World Building And Lived In Universes

When the second episode of Titans – “Hawk and Dove” – came out, one of the things I thought was that it felt like Batman v Superman. Coming from me? That’s about as high of a compliment as I can give something.

It’s strange, because in a lot of ways, they’re very little alike. Batman v Superman was a sequel, not the start of a new universe that Titans is. But they still feel similar, because they’re both set in already established worlds. In Titans, there were obviously the big details, like how Dawn, Hank, and Dick all knew each other prior to the series and the fact that Dick isn’t working with Bruce anymore. But there were the smaller things, too – Dawn’s Superman T-shirt. The photograph of what was presumably this universe’s first incarnation of Titans. Dick’s contacts list, which included not only Bruce and Alfred, but Donna Troy and Lucius Fox, as well as an assortment of minor characters – Bridget Clancy, Bonnie Linseed, Lori Elton. This is a continuation of the same pattern in the pilot, where Dick’s coworkers are talking about how he’s from Gotham, and how it’s anybody’s guess what happened to his old partner – he could have even been gassed by the Joker. That’s how everything about Gotham feels in BvS.

Like I said, Batman v Superman was a sequel. But while it continued plot points from Man of Steel, it introduced Batman as an already established hero that’s gotten much more brutal recently. He’s twenty years into his career. Losing everyone that’s ever mattered to him has left him jaded and brutal. We don’t see much of Gotham, but we know it’s a crime ridden cesspool with a pretty bad reputation. The Joker doesn’t play a role, but we know that Gotham has a history with him. Even in regards to Superman – we know how he started off – we saw that in Man of Steel. But we weren’t shown all the details of his life since then. We see the gist of it, not the details – he saved a bunch of people, moved in with Lois, is in a good place.

By contrast, there are shows like Gotham. That’s my favourite comic book show. I love it with all my heart. And it has a very different vibe. The city feels like one with a lot of history, like a city that was holding on by a thread until the Wayne murders. But the show, the characters…that all feels fresh and new. However lived in the world may be, there’s a new world order coming and a new status quo that the residents will have to live with. That’s because the show is a prolonged origin story, and over the seasons, we’ve been there for just everything that makes Bruce Wayne who he is.

We were there when he watched his parents’ murder. We were there when he failed to deal with it. We were there when he met Jim Gordon, when he met Selina Kyle and found a reason to smile. We saw him train and grow and confront villains, saw him regress and pick himself back up and start fighting crime for the first time in a world where the new phenomenon of supervillains is emerging. That’s not at all what it’s like in Titans or Batman v Superman, because they start in the middle, not at the beginning.

Sure, we see the basics of Dick and Bruce’s lives and traumas in those stories. In the case of the former, we’ll probably see more as Titans progresses. But how we see that is very different. In both cases, it’s through flashbacks, not what’s occurring in the present. More than that – with many shows and movies, flashbacks are just regular scenes set in the past, sometimes with a different colouring to indicate that it’s not the usual timeline. Not so in Titans and BvS. There, there’s a separation. Stylistically, it comes across as a memory.

In Titans, the first flashback to the Flying Graysons is from Rachel’s perspective, not Dick’s. We hear voices as echoes, we don’t see every detail of what happens, it’s more like flashes of images than a scene. And in one of Dick’s very first scenes, we see him years older wearing a costume we never saw him put on, much less for the first time, and confronting criminals who already know who he is, even though we didn’t see when he got that name. We know that he had a life before this show, one that we’re never going to know all the details of. In Batman v Superman, it’s pretty much the same thing. It’s a compressed telling. It’s stylized. We don’t hear voices or see every frame, we just hit the main points – what Bruce is never going to forget.

This particular brand of storytelling appeals to me so much – sure, it’s great to be with characters through the entire journey, but when flashbacks are a major part of it, I like not seeing all of it, or piecing it together slowly. It’s not all thrown at us at once. It’s enjoyable.

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The Women In ‘Gotham’ Deserve Better

I adore Gotham. I really do. But the way the women are treated bothers me.

I’m not opposed to bad things happening to female characters. Really, I’m not. Not if bad things are happening equally to the male characters. I support equal opportunity suffering. And to an extent, Gotham has that. It’s not that the characters dying are only women. Plenty of bad things have happened to the male characters. Arguably, some of the most uniquely degrading scenes have been involving men. Ed spent months frozen in a block of ice as the centrepiece for Penguin’s club, I mean, damn. And with revenge, it’s often an eye for an eye. Tabitha killed Oswald’s mother. Oswald retaliated by killing Butch. One woman, one man. But the women usually have significantly worse writing. Butch got shot after four seasons of development because Penguin wanted revenge on Tabitha for killing his mother, who had no development. Kristen and Isabella were shoved in the fridge for Ed’s character development into a villain. The sexualization of Ivy has been creepy and gross. Alice Tetch was only around for about two episodes, after which her blood played a more important role in the plot than she herself did. Valerie got shot because Gordon loved Lee. It’s not about them outside of their relationships with male characters.

