EXCLUSIVE: How Gotham's creator hopes to do 'justice' to his 'dangerous' and 'sexy' new Batman prequel

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Sep 29, 2014, 5:46 PM EDT (Updated)

Taking on an iconic comic-book character, or perhaps THE most iconic comic-book character of all time, isn't easy. In fact it's downright scary, especially when you're trying to reimagine the origin of Batman and the other characters that live in his world, said the creator and executive producer of Fox's Gotham, Bruno Heller, in an exclusive interview with Blastr.

“Jumping into this world is a scary surprise. How many great storytellers have already been here? It puts you on your game. We're dealing with the great American myth. The challenge is to do justice to, not just the great work that's gone before, but in the sense that this world exists for everybody in their own head. Gotham is a sort of dream world that everybody shares. It's very important to both have a specific individual vision of the world, but also recognize that we are talking about a story and a world shared by everybody. The surprises are the things that we have to deliver for the audience rather than the other way round. It's very important that we add something to this great saga, as opposed to just ride the wave that has already been created.”

In order to do that, Heller -- who also created CBS's The Mentalist -- worked with director Danny Cannon to create a vision of Gotham “which was essentially drawn from New York in the 1970s when both of us were very young and first came there. It has a dark glamor about it. It's dangerous but sexy and full of life. Full of life and death. It's both scary and very attractive,” he said.

Their Gotham worked with the “dark vision” that's been around for a while now, said Heller. “It would be a brave man who went back to the Adam West Batman as the template for how to play that character. Miller, Moore, Nolan, they've created a mythology that is deep, dark and rich. The beauty of it is that so many visions have gone into the creations of Batman, not just Bob Kane and Bill Finger, but all of those geniuses who have worked on it have really created a whole world for these characters to inhabit, which means it's incredibly fun and immensely fertile, because it's not fresh ground.

“It's ground that has been built on, and this wonderful world is already there, not just on the page or on the screen but in everybody's minds. Everyone has a sense of Gotham, and they know who the characters are. You're kind of playing with house money.”

Gotham premiered last week on Fox and had a strong start in the ratings. In the premiere, we met a young police detective, James Gordon (Ben McKenzie), who will one day become Commissioner James Gordon. James took on the difficult investigation into the murder of Bruce Wayne's (David Mazouz) parents, and the two develop a connection. We also met up with younger versions of a variety of characters we'll one day know well, including the future Catwoman, the Penguin, Poison Ivy and the Riddler. The series also stars Sean Pertwee, Erin Richards, Donal Logue and Jada Pinkett Smith, who plays crime boss Fish Mooney.

“This is not the story of supernatural beings and how they got their strange, unearthly powers. The beauty of the Batman universe of villains is that they're all, in fact, ordinary people like us. Their journeys are human journeys, the journeys of tragedy and redemption, of trauma and recovery, of psychological damage and healing, as opposed to simply being bitten by radioactive bears or gamma rays,” said Heller.

Radioactive bears?

“I'm saving that character for my own comic book,” Heller joked. “It means that these are stories about human beings. These are human stories. That's why you can take them on a real journey. To a degree, superheroes are gods, and gods don't have those problems, the problems that our people are faced with, both the good guys and the bad guys [are] problems that anyone could face. That's what makes the journey both exciting and real.”


Heller wanted to tell the story in a way that explained why Gordon, in later life, would “essentially give up part of his power as a policeman to a vigilante who is taking the law into his own hands. The only way that works is if they have some kind of trust and understanding between them that informs that decision made later by Gordon. Aside from that nut of hard truth, it just makes dramatic sense. Essentially, our story begins because Gordon is the young rookie detective who investigates the murder of the Waynes. That's how they come together. Then it becomes Gordon's mission to find out who really did kill the Waynes. It's both the starting point for the pilot's story and also the starting point for the great epic journey that all these characters take.”

While we've gotten a taste of where Heller and his writers will take the story with the pilot, look for plenty of Batman's eventual enemies to pop up, as well as new villains we've never met before.

“It would be great if all the characters were those brand-name characters. But on the other hand, that ties you very firmly to stories that people know the ending of. People know where the Riddler ends up. Nobody knows what happens to Fish Mooney, which gives you a great deal more latitude and freedom in the telling of that story. It allows you to create characters who can go off in unexpected directions. It's essentially that much more storytelling freedom. It allows you to cast someone as awesome as Jada Pinkett in a big role that you can then run with as opposed to saying, all right, by episode such-and-such she has to transform into X,” said Heller.

“In the comic-book world, I've always loved origin stories. Not just in the comic-book world, but in history in general. How did things begin? Where did they begin? All the little secrets that, if you knew about people's childhood, would illuminate the adult. That has always seemed like fertile ground for me in any story. To be able to dig deep into that mythology ... But because we're starting earlier than most people do, it's both familiar ground but it's ground that hasn't been dug over the lot. It's both a fresh take on it but also a take that people are already informed about. When you're telling a story, when you have those elements all in one piece of material, it's very attractive, because you can both build on great stuff and create great stuff,” he said.

“For TV especially now, audiences are quite jaded and very knowledgable, and they need stuff that they can immediately grab onto. You have to grab them quick. It's not like you can do a slow burn over two seasons like you used to be able to do, and hopefully by season two or three people have caught on. You need to grab them immediately. This world does that. Once you've grabbed them, then there is a whole vast universe of stories to tell. It has immediate impact and long-term potential. Those are the things you look for in a TV show,” said Heller.

Gotham airs on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET.

Here's a look at tonight's Gotham:

What do you think of Gotham so far?

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