Gotham: Origins of the Bat by Jerry Whitworth
Recently it was announced on the eve of the premier of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that Fox has ordered a television series based on the adventures of a young James Gordon in the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) in a show called Gotham. While Batman and his cast will be notably absent, it’s likely the series will adapt elements from the comic book Gotham Central (which focused on the GCPD, only in the modern day) and will be more in line with a series like Arrow or the Dark Knight film trilogy than the last live action TV foray into Gotham in Birds of Prey. Some may question what ground could be covered in a series focused on Gotham before the arrival of the Caped Crusader so lets examine some elements that could come into play in the series.
Chicago born James Gordon moves to Gotham with his wife Barbara (pregnant with their son James, Jr.) after a series of events centered around uncovering corruption in the police force and with the mayor’s election. The experience taught Gordon the price of being a hero creating a desire to keep his own nose clean while letting stand the corruption around him for the sake of his family and his career. The relationship between Gordon and his wife is strained at best, as the latter wanted desperately to raise a family while the former had issues coming to grips with raising a child in a world of such darkness. In time, this strain would take its toll as James had an affair with fellow officer (as well as fellow Chicago-transferred cop) Sarah Essen. However, the guilt would eventually get to Essen, seeing her end the affair and transfer to New York City (Gordon would later divorce Barbara and marry Essen). As Gordon was learning to become a father to his son, he would gain a daughter when his brother Roger and his wife died in a car accident caused by Roger driving drunk. The couple’s teenage daughter, ironically also named Barbara, would have to move from Ohio to Gotham as her uncle James adopted her. However, certain elements of the story will have to be revised to make the series fit (Gordon moved to Gotham during the Batman’s first year operating in the city and young Barbara was a fan of Batman when she moved in with her uncle; though, the Nolan films had Gordon as a Gotham cop when Bruce Wayne lost his parents). It’s also likely names may have to be modified considering the Gordon family is composed of two Jameses and two Barbaras.
In the fictional world of DC Comics, Gotham is an old city like New York or Philadelphia located in the Northeast United States (specifically, the state of New Jersey). Along with Metropolis in Delaware, it’s also one of the great financial institutions of the country. Considering these two distinctions, Gotham is split between Old Gotham and New Gotham. The former, obviously, is home to the remnants of Gotham’s earliest days (when it was merely a town) and includes structures like the Old GCPD building, Old Courthouse, financial district, Old Wayne Tower, Amusement Mile, Park Row, and the Forty-Sixth Street promenade. This area was designed by architect Cyrus Pinkney under the direction and influence of Judge Solomon Wayne (who nearly bankrupt himself in order to finance the construction). While a center for business and industry in the country, the city’s success also attracted corruption, poverty, and crime going back to the days of Wayne. However, Old Gotham would later give way to neighboring New Gotham (largely double the size of its old counterpart) where the new City Hall, GCPD headquarters, courthouse, and Wayne Tower were built and included tourist attractions like Robinson Park, Knights Dome Sporting Complex, and the Vauxhall Opera Shell & Indoor Concert Center. A port city, Gotham has been a longtime hub for cargo ships which by extension has made it a target for smuggling (something exploited by notable criminals like city councilor Rupert Thorne, Ventriloquist, and the Penguin). The city of Gotham would largely be based on New York City (in fact, New York was the original setting for Batman’s adventures before it was decided to retroactively make it Gotham).
