Superheroes are all the rage these days. They’ve already conquered the multiplex, and now they’re poised to conquer the small screen. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. A lot of fans are already a bit wary these days, what with The Flash and Constantine joining Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Arrow as TV shows based on comic properties. And that’s not even counting the upcoming Agent Carter, the online streaming projects and the potential Supergirl show. It’s cause for both much excitement and much anxiety.
Perhaps nothing carried a bigger bull’s eye on its back than FOX’s Gotham. Pitched as a look at Gotham before there was a Batman, the show already faced several significant hurdles. There was the fact that it was coming right off the very successful Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. There were the stories of extensive retooling of the pilot to shoehorn even more villains-before-they-were-villains cameos (Edward Nygma, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman, specifically). And there were the fans who’d been looking forward to a Gotham Central show, but were becoming increasingly disheartened when it became more and more apparent that the show wasn’t going to do that.
But, hey, it’s a Batman live action TV show, something that hadn’t been seen since Adam West donned the tights to deliver a “BIFF! BAM! POW!” to Caesar Romero’s jaw. (Yeah, yeah, there was the Birds of Prey show, but that really didn’t have Batman much.) How does it fare? Well, parts of it are a somber affair that delve into the seedy politics that keep Gotham in the hands of crimelords. And parts of it are super campy, like whenever Fish Mooney (played by Jada Pinkett Smith) is purring like Eartha Kitt.
And you know what? It kinda works for me. Everyone has their preferred version of Batman, and I like a Gotham that’s smack dab in the middle of Nolan’s realistic urban sprawl and Schumacher’s neon-soaked fantasia. Gotham hits that sweet spot. Outside of, say, a shot where the Brooklyn Bridge is clearly in the background, I never got the sense that this was New York City. (Arrow, on the other hand, keeps reminding me that Starling City is actually Vancouver.) It’s a hodge podge of dark alleys, bright Chinatown night clubs and Gothic towers. And, like every great Batman adaptation, it’s crazily anachronistic. Cops talk to each other on flip phones, but drive old cars straight out of the ’70s.
There are a lot of fun performances here. However, I have to give mad props to Robin Lord Taylor, who plays hizzoner Oswald Cobblepot. In many ways, Gotham is an origin story… but not necessarily that of Batman. (Though if you’re looking for that, there is a lovely sequence at the beginning of the show that depicts the Waynes’ ill-fated shortcut through Crime Alley.) It’s also a look into how the villains got to where they are by the time the rat with wings does his thing. Penguin is perhaps my favorite Batman villain, a self-made thug who manages to hang with the more flamboyant and insane villains of the rogue’s gallery.
Taylor does Penguin justice, seemingly bringing together aspects of both Burgess Meredith and Danny DeVito’s portrayal. He’s shown as a cowardly snitch at first, but as the events of the show progress he gains an awkward waddle and a voracious appetite. He even does a swan dive into icy water, looking like a penguin you’d see in the zoo. When he emerges from his baptism, a big grin spread across my face, for standing here before you is the one and only Penguin. It’s great to see him again after he was so cruelly ignored in the Nolan movies. Some pundits are saying that Taylor may be the first Penguin since Meredith to upstage his fellow villains, and so far I’ve seen nothing to disabuse me of that notion. Now all he’s got to do is mock up a trick umbrella — correction, mock up many trick umbrellas — and bellow his signature “WAUK!”
[Editor’s note: Each Sunday, Robot 6 contributors discuss the best in comics from the last seven days — from news and announcements to a great comic that came out to something cool creators or fans have done.]
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