Will New ‘Gotham’ Series Suffer from Prequelitis?
Earlier this week, news came out that David Mazouz of Fox’s short-lived series ‘The Touch’ will play young Bruce Wayne in the upcoming series ‘Gotham’. According to Variety, however, Warner Bros. is on the record as stating that the show will be about Commissioner Gordon and will not center around the Batman. And yet, Variety also stated that Camren Bicondova has been has cast as young Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. This strengthens suspicions that Bruce Wayne be less than a cameo on the show, in that his main adult love interest is also a supporting character. While neither of these spell immediate disaster, it does hint at issues that have plagued several other recent prequels.
One issue that could arise from this news is the same problem many people had with Monsters University. While the film itself had the same charm as Monsters Inc., inviting us back into the dark but cute world Mike and Sully inhabit, the ending was already ruined. Pixar could certainly convince us to sympathize with young Wazowski’s attempt to become a scary monster, but after an hour-and-a-half of movie, we knew he wasn’t going to get there. Monsters University even makes the former film bittersweet by making Mike surrender his dreams to become Sully’s sidekick. The conflict it gives our hero has a predictable outcome that retroactively makes him less heroic and more pathetic. Making ‘Gotham’ Batman’s story at all would be pointless because his origin story is quite ubiquitous and honestly beautiful because of its simplicity. Needlessly adding to it or regurgitating it would cheapen it and only weaken its box office value.
There is also a difference between pathos and a pathetic character, for which Anakin Skywalker of the Star Wars prequels is infamous. While Batman’s campaign against crime is incited by one tragedy, George Lucas gave Anakin more baggage than a Lifetime Original Movie heroine. Being a slave wasn’t enough, there was the torture and death of his mother, the oppression of the Jedi Council, and the promised fatal pregnancy of his wife. While the two actors playing young Darth Vader could have done a better job, most of his written lines focused on whining about his life because there was very little opportunity for happiness. The newer Batman films brighten Bruce’s childhood by creating young playmate Rachel Dawes. Adding a younger Catwoman to an already tragic childhood already seems to be more drama than a formative Dark Knight can handle.
While on the subject of Selina Kyle: her addition brings to mind another series prequel that, while successful, did change the character far beyond what hardcore fans found acceptable. The Superman prequel ‘Smallville’ made what was essentially a Christlike figure into a romantic lead, and while the hero has been more or less romantically inclined throughout the years, Clark Kent is ironically far more human of a character than Bruce Wayne. As Christian Bale once stated, Batman is not a man pretending to be hero, he is a hero pretending to be Bruce Wayne. Keeping him completely chaste would undermine his history with a number of complex love interests. However, to take young Bruce Wayne and mimic the CW’s version of Superman would be an even more drastic manipulation of a character, and would likely see more mixed results.
Another statement in the Variety article hints that Gordon will be tackling some of the threats Batman would later fight. This raises the question which members of Batman’s rogues gallery are young enough to continue their life of crime to lat into Batman’s career. This also faces the problem of letting us in on the “ending”, wherein crime will not pay until the Caped Crusader is on the case. Characters like the Riddler, the Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and a number of others have, at one time, been portrayed to be the same age as Batman. Images abound of a prepubescent Penguin rigging the school dance to end with a fireworks attached to small flightless birds, because Harley Quinn stood him up. While some characters, such as the Romans, seem to be on the decline as Batman begins crime-fighting in Batman: Year One, he is instrumental in their downfall. Fans have a right to be skeptical if, indeed, Warner Bros. intends to make ‘Gotham’ an incubator for all of Batman’s future bad guys, because 1) that makes their fate predictable, and 2) no one is interested in seeing a preteen Joker causing mayhem in middle school.
An especially bad prequel side effect is how it makes intimidating characters less mysterious and more “relatable”. While characters like Spider-man thrive on knowing every nuance of their unfortunate lives, there are certain characters, like Indiana Jones and James Bond, who we love knowing less about. While some of their prequels may have a cult following, fans gravitate more to seeing these characters in their element. Whether or not Bond being a womanizer or Jones being a hothead is a good thing, learning more about their fixations and complexes only weakens our affection for their flawed but ultimately fantastic characters. They are mythological in that we want to be them, not because we understand how they tick, but because we love who they are at their best. Batman is a character best seen as someone to look up to, not someone with whom we can immediately identify.
In the end, real Bat fans are really looking forward to a show about Jim Gordon and the cops that only recently have begun taking center stage in the comics world. While Batman continues to be one of the most interesting characters that comics has to offer, the ‘Gotham’ series has a lot it can learn from former cases of prequelitis. Here’s hoping the show recreates the city that created Batman, rather than recreating the World’s Finest Detective as a lovestruck Encyclopedia Brown.
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