Thursday, 17 August 2017

TV Series: Gotham

Last weekend the second season of "Gotham" was added to Netflix, so I was compelled to watch it immediately. I've watched the first 11 episodes in between my usual film viewing. I was fascinated by the first season, which I watched last year. The second season is even better, based on what I've seen so far. The most exciting character is Tabitha Galavan, played by Jessica Lucas, pictured above. She's supposedly based on the DC villainess the Tigress, but I fail to see any resemblance.

She first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938, where she's drawn with blonde hair, blue eyes and a long skirt. Her real name is never stated in the comics, which is typical for the villains in the Golden Age of comics. They're just bad guys without a background.

I suspect that her appearance in the TV series is based on the Huntress, a villainess who first appeared in 1947.

At a much later date (1987) DC published a comic book series called Young All-Stars which took place during the Second World War. Paula Brooks was a super-heroine who called herself the Tigress. In a later issue she became a villainess and changed her name to the Huntress, presumably becoming the 1947 character. It's difficult to be certain, because DC Comics have never been known for their continuity. This year's canon is next year's apocrypha.

Whatever the case is, Jessica Lucas is delightful in the TV series. I sit up straight whenever she graces the screen, especially when she's in action. She has a viciousness that I find thrilling. She whips men for fun. She strangles men for fun. She shoots men for fun. She stabs men to death while laughing gleefully. In the first episodes of the second season she acts as the servant of her brother, but I cheered loudly when she finally turned against him. An alpha male is no match for an alpha female.

I should backtrack a bit. This article began chaotically due to my admitted crush on Jessica Lucas. Now let me tell you what the series is about. It tells the story of Bruce Wayne before he became Batman. The first season begins with his parents' death when he was 12. He's played by the 13-year-old actor, David Mazouz. He will age fast, obviously, so the time in the series has to progress to match his physical development. I expect that each season will approximately represent one year in his life, but that isn't apparent. It's uncertain whether there was a short or a long gap between the end of the first season and the beginning of the second.

When does the series take place? It's deliberately kept vague, although there are a few contradictory clues. The police station has no computers, which would place the series back in the 1990's. There are small mobile phones, which wouldn't have been available until 2005 at least. Gotham City looks old-fashioned, but it could be dated any time from the 1960's to the 1990's. James Gordon is said to have fought in the Gulf War before becoming a policeman, which would date the series about 1995. I like to think of the mobile phones as a distraction and stick with 1995, but it's not really important. Think of it as an alternate universe where the 1990's phones weren't big and clunky.

The series' hero is James Gordon, who joins the Gotham City police force in the first episode. He holds the rank of detective, but he seems to be new in the job, probably only just having been promoted. The conflicts in his character make him appealing to the audience. He's full of naive enthusiasm. He sees that most of the other policemen are corrupt, so he's determined to do things differently. He wants to do everything by the book, but he soon finds out that if he acts within the letter of the law he will never get anything done. The only way he can put any criminal out of business is by asking for help from other criminals. In particular, he has to ally himself with a gangster called Oswald Cobblepot, a man he despises.

In the comics James Gordon is shown without a history. He's already an aged police commissioner in the first Batman story in 1937. Christopher Nolan's Batman films start earlier in his career and show his steady promotion: he's a police sergeant in "Batman Begins", a police lieutenant in "The Dark Knight" and the police commissioner in "The Dark Knight Rises".

"Gotham" also shows the ascent of  Oswald Cobblepot from a lowly lackey to the arch-villain known as the Penguin. He begins his criminal career as a young man who carriers the umbrella of the gangster Fish Mooney. He has intelligence and determination which he uses to play the city's different gangsters against one another. As already mentioned, he occasionally allies himself with James Gordon. He uses Detective Gordon as much as Detective Gordon uses him.

The Penguin first appeared as a villain in 1941, but his name Oswald Cobblepot wasn't mentioned in the comics until 1986. It took DC long enough to figure out a name for him!

James Gordon might be the hero, but the Penguin was by far my favourite character in the first season. He's evil, but he's so brilliantly portrayed by Robin Lord Taylor that it's impossible not to like him. Where has this actor been all these years?

Of course, the Penguin has been relegated to second place in the second season, because my favourite character is now Tabitha Galavan. It's not difficult to choose between a man with an umbrella and a woman with a whip.

(If you think that paragraph was just an excuse to show another photo of Jessica Lucas, you're absolutely right!)

Another fascinating character in the series is the teenager Selina Kyle, who goes by the nickname Cat. This is the name of the villainess Catwoman, although as with all other DC villains she wasn't named until the 1980's. In the comics she carries a whip, but in the TV series we see her with a gun, which would never happen in the comics. She's known to avoid killing at all costs. From what I've read she will begin to carry a whip later in the series. Unfortunately she already wears the stupid goggles on her head which have been part of Catwoman's costume since 2000.

She first appeared as a thief in Batman #1 in 1940. At first she was disguised as an old woman. These are the first pictures we see of her without her disguise.

The story ends with a mutual attraction being expressed between Batman and Catwoman, a theme repeated for more than 50 years in comics, television series and films. In recent years Catwoman has supposedly given up crime and stands on the right side of the law, but I dislike this concept. She's much more fun as a criminal.

Even in "Gotham" there's a spark of attraction between Bruce and Selina. She's presumably the same age as he is, 13 at the most, and they flirt with one another, even though Bruce rejects her life of crime.

Catwoman was a popular character in the early Batman adventures, but she disappeared completely from 1954 to 1966. The reason was the Comics Code. It was considered harmful to children to portray women as violent. That's almost impossible to believe. Was censorship really so sexist in the 1950's? Men are allowed to be violent in comics, but women have to be gentle?

Another fascinating character is Edward Nygma, a forensics expert at the Gotham City Police Department. Comic fans realise straight away that this is the man who will become the Riddler, one of Batman's maddest and deadliest enemies. "Gotham" portrays him as a good man, but he's suffering from schizophrenia. He has a second personality, an evil personality, which is always telling him to do bad things. He resists, but in the middle of the second season the evil personality finally takes over.

The Riddler first appeared in Detective Comics #140 in 1948. Untypically, we're told from the beginning what his real name is. Yes, his last name is Nigma in the comics, not Nygma. DC has been inconsistent over the years, so the TV series had to pick one of the variants, and it chose Nygma.

Did I already mention that "Gotham" features Jessica Lucas as the Tigress in the second season? Maybe it's the Tigress. So far, after 11 episodes, the name hasn't been used. I'll know more next week.

Other characters that we encounter in the series who're destined to become super-villains are Two-Face and Poison Ivy. There might be others that I've failed to recognise. The last Batman comics I bought were in 1978. I stopped reading them when Steve Englehart quit as author.

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