Thoughts on Gotham

 

This post will contain spoilers for the first season of Gotham.

 

 

I’m not the typical comic book property fan. I don’t care about canon from book to screen – I’m able to read, and if I wanted to experience the adventures in the pages, I’m more than capable of consuming them – but I do care about consistency within the story itself.

That’s where Gotham has failed. The first season of the show started with such promise, but the weaving plot threads stumbled along the way and betrayed that potential.

The pilot episode premiered back in September with a bang, introducing squeaky clean Lieutenant James Gordon to the gritty and grimy of Gotham City. His first case is the Wayne murders, and we get the clear dichotomy between lawful good Gordon and his partner (and embodiment of the city) Harvey Bullock. The further dynamics established with Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot defying his employer, up and coming crime boss Fish Mooney (a new character to the Bat-Catalog), and the city’s officials being beholden to the Falcone and Maroni crime families intrigued me.

In the first couple of episodes, the threads were clearly established. I wanted this show, billed as an origin for Jim Gordon, to succeed.

Jim Gordon has always been a great supporting character in my opinion. He’s typically portrayed as a paragon of law whose methods of cleaning up Gotham won’t work, but he can’t violate his moral fiber to personally use methods that will work. Hence, he turns to the man who can do what the law cannot, and we get a vigilante called Batman.

With this in mind, I was excited for this show. Gotham’s Jim Gordon had everything stacked against him from the very beginning: The crime families are in a cold war, and everyone including the police are afraid to go against the status quo and either lose their power or bring that power down upon them. I wasn’t expecting him to clean up the city, since that’s Batman’s job in the next decade, but rather make enough of an impact (and survive long enough) to become the commissioner who enables Batman’s crusade.

The first quarter of the season led me to believe that the season arc would revolve around the mob cold war. Instead, it focused on a considerable deal more, including trying to establish origins for all of the Bat-Villains. Trying to develop all of those threads killed the momentum of the first season, especially in the middle third.

 

 

How would I have approached it?

The overarching story should have been about the mob cold war, culminating (as it partially did in the finale) with Fish Mooney having played both sides against each other and Cobblepot having played her, sought his revenge, and stolen her victory to become the new boss of organized crime. Falcone could survive and slink into retirement as he did, and Maroni could remain dead. The entire Dollmaker subplot could have been completely excised, as it just felt like filler to stretch the season and remove Fish from the playing field until the finale.

Under that umbrella, the first subplot could have been Gordon’s efforts to stem the corruption in the police force. I loved his defiance of the mayor and commissioner, and his outwitting them when they tried to silence him by demoting and reassigning him. I loved the commissioner’s attempt to discredit and/or remove Gordon’s threat to his power by setting the Ogre on the detective’s trail.

What I didn’t like was the Barbara Kean subplot.

If the writers follow the comics, which I don’t expect, Barbara is eventually supposed to marry Gordon and start a family with him. The problem is that they have removed any sympathy I have for the character by stripping away the promise of her being an emotional anchor and support for Gordon in a city that stands against him. If they wanted to make her more complex, the troubled backstory they provided sufficient complexity, and they could have removed Gordon’s support by sending Barbara off to work through her issues but still remain sympathetic to the audience and Gordon.

As it stands with this multiple personality/nonsensical drugged-by-the-Ogre-fugue-state storyline, if they choose to reunite them later it will feel artificial. She may or may not have killed her parents in cold blood. A lawful good character like Gordon wouldn’t settle for that. Even if she’s dead after attacking Leslie Thompkins, who should not have been counseling someone with a conflict of interest, she’s still not someone that Gordon would name his daughter after.

Also, where did Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen go? These two could have been fantastic allies to help rally behind Gordon as he stems the police department’s corruption. Instead, they are wasted. So is the subplot about the commissioner’s illegitimate daughter, which Gordon could have used to topple Commissioner Loeb after the Ogre storyline started.

This subplot could have been resolved with a power vacuum in the Mayor’s office after Gordon reveals the corruption and mob ties. District Attorney Harvey Dent, Montoya, and Allen stand with Gordon, and the next season is set up for a subplot with a now scared commissioner secretly teaming with Bullock to find a way to stop Gordon’s crusade. This also opens the door for the typical “Penguin runs for Mayor” storyline.

