Gotham Season 1 Review

  • Series: Gotham
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 22
  • Discs: 6
  • Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Camren Bicondova, Jada Pinkett Smith
  • Network:  FOX (Warner Brothers Productions)
  • DVD Format: Color, Widescreen 

Gotham is simply awesome. Just awesome. It should come to no surprise to anyone who spends any time looking around this blog that I am a massive Batman fan, and I just love Gotham. The series takes the idea of a prequel to the Batman mythos we know so well, and makes it it’s own show. Gotham is in it’s own seperate universe from the CW’s DC universe shows. Not only is it much darker than Arrow and much, much darker than The Flash, but it’s setting and look are very, very different. But it still has elements of the Batman universe we know, just… earlier. Also, in some cases, this is very much an alternate view of Batman and the Batman villains we know, a different universe so to speak – but every different version of Batman is different, and that must not be forgotten. It’s pointless to discount a truly excellent show – because the way the characters are presented is different from what you expect, or the particular version of Batman you know.

Gotham looks great and the cinematography is incredible. And the subtly of suggestion in the cinematography was something that I really loved – and that reminded me of the great Film Noir stories of the past. At the end of “Viper”, as Liza and Falcone sit listening to Opera on her iPod, the camera pans up, and the green bushes framing the park form a bat. In “The Mask”, Harvey Bullock gives a rousing speech to the cops to get them to help search for a missing Jim Gordon, as the cops rise to help Bullock, sunlight rakes the room from screen left, like a sunrise. And in the episode where Harvey Dent is introduced, we see him with half his face in shadow and half in the light. Plus the cinematography is just gorgeous throughout – the city, a combination of sets and on-location shooting in New York City, manages to look both gorgeous – and old, shiny – yet used and dirty – and the architecture, is just incredible. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen Gotham City not immediately look like the city where something was really filmed or a studio lot.

The show uses a mix of styles, setting it apart, and not in a particular era. For simplicity of storytelling – everyone has cell phones. Yet the architecture has that gorgeous Art Deco look to it, with a bit of Gothic. (The Police bull pen set, is a fantastic two-floor set, with wonderful Gothic look to it – from the pillars to the archways (OK, they are rounded – like Romanesque not pointed like true Gothic, but still – it quickly brings to mind church architecture.) to the windows, to the clock.) I did watch the special features for the season set, and it didn’t surprise me at all that the Bull Pen was inspired by great train stations – St. Pancras in the UK and Grand Central in the US). Fish Mooney’s place has a 30s speakeasy feel – even once Penguin updates the look (and the updating showed surprising restraint, and was realistic to what Penguin could do. Plus they add to it with each episode – which also gave a realistic feel.) Barbara’s penthouse. Oh man – her penthouse, with that giant clock window?! How much more of a reference to the “Birds of Prey” do you need? And it was so, so awesome when you had Barbara, Ivy, and Cat, together in that place – with the clock in the background. And yes, her penthouse, her parents mansion, the mayor’s place, Don Falcone’s – all show the opulent, yet cold, wealth of Gotham’s elite. Even Wayne Manor seems cold at times.

Jim Gordon, in many, many ways, even more so than in Batman: Year One, is the hero of Gotham. He’s young, idealistic, and his light will bring light to the city. Or at least we hope so. In the first season, he turns things around and brings hope and light – even when he makes mistakes. Harvey Bullock changes, but not too radically, because of Detective Gordon, and Ben McKenzie is so good in the role. I’ve criticized his acting before, notably in Batman: Year One, but here he’s found a suitable role in a suitable environment – and he excels as a result.

