I recently—finally—finished Arkham Origins, just watched Batman: Assault on Arkham, and have been reading Batman fics non-stop for the past two weeks. Needless to say, I’ve been a little obsessed. I can’t get enough of the Dark Knight. Unfortunately, Gotham doesn’t premiere until the 22nd, and that’s still like a whole week away.
A whole week.
To start off, I like that Gotham is not explicitly going to be about Bruce Wayne. Jim Gordon is our main character this time around, which is all for the best, because I would love to learn more about him. Furthermore, by setting the show right after Bruce’s parents were killed, Gotham is going to explore the early days of some of his rogue gallery—Riddler, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, just to name a few. Though I can’t say that the original origin story for Poison Ivy as given to us by the comics is that stellar—she hates all men because she was either molested or seduced and used as an experiment—I am interested in how Gotham plans to handle it. I’m also really excited for the Riddler. Next to Harley and Scarecrow, he’s probably my favorite villain.
However, taking center stage this first season is going to be the Penguin and the newcomer Fish Mooney. Fish Mooney, played by Jada Smith, appears to be a mob boss. She looks awesome, motivated, and like a badass villain of color, who I am really excited to see. I think I may have already fallen in love with her character just by watching the featurettes.
As much as I’m excited to see more about Fish Mooney, she is, as far as I can tell, the only person of color on the entire show. While I don’t really mind that Jim Gordon is the main character, already Gotham is following the trend of almost every other show out there. Our main protagonist is a cishet white dude. While being cishet is a pretty big part of Gordon’s character, since he has a wife and children in the comics, this show does not exist in a vacuum. And regardless, having a family doesn’t mean Gordon needs to be cishet. (Though I think it will sadly be a long time before we ever seen one of these beloved characters reincarnated as trans or LGBTQ+.) But I definitely find it questionable that the only PoC we have thus far is a villain, regardless of how amazing Fish Mooney’s character ends up being.
Other than the Penguin, whose pale skin probably helps him to look like a penguin, I don’t see why Gotham has to be as white as it currently is. Would it really have been so hard to cast some more people of color for the show? Is being white such an intrinsic part of Gordon’s, or Ivy’s, or Catwoman’s characters that that couldn’t be changed?
Despite that grievance, I am really excited to see how Gotham handles all these characters. But I have another concern as well. Batman has done a really bad job portraying mental illnesses. It has done such a bad job that no one seems to know what any of the villains actually suffer from. The comics also don’t often take into account what mental illness actually is. Instead, they tend to portray their illnesses as a result of abusive or traumatic pasts. While it is true that abuse and trauma can make a mental illness worse, most mental illnesses are lifelong things that people are either born with or develop as they get older, regardless of their circumstances.
Gotham wants to explore why Batman’s rogue gallery got so bad in the first place. For instance, when it comes to the Penguin, it wants to talk about why he became a psychopath. But psychopathy and sociopathy are both inherent and genetic. And though biochemical and environmental factors may influence people prone to a lack of empathy, people can’t just become a psychopath or a sociopath. Furthermore, being a sociopath or a psychopath doesn’t automatically make a person a killer, as most narratives involving mental illness make it seem.
So while I am excited for this show, I’m going into it a little apprehensive. Time after time, I’ve learned that Batman is not often too concerned with adequately representing mental illness, and I’ve yet to see why Gotham will be any different.