Gotham High: Shadow of the Bat by Jerry Whitworth
It was announced last month significant changes are in store for the Gotham television series coming to Fox. Originally suppose to feature a young James Gordon fighting crime in the city of Gotham, the series is now instead going to star a pre-teen Bruce Wayne and his journey to ultimately don the cowl of Batman in the series finale (more-or-less following the formula of Smallville). Slated to appear are other familiar faces like the Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler. Of course, the idea is hardly an original one. In terms of Smallville, fans speculated character Adam Knight was a sly way of the show’s producers have Batman in the series despite his franchise being unavailable (Adam a homage to Adam West and Knight a wink to Dark Knight). However, not only did this prove to be false, writers for the show said it was never their intention to take that route. Jeffrey Thomas and Celeste Green developed an animated series called Gotham High after Thomas submitted the idea of a high school for Batman and his rogues and allies to DC Comics. The series, which featured over a dozen characters from Batman, would sadly be canceled before production started. Paul Dini and Kevin Smith, two heavyweights in the annals of geekdom, also collaborated on a proposed live action series in Shadow of the Bat featuring Bruce Wayne in a private school filled with familiar faces (Dini having already developed the series Tower Prep, essentially X-Men meets The Prisoner starring a teenage Batman-like character). With all of these prior attempts in mind, lets examine some possibilities in the new series.
Gone over in excruciating detail previously in the article “Gotham: Origins Of The Bat,” we won’t spend too much time rehashing likely elements to appear in a pre-Batman Gotham City. Suffice to say, James Gordon is a good cop in a city overrun with corruption as organized crime, the wealthy elite, and the Court of Owls own the city and all the people in it that matter towards profit and power. Amidst this quagmire, a menagerie of villainous relics, psychopaths, and ancient evil like the Gambler, Solomon Grundy, Sportsmaster, Icicle, Peter Pan Killer, Doctor Death, Hugo Strange, Mad Monk, and Ra’s al Ghul. While in the base comics, Green Lantern was the defender of Gotham, it’s likely either no superheroes exist or if they do, they’ll be in the vein of non-powered types like Wildcat and Black Canary.
If you’re going to do a series with a pre-teen Bruce Wayne as he crosses paths with the people who will one day be his allies and enemies (or both), it’s likely the show will feature most of the main characters in the same school (provided said people are around the same age as Wayne). Further, in order to make the concept somewhat more believable that the paths of these various lives intersect, it would likely be a special school for people of exception (wealth, intelligence, athletics, etc). The Shadow of the Bat concept developed by Paul Dini and Kevin Smith really plays up to this idea, especially going into Wayne’s reasons behind attending as he follows the mystery surrounding his parents’ deaths and how it ties to the Court of Owls and Ra’s al Ghul. Also, their idea of having Ted Grant (aka Wildcat) as a teacher at the school feeds into the journey Wayne takes as part of his path to becoming Batman (and Ghul’s presence could easily provide a re-worked origin along the lines of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy). Hugo Strange is another brilliant stroke as being the school’s headmaster as the character is more-or-less one of Batman’s unsung nemeses who has been used exceptionally well in recent history in Batman: Arkham City and Young Justice.
Obviously, if the story features Bruce Wayne (and perhaps Jim Gordon as some sort of sidekick/partner), the orphaned youth will take center stage. Some likely candidates that could be accomplices include Harvey Dent, Selina Kyle, and any number of Wayne’s love interests (there’s literally a Wikipedia article dedicated in part to listing Batman’s romances, some notable women including Julie Madison, Linda Page, Vicki Vale, and Kathy Kane). Dent, of course, as an adult would become district attorney and in several stories became an ally to Batman (though, with a dark side few ever saw until becoming the villainous Two-Face). In the treatment by Smith and Dini, Dent is Wayne’s roommate who came to the school on a scholarship and became Wayne’s best friend. For Kyle, an ongoing story is the idea she maybe the illegitimate daughter of Carmine Falcone and this idea could be played up as the character seeks the truth by conning her way into the school and getting close to Falcone’s sons Alberto and Mario. In the comics, Kyle is taught to fight by Ted Grant and it could work in the series that she learns of his training Wayne and turns the screws to also become his student. Another angle for perhaps a guest star or ongoing character could be the introduction of Dinah Laurel Lance, daughter of the heroine Black Canary trained by the various members of the Justice Society of America (including Ted Grant). As Bruce moves from romance to romance with Selina Kyle torn between growing feelings for Wayne and her mission, Lance could turn things upside down as a woman Wayne pursues but who shuts him down (in a similar fashion to Wayne dismissing Kyle’s flirtations as being nothing more than playful). There is also, of course, Zatanna who was wrangled into the Batman mythos when Batman: The Animated Series established her father Zatara as being one of Wayne’s teachers (which was picked up by the comics). And, of course, if Ra’s makes an appearance, Talia likely won’t be far behind.
