[Warning! Potential SPOILERS ahead for Gotham!]
Fans of all things Batman-related have to wait until 2016 to see his first-ever big-screen team-up with Superman in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, but a look at the early years of Gotham City, Bruce Wayne and his ally Jim Gordon comes to television this September in the form of FOX's Gotham. Starring Ben McKenzie as Gordon, Jada Pinkett Smith as a new character, the crime boss Fish Mooney and Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock, the network and DC have kicked the PR machine into a new gear as the show's broadcast premiere approaches.
The pilot episode will screen at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, and the early reviews have been roundly positive. The promotion material has varied only a little so far, with much of focus placed on the younger versions of famous Batman villains such as Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) and Edward Nigma (Cory Michael Smith). But what about the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker?
Showrunner Bruno Heller (Rome, The Mentalist) has previously indicated that the Joker would be teased in multiple ways throughout the first few episodes, but offered few specifics. While speaking at the Television Critics Association press tour, Heller elaborated on exactly what he has in mind in the way of character teases, and how they're not necessarily limited to the Joker, saying:
"We will be playing with… Not just with Joker. Half the fun with all of these characters is who is going to turn into what and when? Certainly the Joker is a good example. In the pilot, you see there’s a comedian there. People immediately leap… And that’s really letting the audience do our work for us. Because I haven’t said anything about that guy and people go there!"
So it's not just the Joker who will be referenced here and there throughout the first season... and given the sheer number of bad guys in Batman's rogue's gallery of villains - arguably the best of the DC Universe - it's anyone's guess to exactly who will be teased (A scientist experimenting with cryogenic technology, for instance)? An impressionable young psychiatrist named Harleen?
Spotting these Easter Eggs during the course of the first season will undoubtedly prove a clever way for hardcore Batman fans to keep tuning in, but Heller also hinted that these teasers may not ultimately have a pay off anytime soon. According to the producer:
"Yeah, we’ll play with that down the line. Not over the course of one season, no, because people will still get tired of that. 'Is that the Joker? Is that the Joker?' No. In a subtle way, we’ll be doing that and hopefully we’ll fool them in the end."
Just how much will fans enjoy being fooled, though? There have been so many different takes on the character in the past, with Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning turn in The Dark Knight likely to become immortal. Heller's comments certainly make it sound like fans should not expect the Joker to turn up in Gotham by the end of the first season.
One curious example of how Heller is diverging from much of the traditional Batman lore is the re-naming of classic villain Pamela "Poison Ivy" Isley to a girl named Ivy Pepper. Heller revealed the reasoning behind this change, which really applies to the narrative choices for the show as a whole.
WARNING! The following contains MILD SPOILERS for Gotham!
Regarding Ivy, Heller said:
"It’s really about being able to tell the secret histories of these stories. If you just re-tell stories exactly as they’ve been told before, whilst you’re being true to the created mythology, you’re not really adding anything to it. So you have to find ways of finding more. And in this case, we’ve set up a situation in which Ivy Pepper, her mom is sick, her dad is dead… She’s going to go to the orphanage. And she’s a nice young girl; relatively undamaged. And she will find people to adopt her. And then we will start on the Poison Ivy story that people are familiar with."
DC's Geoff Johns has asserted that the established DC Cinematic Universe will remain separate from the TV universe established by The CW's Arrow and The Flash, but few really expected the other high profile DC-based shows premiering this year - Gotham and NBC's Constantine - to crossover with the movies, since they're on different networks. With Gotham, it does sound like the showrunners have a chance to play with these "secret histories" unhindered from a larger overall universe.
Gotham will premiere on Fox on Monday, September 22nd, 2014 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
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