Gotham is also the story of it’s villains – and like the graphic novels The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, the Dark Knight Trilogy directed by Nolan (especially Batman Begins), and the works of Frank Miller, such as Batman: Year One, those villains start with the Mob. Four of our main characters all have some connection to the mob – and the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, Bruce’s parents, is the spark that lights off the signal for everyone to jockey for new positions – which results in a mob war. The Players include Don Carmine Falcone and Don Maroni – the two crime bosses of Gotham’s major crime families. They have an “understanding” and the uneasy peace is easy to upset. Fish Mooney is a top lieutenant, under Falcone. She wants to push “the old man” out and take over. Her schemes fill the first half of the season. Under her is her pal and right-hand man, Butch, and her errand boy Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot. Oswald is smart, and he’s studied and learned. He snitches to the cops on Fish, gets caught, but it’s a move in a larger game. Soon he’s working for Maroni, but eventually we find he was always working for Falcone. Penguin has two goals – to push out Fish (much like Fish wants to push out Falcone) and basically to take over all of Gotham and to be the king of organized crime in the city. The thing is, Oswald isn’t quite sane – and he messes with everyone. He has a goal – to be in charge of everything, but he doesn’t seem to be afraid to mess about with Falcone, Maroni, Fish and everyone else – even relying on James Gordon – but demanding favors in return.

The other villains we meet are merely introduced. In fact, the series starts with the “strange villain of the week” but quickly develops into a fascinating story that successfully interweaves the story lines of all the major characters. We meet Cat – young Catwoman, an orphan and street kid who’s probably Bruce’s age – maybe a bit older. We meet Ivy, who might be Poison Ivy – or might be a feint. We meet Joker, well, ditto. And we meet Edward Nygma, a forensic scientist working for the Gotham PD, who loves riddles. Yet he also has a crush on Kristen Kringle – a female records clerk. Nygma’s also fascinating to watch, and I hope his character is developed more in Season 2.

Finally, Bruce and Alfred. Again, if you look through my blog, you’ll quickly learn how much I adore Alfred. His relationship with Bruce is my favorite of all the relationships between characters in Batman (with Bruce and Richard Grayson being my second favorite – by a close margin.) Getting the Alfred and Bruce relationship right is key to making any version of Batman work for me. And screwing that up – that destroys any version of Batman for me. Gotham, fortunately, does not mess-up this vital relationship. In the first episode, maybe the first couple, I heard Sean Pertwee’s accent and I thought, “Oh, no – way too cockney, way too East End,” and it wouldn’t be the actor’s natural accent – his father was Jon Pertwee, the Third Doctor on Doctor Who, and fairly RADA/BBC English for an accent. But fortunately, Alfred’s and Bruce’s relationship develops – and develops perfectly. Alfred, with every move he makes or doesn’t make, with every thing he says, and everything he does, loves Bruce Wayne. He loves him. And he will do anything to protect Bruce and to serve Bruce and to help Bruce – but he won’t smother him or coddle him. And he knows that he absolutely cannot take the place of Bruce’s parents – to even try would push Bruce away. So, from the very beginning, we are seeing the essential Bruce and Alfred relationship. Bruce, for his part – and brilliantly played by David Mazouz, pulls back at first, but both the first time Alfred is injured defending him, and most definitely when Alfred is stabbed – Bruce realized what Alfred means to him, and he knows he cannot go on without Alfred. The scenes between Alfred and Bruce are some of my favorites in the series – and they often lighten up a very dark show.

Because, in the end, the show is very, very, very dark. And very violent. At times Gotham wavers into Tarentino Film territory. And there is certainly very much more than just “an element” of Film Noir. Noir is full-on present in Gotham. But in the midst of that darkness, there is light – Jim Gordon brings light, with his attempts to be a real honest cop. Gordon’s light brings light to those around him:  Harvey Bullock, his captain, even to Bruce Wayne. Alfred and Bruce’s relationship, and Bruce’s determination to get to the bottom of his parents’ murder, and to clean-up Wayne Enterprises, also brings light.

Honestly, if you missed this show last year, it is a must-see. It isn’t just a must-see for the Batman or DC fan – it’s a must see if you appreciate good television. (I will say that because of the violence, I would but it at PG-13, maybe 15-and-up).

Brilliant Alfred and Bruce vid for Gotham

Didn’t make it, just found it – but this is just brilliant music vid really gets to the core of the Bruce and Alfred relationship.  I’ve always loved the father-son relationship between Alfred Pennyworth and Bruce Wayne, as guarded as it is at times.  This vid, for the excellent new show, Gotham, really illustrates that relationship.

