The key to any version of Batman, from the 90s animated show to Shumacher’s two disasters, is Police Commissioner James Gordon.
While Gordon is often painted as a bumbling cop who can’t get anything done without Batman, Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, and Nolan’s two films present a very realistic Gordon who is as essential to Bruce Wayne’s fight against corruption as Batman himself.
As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog, Frank Miller’s Year One is just as much about James Gordon as it is about Batman/Bruce Wayne, if not more. After all, we do open and close the story with Gordon, not Bruce.
In The Dark Knight, Gordon shares the screen nearly as much as Bruce and Dent, but Begins is primarily Batman’s story, so when we do see Gordon, it is within the context of Wayne’s story.
In Batman Begins, we first meet Gordon as he comforts a young Bruce Wayne, still in shock that his parents have been murdered. In Year One, Gordon and Bruce arrive in Gotham on January 4th, both intent on making Gotham a less corrupt city.
In Year One, Gordon doesn’t know whether Batman is friend or foe for a good portion of the story. At one point, Gordon suspects the city’s young District Attorney, Harvey Dent to be Batman (a theme Nolan plays with in Dark Knight). After all, Dent seems to be the only other man in Gotham not on Falcone’s payroll. In fact, he appears to be the only other man trying to do anything about Gotham’s corruption problem.
Dent is already in contact with Batman at this point in Year One, actually hiding the Caped Crusader behind his desk when Gordon comes in looking for answers. This differs from both Long Halloween and Nolan’s The Dark Knight where Gordon makes the introduction between the two crimefighters.
Back to Year One, Gordon admires what Batman has done to confront corruption, but sees him not as much the possible alley as a dangerous vigilante. After all, though Batman has made a dramatic appearance in front of the Falcones, Leob, and the Mayor of Gotham, he is still a vigilante wearing a mask, breaking the law.
The two first come into contact when Gordon attempts to stop an out of control truck from running down a homeless woman. Gordon fails to stop the truck, but Batman successfully pushes the woman out of harm’s way at the last minute.
Following which, Gordon has a gun on Batman, but won’t shoot. His cop peers aren’t so understanding, shooting Batman as he escapes down an alley, even as Gordon says “Batman– went down that alley — there he is — saved that old woman… He…”
Batman is shot, escaping into a condemned building. Gordon tries to protect him, covering the building but telling GCPD “No one fires without my order –” unfortunately corrupt Commissioner Leob has already been burned by the Bat, and hence orders the building demolished, as it is due for demolition and nobody will get hurt, “except for a derelict or two.”
Much to Gordon’s horror, the building is bombed. Batman survives (Du’h) and is able to fight off the first group of officers sent in after him.
Not only does Batman evade the GCPD, he also happens to save one of Selina Kyle’s cats (Selina Kyle being a prostitute who is inspired by Batman to put on a mask and prance around Gothman at night). We have yet to see Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) in a Nolan film, though she will be in The Dark Knight Rises. I will discuss her character in Year One and Long Halloween later, as her on screen version is likely to be a combination of the two, seeing Nolan and David S. Goyer’s love for incorporating elements of those two particular graphic novels.
Batman is only able to escape using the same device Nolan has him using in Batman Begins to evade the cops at Arkham Asylum; that is a device in his shoe that attracts thousands upon thousands of bats.
By the similar scene in Begins, Gordon and Batman are already acquainted, following Batman’s visit to his office and the capture of Carmine “The Roman” Falcone at the docks.
In Batman Begins, Wayne throws together a makeshift outfit with a ski mask and sneaks into Gordon’s office, sticking a stapler to the back of Gordon’s neck like a gun. (Also an homage to Batman’s first outing in Year One, before he was come to the symbol of the Bat.)
“Don’t turn around, you’re a good cop, one of the few,” leads Bruce. He wants to know what it will take to finally put Falcone behind bars. Gordon tells he he’ll need an honest judge and an honest D.A.
Of course, since this is before the introduction of Harvey Dent in Nolan’s films, the D.A. in question is Rachel Dawes, Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend and possible love interest.
“You’re just one man?” questions Gordon as Batman takes off.
“Now we’re two,” replies the Dark Knight.
Ra’s al Ghul’s words put into practice, Bruce is no longer just a lone masked vigilante. Unlike other iterations of Batman where Gordon has been less essential and intelligent, Nolan and Miller’s versions of Batman do not work in a void, they need honest people on the right side of the law to get the job done.
Gordon of course chases Batman from the building, not quite trusting the random man who held a “gun” to the back of his head. But, after Batman takes down Carmine Falcone at the docks, only then Gordon better trusts the Bat.
Gordon even lets the masked man show up at his personal residence, without too much worry.
In Year One, Gordon doesn’t truly trust Batman until Batman saves his own son. In the graphic novel, Arnold Flass and commissioner Leob don’t take kindly to Gordon’s loyalty to the law, setting it up so The Roman kidnaps Gordon’s baby son, James. (They’ve also had Gordon beaten several times by this point in the story.)
Batman, again without costume because it is the middle of the afternoon, is able to help Gordon save his son. Gordon shoots the tire of the getaway vehicle, struggles with Falcone’s goon, only to have himself, his baby, and the henchmen fall off the bridge and into the river.
Wayne is able to catch baby James, saving his life, much as Nolan has him saving the life of Gordon’s son later The Dark Knight.
From this point on, Batman is never alone, Gordon and he are indeed “two.” Their story is intertwined until the end of both men, an end that is hinted at in the original teaser for Dark Knight Rises.
Year One ends with Gordon on the roof, thinking about his new alley:
“As for me — well, there’s a real panic on. Somebody’s threatened to poison the Gotham reservoir. Calls himself the Joker. I’ve got a friend coming who might be able to help. Should be here any minute.”
A very similar ending to that of Batman Begins, were Gordon unveils his new Bat Symbol and mentions a new villain with “a taste for the theatrical” like Batman.
Now I’m that much closer to discussing my favorite part of the Batman myth, Harvey Dent. And of course we still have to examine the themes of Batman Begins as they carry through Dark Knight and lead us right into Dark Knight Rises.
So stay tuned, same Bat time, same Bat channel.