Isabella’s few episodes were some of the worst writing Gotham has ever had. Gotham‘s primary strength has never been good writing – the  writing is usually decent, and at points, excellent, but what makes it stand out isn’t a clever script so much as good performances, gorgeous settings and visuals, just how much it commits to the “love child of the Nolan and Burton movies” aesthetic. But Isabella’s episodes? Just some random woman that liked riddles, happened to look exactly like Ed’s dead girlfriend, and didn’t pay attention to the news enough to know who the guy she was seeing was? It was sloppy. She existed for the sole purpose of driving a wedge between Ed and Oswald.

A similar point can be made about Valerie. Her whole storyline was basically being Jim’s rebound girl that helped him investigate a case, and it culminated in her never showing up again after Jim got her shot. She deserved a whole lot better than that. It would have been bad no matter how else they wrote it, but had they instead gone the route of it not being about Gordon preferring her to get shot because he loved Lee but because Lee is a doctor that could keep her alive until the ambulance got there, it would have felt way less sexist (Not really, because Mario was also a doctor and locked in the bathroom, but still). The way it actually went, it felt like the show was saying that neither she nor Lee really mattered as a character outside of Gordon’s interest in them.

Lee was once the heart of the show – she wasn’t the main character, and one could even make the case she was a minor one, but she was the conscience. That went off the rails in seasons three and four, especially once she teamed up with Nygma. And don’t get me wrong – I love vastly unhealthy relationships in fiction. Relationships featuring characters that are an absolute toxic trainwreck together can be enormously entertaining. But I don’t think that’s quite what Lee and the Riddler were, and that’s because their negative history wasn’t mentioned at all while they were together.

Season four was something like Lee’s rebel phase. Gordon had his in the first half of season three, when he quit the GCPD to be a bounty hunter/private investigator and spent most of his time getting drunk. Lee spends season four trying to figure out what the hell she wants out of life and trying to atone for what she did after Mario’s death. From that perspective, it makes sense that she’d do things like get involved with a murderous supervillain.

Lee and Ed could actually be interesting. She’s gotten darker, what with everything that happened with her soap opera relationships – between dating and breaking up with Gordon, her miscarriage, marrying a Tetch virus infected Mario, her ex killing her new husband, infecting herself with the virus, and her sister in law bashing her hand in with a hammer, she’s had a really rough few seasons. And after Ed got off ice, we saw glimpses of the person he used to be – the person Lee once considered a friend. I’ve seen a lot of people say that Lee would never forgive Nygma after everything he did to her, and I get that, but I also think that after her experience with the virus, she would try to see the good in him. Instead, their relationship involved a lot of focusing on how Lee “likes danger”. Their whole thing in the season four finale was weird. And Lee’s reasoning for stabbing him, while not invalid, had nothing to do with all the ways Ed had screwed up her life, just that he has a history of killing people and she didn’t want to be on that list?

Most of Lee’s season four story arc could have happened without the romantic element to her and Nygma’s relationship, or even if said romantic element got introduced more slowly. That would have given it a very different connotation and put them on equal footing. It would have probably ended in a pretty similar way – Gotham has established itself as very much an Elseworlds take on the Batman mythos, but traditional canon is still the best guide, so a Lee Ed relationship, whether romantic or platonic, would probably end with her on the side of justice and Batman, and him as a super villain no matter what. But as it was, it felt kind of like Isabella did – more about him than her and about driving a wedge between him and Penguin than developing her. Lee deserves more than that. She deserves a storyline of her own, one that isn’t tied to a male character.

Sofia could have been a clear way to do that. It would have been a callback to season one and the crime drama roots of the show. But her and Lee’s conflict only lasted a couple episodes. Lee did get to shoot her, but it falls kind of flat compared to the seasons long revenge plots other characters get. Sofia herself didn’t get to be nearly as competent a villain as she should have been. Yes, she managed to meteoric rise to power and gained control of the underworld faster than any other character, but her rise and fall took place over the span of like five episodes because while she was cunning enough to gain power, she was also dumb enough to piss off everyone in the city while doing so.

I think Selina, ironically enough, is the female character whose storylines have been the least dependent on a male character. That is, until the last few episodes of season four. Season four is my favourite season. Every episode has been great. I’ve seen people calling it messy, and I’m just…what? And I thought the last couple episodes were especially good. But I’m really not a fan of the “she might not walk again” thing.

