With Hollywood turning more of its attention to the world of graphic novels for inspiration, I’ll cast the spotlight on a new comic book each week that has the potential to pack a theater or keep you glued to your television screens. At the end of some “Adapt This” columns, you’ll also find thoughts from the industry’s top comic creators about the books they’d like to see make the jump from page to screen.
This Week’s Book: Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark
The Premise: We all know about Batman and the villains of Gotham, but what about the police? What is the daily routine like for a police officer when you have a costumed vigilante patrolling the streets, and a long list of super-powered criminals looking for a challenge? This is the story of the people keeping Gotham safe who don’t wear masks.
The Pitch: A police procedural set in one of DC Comics’ most famous cities, Gotham Central had a critically praised, 40-issue run authored by two of the greatest authors of crime stories in the comics industry. Like Law & Order with the occasional cameo from costumed heroes and villains, the series put the focus on the daily events transpiring in the lives of the police officers and how the unique stress of their careers affects them and everyone around them.
There was talk of a Gotham Central television series back in 2003, but the failure of the Birds of Prey series reportedly caused Warner Bros. to put a hold on any projects related to Batman. It’s a shame, really – because Batman and his rogues gallery played such a small part in what made the comic book series so popular.
Much like the perceived threat of the shark in Jaws or the unseen enemy that could be lurking around any corner, Batman’s presence in the Gotham Central universe was often limited to mentions of his activities or indirect communication with the Gotham City Police Department. He was an entity that characters were aware of – mainly due to the fallout of his activities or his enemies’ schemes – but rarely met face to face.
Much like many television procedurals, the Gotham Central comic book series was divided into two narratives that occasionally mingled: the day shift and the night shift. The day shift would generally involve the more formal procedural elements, while the night shift would usually feature the more colorful aspects of the department’s duties. And in the style of shows like Law & Order, cases were generally handled in episodic format, with each issue devoted to a particular crime from the point of discovery to the close of the investigation.
With little need for effects-driven superhero or supervillain elements, a Gotham Central television series would likely hit the sweet spot where fans of gritty procedural drama overlap with fans of dark comic-book tales – two audiences that seemingly dominate both big- and small-screen media these days. While the network would have to tread lightly with the comic-book element (so as not to scare away fans of the more traditional police procedurals), that aspect of Gotham Central would also give it a unique angle to bring in a wider audience.
In the comic book series, Rucka and Brubaker proved that the lives of Gotham police are not only a fascinating subjects on their own, but there’s also no end to the amount of stories that can be told in a city like Gotham. One particular story focuses on the girl whose job it is to turn on the Bat Signal – an unsung duty that carries a lot of weight in the universe Gotham Central inhabits. A talented writing staff could easily get the ball rolling on a Gotham Central television series using the existing material – which already feels like a television series – and let the show grow into its own world.
A good adaptation of the series wouldn’t shy away from letting its very real, very damaged characters develop while exploring the less-flashy elements of police work, and not go out of its way to appease comics fans. Simply by following the Gotham police as they do their jobs, the show would give comics fans more than enough characters, locations, and other referential elements to make it clear that the story is set within the DC Comics universe.
The Closing Argument: Think Law & Order meets Fringe and you’re on the right track for a Gotham Central television series. Given the series’ limited reliance on the more colorful elements of the DC Comics universe, and its foundation in character-driven, well-paced, procedural drama, a Gotham Central television series seems like a no-brainer for today’s audiences hungry for mature storytelling that provides a unique twist on old favorites.