Fox's upcoming Gotham looks pretty interesting.
Fox released the first TV trailer for its gritty Batman prequel during Monday's premiere of 24: Live Another Day, where we saw Batman and multiple evildoers in their Muppet Baby phase. Penguin looks like a strangely skinny high schooler with a thing for umbrellas, the Riddler an up-and-coming accountant, Poison Ivy a cross between a second-grade botanist and the girl from The Ring. Bruce Wayne looks all of 10, and the future Commissioner Gordon is an idealistic rookie.
But it and the extended trailer (below) make the new fall series look like, for a Batman dweeb like me, must-see-TV.
And how appropriate that Fox would choose 24 to premiere the trailer. After all, Jack Bauer is Batman.
Well, not really. Jack eschews both capes and huge Swiss bank accounts. Batman never carries a gun and never kills, while Jack has killed around 270 people (and counting) and likely belongs to some sort of "gun of the month" club.
But they really are the same sort of hero now. Both are grim and tortured souls who work in the shadows. Both seek justice by skirting the law. Both have, at best, an uneasy relationship with the law agencies they're supposed to be working with. And at times, those relationships can become positively adversarial—even though everyone involved is fighting on the same side. Both, I suspect, have some serious issues that a good psychologist could help with—but neither have the time nor inclination. Both like their gadgets.
And both, of course, have become dark legends—their mere names striking fear in the hearts of men.
What draws us to heroes like this, I wonder? Never mind the success of Iron Man at the box office, Batman is America’s best known, most popular superhero, and has been for decades. And even though 24 never got incredibly huge ratings, Jack Bauer is perhaps the most recognizable character to come from television in the last couple of decades—capturing our imagination like few before. There’s gotta be something in their very darkness that pulls us to them, I think. They’re the toughest of the tough, but broken, too.
Perhaps they borrow from the world’s first heroic template. In Homer’s The Iliad, I’ve long felt that Hector—the doomed would-be savior of Troy—was the story’s real hero, not mighty Achaean Achilles. But perhaps both have passed on their literary genes to Jack and Batman: Hector, with his self-sacrificial willingness to give his call for his city and country. Achilles and his unmatched prowess in battle offset by his penchant to nurse deep wounds in the sanctity of his tent.
Or maybe they play on a deeper, even spiritual level, they remind us a little of us.
In God in the Streets of Gotham, I wrote this:
In most superhero stories, the line between good and evil, the gulf between light and darkness, is clearly defined. … But there’s a part of us, maybe a small, nagging, unpleasant part, that treats those stories with suspicion. We know the line is not that bright; the gulf between “us” and “them” is not that wide. We feel not just the hero inside us, but the villain . . . the darkness. Batman, a guy who doesn’t just wear a black hat, but one with pointed, horn-like ears, is a representation of our own selves, a strange, graphic allegory of the soul, with Gotham City a microcosm of the fragile, fallen world through which we struggle to make our way. Gotham itself feels bad—Old Testament bad. We can catch a glimpse of ancient Sodom or Samaria when we see its streets, and we feel its sin press on us with an almost physical presence. Batman, as we’re told in The Dark Knight, isn’t a perfect savior for the city; he’s the one it “deserves,” in all his imperfection. He walks perilously close to the line.
And yet there’s something inside the guy that sets him apart. He may look bad, but it’s not what he looks like that matters. It’s what he does, and what he stands for, that counts.
How curiously biblical Batman is in this way. He’s not much like Superman, but he is something like Moses, David, and Peter. The Bible doesn’t sugarcoat our heroes for us or tell us they’re anything but pretty sorry, flawed folks. And yet God takes them and makes them special, even great, just as he does with us.
Maybe the same could be said for Jack Bauer, too—a guy who’s tougher and badder than we’ll ever be. And yet we see in him the darkness, and light, in us. Someone who has hurt people and who’s been hurt. Someone who makes a ton of mistakes every day. And yet someone who’s still striving to do right in spite of it all.