I hate The Killing Joke on principle. I always have. I thought it was gross and sexist and involved treating Barbara as an extension of the male characters in her life instead of as her own person. But I have mixed feelings about it when I think about it more. It’s because of The Killing Joke that we got Barbara as Oracle, but that was never the intention of the story. The story wasn’t about her. If it had been, if it had been intended as Barbara’s Oracle story, then yeah, I’d have liked it a lot more. But it wasn’t. And I think that using that story is even grosser when it’s not about Barbara.

I’m confident Selina is going to make a miraculous recovery, despite the fact the doctor told Bruce she wouldn’t walk again, because she’s the future Catwoman, not Oracle. Gotham may make a lot of changes to the mythos, but I very much doubt they’d go the Selina as Oracle route. I’d be pretty upset if they did, actually – I like what if stories where different characters become different heroes, but the thing about those is there has to be work put into it. A change in circumstance, a new character in their life, something. That’s not the case with Gotham. For the past four seasons, Selina’s clearly been building to becoming Catwoman. Living on the streets, becoming a better thief, learning to use a whip. Her becoming Oracle just because she was shot? That would just be bad writing.

While the Gotham writers aren’t above an occasional cop out or avoiding consequences, they’re certainly better than to not give a character an actual arc. Especially if they want it to be believable that said character takes on a different role than they do in the comics. Meaning this story – Selina getting shot, her and Alfred leaving Gotham while Bruce stays behind – wouldn’t even serve that purpose of giving her a hero origin story. It would just be hurting her for the sake of Bruce’s angst. Or not even that, really, with what we’ve seen so far – hurting her to get her out of the way of the story. It would be pointless. It would have been one thing if she just got shot. But they just had to reiterate the fact that she may never walk again. Yeah, that was probably just a mythology gag, but seeing as it’s almost certain that she will, it just comes across as pain for pain’s sake.

I loved the last two episodes of season four. I thought they were gorgeously done. But they don’t exist in a vacuum, and when considered alongside the rest of the show, they drive home the point that Gotham doesn’t treat its female characters very well. I adore the show, I know I’m in for a good time every time I sit down to watch, but I would really appreciate the women getting a bit more agency.

My Dislike For Breaks From Canon vs My Love For ‘Gotham’: Deciphering My Own Mild Hypocrisy

I absolutely love Gotham and its wild, unashamed love of comic books. Despite that love, it doesn’t follow any canon. It takes bits from different comics, from one offs, from cartoons and movies, and blends it with new material, capturing the spirit and feel of reading a comic perfectly as it does so. And even though I love the comics, I adore these changes. It makes the show feel fresh and new.

The X-Men movies, on the other hand? Not quite. For me, most of the X-Men movies don’t feel like they were made by people that even like comics, much less love them. They’re not the product of people that love the characters and respect all of them.

It kind of reminds me of something Guillermo del Toro said once about Pacific Rim: it was inspired by Kaiju movies, but by his memory of them, his nostalgia for them, rather than how they actually are. That’s how this feels, except minus the nostalgia. The X-Men movies feel like the product of someone that knows a little bit about the X-Men – that read a couple comics, or watched a few episodes of the cartoon, and has learned a bit through pop culture osmosis – that tried to recreate it in movie format. And while the resultant product is something that’s usually good for at least a watch, in the long run, they don’t do it for me. In my eyes, it’s very similar to The Dark Knight trilogy. Many of these are great movies. I’m not denying that. But something feels missing, and that’s the love and passion for comics.

It’s not even just about love and respect for the source material, it’s a question of what we’ve already gotten. Batman has had decades worth of adaptations, ranging from the dorky and cheap to the serious and high budget. He’s a pop culture icon whose place in our collective memory has long been determined. So I’m totally up for seeing changes, for seeing new and fresh takes on the heroes and villains. But that’s not  the case for the X-Men. They’ve had cartoons, yes. But they’ve only had one movie franchise, one that’s longer running than any other superhero franchise. It has been going on for nearly twenty years, and because of that, hasn’t really evolved in the same sense as other superhero movies have.

A lot has changed when it comes to superhero movies in the past several years. We can see that in the contrast between the Batman in The Dark Knight trilogy and the one in Batman v Superman, or the Superman in Superman Returns and the one in Man of Steel. People have learned how to combine realism with the sense of comic book come to life. Since the X-Men movies we get today are still an extension of the one from 2000, when the clear goal was making a statement of being different from other superhero movies. That movie was different and highly appealing at the time, but not so much anymore, and that goal resulted in the X-Men never getting a comics accurate adaptation. As a comics fan, it’s frustrating.

In July, the X-Men film franchise will turn eighteen. If it was a person, it could vote. But in all these years, in the nine (?) movies, only about four characters got real attention and development, with one of those four (Mystique) being absolutely nothing like her comics counterpart, to the point where I’m so sick of them, I kind of need to not see them again for the next decade. Other characters not only didn’t get development, they got their backstories actively erased.

