Fox’s ‘Gotham’ looks to be super variation on originals

Andrew A. Smith
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

“Gotham,” which launched Sept. 22 on FOX, isn’t the story of Batman. It’s the story of everyone else.

It’s one of the most anticipated shows since ... well, probably the 1966 “Batman”! The promos are gorgeous, the actors are all A-list, and audiences have gone, uh, batty over the first episode. The buzz is so hot, in fact, that Deadline Hollywood reports Netflix has paid an estimated $1.75 million an episode for the exclusive streaming video rights to “Gotham” as soon as each season ends its broadcast run.

You can get an eyeful by going on YouTube and searching “Gotham.” But do the comics give us any clues as to what we’ll see? Let’s take a look at the dramatis personae and find out.

James Gordon (Ben McKenzie): The young police detective is the show’s focus, arriving fresh from the military just as Gotham’s two most prominent citizens, Thomas and Martha Wayne, are murdered. He is assigned the case with shady partner Harvey Bullock and takes a paternal interest in the now orphaned Bruce Wayne. Gordon will be the “last honest man in Gotham,” according to the previews, trying to navigate a cesspool of corruption while retaining his integrity. However, as Gordon moves up the ranks, expect everything else to get worse — after all, the city will need Batman eventually.

Now, this version of Gordon is already different from the one in the comics, who came from Chicago (where he was chased off the police force for turning in some crooked cops). But we do have some clues.

For example, the previews show Gordon making an immediate romantic connection with a woman named Barbara Kean (Erin Richards). That’s significant, because that’s Gordon’s first wife in the comics. And I say “first” because she keeps coming to a bad end. In one iteration, she dies in a car wreck. In another she divorces Gordon because he has an affair with fellow officer Sarah Essen, who is eventually killed by the Joker. And since there’s a Sarah Essen on the show (played by Zabrya Guevara) ...

At any rate, it’s about time Gotham’s commissioner got his due. Gordon first appeared with Bruce Wayne on Page One, Panel One of the first Batman story in 1939, and has appeared in more Batman stories than anyone but the Dark Knight himself.

Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz): He’s a traumatized kid learning to conquer fear. We viewers know what he’s up to, but the rest of the cast doesn’t! Fortunately, Bruce has got Gordon and more-than-a-butler Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) to guide him. Chances are the TV Alfred will closely resemble the “Batman: Earth One” version, who is a former Strategic Air Services commando.

Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue): The gruff, rumpled, overweight detective is a relative latecomer to Batman comics, being introduced in 1974, and a character never before played live. Originally he was a corrupt cop working to sabotage Jim Gordon before becoming his friend, but later origins have dropped the corruption part and made him Gordon’s most trusted officer from the get-go. “Gotham” seems to be plowing a middle ground, with a Bullock who bends the rules to get the job done.

Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith): Invented for the show, Fish is a gang boss making a play to take Gotham’s rackets away from Carmine Falcone and Boss Maroni, both of whom are gangsters in the comics whose falls are engineered by a certain bat-eared vigilante. Maybe on the show they’ll get a little push from Fish, whose appearances are mesmerizing — sexy, dangerous and electric.

Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Taylor): The man who will someday be the Penguin begins as a low-level thug in Fish Mooney’s organization, but that won’t last. (And remember: Penguins eat fish.) Cobblepot’s addled mother will be played by the always welcome Carol Kane — where we learn, for the first time, that the family’s name was Kapelput before being Americanized.

In the comics, the Penguin’s back story hasn’t been explored much — he didn’t even get the name “Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot” until the ’70s or ’80s, despite first appearing in 1941. In most of his origins, though, he is ridiculed for his similarity to the Arctic bird, and is both a ruthless gang organizer and a momma’s boy. Also, the Cobblepots were one of the four founding families of Gotham, which included the Waynes, the Kanes (maiden name of Martha Wayne) and the Elliots.

Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova): The promos depict a young street urchin hopping around on rooftops — which is how Catwoman got her start in most of her comics origins. But, honestly, there have been so many that the show can pick and choose. First appearing in 1940, Catwoman didn’t get the name Selina Kyle until 1950, when it was revealed that she was an amnesiac flight attendant. Conversely, a 1987 story established her as an ex-prostitute and dominatrix! Presumably “Gotham” will pick a spot between those two extremes.

Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith): A genius forensic scientist as the show begins, Nygma is likely to become a bit more obsessed with ... riddles. The Riddler is another character without much in the way of back story in the comics, and what exists is contradictory, so at this stage he really is an enigma.

Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones): Detectives on the Major Crimes Unit on TV, both characters became superheroes (sorta) in the comics. And while I don’t expect them to turn into the Question and the Spectre, respectively, they might still become major players.

Gotham City (New York City): Yes, the city itself is a character! Gotham City is one of New York’s nicknames, and the show’s metropolis reflects the corruption and crime of the Big Apple in the 1970s. With cars, clothes and phones lifted from the ’30s to the present, design elements from the better Bat-movies and chase scenes straight out of “Bullitt,” Gotham is a unique lady who brings a lot to every scene.

The Joker (?): Expect a lot of red herrings as to the identity of everyone’s favorite Bat-villain — any character, foreground or background, might be the future Clown Prince of Crown. Which is only fitting. As the Joker himself once said, “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”