“Gotham” isn’t your average superhero origin story. In fact, the iconic Batman-in-the-making storyline isn’t even the central focus of this gritty new drama based in the DC Universe. Though the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents and its aftermath is addressed in the pilot, the rise of the Caped Crusader during Gotham City’s fall isn’t told from his point of view — it’s seen through the eyes of one-day Police Commissioner James Gordon.
“Jim is the central focus because he is the moral center, he’s the man trying to push back the ocean [of corruption],” says Ben McKenzie, who plays Gordon in the Fox series. “Gotham”’s Gordon is a rookie detective who quickly makes enemies with his fellow cops — not to mention the city’s increasing number of petty thugs and master criminals — due to his unwavering commitment to law and order. “Everyone else is drawn in opposition to him on purpose,” McKenzie explains. “He will have his victories and defeats as he rises up in the police department, and yet at the same time fails in his ultimate quest to clean up the city. ‘Cause if he succeeded in that, then there’d be no need for Batman.”
When young Bruce is in need of a role model, it’s Gordon’s sense of duty that inspires him. But Gordon’s assessment of right and wrong also affects a number of other familiar Gotham residents, many of whom are met in the first episode—Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin, in particular. Those interactions end up making Gordon unwittingly complicit in the fall of the city from the get-go. That twist of fate, McKenzie teases, will play out with different villains in a variety of ways.
“He’ll win some battles, he’ll put away some bad people,” McKenzie says. “Some of the people he puts away in Arkham will get out and will come to have an even worse effect on the city than they would have otherwise. He does his best, but he loses the war.”
Though it takes a new spin on DC lore, McKenzie doesn’t view the story of “Gotham” as bastardizing the 75-year history of Batman mythology. “If you read enough of the source material, there’s an awful lot of things that don’t quite add up if you tried to create a singular narrative out of it,” he points out. Of course, McKenzie’s fended off this kind of criticism before: He voiced Bruce Wayne in 2011’s animated adaptation of “Batman: Year One.”