Jubilee was at the school before Scott in the alternate timeline. Do you realize how crazy that is? That’s like…I don’t know, like Robin existing before Batman. And that’s minor compared to making Scott the younger brother that grew up in the suburbs with his parents alive. To cutting out all of Warren’s history with the X-Men. To ignoring the fact that the Dark Phoenix wasn’t just Jean going crazy and having more power than she could handle, but the Hellfire Club manipulating her and screwing with her head until she didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. None of these changes were necessary. None were a fresh take on a story that’s been done to death. All they did was make the incarnation of the characters that’s a lot of people’s introduction to them completely different from who they really are and have been.

I’ve watched the various cartoons, read the comics, watched the movies. I have a deep and undying love for most of these characters. But there are kids out there today whose exposure to them will just be the disrespectful treatment they’ve gotten in the movies. I hate it. I fully support exploration of the way characters would be if put in a different situation…but that doesn’t apply on the very first version.

Scott was Xavier’s first student, Alex’s older brother, the object of Sinister’s obsession, an abused child that grew up in an orphanage and on the streets, the leader of the X-Men, the first X-Man, a respected teacher, the ultimate good guy and biggest adherent to Xavier’s dream until years of losing made him realize that it was time to draw a line in the sand. Are all of those things really essential? All of them? No, probably not! What the hell do I care if he’s younger or older than Alex? But when all aspects of his character are stripped away from him and handed out to other characters on his first live action adaptation, I draw the line.

This same thing can explain my adoration for the DC Extended Universe: it doesn’t follow canon exactly. It interprets it creatively while still demonstrating both a love for and knowledge of the source material. It doesn’t change the core of the characters or stories. I don’t think it’s hypocritical, really, or a double standard, to enjoy some works that deviate from canon while being bothered by others. Because it’s not actually about deviations from canon. It’s about how knowing when to make changes is a sign of respecting viewers and source material. Gotham does. The X-Men movies don’t.

‘Gotham’: Going Out With A Bang

Before the announcement that Gotham was getting a fifth and final season that’ll probably be shorter than the others, I’d accepted that the show was probably going to be over soon. I’d half expected that this season would be the last, and we’d never get closure on the cliffhanger we’re supposed to be getting. I’m unbelievably relieved that I was wrong about that.

Prequels have expiration dates. I knew that going in. They have limits on how long they can exist and how much time they can span, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be prequels anymore. And I’m very glad that the show didn’t become a zombie franchise, going on for season after season, past the point of them having any kind of long arching story or plan. In the world where so many shows keep going after they should have concluded, it’s really nice to see something stopping. We’re going to get a planned ending, rather than being left hanging after a cancellation. The show is going to go out on its own terms, and that’s the best I could have hoped for.

It’s my absolute favourite comic book show, and I’ve watched a lot of those. Even if I’ve never finished them, I’ve watched at least a few episodes of all of them – from 60s Batman to Agents of Shield – so I think I can safely say, none of them are quite like  Gotham. That’s not to say they’re bad. In fact, many of them are very good. But none of them have Gotham‘s way of both respecting canon and completely tossing it out the window whenever they feel it’s necessary.

I’ve heard the show described as the love child of the Nolan and Burton movies, and while I think that’s true to an extent, I also think it does a disservice to the  Gotham writers and the show’s individual merits. Every new adaptation will be compared and contrasted with the ones that came before it. That’s a given. But Gotham is unique. So many different things come together to create something that’s consistently enjoyable to watch, like how:

  1. It’s aesthetically pleasingOut of all the comic book shows out there, this one most feels like it’s taking place in reality.
  2. It has interesting villains that are fun to watch and can be legitimately intimidating. Take Penguin – he’s an all around pretty terrible dude. He kills a whole bunch of people without even blinking. But he also has a few redeeming qualities, like his love for his mom, and enough pet the dog moments that we don’t completely hate him. And beyond that, he’s just likeable. He’s entertaining and funny, and whenever he’s on screen, I know I’m in for a good time. He’s terrible at being a mafioso, I’m pretty sure he’s lost and regained a crime empire at least once a season, and his tenure as mayor lasted, like, a week, but that’s the fun of it!
  3. It’s hilarious, while also having a lot of successfully emotional scenes. Those things coexist without overpowering each other.
  4. It’s true to the spirit of the source material. It’s a love letter to the Batman mythos. It’s filled with mythology references from every kind of Batman related media – the comics, the Burton movies, the Nolan movies, Batman: The Animated Series – while also being unafraid of trying something new. Every good adaptation takes some risks and tries new things. Gotham is no different.