A city like Gotham that is a financial institution to the world, it would undoubtedly be home to some of the most elite families on the globe. Families like the Sionis, Lawton, Elliot, Kane, and Powers were huge in Gotham but paled in comparison to the big two: Wayne and Cobblepot. As noted earlier, Solomon Wayne was largely responsible for turning Gotham Town into Gotham City, though his family dates back even further immigrating from Scotland to Gotham where the Wayne family became synonymous with the town/city. The Cobblepot family originally immigrated to Gotham as an enemy. During the American Revolutionary War, Sir Nigel Cobblepot invaded Gotham on behalf of the crown before later settling in the city (his descendant Nathan would become a hero fighting for the North during the American Civil War). If the Wayne family was a father to Gotham, Cobblepot was like an older brother helping to lead the city into the future, quite literally when Theodore Cobblepot was the longest running and most notable mayor of the city (in addition to being a steel baron). Alan Wayne and Edward Elliot along with Cobblepot were known as the founding fathers of Gotham (Cameron Kane would also become a notable figure, though for more dubious reasons), largely building New Gotham (and by extension Gotham as it is today). However, power corrupts and the Elliot family would align with Kane with unscrupulous practices. Shrouded in mystery, the Court of Owls is a clandestine organization that controls power in Gotham for well over three centuries and is made up of its wealthy elite, notably the Powers family. Supported by its dangerous Talon operatives, the Court bridges a gap between the wealthy elite and organized crime.
Likely the most lucrative business in Gotham before the arrival of the Batman, organized crime had such a stronghold on the city that the idea of an independent costumed psychotic criminal operating in Gotham was largely laughable because the business of crime was such a unified force. From the top in mayor Frank Noone to the police commissioner Gillian Loeb and his cops like Lieutenant Jim Gordon’s partner Arnold Flass, Gotham was corrupt and you couldn’t tell where the crime families began and where public servants ended. In Gotham, Carmine “The Roman” Falcone was king. While crooks like Sal Maroni, Lew Moxon, and Franco Bertinelli were big wigs in organized crime, Falcone and his so-called “Roman Empire” largely allowed Maroni, Moxon, and Bertinelli to coexist for the sake of preventing gang warfare as the Roman had his hand in every pie imaginable, illegal or otherwise. It would take the combined efforts of Commissioner Gordon, the Batman, and district attorney Harvey Dent to finally topple the mob boss.
Years before Batman appeared in Gotham, the city was protected by another hero in the Green Lantern. While it’s unlikely this hero will be brought up in Gotham, that doesn’t mean his enemies will not. Such notable villains included the Gambler, Solomon Grundy, Sportsmaster, and the Icicle. A traveling thief of notoriety, the Gambler was Steven Sharpe III, the son and grandson of gamblers. An expert of disguise and a marksman with a knife, Sharpe employed a Derringer that he would load with gas pellets for his robberies. Grundy was a gargantuan zombie, the reanimated corpse of Cyrus Gold laid to rest in the swamps outside of Gotham who returned to life and terrorized the city. The Sportsmaster was Lawrence Crock, a natural athlete with a decidedly mean streak. While he played in just about any sport he found interesting, his brutality led to permanently crippling a man while playing football professionally. The various sports outlets having enough of the bad boy of the sports world, Crock was banned from competing professionally leading the man to channel his aggression into crime. European physicist Dr. Joar Mahkent would come to America with a ray gun he developed to freeze objects in ice, taking the name the Icicle and using his invention to steal. In addition to the Green Lantern’s rogues, there are various other villains that either predate Batman’s appearance or appear early enough they could have existed prior.
The Peter Pan Killer was a serial killer who abducted children and murdered them (at one point targeting Gordon’s son) before Batman came to Gotham. While the Dark Knight battled the likes of the Joker and Scarecrow, early in his career he fought the mob and mad scientists. An early such villain was Doctor Death. An accomplished chemist, Death developed a weaponized extract of pollen he planned to use to extort money from the wealthy under threat of poison. Another, more significantly well known villain is Hugo Strange. Undergoing a similar evolution to Lex Luthor, Strange started out as a gang leader who became a mad scientist character (his initial gimmick creating a formula that transformed men into hulking brutes, then the Giants of Hugo Strange or “man-monsters” but known today as the Monster Men). Strange would become the Moriarty to Batman’s Sherlock Holmes, an intellectual equal who would engage in several battles of wits with the world’s greatest detective. The same issue Batman battled Strange’s Monster Men was the one that introduced the Joker and the Cat (later Catwoman). Another early Batman villain was the Monk (later the Mad Monk), a vampire who retroactively lead a cult on the outskirts of Gotham called “The Brotherhood.” Perhaps what will entice comic fans the most in a series like Gotham would be cameo Easter eggs sprinkled into the show.
