By now, every comic book fan can agree that Gotham isn’t quite the TV show that most assumed it would be when it was first announced. That isn’t reason to condemn FOX or showrunner Bruno Heller, even if the original pitch of the series – “what if Jim Gordon investigated the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne?” – implies a story, structure and overall thrust that the actual show has strayed from, in favor of telling a host of villain origin stories from week to week.
In truth, the talents of young actor David Mazouz meant that a bigger role for Bruce Wayne was more promising than the producers could have ever planned. Fans have criticized Gotham‘s treatment of origins of iconic villains since the start (that they’re introduced too soon, without nuance, or through ham-fisted plot contrivances), but as far as we’re concerned, the writers’ treatment of Bruce Wayne has crossed even more problematic lines.
Even if writers implied that Jim Gordon, not Bruce Wayne would be the star and draw of the series, the appeal of a Batman origin story has, unsurprisingly, proven too strong for the writers to resist. But what Heller described as “adding” to the origin story of DC’s dark knight has, like many other elements of the show’s fiction, run wild. Gotham may be a story of how Gotham City came to be, but a fundamental mishandling of the original themes and substance means the DNA of the Batman mythology is nowhere to be found.
That may sound like an exaggeration, but our concerns have traced back to the show’s first episodes. Not because the changes, tweaks, or “additions” to Batman’s mythology were hard to understand; they were all made to fulfill the purposes of a serialized, weekly TV show. And since most mainstream movie fans know Bruce Wayne’s origin story through and through, a small tweak was needed to get their attention (and convince them this wasn’t just another retelling).
The answer? The introduction of Jim Gordon into Bruce’s life years before they would join forces as Batman and Police Commissioner. But before long, the air of mystery and suspicion around the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne became too strong for the writers to resist (or too easy a well to draw from). What if the murder of Bruce’s parents wasn’t random at all? What if it was a planned attack, orchestrated by organized (or possibly even corporate) criminals, as a punishment for the Waynes tangling with forces they hadn’t anticipated – or those willing to do whatever it took to keep their stranglehold on Gotham?
We would ask that the diehard DC Comics fans resist pulling their hair out already, since the journey Bruce took in his own investigation wasn’t exactly subtle. Thankfully, Bruce’s shift from somber grief into angry journalling and death metal was short-lived, and he soon found himself on the path to becoming a vigilante and detective. The driving force: to solve the very same mystery Gordon was pursuing, and understand just why his parents had been killed, and who was actually responsible.
Bruce’s investigation proceeded well compared to Jim Gordon’s (although the emergence of most of Batman’s future villains demanded the detective’s attention), leading him to suspect that his parents’ murder may have originated from within his father’s own company. The first season ended with a cliffhanger that divided fans more powerfully than ever before: Bruce’s discovery of a secret lair beneath Wayne Manor belonging to his father.
For those less versed in DC Comics mythology, it’s safe to say that the storyline summarized above is a complete departure from the traditional Bruce Wayne fiction. The more casual fans are likely to claim that criticizing the differences is “nitpicking,” or another case of “fanboys” holding source material too sacred. That’s usually a fair opinion: in today’s world, the age, details, or even ethnicity of comic book heroes have proven less important than keeping the spirit of the character intact.
But the differences that Heller and co. have introduced – through story beats and plot twists that are as paint-by-numbers and formulaic as a corporate espionage mystery can possibly get – haven’t just dismissed the details of Bruce Wayne’s story altogether, but the themes, motivations, and tragedy that make up the entire Batman universe. And with the Season 2 premiere, they proved Gotham shouldn’t masquerade as “a Batman story” any longer.
Next Page: How Season 2 Has Gone Too Far
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