I’ll admit, the show took a while to find itself. If you go back and watch a season one episode after seeing something from season four, the contrast is shocking. There’s been a major shift, both thematically and tonally. And I think it was almost certainly a shift for the better. But I – and clearly a lot of others – still saw something compelling there, even in that first season. For whatever reason, I kept watching, and I am so glad that I did. Gotham has gotten progressively better over the seasons, at least as far as I’m concerned. Season two was better than season one. Season three was better than season two. And season four? Season four is just awesome.

This season has been badass. Writers and actors alike have been outdoing themselves every episode. The performances have been outstanding. Especially David Mazouz – he started off good and has consistently gotten better as the show progressed so that he’s never been out of his depth next to any of the more experienced actors, but his work this season has been even more impressive than anything from before. The season has everything that I liked about the previous seasons with even better execution. When I thought that this season would be the last, the fact that it’s so good was my consolation – if it was going out, it was going out on a really high note.

We’ve been told that the season four finale will be a major shift in the premise of the show. Normally hearing that would make me worry they’re going to jump the shark and that the next season will be a drop in quality. But when it comes to Gotham, I’m not worried at all, because every time I think they’re not going to be able to top an episode, they do. Every episode has so much heart in it. I may not always agree with their creative choices, but they certainly know how to entertain. Whatever else happens, I’m sure I’ll at least have a good time watching.

Gotham isn’t just a Batman origin story. Partially, sure – one of the storylines that’s been ongoing since the beginning is about how Bruce got to a point where he felt he needed to dress like a bat and fight crime, expanding his backstory beyond deciding to beat up criminals after his parents were killed. But it’s also about how Jim Gordon’s evolution from detective to commissioner (even if we don’t see that full arc on screen). It’s about how Gotham itself went from a pretty ordinary city with a little more Mob violence and a slightly higher murder rate to wretched hive filled with super villains that needs the Dark Knight. The show is called Gotham, and that says it all – it’s the story of Gotham City.

Sure, maybe season five will be a bit of a let down. Who knows? But for its entire existence, Gotham has been worth watching, and I can’t wait to see how the show will be wrapped up in its final season.

Every Insane Thing That’s Happened On ‘Gotham’: Edward Nygma

In the beginning of the series, back when the writers still thought they were making a slow prequel that hints at the futures of various characters without having them actually descend into full on villainy, Nygma was just a kind of weird forensics guy that was closer to adorable than he was to intimidating. Now? He’s a supervillain that’s part of the reason Gotham has so much backstabbing and overlapping plans and revenge attempts. Love it.

  • Gave the woman he was into a cupcake with a live bullet in it. He thought it was a riddle, she thought it was weird and menacing. Tomato, tomahto.
  • Got kicked out of the morgue when the medical examiner showed up.
  • Got rid of the medical examiner by stuffing his locker full of body parts, which I guess is weird even in Gotham. Or then again, maybe not, that was season one before all the supervillains took over.
  • Told Gordon that Lee was much nicer than the previous ME and that she smelled nice. Damn, season one Ed was creepy.
  • Killed Kristen’s boyfriend, which in most cases would be a major no-no, but seeing as the boyfriend was an abuser, I’ll let it slide.
  • Cut said boyfriend to pieces.
  • Killed Kristen. Not cool, Ed.
  • His alter ego gave him a series of riddles to find the pieces of Kristen’s corpse.
  • Somehow ended up befriending Oswald who ended up living in his apartment. Oswald rolled his eyes at Ed’s low kill count, which isn’t really relevant, but I thought it was funny.
  • Framed Jim for the murders he committed.
  • Got sent to Arkham for murder, tried and failed to escape, and ended up challenging Bruce and Lucius to answer his questions then gassing them with a sleeping agent once they failed.
  • Became Oswald’s campaign manager after Oswald got him declared sane. After Oswald won the race for mayor, he got promoted to chief of staff.
  • Got punched in the face by Lee.
  • Started dating the doppelganger of the girlfriend he strangled.
  • Kidnapped Butch and Tabitha under the assumption that Butch had killed his Isabella.
  • Chopped off Tabitha’s hand, only realizing as it was happening that Butch had not, in fact, killed Isabella.
  • Was informed by Barbara who actually killed Isabella. “Did you just fake cough Penguin?”
  • Had a whole crazy plot to get revenge on Penguin for killing Isabella involving getting Clayface to impersonate Penguin’s father.
  • Shot Penguin. These two need to calm down. I’m pretty sure they would have a better time if they stopped
  • Started taking some weird hallucinogens to imagine Oswald talking to him and making fun of his Riddler persona? I don’t know, that was weird.
  • Started looking for a life coach to replace Oswald.
  • Decided he needed a nemesis and that Jim would be perfect.
  • Sends a guy dressed as fruit to sing a riddle in the GCPD.
  • Teams up with Barbara against the Court of Owls.
  • Teams up with Penguin to get out of the cage the Court Of Owls put them in.
  • Spent a few months frozen in a block of ice as the centerpiece of Penguin’s club.
  • Got set free by some random chick that admired his riddles, then killed her. That’s gratitude for you.
  • Met up with an amnesiac Butch who forgot about why he hated him.
  • Sent Oswald a guy to rap really terrible riddles at him.
  • Fell for Lee, checked himself into Arkham.
  • Teamed up with Penguin against Sofia, going full Riddler again.
  • THE RIDDLE FACTORY.
  • Made out with Lee and teamed up with her to rob some banks to help the people of the Narrows. Aww,  that’s kind of sweet. The two of them were gone from a few episodes, during which they missed a lot.
  • Started arguing with himself again.
  • Pretended to double cross Lee, but really betrayed Oswald again. Apparently, he no longer has hard feelings about any of the stuff they did to each other in the past, but is not cool with him trying to go after Lee. Which, you know, fair. Seeing as Oswald did murder his last girlfriend. Sure.

