Thursday, September 18, 2014

[GOTHAM] The Legend Reborn part 1

We only have a few days to go before Fox's brand new series GOTHAM debuts on September 22 next Monday. In the last two months since I ended the first wave of my Batman comics diet, I've been reading Hellblazer comics in the meantime, but I always keep myself updated with whatever latest news and video footage that the show's Youtube account releases. Soon enough, we got an exclusive behind-the-scenes peak through a series of videos entitled The Legend Reborn (which was otherwise released as a singular episode in TV a few weeks after its initial release online). As we wait patiently for the premiere, I would like to take this opportunity to break down each aspect of said exclusive footage because there are some good stuff in it that the writers, director and actors have discussed during their interview clips and I would like to address some of the key issues which I think are the top things I personally look forward to for this series. First up, we have Mythic Beginnings which ran for about 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Here are some of the important highlights:

"What the show looks at is why a town like that needs a vigilante to help them; what made the town so crazy, what made the town so out of control that villains began to wear costumes."
~Danny Cannon, Director/Executive Producer

As a Batman fan, I got instantly excited as soon as I found out that this show got the green light and was officially happening. I always look forward to any kind of adaptations about my childhood hero whether in movies or animation, and to have a serialized television show that wishes to tackle the moody atmosphere, crime and politics within the city of Gotham itself seems promising enough, especially when the showrunner is Bruno Heller whose work on Rome and The Mentalist has impressed me a lot. I've heard some comics fans express their dismay over the fact that the show won't be zeroing on Batman but rather focus on the other characters in his universe such as James Gordon (the Commissioner), Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin), Selina Kyle (Catwoman), and Harvey Bullock. These naysayers do not concern me because if they want Batman, there's always the comics anyway and the upcoming Nolan-Synder movie with Ben Affleck as the new Batman. Look, Batman simply belongs better in the big screen nowadays, if not in the pages of DC's New 52 material. Let him have that stage. I love Batman as much as any avid fan, but I also enjoy him in the context of the secondary characters he interacts with, the rogues' gallery he battles with, and the city he protects. Those three things are essential in adding more depth and dimension to Batman as a hero. Besides, just as Cannon said above, the show mainly wants to serve as a canvass where bolder strokes could be applied and paint pictures as to why a city like Gotham was able to produce these timeless characters we now know and love; how such a city turned corrupt and twisted; and how these factors became the catalysts for certain individuals to undergo radical transformations.

I don't know about you, but as long as a writer is capable enough and has a great understanding and sensibility of the complex history of the source material he is handling, then an idea such as this won't be wasteful. Heck, for quite a long time, Frank Miller's Year One is the ultimate Batman origin story and we don't think any other writer could come up with his own take but then Scott Snyder published Zero Year and, personally, I believe it surpasses some elements from Miller's work as well as it elevates that particular origin story to a whole new level. With that said, this is why I hope for the best with Fox's Gotham. We need other talented people to flex their creative muscles and work to adapt something so meaningful in scope and well-loved by a great majority of geeks such as the Batman's mythos which include some of the best fictional characters ever written, living in arguably one of the most enduring, intriguing and grittiest fictional worlds ever: GOTHAM CITY.

"You seem like a nice guy but this isn't a city or a job for nice guys." ~Harvey Bullock to James Gordon

The casting for this show looks promising enough with Ben McKenzie who will play James Gordon in his early years. According to Heller himself, Gordon's characterization is that of a war hero who just returned to the city he grew up in to serve as one of its law enforcers, only to find that the city has changed drastically from what he remembers. This premise is also very much reminiscent of Heller's HBO series Rome where a soldier from Caesar's legion came back home and has to adjust quickly with the new evils that beset the city he has to live in. For these men, everything feels familiar and yet relatively foreign as well. Home has become a threat to their well-being in ways they never imagined is possible. I think this is a nice set-up especially with Gordon who had always been one of the noblest and kindest of men whose light is something Gotham City tried to extinguish time and time again. But he didn't get to be the way he is now without his steel being tested first. It would be an enjoyable experience for me to watch Gordon in his formative years as a cop, and what certain things will make or break him. I wanted to see how Heller handles writing his character development as we progress in the show, and how McKenzie would play him to the best of his abilities.

As the central character, McKenzie's Gordon will have to interact with an array of other characters, I believe, and first on that list is Harvey Bullock played by Donal Logue whom I think, based from the footage and interviews, is a corrupt cop who has learned to expect little from the city he supposedly serves, and will be vital in Gordon's life as his partner in the force. His dynamics with Gordon will be something I want to be invested in, seeing as I'm a fan of the formulaic buddy-cops scenarios and with Heller working from the background, I sure hope he will elevate that trope in a level that will become recognizably its own original brand. Bullock's character had only been very present in Batman: The Animated Series and DC's Detective Comics run, and this is truly going to be the first time we see him take on a bigger role in a live-action adaptation. Given that his characterization is the symbolic opposite of Gordon's, I believe he's going to clash and butt heads with our lead character a lot, and it would be great to see if both men will ever share the same goals and make compromises along the way to get to their destinations; even if they might ultimately want different results.