Batman Under the Red Hood

  • Title:  Batman Under the Red Hood
  • Director: Brandon Vietti
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2010
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Action, Mystery, Animation
  • Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris, Gary Cole, Jason Isaacs
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Could you just once say – ‘Let’s get in the car’, Is that so hard?” — Nightwing, as he finds himself talking to thin air

You really think I would stir up so much trouble and not make sure you knew it was me?” — Joker

Under the Red Hood is a major departure from previous WB Animation Batman films. Where those films (Mystery of the Batwoman, Subzero, and Mask of the Phantasm) felt like longer episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, this film is cinematic, full of action, and also tragic. In short it feels like a film. It’s also very grounded in Batman graphic novels published by DC Comics, especially A Death in the Family and Under the Hood (Also collected as Under the Red Hood). And this film is violent. People die. Granted, most are criminals, but still – not for the under 15 set. This is a film for adults, which, again, is more in the same tone as the more adult Batman graphic novels.

The film opens with a scene from the end of my favorite Batman graphic novel, A Death in the Family, Joker beating Jason Todd/Robin nearly to death with a crowbar and then blowing him sky high. Batman arrives, but too late to save Robin. The shot of Batman, standing in the rain, holding Jason’s dead body is nearly as effective as the still in the novel – where Batman is kneeling clutching Jason, and has his head bowed. Jason’s death would haunt Bruce nearly as much as his parents’ death.

DeathofRobin1

The film then moves forward five years. Batman is out on patrol and ends up fighting Amazo (a killer android), Nightwing arrives and the two work together flawlessly. Nightwing (aka Dick Greyson), voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, I really liked. And I actually thought the re-casting worked. I preferred him to Loren Lester who had voiced Dick/Robin/Nightwing in Batman: The Animated Series. But what Batman discovers is that two new players are at work in Gotham:  Black Mask and the Red Hood. Black Mask is a gangster, similar to what we’ve seen before in Gotham City, but grotesquely disfigured with a skeletal black head. Red Hood is both attacking, and killing, criminals in Gotham, and taking a percentage of their take. Batman, at first with Nightwing’s help, goes after Red Hood. Since Red Hood was once upon a time an alias of the Joker, they pursue a lead to Arkham Asylum, checking in on the straight-jacket restrained Joker. But, Joker has been held tight, and even more convincingly, says he wouldn’t keep it a secret if he was causing chaos in Gotham.

After their first confrontation with Red Hood, Batman and Nightwing, now suffering a broken ankle, are in the Cave with Alfred (who’s bandaging said ankle) going through Batman’s video and audio recordings of the fight. Nightwing notes that Red Hood isn’t just some hood or gangster – he’s trained. Batman points out that even the ability to have knives that can cut his lines is unheard of. However, Batman also sends Nightwing away, asking Alfred to bring Dick home. In part, because Bruce still sees a need to protect Dick.

Once Dick is gone, Bruce reviews the audio, and thinks he hears the Red Hood call him “Bruce”. Only a handful of people know that Batman is Bruce Wayne. After another confrontation with the Red Hood, Bruce is able to get a blood sample for analysis. He’s running the sample through the computers in the cave, running a comparison. The results come back just as Alfred walks in. The result: a match between Red Hood and Jason Todd, startles the normally unflappable butler so much he drops the coffee service he’s carrying. But he also, immediately, tries to console Bruce, while trying to figure out what’s happened. Together, they dig up Jason’s grave. Bruce realizes he’s buried a latex dummy. Alfred tries to comfort Bruce, reminds him how distraught he was, but Bruce is angry with himself and insists he should have realized.

Bruce flies off to the middle of nowhere and confronts Ra’s al Ghul. Ghul explains exactly what happened. During a confrontation between himself and Batman five years before, in desperation, he had hired the Joker to provide a distraction. But, he hadn’t counted on the Joker’s madness or savagery. Ra’s, in short, actually felt bad about Jason’s death.  He arranges the switcharoo with the bodies, and takes Jason’s body to a Lazarus pit. But, the resurrected Jason is quite literally, quite mad.

