HEAT VISION

How a 'The Batman' TV Show Could Explore Policing in Today's Climate

If the upcoming HBO Max show follows the comics, it has the opportunity to be a progressive TV series about the justice system.
Inset: Matt Reeves and Terence Winter   |   Warner/Photofest;Amanda Edwards/WireImage; Tibrina Hobson/WireImage
If the upcoming HBO Max show follows the comics, it has the opportunity to be a progressive TV series about the justice system.

 

Gotham City is under reconstruction, and it’s expanding. Matt Reeves, who has already been handed the keys to the Bat-kingdom with the upcoming feature, The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson, will get to further explore Gotham City, alongside writer Terence Winter, on HBO Max. The series, which falls under Reeves’ recent deal with Warner Bros. TV is said to be largely inspired by the critically-acclaimed, 40-issue comic series Gotham Central by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, with art by Michael Lark. The comic series, which ran from 2002 to 2006, focused on the law enforcement and district attorney’s offices in Gotham, with Rucka dealing with the Gotham City Police Department’s day-shift, and Brubaker taking on the nights. The announcement of the series comes at a time when there’s every reason to be critical of the role of law enforcement in our media, and the influence of cops in superhero stories. But Reeves and Winter have the opportunity to modernize the scope of the comic and tackle the failings of a corrupt system in the vein of Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen.

Although we’ve yet to get a glimpse of Matt Reeves’ Gotham in The Batman, it seems he has long-term plans for the Caped Crusader’s city. The new series will be in the same universe as The Batman, but its unclear at this time whether Pattinson’s Batman, Jeffrey Wright’s Commissioner Gordon, or Colin Farrell’s Penguin will play a role as their characters did in the comics. In the Gotham Central comics, Batman’s presence was frequently felt but he was rarely seen, except for a shadow or silhouette, contributing to his mythic nature. Villains like Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, and Mr. Freeze showed up in the series, but minor Bat-villains like Firebug and Black Spider were also given a chance to shine, which could be a great chance for the HBO Max series to introduce some villains who would never get a chance to star in sequels to The Batman.

For those wondering what makes Gotham Central different from the television series Gotham, which ran on Fox for five seasons, it’s that Gotham Central was not an origin story for Batman and his villains, nor based in cartoony Burton-Schumacher inspired police work. Instead Gotham Central, and evidently the HBO Max series, is based on grounded detective works and complex psychological examinations of the weight and responsibility of what it means to uphold the law in America’s most corrupt fictional city. While there’s still much to learn about The Batman, this spin-off series will likely be tonally similar to Reeves’ noir, and mystery-centric take on the Batman mythos. Also, unlike Gotham, the HBO Max series probably won’t be led by Gordon and Harvey Bullock.

James Gordon would appear occasionally in the comic series, but the stories were largely focused on the efforts of Marcus Driver, Romy Chandler, Josie Mac Rene Montoya, Crispus Allen, and Maggie Sawyer as they investigated crimes committed by Gotham’s most notorious rogues and dangerous C-listers looking to make bigger names for themselves. Hopefully Wright will turn up as Gordon in several episodes, especially given his prior working relationship with Winter on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, but the series doesn’t have to rely on him. Montoya, of course, played a prominent role in Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey where she was portrayed by Rosie Perez. Although The Batman and the HBO series take place in a Gotham separate from that of Suicide Squad (2016)  and Birds of Prey (2020), there is little doubt that Montoya, presumably portrayed by an actor other than Perez, will play a prominent role in the new series. The Gotham Central arc in which Montoya is outed by the department as a lesbian and kidnapped by Two-Face is considered one of the series most significant story arcs, and led to the character’s increased presence across DC’s books and eventually role as private investigator, The Question. Likewise Crispus Allen also became a larger presence in DC Comics, eventually taking on the mantle of the Spectre, which could create an eventual tie between J.J. Abrams’ proposed Justice League Dark series should that be the direction the franchise heads in.

But it’s not the promise of eventual superheroics and Justice League connections that makes the concept of this new series so appealing. One of the aspects of Gotham Central that made it such a standout book was its diverse cast of characters. Montoya is a gay Latina, Allen and Mac are black, and Sawyer is also gay. There’s no means to do a contemporary show centered around police and not reckon with the backgrounds of those characters and the role they play as police. Rucka and Brubaker’s comic was pretty forward thinking in that regard for the 2000s, and didn’t shy away from tackling police corruption, but those considerations can be taken further. In fact, after 2020, they have to be. Given Winter’s complex take on cops and criminals in Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos, and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), there’s little doubt he’ll force the characters to ask tough questions about themselves and the state of crime in Gotham, and its relation not only to maniacs but poverty, racism, and mental illness. If the inspiration of Gotham Central for the HBO Max show leads to one concrete theme on which to lean on, it’s that the cops in this show aren’t superheroes, but humans susceptible to failure and frustration who ultimately become fed up with the way things are or settle for a system that’s fatal.

There’s a frequent criticism attached to Batman that argues that he uses his resources to beat down poor people instead of donating his money and fixing Gotham’s institutions. This criticism, which rears its head on social media every couple weeks, isn’t based in the reality of the comics where Bruce Wayne uses most of his resources to try to build a better Gotham through donations, free clinics, mental health facilities, and clean energy. But the films have never really tackled that side of Batman, or examined the trickle down effects of Bruce Wayne’s efforts as both a philanthropist and vigilante. The HBO Max series has the opportunity to delve into that side of the character. Even without Batman appearing directly, there’s room to tackle how his efforts help or hurt justice in Gotham, and what the police expect from both Wayne and Batman, a question that not every character will have the same answer to. Matt Reeves and Terence Winter’s Gotham-centric HBO Max series has a chance to not only examine the role of cops in our superhero stories but build a better onscreen Batman though only using his shadow.

  • Richard Newby
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