"He'll make mistakes, trust the wrong people, follow his heart at times which will lead him to dangerous situations." ~Ben McKenzie on James Gordon

Another exciting thing I look forward to for this show (my god, there are so many, really) is the alternate interpretation of the Waynes' murder where James Gordon is the detective who was assigned to solve the case which therefore puts him in a direct position to interact with a young, traumatized Bruce Wayne. In the trailers, I've been very curious of the scenes I've seen them together in. One of those scenes was their conversation regarding Bruce's insistence that he's learning to conquer fear to which Gordon enigmatically replies: "Fear doesn't need conquering. Fear tells you where the edge is." And then we see a brief clip of young Bruce on top of his mansion, as if he's about to leap and Gordon is (or Alfred?) looking at him from below, perhaps about to stop him from taking the plunge. McKenzie's quote pertaining to his character making mistakes and trusting the wrong people are inevitable ingredients for compelling character conflict and growth but I'd like to think that the Wayne case will be a particularly dangerous place that will get him into a crapload of trouble. He would follow his heart, perhaps even get emotionally attached with the young Bruce which will give him blind spots while solving the case, and enable his secret enemies from the woodwork to come out to take him down. That's how I envision it and I'm interested to see what Heller plans to do with this alternate storyline. The possibilities are ripe for the taking.

The Waynes were regarded as the pillars of the community; their contributions to Gotham are magnanimous, and Heller mentioned in a voice-over that it was their deaths which would further hasten the downwards spiral of Gotham. Crime will be terribly rampant. This will include the mob wars. Gotham will have its own game of thrones among its thugs. After all, this fictional city was based on New York during the massive crime wave in the seventies, and such a fertile environment of violence will breed very twisted, savage individuals indeed. I think Bruce Wayne will still take a part in the show because he is the victimized boy who will later on become a symbol of justice in the city, and if Gotham manages to get more than three seasons (realistically speaking), we might start treading the Batman territory. But let's not get ahead of ourselves! In the meantime, the show also offers us a young Selina Kyle as she starts her life of crime as a petty thief. There is a scene in the trailer where Selina herself witnessed the Waynes getting shot. I wonder how that will play out. The child actors who will fill these roles seem enthusiastic enough and I'm looking forward to what they will offer in our screens. Bruce and Selina's relationship is very multi-layered and a fan-favorite by many (including me), and it'd be just fantastic to see their younger counterparts interact and clash in this show. On the flipside of that coin, Gordon will also understandably get tangled up with the baddies, particularly with a certain rogues' gallery villain and a new character that Heller created for the show.

Fish Mooney: You have a little danger in your eye, I wonder what you plan to do with that.
James Gordon: You'll have to wait and see
Mooney: I hate surprises.

The wonderful casting of Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot (the future Penguin) is also another highlight for me, especially when we see him here as a young, ambitious right-hand man to Jada Pinkett Smith's Fish Mooney, a power-hungry crime boss who has big dreams to take over the entire Gotham City. Taylor's Oswald Cobblepot looks painfully awkward in his own shoes. He seems lost, at times meek and naive, and very subservient to Smith's Mooney. I've heard both actors talk about the curious dynamics between these two where Mooney serves as both a mentor and master to Cobblepot. She would teach him plenty of things about the crime business and he, in turn, will rise from the ranks by making sure he remains her most loyal pet. Mooney's character is an original creation of Heller, and he guarantees that she will be every bit as malicious, beguiling and sexy. Having a female villain will be amazing for this show, especially since Heller does know how to write his villainesses with a touch of evil that's well-balanced with their surprisingly vulnerable humanity; making them more of anti-heroines as opposed to flat-out villains. A great example would be Atia of the Juli from his series Rome and she remains as one of my favorite fictional anti-heroines to date. I certainly hope that Jada Pinkett Smith will deliver something just as grand, seeing as she's very eager to showcase the character, and her clips in the trailers do make her seem entertaining to watch, looking quite smug and gleeful as she entices the men around her. Who knows, if her character becomes a break-out, we might get our next Harley Quinn who was also an original creation of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm from BTAS, and who had been adapted and included in the original DC comics since.

But I certainly believe Taylor's Cobblepot might be the show-stealer. He may look like an absolute push-over and a nerd, but I could sense that he has some appetite for greatness underneath all that gawkiness. Besides, he is going to become Penguin and the Penguin I know is ruthless and cunning, one who always has tricks upon his sleeve and never hesitates to take the upper hand when presented. Mooney might play a huge role in whittling down the unimpressive, bumbling boy to hone him into that shrewd man who will become one of the formidable Batman villains in the future. And by the time Oswald learns to separate himself from Mooney's overbearing shadow, he might repay her by tossing her aside and taking over her throne. That seems to make sense in my head, and perfectly aligns with his characterization in the canon, so with that in mind I'm actually really excited how Mooney-Cobblepot interactions would proceed in the show.

So that's it for the first part of The Legend Reborn. There are other several things to discuss next time. Stay tuned.

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