 

 

The second subplot could have been Bruce Wayne’s quest for the truth, which was actually one of my favorite parts of the season even though it was only tangentially related to Gordon’s story. Both he and Gordon know that Pepper was a scapegoat in the pilot, and the investigation could have been handed off to Wayne as Gordon got pulled into the first subplot’s machinations. The investigation could have proceeded pretty much the way that it did, but tightened up with less involvement from Gordon. Bruce earns his “world’s greatest detective” stripes by unraveling the secrets, digging into Wayne Enterprises, and going through the cloak-and-dagger that he and Selina Kyle performed. Sure, have Bruce discover the cave and how his father also fought against the corruption in his own corporate house. But Bruce Wayne’s story should be minimized in a series about Gordon’s origins, and as such, he should have been involved for about only 60 to 75 percent of the entire season’s episodes.

As this subplot ends, Wayne gains an ally against the corporation in Lucius Fox, he and Alfred grow much closer as he recovers from the trauma of the murder of his parents and discovers his new life’s calling, and Selina departs just as she did to join Fish Mooney (in a more meaningful capacity than the twenty minutes in the season finale) before slinking into the shadows after Fish’s death. This sets up a smaller subplot for Season Two where Bruce discovers his heritage, Wayne Enterprises potentially endorses Cobblepot for mayor, and Bruce and Alfred decide to travel abroad and start rallying allies against the corporation. Bring back Sean Pertwee from time to time, but leave Bruce to evolve into the cape and cowl. There are also opportunities for Falcone to return in a limited capacity to provide information (for a price) regarding the Wayne murders.

Finally, each season should focus on evolving one (and only one) Bat-Villain, with the Penguin and possibly (and minimally) Selina Kyle as common threads. The second season could start showing cracks in the good façade of Harvey Dent or perform a longer and more realistic slip into schizophrenia for Edward “Riddler” Nygma. Nygma was best when he was subtly creepy, and by the end of Season One, he lost that quality in the sudden 180 spin into complete supervillain mode, which also removed some of the magic in the series. Even better, remove the schizophrenia and simply make him completely sane and malevolently intelligent. Not every villain needs to have some kind of psychological break.

 

 

Overall, Gotham is a mess, but I don’t think it’s unsalvageable. I’ll be tuning in for the first part of Season Two, but I can’t guarantee much more beyond that if it doesn’t start pulling together. The show needs a clear roadmap for every season to help it reach the potential that I still see. The acting is great from many of the starring roles, and they deserve the chance to shine in a tight and coherent story.

Movie Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns
(PG-13, 126 minutes, 1992)

Batman Returns is the oft-maligned second child in the Tim Burton-directed Caped Crusader family. Expectations were so high after the first film that, while being an otherwise enjoyable experience, it had no other choice but to disappoint audiences looking for another Batman.

The thing is, this film isn’t supposed to be Batman, and it shows from the beginning with a dark title sequence that tells the origin story of the film’s baddie, The Penguin, to move that element of the plot along during an otherwise useless section of the film. This entry has similar visual styling to the first movie, but the color palette is brighter overall. The sets are better lit and Gotham feels larger and more open with more color added to the shadows and dour grays that dominated the original. This element reaches grotesque levels with Selina Kyle’s apartment, which is dominated in shades of pink to remind the audience (beyond the blatant sexism of Max Shreck) that she is a caricature of the stereotypical female secretary. It’s annoying (and potentially insulting) in its directness, but acts as a deliberate contrast to the strong femme fatale that is Catwoman. It also serves as a setpiece to visually facilitate her destructive transformation. The more lively palette does contrast with the darker, more violent fight scenes in an attempt to convince the viewer of the thematic duality with Catwoman and Batman.

This installment has more of the Burton/Elfman whimsical eccentricity that their collaborations have come to be known for, including sweeping camera pans over highly detailed miniatures with soaring but eerie choral scores. Additionally, the set decoration also retains the art-deco gothic noir mix of the original, melding it with elements of the ’60s camp. All of those exaggerated elements combine with some additional sexual innuendo over the first film to make a still entertaining but slightly lower quality experience. In all honesty, this film has trouble deciding if it wants to be the successor to the 1989 Batman, the 1960s series, or both. That indecisiveness hurts the experience.Regarding the themes and the plot, this film has trouble deciding how to discuss duality. Catwoman’s motivation is to kill Shreck in both revenge and an attempt to reconcile her new identity. Penguin’s motivation makes less sense, as it seems he wants to gain power over Gotham by killing all of the first born sons and becoming a dictator to, in some way, get revenge against his parents and the society that led to his exile. When Batman stops this threat, Penguin resorts to destroying Gotham to destroy Batman. Batman wants to stop both of them, but also wants to redeem Selina through (here it comes…) the power of love. Though good intentioned, that road to hell is in direct conflict with Catwoman’s thread of feminine power and independence. It also smacks of the backward idea that women who go against societal norms can be “fixed” by providing them with strong male companionship.

