage, nor is it reassuring that the child his actions scarred did, in fact, grow up to blame him and commit a whole bunch of horrible deeds as a result of Gordon’s actions.
12. Gordon and Sarah Essen’s doomed love affair ends in tragedy
Okay, so it’s hard to feel blown up with sympathy over this one, especially if you’ve ever felt the hurt of being cheated on and wanted to exact revenge. But this article isn’t about feeling sympathy. It’s about the worst things that ever happened to Commissioner Gordon, and we think Sarah Essen qualifies — or at least, the arc she and Gordon share. The two first succumb to their attractions in Year One, in spite of the fact Gordon has a pregnant wife at home.
Despite feeling genuine closeness to one another through their jobs, they realize the right thing to do is for Gordon to be a father to his child and a husband to his vulnerable wife. Essen transfers to another department, removing the temptation and breaking Gordon’s heart in the process. When she does return, things only get worse. In No Man’s Land, the now-divorced Gordon and Sarah get married, but any matrimonial happiness is short-lived.
Sarah squares off with Joker, who has kidnapped a group of infants that he keeps in the basement of the police station. Joker throws one of the infants at Sarah. Being a cop, she does the only thing she knows to do — tries to save the baby. In the process, she drops her weapon and leaves herself vulnerable. Joker takes advantage and shoots her in the head. Gordon and Batman discover her body together.
11. Pretty much all of No Man’s Land
We can’t let No Man’s Land go with just one entry because, as far as Gordon was concerned, this story arc was about as bad as life could get. Of course, the murder of his new wife takes the cake, but there are other things going on here. For starters, a cataclysmic earthquake has leveled Gotham into a wasteland at the mercy of the city’s numerous supervillains. With Gotham — and Gordon — needing Batman now more than ever, he’s nowhere to be found. This drives a rift between Gordon and one of his oldest friends, leaving the Commissioner with an intense feeling of betrayal as pressure mounts to put the city back together.
Gordon also has to form an alliance with Two-Face at one point, only to be betrayed, kidnapped and put on “trial.” Luckily, Two-Face is crazy and Gordon is able to appeal to the Harvey Dent side in order to win an “acquittal.” Add in the factor that Gordon is trying to maintain sanity on both sides of the law amid a vigilante mutiny within his own force, and you’ve got probably the worst year of any man’s life.
10. Commissioner Gordon becomes Batman, stupid suit and all, in The New 52
If you’ve ever wondered why DC struggles to maintain coherent storylines, we point you to exhibit A in The New 52, the short-lived pseudo-reboot before the current reboot that isn’t really much of a reboot. During this not-really-reset, Gordon was forced into service as Batman himself circa Batman No. 40. While there is nothing too crazy about others wearing the cape and cowl, the mech suit monstrosity he is forced to put on to make the storyline even remotely plausible — totally not the right word when discussing The New 52 — is the kind of thinking that helped the company’s poorly executed plan fail. It’s not quite as dumb as putting Superman’s tights on Perry White, but it’s up there.
As Gordon himself would say when confronted with the Iron Man ripoff contraption, “this is the dumbest idea in the history of Gotham City.” Alas calling out your own stupidity within a storyline doesn’t make the decision to follow through with said dumb decision any more palatable. We would say this one has a happy ending, but DC Rebirth…
9. Gordon’s son dies
Don’t remember this one, post-Crisis DC readers? That may be because you started reading just a tad late for this now-forgotten plot line. The Commissioner once had a son named Anthony (Tony, for short). In a Batman Family short story entitled, “A Quick Death in China” within the pages of Detective Comics No. 482, he teams up with his sister Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) to do battle with Wo Fong and the Sino-Supermen. It does not go well for Tony. No parent wants to outlive their children and, since Gordon has consistently proven to be a great dad — even while being an awful husband from time to time — we’re sure this hit him pretty hard.
Tony is one of few characters in post-Crisis DC land to be completely forgotten about and never mentioned. We’re sure that helps with the pain a little. But still, any parent knows this totally belong on the list.
8. Gordon’s daughter is once again on death’s door thanks to Brainiac
We suppose you could make the case that even being Barbara Gordon’s dad would be enough to drive a man crazy. First off, she dons a costume like one of the Gotham City nut jobs he’s always having to work around. She is kidnapped, likely assaulted, and paralyzed by the scariest damn villain in the DC Universe — a villain who likes to rub Gordon’s inability to protect his own daughter in his face every chance the madman gets — and, just when he has reached the point of enjoying retirement, she contracts some life-threatening super-virus courtesy Brainiac in Birds of Prey: Dark and Dawn and Birds of Prey: The Battle Within.
Barbara is ultimately able to defeat the virus with the help of Doctor Mid-Nite, but imagine what was going through Gordon’s head at that point. If you believed in God, it would be really hard to keep from thinking that he had it out for you.
7. Commissioner Gordon is attacked by Dracula
Okay, we’re dipping into Elseworlds for this one, but since pretty much all of DC’s mainstream continuity has ended up there anyway, why not?
In Batman & Dracula: Red Rain, Gordon finds himself in another one of those moments the police academy simply can’t train you for — as tasty morsel in a supernatural tug-of-war between the Dark Knight and the Prince of Darkness.
First off, the insane world Gordon inhabits here is more than enough to drive a mortal man over the edge. He has just followed the clues in a series of murders to the door of a vampire’s coven. Clearly outmatched, he’s taken hostage by their leader only to discover that it’s none other than the King of Vampires himself, Count Dracula. Dracula begins to bleed Gordon out from a cut on his neck, putting Batman in a race against time to save his old friend.