Well! This list is shorter than most of the others I’ve made so far because Ed isn’t quite as major of a character. And I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting some stuff, but this is the main gist of it (sorry about the inaccurate title, if I forgot something major, but I have a theme going with these now, too late to change it). Man, he is a terrible person, but he is so much fun to watch!

Every Insane Thing That’s Happened On ‘Gotham’: Bruce Wayne

Gotham was promoted as the story of city before Batman, and yes, I suppose it’s mostly been that. It’s not a prequel to the usual canon, more of a, “Make it up as we go along, throw in everything we can think of and blend it together” type thing. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. One of the times it does is with Bruce. He’s arguably the third most important character. If the show is primarily about Gordon and his rise to prominence (to the point that some random kid that Tetch once threatened to hit with a truck knew who he was – what was with that?), and secondarily about Penguin and everything that goes down in the underworld (why the hell is everyone so obsessed with controlling the underworld, anyway?), it’s tertiarily  (is that a word?) about Bruce and how he got to the point where he felt the need to become Batman.

Somehow, season one Bruce whose parents just died was a happier, more emotionally stable person than season four Bruce. This show has not been very nice to him.

  • Watched his parents be murdered. Duh, he’s Bruce Wayne, that was a foregone conclusion.
  • Decided that he needed to teach himself to conquer fear. This involved jumping into the pool and seeing how long he could hold his breath, holding his hand to fire and burning himself, and learning how to fight. Alfred, you’re a terrible guardian. Get this kid some therapy, damn.
  • Beat up Tommy Elliot for making fun of his mother.
  • Demonstrated his terrible aim by throwing things at the hired killers that came after Selina.
  • Invited Selina to a fundraiser and got her to steal Bunderslaw’s key. It managed to be both super awkward and really cute.
  • In a spectacular shot, found out that the fireplace in his father’s study slides back to reveal the Batcave. Very Flashpoint, Thomas Wayne Batman, I like it.

Season one Bruce didn’t get all that much to do, mainly because his storyline revolved around looking into the murder of his parents, which got tossed aside somewhere midseason. It got picked up again in season two, and he got much more involved in the show and all the nonsense that happens in it.

  • Freaked out Alfred by building a bomb when he couldn’t figure out the password Thomas had set. Spoiler alert: it was his name.
  • Met Silver St Cloud, Theo and Tabitha Galavan’s niece, who I don’t think ever came back after Tabitha shoved her out a window with a parachute that one time.
  • Turned down Theo’s offer to buy his shares in Wayne Enterprises and give him information as to who killed his parents.
  • Tried to con Silver into giving him the information Theo claimed to have on his parents’ killer.
  • Successfully pulled off the trope named after his future self for the first time, along with Selina, and gets Silver to tell them that it was an M Malone that killed Thomas and Martha.
  • Galavan attempts to sacrifice him.
  • Claimed he had everything under control when he got rescued. Wow, Bruce, way to  be ungrateful.
  • Tracked down Matches Malone and held him at gunpoint, intending to kill him, but realized Malone wanted him to do that, so didn’t. Malone ended up killing himself.
  • Left to live with Selina on the streets because apparently, that’s the way to better understand Gotham. Eh, seems reasonable.
  • Decided he doesn’t have a problem with stealing from criminals, and helped Selina rob some people.
  • Went home because he was worried the whole investigation into who ordered the hit on his parents would be dangerous for Selina.
  • Fought crime with money – provided a bag of cash to distract a prisoner transport driver.
  • Started investigating Hugo Strange’s experiments.
  • Recruited Selina to sneak into Arkham and figure out  what was going on.
  • Hit Azrael with a car. Not as amazing as Butch blowing him up a few minutes later, but still, pretty good!
  • Went off with Gordon and Lucius Fox to rescue Selina.
  • Wound up locked in a room with Lucius with Nygma taunting them with riddles over a loudspeaker.

