Warning: Major spoilers for Gotham, and many other Batman movies/TV shows.
I’m the child of two lawyers, and they’d often talk to me about the legal system, not just how it worked, but why- the philosophy as much as the ins and outs. One day when I was a kid we watched some TV show where a character was put on trial for murder, and I was confused as to why they announced the case as The State of NY vs. (name of the accused.) A man had been killed, shouldn’t it be his family vs the accused? Wasn’t he the one who was wronged? I will never forget my parents’ explanation that the goal of the court system is justice, not vengeance. We talked about how angry anyone can become if someone we love is hurt or killed, and how justified that anger may be, but that it cannot be the source of a legal system. The family is angry, but it is the state that can dispassionately pursue justice.
This is why I’m annoyed at Gotham. I don’t want to know who killed Batman’s parents. More importantly, I don’t want him to know.
For anyone who hasn’t seen the show, young Bruce Wayne has spent a large portion of the show trying to learn who killed his parents, and why. But instead of never finding the killer, or learning it was just a random street crime, Bruce is uncovering a vast conspiracy, which his father had started to uncover and thus was killed.
It’s an interesting storyline to be sure, and I’ll be the first to admit that Gotham is a show that has to be given certain lee-ways. If nothing else, I’ve learned it can’t be watched one episode at a time- it is so ridiculous and over the top that you need to just binge watch it long enough to forget what a normal show is like, and allow yourself to enjoy it for what it is- an on screen comic book brought to life, with all the ridiculous awesomeness that can entail. And I accept that this is an alternative timeline and it doesn’t have to fit the continuity of other Batmans. But try as I might, I just can’t make this fit my understanding of Batman, and what he is about.
I have always understood Batman to be focused on fighting crime, not criminals. He isn’t out for blood, or vengeance, he simply wants to keep his city and its residents safe. He doesn’t hate the criminals he’s fighting- at times he is even sympathetic towards some of them, as he works to protect people from them. Some of his most famous adversaries are fellow vigilantes such as the Phantasm or some versions of R’as al Ghul, who see themselves as Batman’s allies but who take things further than Batman is willing to go, often because they are motivated by vengeance or hate for criminals. But if he has one true enemy, it isn’t any one particular criminal, but the general sense of corruption and hopelessness among the citizens of Gotham, particularly its police force, that has allowed crime to flourish.
Now, to be fair, Gotham is about how Bruce becomes Batman, and it’s entirely possible that they will let him go all the way down the vengeance rabbit hole, only to realize what a dead end it is, and I know they are not the first telling to imply or outright state that the Waynes were specifically targeted. But I have always preferred the stories in which the Waynes were the victims of a senseless act of violence- a mugger targeting the first people he came across. He may start out wanting to kill Joe Chill, or whoever else killed his part, but he almost always comes to understand the senselessness of their murder, and it is that realization that shifts his focus to fighting crime, instead of criminals.
It’s not a reason to stop watching Gotham, and they certainly better understand Batman than Zach Snyder does. The Dark Knight who Bruce becomes is by definition a morally gray character, and I’m on board with that- he isn’t, and shouldn’t be a boy scout like Superman. But I need my Batman to motivated by justice, not vengeance.