After he’s discovered the truth, Batman heads back to Gotham in his jet. Alfred talks to him over the video link.

“Sir, please take this to heart. Who Jason was before, how we lost him, and this dark miracle or curse that has brought about his return, it is not your fault.” — Alfred

“Then I got him killed. My partner. My soldier. My fault. I own that. I’ll carry that like everything else.” —Batman

The conversation is filled with everything I love about Bruce and Alfred’s relationship, and nearly brought me to tears. Alfred cares so much for Bruce, the man he sees as a son. Bruce, however, can’t really accept that caring in any way. (He has the same problem accepting how Dick feels about him). And Bruce is, oh, so ready to take the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Brilliant writing.

The conversation is cut short, however, by Alfred’s discovery on the news that Joker is causing trouble. Batman needs to rush to the scene. Red Hood shows up where Joker is (who’s taken all of Gotham’s criminals who work for Red Hood hostage) and reveals everything was a plan to get an audience between himself and Joker. Joker scoffs, but is then impressed. Then he’s on the run for his life. (Imagine — someone scarier than Joker chasing the Joker. And in this film, it works.) Red Hood catches the Joker, takes him to a room, and starts to beat the crap out of him with a crowbar — using the exact same taunting words Joker had used five years ago. Formerly confused as who Red Hood was, now Joker gets it, and still manages to insult Jason.

Batman does arrive and tries to stop Jason. In the fight, Jason tears off the cowl, then removes his own red helmet. (He does return the cowl to Bruce) He leads Batman to Joker. Their conversation, again, is heartbreaking. Bruce tries to apologize and tries to make things right, but it doesn’t work. Finally, Jason tells a startled Bruce that he forgave him for dying (that is for Jason’s death). But he doesn’t forgive him for not killing the Joker. Batman tries to explain that he has thought about it, but that’s a dark pit he’d never crawl out of. Jason continues with — “I’m not talking about Penguin, or Scarecrow, or Dent — just him!” But Batman is adamant – he will not kill. So, Jason gives him a choice — kill the Joker or kill Jason (as he puts a gun to Joker’s head). Batman turns, slowly walks away, then after Jason’s fired at him, he ducks the bullet as he turns back and throws a batarang into Jason’s gun, which explodes and so does the room, with charges that Jason has set. Batman isn’t able to get everyone out safely.

This is a dark, violent story. But vintage Batman. Well, new Batman, to be precise. It’s an excellent, excellent movie, dealing with dark themes. The voice actors are good, especially Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing and Jensen Ackles as Jason Todd/Red Hood. I was very disappointed that Kevin Conroy, who was so excellent as Batman, and in many ways is my favorite Batman actor, (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and old Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond, plus various DCAU movies) is re-cast with Bruce Greenwood. However, Greenwood does do a good job. And oddly enough, Batman, Alfred, and Joker, all sound very much like their counterparts in the Warner Brothers live action movies, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

But, I also cannot stress enough just how good this film was. It’s cinematic, it’s shot or filmed like a film — with some really great shots (the close-up of Robin’s eye as he realises the Joker’s rigged the place in Sarejevo to explode; Batman holding Jason’s broken body, etc). I also loved how flashbacks were introduced with ghost images that then became solid. The storyline is great, and based in the books (always a plus for any filmed version of Batman). And, Warner’s has gotten away from the “no one can really die” code that makes it’s animated television shows occasionally resemble The A-Team (the original TV series, not the movie).

Recommendation: See it! Buy it! Appropriate for children over 15 and adults.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Is Batman a Modern Day Sherlock Holmes?

