Recently, “Gotham” producer Bruno Heller publicly stated his belief that he “[doesn’t] think superheroes work very well on TV…. Probably because of the costume thing… TV is about real people and faces and not so much about magic and the supernatural things.”
This, of course, is not exactly a new stance when it comes to television adaptations of comic book properties. “Smallville” avoided “the costume thing” with its mantra of “no tights, no flights,” though it eventually introduced just about everyone from Aquaman to Zatanna, with most in some sort of costume. Conversely, the CW’s lineup of superhero shows (now including CBS transplant “Supergirl”) have embraced their source material rather successfully.
That said, it’s not surprising that a show with “Gotham’s” mission statement might eschew Batman comics’ more fanciful aspects. “Arrow” started out in much the same way. Still, considering that “Gotham” Season Three will have a character who can age people prematurely and may well feature the Monster Men of Professor Hugo Strange, there seems to be a bit of wiggle room. In that spirit (and in no particular order) we offer ten things “Gotham” could explore without getting too superhero-y.
10. GOTHAM ACADEMY
Hey, Young Bruce has to head back to school sometime, right? While “Gotham” tends to focus on how bad things have to get before Batman can save it, the show is also exploring how a certain rich kid develops into said savior. Pop culture tends to use high school as a microcosm of society, so a stint at Gotham Academy would be a good preview of Bruce’s adult adventures.
Furthermore, devoting a subplot to the creepy goings-on at the local boarding school might be just the tonic for an otherwise-constant parade of supervillains and threadbare morality. I mean, really: who’s not up for Bruce Wayne, Silver St. Cloud and Selina Kyle as the Harry, Hermione and Ron of Gotham Academy, uncovering professorial liaisons and exposing academic injustices?
It’s only a short hop from Hugo Strange’s current Monster Men to Kirk Langstrom’s experiments in giving humans echolocation — and once you’re there, you might as well do a full-on leather-winged transformation. Heck, “Legends of Tomorrow” did hawk-people in the 1950s, and “Gotham’s” not going to let a measly old CW show outdo it, right? Surely FOX has the budget for a passel of Man-Bats (People-Bats? We’re equal-opportunity here.) even if they’re not Grant Morrison-style ninjas.
At the very least, their introduction would get the people of Gotham City used to seeing giant, bat-shaped shadows in the sky; it’ll strike fear into the hearts of the superstitious and cowardly; and of course it’ll give Young Bruce something else to put on his Pinterest board for later.
8. HENRI DUCARD
Created by “Batman ’89” screenwriter Sam Hamm and artist Denys Cowan, Ducard debuted in 1989’s “Detective Comics” #599, but probably is best-known for appearing (so to speak — spoilers!) in “Batman Begins.” He’s a French private investigator who was one of Bruce Wayne’s many trainers, and he stands out because his ethics are, shall we say, more fluid than his student’s.
While “Gotham’s” Bruce has no shortage of trainers or ethical dilemmas, I could see Ducard making the young orphan an offer it would be hard to refuse: join a debonair international man of mystery on a globetrotting tour, and learn the shadowy secrets a man needs for a lonely crusade. We all know Bruce Wayne’s not going to be written out of “Gotham,” but just like he needs to go to school, at some point he probably needs to travel the world, too.
7. THE DEMON
Although it took “Arrow” a while to give its hero a proper mask, let alone a comics-accurate codename, by the start of Season Four Oliver Queen entered the realm of the supernatural when he needed John Constantine’s help to bring back Sara Lance from the great beyond. Heller may protest that “Gotham” isn’t going all hocus-pocus, but history and the weight of the source material aren’t on his side. Therefore, when the show starts exploring the mysterious and unexplainable, here’s hoping it calls on everyone’s favorite survivor of Camelot.
At the very least, it could cast Jason Blood; just look for sinister eyebrows and a white streak in his hair. Nevertheless, I’m holding out Jason to chant the old “gone, gone the form of man” incantation and give us Etrigan himself in the Hell-born flesh, maybe in a big season finale against an army of Man-Bats and/or Monster Men.
6. SLAM BRADLEY
While we might not see a Clark Kent cameo on “Gotham,” another creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s (working with Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson) is a definite possibility. Slam has become a well-established Gotham resident, helping out the Dynamic Duo and embarking on a complicated relationship with Catwoman.
Slam’s origins stretch all the way back to “Detective Comics” #1, but after his feature ended in 1949 he wasn’t seen again until 1981’s “Detective” #500. Various attempts to revive the character were finally reconciled by dubbing the younger one “Slam Bradley Jr.” and assigning him to the Metropolis police department — so that gives “Gotham” some options. In any event, not only could he share scenes with Selina Kyle, his rough-and-tumble style would be a good complement for Gordon and Bullock’s battles with the city’s growing pantheon of rogues.