…Look, I love Gotham, and seasons three and four have a lot of weird, fun stuff happening, but let’s be real – season two? That might well be my favourite.

  • Got stalked by, and eventually met, his clone.
  • Agreed to stop his investigation into the Court of Owls, provided they leave him and his loved ones alone.
  • Got jealous that Selina kissed his clone, irritated Alfred by obsessing over it, then concluded she must have thought it was him.
  • After however many episodes of being present at an absurd number of the weird events that happen in the city, managed to miss all the chaos Nygma and Butch were wreaking by hanging out on the roof with Selina. He confessed his feelings for her and got a kiss out of it, so that’s probably better than being around for all the people shooting at each other.
  • Made Selina dinner, then spent hours waiting for her.
  • Helps Ivy who got in way over her head when she stole a necklace containing a key.
  • Went  on a heist with Selina, demonstrating that he’s progressed enough that he can hold a rope tightly enough for Selina to walk across and break into a safe belonging to the Court of Owls. Well done, Bruce.
  • Met Selina’s mom!
  • Lied to Selina by avoiding telling her that her mother didn’t actually want to get to know her, resulting in Selina getting mad and storming out. Ouch.
  • Beat in Jerome’s stapled on face (Jim got the final punch). On the one hand, gross. On the other, he really had it coming.
  • Gets stabbed with a syringe by his clone, after which the clone takes his place while he’s kidnapped and taken…somewhere with mountains.
  • Trained with the Shaman who told him he’s been manipulating the Court to control Gotham. So…we’re talking the man behind the man behind the man? I don’t even remember how many layers to the whole “person giving orders to the other person” this thing has. And this is before the reveal that Ra’s al Ghul is the one behind the Shaman.
  • Met Ra’s! Stabbed Alfred! Brainwashed Bruce does not have a nice time.
  • Got offered the position as head of the League of Shadows. Hey, Barbara, how does it feel to be second choice when the first one is a sixteen year old?
  • Saved a family from being mugged in a proto-Batsuit for his first attempt at crime fighting. Have I said before that season three’s finale could have been a series finale? Yeah? Good. (It really could have been, while I love getting more episodes, I have to admit that the fact that it wasn’t meant season four had to do some backtracking.)

Season three could be where I started losing track of the plots that lasted more than an episode…

  • Went to an auction to buy the knife Ra’s wanted, and outbid Barbara – who is, just as a reminder, a known killer – twice by a dollar and once by a penny. Apparently, annoying villains is a lifelong trait.
  • Refused to give Ra’s said knife, resulting in Ra’s killing Alex.
  • Killed Ra’s, making him half disintegrate. Huh? That can’t be right.
  • Decided to embrace life as a billionaire brat. Can’t blame him for that. Gotham is a cesspool, bad things happen every time he tries to do something constructive, and  he has a lot of money – might as well enjoy his life.
  • Abandoned Alfred in the woods and threw a party.
  • Fired Alfred. Well, that wasn’t very nice.
  • Spent an episode not actually doing anything plot relevant, but hanging around at the Sirens club, leaning into the spoiled brat thing, and making mildly annoying comments everyone ignores because they’re actually doing stuff.
  • Hallucinated meeting Batman while wandering around without a face after being poisoned by Ivy. So…this universe’s Bruce Wayne decides he needs to become Batman because he was majorly tripping? You do you, Bruce.
  • Had Selina break into an office in the police station to steal Jerome’s file and burst into fake tears to keep Detective what’s her name from catching her. Buddy, if you want to be Batman, you’re going to have to become a better actor than that.
  • Stopped both Jerome’s uncle and Selina from killing Jerome. Uh, Bruce, you know I appreciate your code and sense of honour and all, but damn, you dumb.

David Mazouz started off good and has only gotten better throughout the seasons. Colour me impressed. And Bruce’s character arc? A+. Gotham may be a mess that’s filled with villains and people that are kind of unlikable, and it may treat its female characters really poorly, but the way they handle Bruce is so good, I’m sticking around.

DC’s Weird Joker Obsession

It’s no secret that I love Batman. I mean, of course I do, who doesn’t? Batman v Superman is my favourite movie ever made. Batman: The Animated Series is one of my favourite cartoons. And Gotham is absolutely delightful in its over the top black comedy brilliance. Where I differ from many Batman fans, and it seems DC itself, is that I don’t give a damn about the Joker.

It’s not about him being abusive to Harley or killing a lot of people or anything like that, because there’s a difference between being a bad person and being a bad character. The Joker is a bad person, which would be fine, except I just don’t find him interesting. In a world with criminals like the Riddler, Two Face, and Mr. Freeze, I find his “crazy” schtick played out and tiresome (Not to mention ableist in a way that the other villains simply aren’t).