It repeats a lot of the romantic themes from the Bruce Wayne/Vicki Vale relationship, but removes part of the duality essential to the Batman character by squeezing the conflict between Catwoman and Batman into the shared overcoming of their split identities. They even hang a lampshade on the plot point of giving up the masks, but then reverse course almost as quickly to retain the character elements. In the end, Batman could not defeat Catwoman because Gotham needed Batman more than Bruce needed Selina. If your head is spinning right now, you’re not alone.

At least the movie addresses the absence of Vicki Vale.

In final random thoughts, the insane Michelle Pfeiffer looks a lot like a more modern Burton alum: Helena Bonham Carter. Second, it is never explained how the Penguin’s minions got schematics for the Batmobile. That plot hole is an annoyance. Last, the obvious eye makeup goof when Batman takes off his mask also annoys me. Audiences are smart enough to realize that the rubber mask doesn’t quite cover the space around Michael Keaton’s eyes.

Overall, Batman Returns is enjoyable, but suffers greatly from indecisiveness, both in themes and tones. It wasn’t horrible, but it could have been more.

My Rating: 7/10
IMDb rating: 7.0/10

 

 

Schedule for Dragon Con 2014


Now that the full schedule has been released for Dragon Con 2014, I can tell you where I will be as a panelist for this year’s con.

 

Thursday

I will be arriving to the convention area on Thursday morning, and will hit up the registration line to get my badge and program. After that…

4pm – Dragon Con Newbies Meetup and Hotel Tour (Marriott A601 – A602)
Want to know the best way to get from one hotel to another? Need to learn where the food court is? If so, come on this walking tour and find out! I will be helping to coordinate this with Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, and Kim McGibony.

5:30pm – Dragon Con Newbies Q&A and Social (Marriott A601 – A602)
Meet fellow first time con attendees and many long time attendees in a casual setting. Ask questions and learn about the awesomeness that is Dragon Con. Again, I will be helping to coordinate this with Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, and Kim McGibony. This event is schedule for 2.5 hours, but it is not required that attendees stay the entire time. Come and go as you want.

 

Friday

10am – Dragon Con 101 (Hyatt Regency V)
Connect with fellow newbies and get helpful advice/tips from several long-time con attendees to get the most out of the Dragon Con experience. Again, I will be helping to coordinate this with Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, and Kim McGibony. This event is scheduled for 2.5 hrs, but it will be a come and go type of panel. I will be leaving about halfway through for the next event on my schedule.

11:30am – Farscape Revisited! (Hyatt Centennial I)
Check in with the stars who played favorite characters. This year’s guests are Gigi Edgley (Chiana) and Lani Tupu (Pilot/Crais). I will be facilitating the discussion with the fans by standing in the center of the room and holding the wireless microphone.

4pm – Quantum Leap 25th Anniversary (Marriott M303-M304)
Every Scott Bakula show and movie is really Sam, still leaping. Discuss. I will be joining panelists Keith R. A. DeCandido and Tegan Hendrickson.

 

Saturday

10am – Geek Year 1984: Classic Sci-fi Roll-A-Panel (Marriott M303-M304)
A 20-sided die decides which classic sci-fi TV shows or movies from 1984 this panel will geek out about. For this randomized goodness, I will be joining a large cast of geeky experts including Joe Crowe, Kevin Eldridge, Tegan Hendrickson, Michael D French, Michael Gordon, Melinda R. Mock, and Phantom Troublemaker.

5:30p – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: No Time For Love (Marriott M303-M304)
Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Short Round, Club Obi Wan, and the runaway mine cart. I will be joining panelists Elizabeth Jones, Jessa Phillips, and Shaun Rosado

 

Sunday

8:30am – Batman: 75th Anniversary of Justice (Marriott M303-M304)
It’s an early morning panel! Cramming a month of awesome things about the best superhero ever into a one-hour window. I’ll be joining panelists Mike Faber, Michael Gordon, John S. Drew, Geena Phillips, and Will Price… along with a large cup of coffee.

