Can Gotham and Constantine Survive Network Television?


Can Gotham and Constantine survive the transition from the comic book pages to television?

Marvel may rule the box office, but for years it’s been DC who has been television’s reigning champion. Who can forget the original Flash or Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman? Smallville ran for ten seasons on the WB and the CW. Arrow is in its second season, also airing on the CW, and still going strong. A few weeks ago, the network announced The Flash is getting a series on the CW. However, it’s DC’s two new series, Gotham and Constantine, which have sparked my interest.

Gotham By Any Other Word

At first, Gotham seemed to have a lot of potential. The shows original premise sounded promising— a cop procedural set in the corrupt and grimy world of Gotham City pre-Batman. It’s an interesting idea. How does a good cop, or cops, solve crime in a city corrupt from the top down? I may be thinking way out of the box here, but the whole series could have had a David Fincher feeling to it or a Killingvibe running thought out. It could have turned the stale police procedural on its head. One story could have spanned an entire season. However, this is not to the case.

Gotham is still being set in Gotham City before Bruce Wayne became Batman. It’s probably still going to be some sort of police procedural show. However, it’s the changes to the characters and to the whole mythos of Batman that have me scratching my head and asking, “Why?” 

I’m not big on continuity, never have been. It’s a comic book word created by comic book companies to sell more comics (and now movie tickets). Just tell the story and leave all the other baggage in the comic books. In regards to Gotham, I may not be able to turn a blind eye. It’s Batman and too many people know the Batman story inside and out.

James Gordon

First, there is the problem with

batman symbol
And where is the Batman?

basing the story around Jim Gordon as a rookie. In almost every incarnation of Batman, James Gordon has never been a rookie on the Gotham City Police Department. In Frank Miller’s Year One he was transferred from an unnamed department to the GCPD. In Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, Gordon had been on the force long enough to build a reputation as somewhat of an outsider. He was the only, or one of a handful, of honest men in a corrupt system

It would have been a moot point whether Gordon was a rookie had the series creators stayed with the original premise of the series. However, this being a series based on a comic book they had to bring in the comic book villains. And there, as the Bard would say, lies the rub. No matter the redo, the reboot, the redux, or the many other retellings of Batman’s origin one thing has always stayed the same—Batman came first and then the villains. A rookie Gordon, with no Batman, means that Gordon confronts Batman’s various villains well before Bruce Wayne even considers becoming Batman.

Batman’s Rogues Gallery is No Longer Batman’s Rogue Gallery

It could be argued the Joker, the Riddler, and the Penguin existed in some corner of the criminal world long before Batman came onto the scene. It could be argued it was only when Batman appeared the villains decided to rear their ugly heads. However, this theory doesn’t hold water when we take into consideration the rookie Gordon will meet Batman’s enemies first. It really falls apart considering a ten year old has been cast to play Bruce Wayne. By the time Bruce Wayne would become Batman most of the villains would be ready for the old age home or bent on revenge against Gordon and not Batman. Gordon now becomes the locus for the villains’ ire and not Batman. It completely changes the Batman mythos.

Introducing Batman’s Rogues Gallery into the show before there is a Batman and while Gordon is a rookie leaves me guessing as to what the show’s creators are striving for in the series. It’s inevitable the villains will somehow interact with the young Wayne. It’s not a matter of if a young Wayne meets a Riddler or a Penguin, but when. This is how formula television works. If this were the case, wouldn’t an adult Bruce Wayne remember interacting with these criminals as a child?

batman catwoman
Gotham is shaping up to be as cute as this cartoon

Then there is Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. Catwoman, a thief in the comics and movies, runs into Batman after Batman has been on the scene for a while. At some point, writers even created a love connection between the two characters. However, Selina Kyle in Gotham is a tween. How a tween Kyle and a prepubescent Wayne meet is anyone’s guess. I don’t need to be a writer on the show to see how the two will inspire episodes of teen angst. Gotham is starting to sound more and more like a show that should be on, well, the CW. I’m not holding out hope that this one will be a winner.

The other new series premiering from DC Comics’ stable is Constantine. Most viewers will remember Constantine from the 2005 movie starring Keanu Reeves. Although the movie wasn’t bad, it wasn’t the John Constantine from the Hellblazer Vertigo series.
The Hellblazer title and the John Constantine character, before DC decided to return the title to the DC Universe, were pretty tense, bloody, dark, and vulgar at times. John Constantine was a chain-smoking, beer swigging, Brit who managed to get into all sorts of arcane trouble. All of this would seem to be good fun, but those around him often paid the price for his supernatural shenanigans. Basically, lots of people die when Constantine showed up on the scene.

Constantine, John Constantine.

From Comic Book to Small Screen

I haven’t read any comics in years (that’s an article for another time), but I am sure when the powers-that-be moved him into the appropriate for all ages DC Universe he was toned down quite a bit. Seriously, you can’t have a character be eviscerated by a demon and then have an advertisement for a kid friendly product. However, NBC has shown in Hannibal that it can get graphic. It’s not HBO graphic, but for a major network it’s cutting edge.

    Constantine has one other major factor in its favor—name recognition. More precisely it has a lack of name recognition in its favor. Very few people outside comic book stores know the character or its history. Of course, when it was announced John Constantine would have an angel protecting him the comic book crowd over reacted as only comic book fans can. However, the non-comic book crowd (i.e. the crowd that can either make or break Constantine) will probably not care that Constantine will have a sidekick (Chas, who met a grizzly end in the comic book) in the series. They may even like the teenage girl who sees supernatural things and needs Constantine for protection.
No News May Be Good News

constantine comicbook coverThere hasn’t been too much more information coming from NBC about Constantine. We’ve been told some of the characters in the series, but not all of them. We know the series will be set in New York. We also know Matt Ryan, who has been cast as John Constantine, is from the United Kingdom. I’m hoping for something dark in tone like Hannibal and closer to Vertigo’s Hellblazer than a cleaned up comic book friendly Constantine. If the creators can find a middle ground between these two elements it may be a good show. However, I am keeping my fingers crossed Constantine doesn’t turn out to be NBC’s Supernatural.

I’ll update the article when we learn more about Gotham and Constantine.