Is Batman a modern-day Sherlock Holmes? The two characters are similar in some ways. First, one of Batman’s titles is “The World’s Greatest Detective”. This has been somewhat forgotten in recent years with the emphasis in the Nolan films of Batman, or Bruce Wayne, really, being “The Dark Knight” or “The Caped Crusader”. And I’m not saying those films are bad – I loved them (see reviews elsewhere on this blog) but it’s a different emphasis on the character. And the comics now, with the newly introduced “Batman, Inc” plot (which I’ve only partially read, I’m working my way through the graphic novels, having read: Final Crisis, Batman: RIP, Battle for the Cowl, Long Shadows, Time and the Batman, and The Return of Bruce Wayne), make Bruce the CEO of a Batman franchise, rather than a solo hero. But originally, Batman was a detective. He was a character in DC comics, that’s detective comics, and the early Batman books (or books set in the early era, such as the wonderful The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, or Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One), Batman used his detective skills to solve crimes.

Second, one of the most notable aspects of Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories was the incredible yet unlikely friendship between Holmes and Watson. This friendship is what keeps readers and fans of Sherlock Holmes (like myself) returning again and again to the stories. It’s also why Sherlock Holmes can be lifted out of the Victorian era and still be successful in the BBC’s Sherlock. Without going too off track – Sherlock is a brilliant series that modernizes Sherlock Holmes. There’s modern equivalents to Victorian items (Holmes sending text messages instead of telegrams; Dr. Watson keeping a blog, rather than writing memoirs, etc) and references to some of the original stories but besides the brilliant, clever writing, what makes the show work as modern Holmes is the friendship of Holmes and Watson, and the chemistry between Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch.

How does this relate to Batman? Especially solo, pre-Robin, Batman? Because, even in the pre-Robin era, or, more precisely, stories set in the pre-Robin era, Batman was never alone. Not nearly as alone as he thought he was. He may have protected the streets of Gotham City by himself – but he had Lt. Gordon (later police commissioner) on his side. He had Lucius Fox coming up with tech for him and running interference with Wayne Enterprises. And most of all, Bruce had Alfred. Sir Alfred Pennyworth, with experience as an OSS officer during World War II, and as an MI6 officer after the war. Alfred – the only person in the entire DC universe to have any idea what Bruce was like prior to his parents’ death. Alfred, Bruce’s loyal butler, but also his medic, his best friend, his “parent”, his sounding board and his anchor. I’ve always loved the relationship between Alfred and Bruce. Alfred is the only one who can stop Bruce when he starts to go too far. It was Alfred who gave Bruce the tickets to the circus and urged him to go – therefore introducing him to Dick Greyson, the first Robin. Alfred who’s sardonic, intelligent, and caring, and the Yin to Bruce’s Yang (or is it Yang to Yin?). Without Alfred, Bruce may have well become another of Gotham City’s costumed villains, rather than a hero. Alfred can easily be seen as Bruce’s Watson. Alfred provides balance, and a humanity that sometimes, in his worst moments, Bruce lacks. Hum, just like Dr. John Watson.

So we have a great detective, with a loyal partner, what else?

Well, like Holmes – Batman uses the latest technology but also his brain to solve crimes. Bruce, like Holmes, isn’t going to dismiss a crime-solving technique because it’s new technology. (This is why, in Sherlock, I have no problem with Sherlock Holmes using smartphones and laptops;  I also have no problem with Batman using Crey computers, DNA analysis, or driving a tank or flying car – all things to appear in various modern updates of Batman, and all things that didn’t exist in the 1940s, when Batman was created. Or in the case of the flying car from the newest Batman books or the TV series Batman Beyond – something that still doesn’t exist). But Bruce, also like Holmes, isn’t a slave to technology either. Holmes, in one story proves that the thumbprint that Lestrade finds at a crime scene is meant to throw the police off the scent and to frame an innocent man. More famously, in Holmes we have “Silver Blaze” and the curious incident of the dog in the night time. Watson: “But the dog did nothing in the night time”. “That,” says Holmes, “Is the curious incident”, he then goes on to prove that someone in the household stole the horse, or otherwise the dog would have barked. Batman/Bruce is also able to use his intelligence to realize when a villain such as the Joker is laying false clues.

So, is Batman a modern-day Holmes? He could be!