Dennis O’Neil: Beautiful Gotham City
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But enough about the election. Let’s go to Gotham City.
Some 25 years ago there was this big hit movie, Batman, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton, set in the fictitious Gotham City. You knew that, right? What you maybe didn’t know, unless you’re the kind of kid whose mother is forever telling him to go outdoors and get some fresh air, for pity sake, is that we who were charged with producing the comic book versions of Batman very much admired the set design of Anton Furst. Yes – this was Gotham! Ugly and foreboding, its walls high, windows few, designed to keep nature outside, out there, because nature was the enemy, and instead became a maze, a place of gloom, miles of squalor sprawled along the Jersey shoreline, and who knew what kinds of dread lurked in all those shadows?
Maybe we should go to Disneyland instead.
We liked Mr. Furst’s work so much that we asked him to design some Gotham for us, for use in the comics. We couldn’t steal directly from the film, for reasons I’ll probably never understand, but we could put Anton Furst’s sensibility on the page, and so Publisher Jenette Kahn and I asked him to make us some drawings. In time, he did. They still exist. Last time I saw them they were decorating the wall of a DC Comics reception area. Like the movie sets and other renderings of Gotham, the Furst drawings didn’t really show much of the city but they did suggest, or maybe imply, what it would be in its entirety.
In the years that followed, other creators, in both comics and movies, have given us their interpretations of Gotham and it is right and proper that they didn’t remain where we were when we left. What lives, evolves. And I’ve enjoyed my successors’ work; this is not me complaining. But whatever the virtues of these later Gothams, I still preferred Anton Furst’s.
Until the new Gotham came to a television screen near me. This is not the movie city, but our teevee brethren understand that sometimes locations can have the psychological weight of a character – see Holmes’s London, or Philip Marlowe’s Los Angeles, and let’s not forget Middle Earth – and, properly executed, such locations lend not only ambience, but also mood and even a weird kind of credibility to the story; they provide a setting where we can believe that the hero does what he does. They help with that old English class favorite “willing suspension of disbelief.”
Almost certainly video’s Gotham is not produced, as was Mr. Furst’s, on a lot about 30 miles outside London. Actually, I don’t know where it’s done, or how. I’m guessing that what we see is an amalgam of sets and street locations and maybe some of that voodoo hoodoo those folks do with computers and green screens. Whatever they do, those folks, it works.
You want bleak. Check your local Fox channel on Monday nights.
We might not know the meaning of life, but a group of scientists working for NASA came up with a definition for it that’s just seven words long: “Self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution.”