Dark Nights in Gotham

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But no Dark Knight. And there won’t be, for several years, in this prequel series on Fox, from The Mentalist creator, Bruno Heller. Yet it’s easy to see how the environment of Gotham will breed the extreme heroes and villains who populate the Batman universe.

The murder of billionaire philanthropists Thomas and Martha Wayne in an apparent mugging incident marks the death of innocence in Gotham – a city where crooks, cops, and councillors are equally corrupt.

The Wayne murders ignite a power struggle within the ranks of organised crime, and set off a chain of events leading to the emergence of new and extreme forms of villainy. A new kind of response is required, from the few remaining forces of law and order.

Enter James Gordon, a brash young police detective, fresh from military service.

Ever seen the movie L.A. Confidential? Well, Ben McKenzie’s Gordon plays (and looks) like an amalgam of Russell Crowe’s brutish enforcer Bud White, and the straight-arrow Edmund Exley character played by Guy Pearce.

Gordon’s the one good cop in a department riddled with corruption and sloppy practices. And he’s been partnered with a veteran (Donal Logue, as Det. Harvey Bullock), who typifies both.

Their first case is the Wayne murders. Subsequent adventures see Gordon and Bullock interacting with various individuals who will round out the future Rogues Gallery of the Dark Knight.

Some are familiar – like police forensic scientist Edward Nygma (actor Cory Michael Smith), a highly intelligent but extremely irritating fellow with a passion for riddles.

Others are new – like Jada Pinkett-Smith, as businesswoman and ranking mob lieutenant, Fish Mooney.

But it’s the kids who (almost) steal the show.

David Mazouz as young Bruce Wayne exudes the quiet intensity and social detachment of the fledgling Dark Knight. In his effort to cope with his newly orphaned status, he’s already developing detective skills – and the obsessive need to push himself, both physically and mentally.

We and Bruce meet young Selina Kyle (actress Camren Bicondova) very early on. “Cat”, as she’s known, is a sassy street urchin, pickpocket, thief, and professional survivor kitted out (pun intended) in aviator-style leathers and infrared goggles (the better to see and steal, at night). That she looks like a young Michelle Pfeiffer is a nice homage to Tim Burton’s early Batman films.

Then there’s Ivy Pepper (played by Clare Foley). Orphan daughter of the violently abusive thug framed and killed for the Wayne murders, and a suicidal mother. Though years from ingesting the plant toxins that will mutate her into Poison Ivy, this little girl is already unstable enough to give the tough-as-nails “Cat” the shivers.

I’ve saved the best to last though… For me, The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor, as Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot) is The Man. Weirdly dapper and partially crippled in a violent assault by boss Fish Mooney, this twitchy little guy with the funny walk is already well on his way up from low-level mob figure to murderous psychopath and cunning crime boss. He’s also the silent puppet master orchestrating events that shape Gotham’s crime war.

As a series, Gotham works very well. Both as a new angle on the Batman legend, and in its own right. Gotham is a superior detective thriller, which just happens to be set in a town where everything is taken to extremes.

Nights well spent, I think.

Des Nnochiri

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