5. THE ZATARA FAMILY
Yes, there’s a lot of magic on this list and yes, I know that’s something Heller is specifically avoiding; but if you want to continue to bring in non-costumed “Gotham” story generators from the comic book source material, sooner or later you’re going to hit the sorcerous side of Batman’s history.
To be fair, you don’t even have to introduce ‘real’ magic to the “Gotham” world. Just introduce John Zatara as a stage magician who can teach Young Bruce sleight-of-hand, escape artistry and/or disappearing in puffs of smoke, and give him a daughter who’s a little younger than Bruce. If you want to get cute about it, do a “Bewitched” riff and hint that Zatara’s wife Sindella is a real-live witch whose powers facilitate Zatara’s stagecraft. And if the Zataras appear more than once, maybe a different actor can play John each time.
4. HARVEY HARRIS
If “Gotham” ever did want to put Young Bruce in a costume and have him skulk across rooftops solving mysteries, it could look no farther than the classic “When Batman Was Robin!” from December 1955’s “Detective Comics” #226. The story (by Edmond Hamilton and Dick Sprang) introduced detective Harvey Harris, the man who taught the future Batman the finer points of investigation. Naturally, because even back then he wasn’t without a plan, Bruce created a familiar red-vested, yellow-caped, green-pantsed disguise so Harvey wouldn’t realize his student’s real identity. “WBWR” was wiped away in the wake of “Batman: Year One,” and I’d expect “Gotham” to go to Zur-En-Arrh before it ever showed a Robin costume.
Nevertheless, there’s also a slightly more recent alternative. In 1989’s “Detective Comics Annual” #2, writers Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn, and artists Val Semeiks and Michael Bair, brought Harvey back as a Southern lawman who broke up a white-supremacist group with the help of a pre-Batman Bruce. Besides, if “Gotham” is looking for an especially deep dive into DC continuity, Harvey is the uncle of one Wendy Harris, who’s better known as half of “Super Friends'” Wendy and Marvin.
3. THE SPECTRE
While the Ghostly Guardian is about as magic-and-supernatural as you can get, I still think he would work pretty well in a Ghost of Christmas Future kind of way. “Smallville” did a couple of cryptic flash-forwards, including a glimpse of Lex Luthor as President and a shot of a billowing red cape, and if “Gotham” ever feels the need to scratch a similar Bat-itch, a Spectre-guided vision could facilitate it. Maybe he appears to Gordon or Alfred to reassure them; or maybe it’s a warning to Cobblepot or Nygma. (Just be glad I’m not suggesting Professor Carter Nichols, who “hypnotized” Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson in order to send them time-traveling.) In fact, two of the Spectre’s hosts have already been adapted for TV.
Crispus Allen has been on “Gotham” and Jim Corrigan was on the now-cancelled “Constantine.” (The other host, Hal Jordan, is probably off-limits). Since Allen probably isn’t going to be joined with the Wrath of God anytime soon, that leaves Corrigan to give the audience a knowing look once the vision is over.
2. TOMMY MONAGHAN
DC’s “Hitman” (created by Garth Ennis and John McCrea) is tailor-made for Gotham (and “Gotham”), even though it’s not traditionally home to his favorite superhero. Tommy’s a deadly-accurate assassin who hangs out in the seediest bar in town — which is saying a lot — and his X-ray vision and telepathy make him ideal for taking out super-powered foes. In a supervillain-rich city which lacks anyone willing to compete on their level, Tommy Monaghan would definitely be an alternative worth exploring. Tommy’s also not likely to take much guff from the likes of Harvey Bullock, which is another good reason to bring him onto “Gotham,” as seeing the pair play off of each other would be a lot of fun. Essentially, Tommy’s just your average small-time crook who gets a couple of minor superpowers and has to figure out how best to use them. That’s any number of “Gotham” characters in a nutshell.
And finally …
1. GIANT PROPS (PREFERABLY FUNCTIONAL)
Gotham architecture tends to be only slightly less gloomy than the Black Gate of Mordor, but before all those gargoyles and sharp angles became the iconic city’s calling card, there was a more playful history. Even if it’s only for one episode, we’d love to see a story on “Gotham” center around an investigation involving a warehouse full of oversized replicas. Perhaps, decades ago, an office-supplies manufacturer wanted a giant manual pencil sharpener as part of its trade-show display. That might sound silly, but consider a) how it could symbolize the lost innocence of a bygone time and b) the lethal potential of a giant pencil sharpener. Besides, before too long someone’s going to have to locate oversized versions of a penny and a Joker playing card (not to mention a life-size mechanical Tyrannosaurus), and “Gotham” might as well explain where they come from.
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