In the followups, Bloodstorm and Crimson Mist, things don’t get any easier for Gordon as he is forced to stake Bats. When that doesn’t work and vampire Batman is murdering his way through the classic Rogues’ Gallery, Gordon is crushed by debris from an explosion designed to take out his old friend once and for all.
6. Commissioner Gordon’s son — the one he remembers — becomes a serial killer
Commissioner Gordon’s (other) son James Gordon Jr. is pretty much the 180 degree opposite of his father. While the Commissioner has spent his life protecting the innocent of Gotham City, Junior hopes to destroy them by creating a new race of supervillains with a poison designed for the city’s infant population. Beyond that, he is an honest-to-God serial killer with a long trail of bodies going back to childhood, when he tortured animals and may or may not have been the mastermind behind the disappearance of young Bess Keller.
What’s worse for Commissioner Gordon is that this is the same baby boy he and Batman rescued from Johnny Vitti at the end of Year One. His flawless young son grew into a walking nightmare responsible for the deaths of countless innocents. It’s hard not to view such actions through a lens of guilt if you’re a parent. Factor in the reality that Junior also wants those closest to Gordon dead — Barbara, Batman, etc. — and you’ve got an inescapable crisis of conscience. Some of James Gordon Jr.’s more homicidal exploits take place in Batman Eternal, Forever Evil, and in the pre-New 52 Detective Comics and Batgirl series.
5. Commissioner Gordon is murdered
We’ll admit getting killed in comic books isn’t as big a deal as it is in the real world, but it still doesn’t make for an easy day at the office. Take the two times that Commissioner Gordon bought the farm, in JLA: The Nail and In Darkest Knight, for instance.
While Gordon is already out of the picture when The Nail begins, his death has some pretty horrible fallout when you compare it to what we know of his character. Not only is he dead, but his death is used to turn the Gotham City Police Department into a militarized power of sorts. Understandable, considering that Gordon rose to prominence as a crusading cop as much against crime within the Department as on the streets.
4. Commissioner Gordon’s demise in Flashpoint
Sure, we could have grouped this one with his death in JLA: The Nail and In Darkest Knight, but here it’s especially awful because of what happens before he dies. Coaxed to Wayne Manor by the Joker (this time a female version who is none other than Martha Wayne, because DC is out of its bleeping mind), Gordon ventures in gun drawn and fires on someone he thinks is the Joker. He finds out too late that it’s really Harvey Dent’s innocent daughter, bound and gagged with a mock smile painted across her face.
In his terrified realization of what he’s done, Gordon doesn’t see Martha Joker sneak up on him. She hits him with Joker venom and slashes his throat, thus bringing an unceremonious end to one of Batman’s greatest allies. This is especially regrettable since the Joker allows Gordon to feel the crushing guilt of shooting an innocent person before stripping him of his life.
3. Commissioner Gordon gets divorced.
Anyone who tells you divorce doesn’t suck has never been through it. Combine the pressures of decaying love with one of the most dangerous jobs in the world and the fact your ex-wife has taken your young son to live with her in another city, and we’re certain this plot development in the fallout to Year One wasn’t a pleasant one for the Commissioner. Of course he brings pretty much all of it on himself by having an affair with his colleague Sarah Essen, but still, he tried to make it work and do right by his wife. Essen got out of town. They began attending marriage counseling. There was brief hope before the other shoe dropped.
Further complicating matters, Gordon’s brother and sister-in-law die, leaving him with no other choice but to become father to his niece Barbara during all of this. The guy’s just begging for a heart attack.
2. Commissioner Gordon causes a train derailment, is later arrested
Batman Eternal during The New 52. Gordon, who could on occasion be a little trigger happy, fired at an unarmed suspect, inadvertently causing a train collision and multiple deaths. Of course, he was tricked into taking the shot, but ignorance is no excuse when it comes to the law. The GCPD are forced to bring him in. While in custody, he is visited by his homicidal maniac son. James Gordon Jr. thinks he knows his dad and thus leaves a path for escape, thinking the elder Gordon will give up on the system he has worked so hard to protect. He is wrong.
Gordon is eventually convicted of the murders and sentenced to life in prison. But things don’t stay that way. Evidence exists of a mind-altering technology that proves Gordon was framed, and he eventually finds himself back in the role of protector, rallying the rest of the city around a beaten down and nearly defeated Batman.
1. Commissioner Gordon’s daughter is shot and paralyzed by the Joker in The Killing Joke
There is nothing more important to a parent than their children. We would do anything to protect them, but the hard truth is we’re not always going to be successful at doing it. Commissioner Gordon finds this out the hard way in the visceral attack of the Joker on his daughter Barbara — an event that would influence mainstream continuity for years to come, unlike most of the garbage comic book companies are constantly pumping out and resetting.
In The Killing Joke, Batman discovers too late that his old nemesis has placed an impostor inside of Arkham Asylum. While the real Joker is free, an unsuspecting Barbara Gordon unwittingly walks into an attack from the Clown Prince of Crime that results in her shooting and paralysis. Gordon is later kidnapped, drugged, and tortured by Joker, who forces him to view images of his daughter lying wounded and helpless. There is also the implication — though not outright admission — that Joker rapes Barbara. While clearly Barbara gets the worst of it, the mental anguish Commissioner Gordon suffers would follow any mortal man around for the rest of his life.
So there you have it, readers. Next time you think it would be cool to be “Batman’s best friend,” just remember all the crap that goes along with it. Now, what did we miss, and what do you think was the worst thing to ever happen to Commissioner Gordon? Sound off in the comments section.