In keeping with my resolution to become a “better informed geek,” I decided to check out Gotham. I initially passed on this series when it debuted in 2014. My thought was that if it took off, I could always catch up. Over sixty episodes later, I’m just getting around to it. Therefore, I watched the first two episodes from the first season.
My Initial Reluctance
Gotham tells the story of a young James Gordon before he became commissioner of the Gotham police force. One of his earliest assignments is to investigate the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Yes, they are the parents of Bruce Wayne, also known as Batman. Chances are you already knew that about this show. My initial reluctance to embrace this show was the pitch. I had heard that series featured Gordon combating Batman’s enemies while Bruce Wayne grew up. This wasn’t appealing. I had visions of Gordon with a bushy mustache taking shots at Penguin complete with his top hat, caw, and umbrella. I’m pleased to say that the final product is far better.
Caution: Not a DC Guy
So, up front, I should say that I’m more of a Marvel kind of guy. I always have been. Spider-Man has always been my favorite superhero. Over the past few years, I’ve read an increasing number of comics and focused on Thor, Iron Man, and The Avengers. As for DC titles, I have only read a few issues here and there. But…Batman. Who doesn’t love Batman? If there is one character from the DC universe for whom I feel I have a reasonable knowledge base, it is Batman. So, even though he wouldn’t be appearing in this series, that is why I decided to check out Gotham. How does it do?
In nearly any Batman story, there is a theme of corruption. That theme primarily presents itself in the police force. Gordon, whether as commissioner in the comics or a as young detective in Gotham, struggles combating that corruption. In Gotham, his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) is a little too comfortable with a local crime boss known as Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith). Later, in episode two, when a homeless veteran is murdered in the streets, Gordon confronts the first responder that should have secured the crime scene. When the first responder retorts that he was at a restaurant that pays him $50 a month to look after the place, Harvey sides with the first responder. These examples demonstrate how corruption is both subtle and patent in this series.
Bullock’s and other officers’ ties to the criminal underworld create difficulties for Gordon. Another crime boss, Carmine Falcone (John Dorman) takes notice when Gordon is taken hostage by Mooney’s gang. Before Gordon and Bullock are butchered, Falcone and his gangsters show up to save them. Falcone explains to Gordon how he had an understanding with Gordon’s father, a former district attorney, about the criminal underworld and how it should be run. Ultimately, Gordon must fake the murder of one of Mooney’s henchmen, whom DC fans will recognize, but more on that later, in order to save himself and family.
Gordon’s fight against corruption puts him at odds with the rest of the police force. He clearly doesn’t approve of Bullock’s methods, but as a novice detective he has little leverage to push back against them. He certainly tries. A certain amount of corruption is expected by the police force in this series. It is the cost of doing business in Gotham. Clearly, Gordon’s resistance to and fight against corruption is a theme of the series, and it is done well.
Bruce Wayne and Alfred
Bruce Wayne, played by David Mazouz, teases behavior that might one day lead him to become Batman. In the premiere, he balanced precariously on the roof of Wayne Manor until Alfred (Sean Pertwee) noticed and called him down. Later, Bruce holds his hand over a candle attempting to see how long he can stand the pain before Alfred barges into the room. Alfred has a heavy burden. He is clearly the guardian to a troubled ward. Pertwee turns in a good performance as a firm parental figure who is both loving and stern when needed. However, he knows Bruce needs a mentor in a fashion that he cannot provide. Therefore, he turns to Gordon.
Likewise, Mazouz plays a young Bruce Wayne very well. Bruce is clearly confused and conflicted. He doesn’t know how to handle the death of his parents. He understands someone is to blame, and he wants some sort of vengeance. His inner conflict leads to self-destructive behavior. Of course, audiences know he will grow up and don the mantle of the Bat someday. His scenes in the first two episodes were short but adequate. Bruce clearly respects Gordon. So far, he is showing just enough hints that he’ll one day become the man under the cowl.
Batman’s Rogues Gallery
What is a good Batman story without his rogues gallery? Gotham gives a fresh take on many of the Bat’s enemies. There aren’t any vats of chemicals or other terrible, random accidents to give rise to these villains. They are all grounded in the grittiness of Gotham city itself.
First, there is the “Cat.” Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), the Catwoman from the comic books, is a young, and apparently homeless, woman who witnesses some of the largest crimes in Gotham. In the premiere episode, she is a silent witness and petty thief. That changes with the second episode. She takes on a much larger role. As an orphan child, she is often overlooked on the streets until someone specifically begins targeting such orphans. She hasn’t yet become the expert burglar seen in the comics.
Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith), the Riddler, is already in the habit of asking annoying questions. He starts the series as a forensic examiner working in the lab of the police department. At least in the first two episodes of this series, he isn’t a villain. However, it is easy to see his style develop. He cannot resist teasing out his discoveries to the rest of the police force when he has a bit of forensic discovery to share. Bullock has little tolerance for Nygma’s antics and shouts the examiner down rather than indulge him.
Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin, was a henchmen of Fish Mooney. He made a power play to displace her. Unfortunately for him, his power move failed, and he fell out of Mooney’s graces. It was Cobblepot that Gordon had to pretend to murder. Of course, Gordon doesn’t murder in cold blood, and he let Cobblepot go. Whatever you do, don’t call him “Penguin.” These first two episodes set up an ongoing plotline detailing the Penguin’s rise to power.
Finally, there is Ivy Pepper. Ivy is the daughter of a man framed for the murder of the Waynes. She is a witness to his demise. Although she is just a child, there are clues to her alter ego. First, of course, is her name. Second, she is surrounded by plants in her parents’ apartment. Compared to other children, she is a quiet child. Like Bruce Wayne, she has her own tragic childhood that will likely shape her future.
Gotham is not as colorful as many superhero themed shows. At least in the first two episodes, there are no super powers displayed by anyone. Of course, Batman didn’t have any. However, he had plenty of enemies that did. Instead of telling stories of epic battles between heroes and villains, Gotham focuses on Gordon’s detective work and the rise of Batman’s many enemies. In that way, it is similar to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
This show has piqued my interest. I’ve heard unflattering reviews of this series. However, I found it engaging. Batman has been done many, many times. Some, such as the aforementioned Dark Knight trilogy, are successful. Others, not so much. Batman’s story is well known throughout geek fandom. Therefore, it is difficult to engage those fans who have high expectations. This show may not have met everyone’s expectations, but I’m enjoying it. I didn’t expect to like watching a young Bruce Wayne, but I find his development intriguing. Gordon is the white knight of this series. His armor is slightly sullied, but he is a man of principle. I’m looking forward to following his journey and the rise of Gotham’s most vicious criminals.
By Scott Murray
In last week's Geek Directive Podcast, we discussed the new subscription box that Disney is putting together. Evidently, it will include movies, TV shows and video games all in one place. So, GANNIN asked us if we could create our own content box...what would we put into it? The answer for me was easy - I'd want one called RETRO BOX, filled with 1980s greatness. Here are some of the stuff I'd want inside of it.
I miss the days when "MTV: Music Television" was about actual music. It was so great to be able to turn it out and basically get a visual radio station featuring great bands and some very creative music videos. I've wanted to have a channel on satellite TV to offer hours of classic music videos for some time, and I think a retro box would be a great place to queue them up! I'm talking everything from Huey Lewis & the News, The Cars and Cyndi Lauper to Van Halen, Twisted Sister, Midnight Oil and ZZ Top.
I realize that a lot of classic shows are available on DVD and Blu-ray, but it sure would be nice to scroll through them all in one place. It would have to include the original V television series. I would also want The Muppet Show, The A-Team, and Knight Rider. I'd want comedies like Silver Spoons, Different Strokes, Night Court and The Jeffersons. Finally, I want some of the shows that are hard to find today like The Powers of Matthew Star and The Wizard .
AFTER SCHOOL SHOWS & CARTOONS
I would definitely like to have some of the programs I watched before/after school, as well as some Saturday Morning Cartoons. Granted, some of these shows may not hold up in my adult brain, but it would be fun to re-visit most of them. I would want some classic shows produced by Sid & Marty Kroft. There would have to be some Battle of the Planets, Masters of the Universe, and Star Blazers included in the mix. I'd also like to queue up some Fat Albert, and some classic Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry.
How could I have a Retro Box without movies? The 1980s were an awesome time for movies, and there are several titles that still hold up. Naturally big franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, Terminator, Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones would be in there. I would also need The Last Starfighter, Wargames, Back to the Future and E.T. It wouldn't be complete without classics like Weird Science, License to Drive, The Breakfast Club, Can't Buy Me Love and Coming to America. The list could go on and on, but they would all have to be there.
No Retro Box would be complete without video games. I would want the manufacturer to produce produce more of these than the Classic NES consoles. Considering it felt like Nintendo made 12 for the whole country, that wouldn't be a tough order. However, I would also want games from classic systems like the Atari 2600. This means titles like Ka-Boom and MegaMania. I would also like to play stuff from the arcades, including the classic Star Wars games, Spy Hunter, Drangonslayer, Galaga, Phoenix, Afterburner and Tempest.
It seems as though Disney will sell their new box for about $100, and this box would definitely be worth that price. I'd feel like a kid in the 1980s again...only with a hint of 2017 kids since I would be on it all day and would never go outside.
By Dennis Keithly
I made a New Year’s resolution. Let’s call it a “soft” resolution.