Another issue discussed in “Gotham: Origins Of The Bat,” many Batman villains had lives within Gotham before becoming villains. Characters like Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin), Tommy Elliot (Hush), Roman Sionis (Black Mask), Floyd Lawton (Deadshot), and Joseph and Maria Powers (Court of Owls) were part of Gotham’s wealthy elite. Considering the presence of the Court of Owls, it’s easy to see how these characters could be major players in the ongoing mystery surrounding the deaths of the elder Waynes and Wayne’s search for the truth. Of course, Batman has no shortage of enemies. An ongoing theme with several Bat-villains is a background in science. Characters like Edward Nashton (alias E. Nigma, or the Riddler), Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow), Jervis Tetch (Mad Hatter), Victor Fries (Mister Freeze), Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy), Kirk Langstrom (Man-Bat), Achilles Milo, and Mark Desmond (Blockbuster) are all viable as students on science scholarships that create trouble at the school. There could also be students on athletic scholarships like Waylon Jones (Killer Croc), Artemis Crock (Tigress), Frederick Rhino, Anthony Lupus, and Aaron Helzinger (Amygdala). It shouldn’t be too hard to add in others, like Basil Karlo (Clayface) on an arts scholarship and Garfield Lynns (Firefly), Drury Walker (Killer Moth), Maxie Zeus, Dumfrey and Deever Tweed (Tweedledum and Tweedledee), and Arnold Wesker (Ventriloquist) for other reasons.
Also referenced in “Gotham: Origins Of The Bat,” the Joker’s origin is essentially a multiple choice answer. Something like this could be played up in the series. A character known simply as Jack could be a central antagonist, a member of the League of Assassins who bedevils the GCPD and becomes a roadblock in Bruce Wayne’s journey (killing off leads, planting false clues, etc). However, this could all be a misdirect. Something to make fans think the story is going one way when in reality Jack is simple a capable agent for Ra’s al Ghul. Instead, the character who becomes the Joker could be named Johnathan or have Jack as a middle name and, along the Smallville route, could end up a friend (or sometimes ally) to Bruce Wayne. A meek, cowardly boy, Johnathan could have a quiet sadistic streak few are aware of (save the small animals he kills and buries in secret). Pale, perhaps wearing a red hoodie (an idea admittedly taken from Yale Stewart’s JL8), the youth could come from a toxic family with an abusive, alcoholic father and apologetic mother who takes the abuse and allows her son to be hurt (perhaps even playing up one of Joker’s origins with the mother being Leslie Thompkins, who later shows more support to Bruce than she ever did her own child). Of course, an even more delicious turn could be Johnathan making up his terrible home conditions with perfectly normal parents which could help shape the delusions that eventually make up the Joker’s twisted mind. Regardless, the future Joker character could be attending the school on a chemistry scholarship and is frequently bullied (observed as weak by the jocks, poor by the wealthy, and weird by everyone else) that becomes a victim Bruce is compelled to save time and again. And while the boy at first appreciates the effort and of making a friend, Johnathan could come to resent being seen as so low and weak to require a guardian. In fact, he could hate everyone for the world he was brought up in, but he would hate his protector most of all because Wayne demonstrates both that there’s no doubt of Johnathan’s weakness but also of how superior Wayne is that he has to save the boy.