In various media, Ra’s al Ghul had had an ongoing relationship with Gotham City. For the Dark Knight film trilogy, al Ghul claimed his organization the League of Shadows had toppled cities and nations over the course of human history when mankind had reached its decadence. Gotham was just such a target, only it was halted by the efforts of Thomas Wayne and then his son Bruce (in the guise of Batman) whom al Ghul groomed as his protege (his daughter Talia returning later to finish her father’s work). For the video game Batman: Arkham City, al Ghul discovered the properties of the Lazarus Pit thanks to the rebirth of Solomon Grundy and obtained ownership of Gotham, building Wonder City beside what is today the ruins of Old Gotham. What was intended to become a new Eden became a living Hell when the Lazarus used to power the city drove its people mad. Al Ghul would return to Gotham orchestrating the events of the game to purge the city of evil and decide his protege. These stories that connect al Ghul to a pre-Batman Gotham City could mean a presence of the eco-terrorist’s involvement in the series, though he may never necessarily appear. Instead, the League of Assassins/Shadows could have a presence in the city trying various ways to either destroy it or its criminals.
Other future Batman villains and allies could have various nods or appearances. As told, the Cobblepots were a family as prominent as the Waynes. It would make sense if Miranda Cobblepot became a presence in the series (perhaps with allusions to her son Oswald) to fill the void left by the demise of the Waynes (and Bruce’s absence). The same could be said of many Batman villains and allies born of wealth, such as Tommy Elliot (childhood “friend” to Bruce Wayne who become Hush), Roman Sionis (another so-called friend of Bruce who would become Black Mask), Kathy Kane (later Batwoman), Floyd Lawton (Deadshot, though his appearances in Arrow could jeopardize this), and Joseph and Maria Powers (of the Court of Owls who may or may not be related to Derek Powers of Batman Beyond). From organized crime, you also have Alberto Falcone (later Holiday) and Helena Bertinelli (who became Huntress, though also her appearances in Arrow could take this off the table). But of course, many of the Bat-rogues were residents of Gotham meaning these characters could make early appearances under their real names: a prostitute named Selena Kyle (who trains with retired boxing champ Ted Grant), actor Basil Karlo, psychiatrists Dr. Jonathan Crane and Dr. Harleen Quinzel, attorney Harvey Dent, scientists Jervis Tetch and Victor Fries, chemist Achilles Milo, botanist Pamela Isley, and so on. Perhaps these characters could be tied to antagonists in the series, like Fries as an assistant to Dr. Mahkent, Strange’s man-monster serum ending up in the hands of Mark Desmond (who became Blockbuster), Kirk Langstrom (later Man-Bat) an acolyte of the Monk, or the modus operandi and attire of the Gambler inspiring a certain Clown Prince of Crime.
As for the Joker, as his origins are a mystery to everyone (including himself), finding ways to incorporate him at some level could be interesting. For example, taking the route of Leslie Thompkins (matriarch figure to Bruce Wayne following the loss of his parents) as the Joker’s mother, Thompkins could be a reoccurring character operating her free clinic in Park Row (better known as Crime Alley) with her son making infrequent appearances. Likely the more commonly observed origin of the Joker as a lab assistant/engineer at Ace Chemical who worked as a failed comedian is his off time could be incorporated (Dr. Death and Professor Milo both chemists). However, what may bear the most fruit is the origin of the Joker as Jack, a criminal genius operating as a freelancer that becomes obsessed with Batman when the hero manages to foil one of his perfect jobs. Jack could be a character akin to Jim Moriarty in the recent hit television series Sherlock as a consulting criminal, who matches wits against the GCPD and rather chiefly thwarts their efforts to prevent his perfect crimes. Of course, Gordon could be a fly in the ointment, perhaps not someone who takes down Jack but who hinders his operations. Of course, the connection between Jack and the Joker need never be drawn in Gotham because the Joker (as well as the Red Hood) came along after Batman appeared. Meaning, Jack could be an ongoing nemesis for the series without the idea history is being rewritten.
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