I decided this is the year I’m going to catch up. It seems the older you get, the busier you are. The busier you are, the less time you have to indulge in all your favorite geek passions. So, over the last dozen years, I feel like I have missed out on more and more. Therefore, this is the year that I start catching up.
All those wonderful super hero shows that Netflix has been releasing? I’m going to watch more of them. Those crazy science fiction films from the past few years that weren’t exactly family friendly? I’m there. This is where it begins. Taking a cue from Comic Book Noob, I’m dedicating some of my free time to becoming a “Better Informed Geek.”
Where to Start?
I don’t want to give the impression that I haven’t seen anything from the past few years. I’m a Star Wars die-hard. If it’s available, I’ve seen it. The Marvel cinematic universe? I’m all over that as well. I was thrilled with Deadpool last year and let down by the DC cinematic offerings of Batman vs. Superman and to a lesser degree, Suicide Squad. With that in mind, I decided to try something a little different. My first indulgence is Firefly.
I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “I can’t believe you haven’t seen Firefly!” Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t seen it either. It seems to have a huge following. At Dallas Comic Con last year, I saw countless references to it. So, I decided to give the premier episode a viewing.
What I Already Knew
I knew very little about Firefly. Of course, there was a starship, and I knew its name was Serenity. I also knew that the lead character and captain, played by Nathan Fillion. I’ve heard many people compare Fillion’s role to Han Solo from Star Wars, or at least state it was inspired by Han Solo. I also knew that Alan Tudyk, a darling of geek culture that provided the voice for K-2SO in Rogue One, had a role in the show as a character named “Wash.” Finally, I was aware that Morena Baccarin had a role. I must admit I was only aware of her from her role in Deadpool.
First off, the environment of Firefly surprised me. I had never paid much close attention to the details of the imagery I encountered for Firefly. My brief glimpses gave me the impression that the show was somewhat steampunk inspired. That really isn’t the case. Firefly is a western in space. Indeed, it contains many of the trappings of the classic western. The attire of the cast features pants, shirts, vests, hats, holsters and other accoutrements of the old west.
Despite the presence of motor vehicles and starships, citizens populating this galaxy frequently employ horses of all things. The show features a frontier doctor, Dr. Simon Tam, played by Sean Maher. It even has a frontier preacher, known as a Shepherd, Darrial Book, played by the recently departed Ron Glass. Even the soundtrack for the show lends a decidedly western atmosphere.
Next, the use of the starships was intriguing. This isn’t Star Wars or Star Trek. Fuel and upkeep are paramount to the crew of the Serenity. Like the Enterprise, there is an engineer, played by Jewell Staite as Kaylee. However, the Serenity's maintenance is much less formal than what you would expect aboard the Enterprise. Kaylee’s love for the Serenity is no less than Scotty’s for the Enterprise though. Beyond that, the ships of the Firefly universe, at least in the first episode, seemed far less armed. Instead, attacking vessels rely more on running down their opponents and boarding them. The climax of this episode involved the Serenity and its crew attempting to outrun a gang of savages. Weapons fire was never exchanged.
The world building accomplished in a single episode was remarkable. Granted, when viewed commercial free, this episode is 86 minutes long, so there is more time than a typical one hour show to establish an environment. However, in that 86 minutes, Firefly provides a prologue in which Captain Malcolm Reynolds (I know his name now) and Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) fight in the Unification War (I admit I looked that up).
Their side is overwhelmed by the Alliance in the war, and thus, he becomes a smuggler with Zoe as his second-in-command. Over the course of the episode, the western feel is neatly established through character costumes, titles, mannerisms, and technology (they use guns that look like six-shooters at times). Joss Whedon, the show creator, writer, and director, established a rich universe in the confines of a single episode.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen all of Whedon’s creations. However, I am very familiar with the Avengers franchise. Unfortunately, a movie like Avengers sets the bar incredibly high. So, I was slightly disappointed with the overall production of Firefly. This isn’t a fair criticism. For one, Firefly is nearly fifteen years old. Also, it likely didn’t have anything near the production budget of a movie like Avengers.
This relates to my second point. Most of the budget for this show seems to have been spent on special effects for the spacecraft. The sets, outside of the ship, were minimalist. It worked for the most part. It was only slightly distracting that this show seemed like it occurred on a backlot, similar to the original Star Trek, rather than on the plains and small towns of a frontier space colony.
The initial episode tells a satisfying story of a captain and his crew trying to make their way in a galaxy coming to terms with a recent civil war. Captain Reynolds is a determined man and loyal to his crew. His crew reflects that loyalty as they make their living smuggling goods and transporting passengers throughout the galaxy.
The tone of this show is somber. Although it has its light hearted moments, that isn't a label I'd use to describe the first episode. I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for alternative take on the classic science fiction space odyssey. I’ll certainly watch more episodes, and just maybe I’ll blog about them here.
Geek topics from AoG hosts and contributors.