I can't be bought, but I can be stolen with a glance. I'm worthless to one, but priceless to two. It’s a story for the ages… Penguin and Riddler in love.
Gotham has made a name for itself as the one show you can count on to do the things no other series would think to do. Sometimes this involves turning Jim Gordon into a cold-blooded killer, and sometimes it involves the Penguin and Riddler becoming romantically entwined.
What many of us had believed was true since the first season of Gotham, when Edward Nygma rescued Penguin and nursed him back to health, was eventually confirmed when the show had Penguin admit that he openly loves the Riddler. It’s not reciprocated, at last verbally, but this is Gotham, and there are no happy relationships here. But still, Gotham went and said that Penguin is actually, full-on in love with the Riddler.
So, yes, Penguin is in love with Riddler, though the latter is a bit less than reciprocal. Okay, okay, Ed actively tries to kill Oswald, but that’s only because the Penguin killed the woman Ed himself loved out of jealousy. Look, love is messy all right, but when it comes down to it, the tale that’s being told is a weird and unique one starring two Gotham supervillains in love: fanfics really do come true.
And isn’t that amazing?
Can you think of a single other superhero show on television that would dare to feature two huge characters like this in a romantic entanglement? Can you think of any show that would take a character who is straight in the comics, with the same level of name recognition as the Penguin, and turn him gay? Because Gotham did that. This is a wholly Gotham invention and it’s truly, utterly glorious.
In fact, this relationship might very well be DC’s best gay relationship, ever.
For one thing, the show presents it as completely normal. It’s not done saliciously, or with any drama -- it’s presented as matter of factly as the relationship between Jim Gordon and Lee Thompkins (another great, non-canon pairing). The relationship has its issues, yes, but it’s never presented as a “gay relationship” just... "a" relationship.
This sounds simple, but sadly, it's something that rarely if ever ever happens. Think of some of the “best” representations of homosexual characters in comics -- Midnighter and Apollo for instance -- and you’ll realize there are always some issues, to put it mildly.
The problem with Midnighter and Apollo -- with homosexual characters in comics in general -- is that most of the time, attention is drawn to them, or the fact that they’re homosexual is painted as a big deal. It’s considered out of the ordinary, weird enough to mention, despite this being a universe where giant monsters regularly attack. Even in amazing shows like Supergirl, the fact that one of the characters is gay is a big deal -- with plot lines dealing with the character coming out and how others will react. But in Gotham no one cares. Sure, the Penguin (whose mayor) is in love with his best friend and personal assistant. Who cares, we’ve got rampaging monsters and Owl-masked monsters.
Seeing a man declare he literally loves another man done so… normally… is awe-inspiring. It’s refreshing, and it’s something that could only happen on Gotham. Because Gotham is so, so, so campy.
Campy things have always held the power to be uniquely subversive. It’s one of the reason that John Waters’ films are so popular, one of the reasons Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight screenings still exist, decades past the film’s release date. Homosexuality can happily reside in campiness. Think of the Village People’s YMCA -- a song that appears to many to be a no more than a simple and campy song, but is actually a homosexual anthem about public sex! The mainstream world has long shunned homosexuality, and even now treats it as some strange other. As a result, the only place it can be seen as normal and regular is where nothing is normal and regular.
Which is why in Gotham, Riddler and Penguin’s relationship is so special -- because it’s not actually presented as anything special at all.
Now, there are other same-sex relationships in Gotham, including a one big one you might think we’re ignoring: the relationship between Tabitha Galivan and Barbara Kean. But we’re not looking past them; it’s just that they're not as neat or as interesting as Penguin and Riddler. While Barbara and Tabby have had a long relationship, one that's been shown with a similar level of care and devotion, but there are a few things that make it not quite as noteworthy as the Penguin and Riddler relationship.
For one, seeing two women together on television is almost… normal. Even FRIENDS, which had many issues with queer people, depicted lesbians in one of its first episodes. But more than that, Gotham’s Barbara is one of the most pernicious and obnoxious of all characters on television -- the crazy bisexual. She’s an entire character type, so seeing her being with a girl isn’t that unique or weird. Also, Barbara doesn’t seem to care that much for Tabitha on the whole, and Tabitha was hooking up with Solomon Grundy. Perhaps most problematic, Barbara being with women was treated like a shocking secret, presented with almost a soap opera-esque flair of drama. When it was first revealed, Gotham was still in its first season, and it was presented to the audience with all the flair and dramatics as typical gay relationship reveals, with a smattering of male gaze.
Beyond all of that, the fact is that in the Batman mythos, Barbara Kean and Tabitha Galivan are small fries. However, everyone knows who the Penguin is. Everyone knows who the Riddler is. Heck, both of them have already appeared in live-action movies, played by Danny DeVito and Jim Carrey, two huge actors. If you have kids, there's a good chance they own toys of these characters. They’re huge, huge villains, and Gotham has turned one of them gay, and the other? Well, we’ll see.
Who knows what will happen? Will Gotham be the first to give us a supervillain kiss? We hope so. Sure, as we saw in the finale, for now their love is on ice, but we’re sure it’ll come back in Season 4, hopefully stronger than ever.