Batman's home turf of Gotham City is one of the most iconic and well-known cities in all of fiction, having been portrayed in thousands of comics and multiple TV shows, movies and video games. However, despite its iconic status, Gotham is still a city of many secrets.
From the dark to the absurd, here are 12 things you should definitely keep in mind when planning your next trip to Gotham City.
While Batman and most of his foes tend to avoid the mystic arts, Gotham City itself was born in dark magic. Centuries before the city itself was founded, a warlock was burnt to death on the island that would one day become the center of Gotham City. Over the centuries, his spirit corrupted the minds of the city’s inhabitants, making it a breeding ground for crime and corruption. Upon his resurrection, the warlock named himself Doctor Gotham in honor of the city he helped create.
Doctor Gotham isn’t the only occult madman to leave his mark on the Caped Crusader's hometown. Claiming to be an ancient Native American shaman who was buried alive for murder, Deacon Blackfire first made his appearance by forming an army beneath the sewers of Gotham, eventually taking over the city before being defeated by Batman. In recent times, he reorganized his cult in the ruins of Arkham Asylum, but was eventually hunted down by Batwing and the Specter.
The history of Gotham City varies according to the source material, but one of the more widely used origins is that the city was founded by a group of Norwegian mercenaries and was later taken over by the British. Gotham was later the site of a major battle during the American Revolution, and in the aftermath, it was rebuilt by four families: The Kanes, the Crownes, the Cobblepots and the Waynes.
These four owned and shaped much of the city over the course of the next several centuries, with Wayne Enterprises, founded in the 19th century, becoming one of the oldest and largest corporations in the world. By the 21st century, the power of the four families had waned, with the Wayne family being the only one to truly remain a legitimate player in the city — though Oswald Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin, has reversed his families falling fortunes through organized crime. In the 21st century, a villain known as the Architect sought to destroy the remaining legacy of the four families, burning Wayne Tower to the ground in the process.
Despite the efforts of various heroes and law enforcement agencies, Gotham City has been a stronghold of organized crime since the beginning of the 20th century. Prior to the rise of Batman, Gotham’s criminal elements were largely controlled by two warring families. The most powerful of the two was the so-called “Roman Empire” of Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone. He was opposed by the less powerful Maroni family led by Big Lou Maroni. Following the deaths of Carmine and Big Lou, the Maronis were absorbed into the Falcones.
With the rise of Batman, the power of the traditional mob families have waned as they began to lose turf to the likes of the Penguin, Two-Face and other supervillains who arose in the Batman’s wake. Despite this newfound opposition, the Falcones fight to maintain control of their criminal empire, though they are losing ground thanks in large part to the efforts of Batman and a reorganized GCPD let by Jim Gordon.
While the Dark Knight is certainly Gotham’s most well-known crime fighter, you might be surprised to learn that he's not the first hero to defend Gotham.
The Golden Age Green Lantern, and wielder of the mystical Starheart, Alan Scott took up residence in Gotham and sought to rid the city of crime. He would be aided in his struggle by the original Black Canary, Dinah Drake. Drake was not the only Black Canary to make her home in Gotham City, as in later years, Gotham native Dinah Lance would take up the mantel, though she was better known as an ally of Green Arrow than Batman. During the 20th century, the Justice Society of America briefly made their headquarters in Gotham, but even they weren’t able to free the city from stranglehold of organized crime.
While the four families shaped Gotham’s public image and crime lords battled for control of the streets, another organization has ruled Gotham since it’s founding: The Court of the Owls.
When he was a child, Bruce Wayne blamed the Court for the death of his parents and sought them out, but when he came up empty-handed, he dismissed them as nothing more than an urban legend. The Court eventually revealed itself to Batman when they sent their Talons, a group of highly trained assassins, to kill Bruce Wayne when he announced his plans to reinvest in Gotham. Speaking of the Talons, it’s interesting to note that Dick Grayson, former Robin and hero known as Nightwing, was originally meant to be one of the Talons — until Bruce Wayne took him in, of course. Ultimately, Batman was able to defeat the Court, but even he couldn’t completely break their grip on Gotham City, and it’s likely the Court will continue to hold sway from the shadows for many years to come.
Like the theme and overall atmosphere of Gotham, the city’s appearance and architecture has varied widely over the years. In its first appearances, Gotham was fairly generic, but it quickly gained its own unique style. During the Silver Age, the rooftops of Gotham were filled with props, such as a giant toaster, that would often be used as set-pieces during battles between Batman and his villains. Eventually the city would pass a law, known as the Sprang Act, banning businesses from using such props.
The success of Tim Burton’s Batman would redefine Gotham City once again, as the movie depicted a Gotham that lived up to it’s name, with the gothic architecture giving off a suffocating and maddening vibe. Set designer Anton Furst described it as if, “hell erupted through the pavement and built a city.” While current comics have moved towards a more modern design (as seen in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy), elements of Burton and Furst’s design still linger and will likely remain for many years to come.
