A major cornerstone of superhero entertainment ended this week — and no, it wasn’t the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the finale of Gotham, we lose a wild TV show that knew how to make comic book material weird as hell. While its contemporaries try to honor their source material to please hardcore nerds, Gotham made the bold decision to not give a damn about what longtime Batman fans wanted. The result was a show that was divisive, frequently baffling, crazy as the Joker — and very, very entertaining.
That’s not how it started, though. Gotham was created to be something more like a crime procedural than an action series where costumed heroes and villains square off with all the power of that week’s visual effects budget. It primarily focused on new Gotham City cop Jim Gordon — the future Commissioner Gordon — and nascent crimelord-to-be Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot, with frequent check-ins on a school-age Bruce Wayne as he grappled with his parents’ murder.
As someone who recapped the show from the beginning, I can attest that this was a tremendously boring premise. The Gotham City Police Department mainly fought generic mobsters, and occasionally there’d be a cameo by someone the viewer would recognize as a major character in Batman’s future. It turns out that watching 13-year-olds incrementally become superheroes and villains is a hell of a lot less interesting than, you know, actually watching superheroes fight villains. Go figure!
Gotham couldn’t break Batman’s long-established comic book canon, so it could only allude to all the major characters, stories, and relationships that would be established after Bruce Wayne becomes Batman. It was hamstrung by its own premise, because hardcore Bat-fans would never accept it otherwise.
But Gotham eventually made the bold decision to stop caring about decades of established comics that continuity demanded or what nerds wanted, all while other superhero entertainment, from Daredevil to Dawn of Justice, was working so hard to satiate them.