By now it is safe to assume that Bat-fans are pretty evenly split regarding their predictions for FOX’s upcoming Gotham series. Having been burned time and time again with cancellations to cult favorites like Firefly, Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles, and a list of others many fans of the fantasy genre have turned far too cynical to trust the network with the Batman universe. Still others, the eternally optimistic among our kind, are reserving judgement until the show airs this fall. I tend to fall in the former group, and although I’m not blind to the network’s history and its penchant for cancelling programs just when you start to feel safe enough to fall in love again, I always try to hit the reset button when a new program comes along that peaks my interest.
Despite my Buddha-like approach to these scenarios I have to admit that even I am struggling to hold the line, and yesterday’s release of images of the Penguin, played by character actor Robin Lord Taylor (The Walking Dead, Law & Order: SVU), didn’t help much.
What is it about Gotham, and the appearance of the Penguin in particular, that has rustled my usually serene jimmies? Quite simply, it’s the hair cut!
When fans first heard of Gotham we were told to expect a prequel to the Batman movies with the series focused on rookie detective Jim Gordon. Set in the past we knew that Bruce Wayne would be a child and have some role in the show, but that this was primarily a series based on the origins of Gotham City’s villains as seen through the eyes of the GCPD. In that way it would be similar to the critically acclaimed Gotham Central series from the creative team of Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark. Based on the early press written about the series I was expecting a gritty realistic take on the characters, but shots of the Penguin are shaking that confidence.
As I mentioned above my angst is centered on the goofy hair cut. I am fully aware that the character’s appearance does not automatically translate into a horrible performance from the actor. Just like anything appearances can be deceiving, and we have yet to see how the Penguin came to present himself to the world this way. Maybe Taylor will deliver a brilliant performance that will redefine how we all perceive the character, but based on visual appearance alone it feels like the show’s director and writers have misunderstood the character completely. Instead of getting the Penguin, we were presented with a character that looks a lot like the Mad Hatter!
I think it’s safe to say that there are aspects of the Penguin that can be played with. Does he necessarily have to be short and fat? How big and crooked does his nose really need to be? I suppose your answer to those questions will depend entirely on how deeply you define the character’s psychosis as a villain to his physical appearance. There have been many interpretations of the Penguin in the Bat-comics that do exactly this, and to some extent his name requires some sort of physical manifestation of his moniker. In that regard I think Taylor’s facial qualities (i.e. his beak) is enough for me. I’ve always believed that what a character does is more important then what they look like, and to that end my favorite interpretation of the Penguin is found in 1999′s No Man’s Land. Throughout that story-line of an earthquake ravaged Gotham City cut off from the United States the Penguin emerges as a gangland entrepreneur perfectly at home muscling to the top of a black market enterprise. Given that we have been promised a gritty, realistic interpretation of a corrupt Gotham City in Gotham I naturally pictured a world in which the series featured a serious interpretation of the Penguin.
I guess what I really wanted to see was more focus on Oswald Cobblepot the man, and less focus on the campy elements of the Penguin.
Like all fans of Batman, and the comic books that these characters inhabit, I want to see them respected first and foremost. They need to be presented in a way that honors the very best of what they are. Whether it be hero or villain all of these characters are unique, and when handled properly they bring the world of Batman to life. There is a lot of great source material to work from that spans three quarters of a century, and therefore very little excuse for getting it wrong. Having said all of this we don’t know if this Penguin will be a flop, but we do know that a lot is riding on this character as he is the first regular bad guy to challenge Jim Gordon in the inaugural season. If TV viewers don’t respond well, and ratings are underwhelming, FOX will likely take the axe to it.
Fall is still a long way off, and there will be lots of news and sneak peeks yet to come. Am I nervous after seeing this character image? Sure. Am I ready to declare the whole thing a write like many already have? Nah, not yet. Let me know in the comments what your reactions are to the Penguin and “Gotham.”
If you’ve got a Batman itch and need to scratch it, check out Jeff Hill’s reviews of Batman: Zero Year!