Gotham City is obviously directly inspired by New York City — with author Dennis O’Neil once remarking that “Batman's Gotham City is Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November,” — but the Big Apple isn’t the only real-world city that helped shape the Caped Crusader’s home. Chicago, with its history of corruption and rampant organized crime, bears a strong resemblance to the Gotham City of Batman’s early crusade, where he worked to cleanse the city of mob influence and corruption. Detroit is also widely viewed as a source of inspiration, as is Pittsburgh.
Not every author has embraced the common image of Gotham as an irredeemable cesspool. Grant Morrison, in particular, brought a more optimistic vision of Gotham to his works, believing that if Gotham were as bad as commonly depicted, then not only would Batman’s mission be doomed to failure, but no sane person would bother living there in the first place.
With the many real-world cities that have served as inspiration for Gotham, it should come as no surprise that the city’s location has varied over the years and hasn’t been officially settled. In fact, even the city itself didn’t exist in the earliest stages of Batman’s career. Gotham City was first named in Detective Comics #48 and prior to that, Batman’s adventures were said to take place in New York City. But the Dark Knight's co-creator, Bill Finger wanted to create an original city for Batman because he wanted people in any city to be able to identify with Gotham.
As for the location and it’s relation to Metropolis, that has also varied over the years. Some comics — and of course, Zack Snyder's Batman v. Superman — have depicted Gotham and Metropolis as sister cities separated by a bay. However, Gotham is most commonly depicted as being somewhere in New Jersey (as evidenced above), but it’s location has never been specified beyond that. The series Young Justice animated series once seemed to present it as a city in Connecticut, though that appears to have been a flash in the pan.
The term ‘Gotham City’ is a famous nickname for New York City, which is partially why Gotham is oftentimes assumed to be a stand-in for New York, but Bill Finger actually went through several different ideas before settling on calling Batman’s home ‘Gotham City.’
Previous possibilities were ‘Civic City,’ ‘Capital City’ and ‘Coast City.’ Interestingly, Coast City would go on to become the home of Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. Bill Finger eventually decided on the name ‘Gotham City’ as he was flipping through a phonebook and came across an ad for Gotham Jewelers. Oddly enough, the name Gotham itself comes from an old English word referring to a town of goat farmers. The Joker even makes reference to this in Detective Comics #880, where he says Gotham means ‘heaven for goats.’
The insanity defense is often used in movies and TV shows as a kind of get out of jail free card. It was brought up in Batman Begins as a sign of the corruption that plagued the city, since so many mob enforcers were getting away with pleading insanity.
But in the world of Batman comics, Gotham City is one place you do not want to plead insanity, as you’ll be sentenced to the infamous Arkham Asylum. Not only will you be locked up with the likes of the Joker, but there’s a very good chance you’ll simply go insane during your stay, as was the case with white-collar criminal Warren White. Better known as the ‘Great White Shark,’ White went into Arkham to avoid a long-term prison sentence and never came out, due to being driven as insane as the rest of the inmates — and some of the staff.
Founded by Dr. Amadeus Arkham, who — after watching his mother suffer from mental illness — decided to turn the family estate into a mental hospital, Arkham has a long and troubled history. After judging that one of his patients, Martin ‘Mad Dog” Hawkins was beyond saving, Amadeus killed him via electrocution. The death was ruled an accident, but other troubles would eventually result in Amadeus being committed to his own hospital, where he died.
An eerily similar fate befell Dr. Harleen Quinzel, better known as Harley Quinn. A recent graduate from med school, she began her psychiatric career working in Arkham Asylum where she was assigned to treat the Joker. Over time, she fell in love with him and became his partner in crime, but the two have had more than a few falling outs over the years. Look for her transformation into the evil doing Harley Quinn in this summer's Suicide Squad.
In recent times, Arkham Asylum has once again burnt down, but rather than simply rebuild it, Bruce Wayne has turned Wayne Manor into Arkham Manor. Hopefully that works out better for him than it did for Amadeus.
After witnessing his parents murdered in a random mugging, Bruce Wayne vowed to rid Gotham of crime and took upon the mantel of the Batman. While he has undoubtedly had success in dealing with traditional criminal elements such as the Falcones, his actions have led to the rise of a new breed of criminal in the form of supervillians such as Two-Face, the Riddler and his arch-enemy the Joker.
Gotham also plays host to a number of lesser-known villains like the Mad Hatter and Humpty Dumpty. In fact, Gotham might boast a higher number of supervillians than any city in comicdom, with the possible exception of Marvel’s take on New York. This incredibly high number of baddies has raised the question: is Batman to blame for all these evil doers, or is there just something in the water in Gotham?