 

The rest of the con will be spent catching up with friends and family, watching the costumes that never disappoint, and celebrating all things geek for four days. See you there!

DC2014 logo

Movie Review: Batman (1989)

Batman
(PG-13, 126 minutes, 1989)

Batman is, by far, my favorite on-screen comic book hero. Superman typically (and tragically) embodies the best in humanity, but Batman is a man with money, a sharp brain, and numerous flaws. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the character, and his 50th was celebrated on June 23rd, 1989 with a return to the silver screen in Tim Burton’s Batman.

Surprisingly, Batman was not my introduction to the character. My parents bought me the Hot Wheels version of the film’s Batmobile, but I didn’t get to experience Michael Keaton in the cowl until Batman Returns in 1992. After that, I was further introduced to the World’s Greatest Detective through re-runs of the 1966 Batman television series on the FX channel. Since they were such building blocks of my fandom, both the darker version of the knight and the Adam West version hold special places in my heart. 1989’s Batman is a fun blending of the two in an adventure that has influenced nearly every interpretation of the Dark Knight since.

The opening credits elegantly trace the Batman symbol under the moody Danny Elfman score, a move that would be repeated in another epic adventure movie called Stargate in 1994. The Danny Elfman theme is the one that echoes in my brain when I think of Batman, and pairs well with the movie’s gothic art-deco noir style. Tim Burton also pulls a clever bait-and-switch with the film’s opening by showing the audience a family leaving a theater and being held up, echoing the very incident that orphaned Bruce Wayne.

Michael Keaton’s defining turn as Bruce Wayne was controversial at the time, but I love his portrayal. His eccentric oddball millionaire contrasts against the sharp-witted reality of the his alter ego, and it sets the tone of the essential duality between Wayne and Batman. His gadgets are also fantastic, from the batarangs, grappling hooks, and utility belt to the Batmobile itself. The Keaton-era Batmobile is a gorgeous example of the ’80s mixed with the ’60s, from the fins and the exhaust flame to the recent addition of the shields.

Jack Nicholson stars in a role of duality as well, from his standard henchman of Jack Napier to his maniacal and creepy interpretation of the Joker. He takes Cesar Romero’s humorous yet short-tempered character and adds an edge of lethality, easily killing as an example of his insanity. The makeup is a nod to the 1960s, but feels a bit dated in the modern era.

In supporting roles, Robert Wuhl’s is deliciously over the top as journalist Alexander Knox, and he’s a good comic counter to Kim Basinger’s spin on photographer Vicky Vale. Vale should have been a much stronger feminist role rather than a swooning damsel in distress, but that is easily attributed to the era. Jack Palance was also over the top as Carl Grissom, but his scenery chewing became grating in his short scenes. Luckily, his character quickly departed. Additionally, I would have loved to see Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face, but alas.

The last, but perhaps the most major supporting role is that of Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred, the Wayne Manor butler, is Bruce Wayne’s adoptive father and Batman’s conscience. In the rather controversial move of compromising Wayne’s secret identity by bringing Vale to the Batcave, Alfred is pushing Wayne and Batman onto a course that neither could do on their own in an attempt to provide a life for his son by reconciling the duality of the Dark Knight. Ironically, that duality is why the relationship with Vale couldn’t work. Gotham needs Batman, as does Wayne, and try as she might, Vale cannot identify with both the man and the bat.

In minor notes, I loved the Bob Kane nod with the bat-in-a-suit ink drawing. I also loved the parallels in the film as noted by Shua of the TechnoRetroDads Podcast when the hosts reviewed the film on its anniversary, particularly those that I need to find on another viewing. When Bruce Wayne is orphaned, he’s grapsing onto a popcorn container. Similarly, when he’s about to reveal his secret to Vale but is interrupted by the Joker, Vale seeks solace in a bowl of popcorn.

In retrospect, the campiness of this film against the darker tone helps bridge the gap between the 1960s Batman and the more modern incarnations, bringing the character full circle from its darker origins to the Nolan/Bale era of films. The movie is dated, but it’s still fun.

My Rating: 8/10
IMDb rating: 7.6/10