In the last episode of Gotham, once the villains broke out of Arkham, Jim said that something “this big, this insane” had to be the work of Jerome Valeska, and I don’t get that at all. It seems to me like a sign of DC buying into their own idea that the Joker is the scariest Batman villain and not going to the effort to actually show us how that’s true. The evidence doesn’t support it, because their versions of Penguin, Professor Pyg, the Riddler, and Mad Hatter have all had many more moments of being absolutely terrifying than Jerome h as. With Jerome, it feels like they’re doing something you can’t often accuse Gotham of doing, and that’s relying on the comics to make us care.

What’s the worst thing Jerome has done? Shot up a few places? Killed someone with a bomb? Sure, whatever. That would be scary in our world, but this is Gotham City! That’s what they call Tuesday! He’s been defeated by a teenage Bruce, and the only reason he didn’t die again is that Bruce stopped two people from killing him – three if we count  Bruce himself. He once came back to life and stapled his face back on, which was both a mythology gag and gruesome, but even that pales in comparison to what other characters have done. And yet he’s still pushed as soooooo scary, as if Penguin hasn’t spent four seasons doing way worse things.

Fish Mooney has gouged out her own eye out of sheer spite. The Riddler dismembered his girlfriend’s corpse and hid the parts all over the police station. Penguin’s revenge scheme culminated in him freezing Nygma, putting him on display, and claiming that he was doing it because his dear friend had a deadly disease and he’d unfreeze him once there was a cure. Jervis hypnotizes people into killing themselves. If I was a Gothamite, I’d rather not meet Jerome, but if I had a choice between him and just about any other villain in the city? I’d take my chances with him, because most of what he has going for him is hype and informed scariness.

Arrow writers have complained about Green Arrow’s lack of iconic villains. Their solution to that wasn’t to work really hard to make new or existing villains interesting and intimidating, it was to instead use other characters’ enemies. Deathstroke, traditionally a Nightwing villain. Ra’s al Ghul, traditionally a Batman villain, coupled with the storyline that’s traditionally Batman’s. Gotham has demonstrated that they don’t need that, and not just because Batman’s Rogues Gallery is iconic. Some of their best work occurs when they take a comic villain – one that’s easy to laugh at when in print – and make them much, much scarier. Mad Hatter isn’t intimidating or iconic in the comics, but in the show? He’s downright terrifying.

I, like a lot of people, was skeptical in the early days of the show because I didn’t know how they were going to handle the villains. Season one was a pretty straightforward mob drama/police procedural with a lot of call forwards. But season two turned up the intensity on everything – more subplots, more camp, characters going full on themed supervillain – and demonstrated that this is basically an Elseworlds tale with its own continuity where they’ll do whatever they feel like doing, proving that, for all the show is absurd and filled with characters that have weird gimmicks, the show itself doesn’t rely upon the gimmick of being “Gotham before Batman” with constant winks and nudges to where the characters will be in fifteen years.

But when it comes to Jerome, what they do is similar to what Arrow does: take a character from elsewhere in DC and rely upon the source material. It’s less blatant with Gotham because the Joker belongs to the Batman universe and the actor does a good job with what he’s given, but so far, we’ve mostly been told why we should be scared of him while every other villain has shown us. It’s a similar issue to Barbara – he’s the centre of a lot of storylines, and he’s entertaining enough to watch, but there’s not much substance in those stories and they’re only there because the writers are attached to him.

This extends far beyond Gotham. I’ve seen a lot of people say that the Joker should have been the main villain in Suicide Squad, and I’m pretty sure I remember David Ayer agreeing. I disagree completely. Enchantress wasn’t a great villain, and there would have been ways to make her better, but the Joker wasn’t the answer. An expanded role to aid in Harley’s development? Sure, I’d have been here for that. But I think the reason why the character works in relation to Batman is that he is representative of what Batman’s no-kill rule really means. It’s not because he’s interesting on his own, it’s because of how he impacts Bruce. Bruce can justify his vigilantism to himself and see it as morally right if he doesn’t kill. He can’t appoint himself judge, jury, and executioner – he’s supposed to stop crime, not mete out punishment. And that means the Joker will continue to do bad things, because he can’t kill him for what he did to Jason or to Barbara or to any number of civilians.

None of that applies to the squad, because they’re all killers. None of them would have any qualms about (or any difficulty) killing the Joker, save for El Diablo, so he wouldn’t have made a good antagonist. Not unless the entire concept of the movie was changed from a Suicide Squad action film to a character piece centred around the members of the squad while they’re not going on a mission that Waller doesn’t want to risk other people on.

The Joker is a fine character. But I don’t think he’s as versatile as a lot of others. He has a specific purpose, and trying to make him fit in other stories is more likely to fail than it is to succeed.