Is Gotham Goth-ic?

Emily Bird is a third year BA English and Creative Writing student at the University of Sunderland. Her interests are in contemporary media, geography and Gothic architecture.

In this article I’m going to look at the ever so brilliant and dark superhero: Batman, aka Bruce Wayne. Everyone loves a bit of a superhero – they’re fast, strong, and help those in desperate need. Batman does the same – right? Or is he more than just a superhero? He’s darker than Superman, riddled with deep emotion and has a different set of rules. So: does Batman, and his world of Gotham City, fit into the criteria of the Gothic genre?

Pictured: Screenshot from the game Arkham City

Pictured: Screenshot from the game Arkham City

Not to be obvious here, but there is certainly a similarity between the nouns “Goth-ic” and “Goth-am”. Looking at depictions of the city – portrayed by films, programs, and comic books – nearly all are set during the night time with tornadoes of steam rising from the dimly lit architecture; it’s all bleak and dismal. Nevertheless it is beautiful, captivating, and infested with crime.

First, we have to look at what the Gothic genre entails as we compare it to the DC Comics world. Let’s look at some basic rules:

  1. Setting in a castle. We may not have a castle in Gotham City, but we certainly have Wayne Manor. That too holds Gothic architecture with columns that stand proudly and the stone stairs enriching the gardens. The window panes are aged; encrusted with paint and decay. Not to mention the balconies that overlooks the vast greenery of the Wayne land. Even the trap doors hidden throughout the mansion lead down to his hidden cave of secrets. The twist of a statue here, the pull of a book there, even a particular melody on the piano opens a bookcase! However this is only one aspect, so let’s look on.
  2. Atmosphere of mystery and suspense. I think this runs throughout Batman pretty well. I’m going to focus specifically on The Dark Knight trilogy, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale. It definitely holds a particular atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the music that is composed by Hans Zimmer – I mean, come on, he is a genius composer. I’ve always found that music is a vital key to creating the atmosphere within films, and I believe that Hans does it fantastically. Does no one else feel their heart strings tugging when they hear the soundtrack? There are always moments in the film that make you want to grip the edge of your seat. Batman is constantly on the rescue missions, and we never really know if he’ll get there in time. We are questioning ourselves: ‘Will he make it? Are they alive? What is going to happen?’ Even by looking at the new Gotham series that has recently started, it holds that mystery – have you been watching? I definitely have! The series focuses on Gotham City when Bruce Wayne and all the other villains are younger, I think it is ingenious! And again, it gets you guessing who is who.
  3. An ancient prophecy. In other words, in the world of Batman: Wayne Enterprises. The company with a valuable reputation – one that has been passed through Wayne generations and eventually mounted on Bruce’s shoulders. It’s up to him to keep its value and reputation up. He struggles to hold it though, and this is a challenge that Bruce must face. His other identity though, the beautiful Batman, must face other political issues of Gotham City. Is anyone convinced yet?
  4. Omens, portents, and visions. We can look at this from two different angles here. There is the idea of visions – a drug that was used by Dr Jonathon Crane, aka Scarecrow, to create hallucinations within Gotham. It was a plot to send the city into chaos and violence. Batman was affected by this drug from inhaling it, causing his mind to produce visions that weren’t true. We can also look at this by focusing on Bruce as a character. He has nightmares throughout the trilogy, and even looking at his life events: the death of his parents, the burning of Wayne Manor in Batman Begins, and the death of Rachel Dawes, could these all be seen as omens that portray the pathway of his life?
  5. Supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events. If we look at the gadgets that Batman uses – it is rather “inexplicable” – what kind of person can fly through the air and leap over tall buildings? What kind of person can jump off a sky scraper and land at the bottom with little harm to them? When we compare Batman to another famous DC Comics superhero, such as Superman, he is only a man. He could be seen as the equivalent to the Marvel superhero Iron Man – both men in suits with a lot of money! However, I just don’t think that Iron Man can fit into the Gothic genre. Getting back to the comparison of Superman to Batman – when we see how the other superheroes have abilities that they acquired through genetics, radioactive disasters, coming from another planet… it makes Batman seem more supernatural as a superhero because he is human, like the rest of us; just someone that can survive 200ft drops and fly.
  6. High, even overwrought emotion. This speaks for itself. Batman is a deeply emotional character. He feels and expresses his anger, sorrow, love and terror terrifically. This is shown throughout the trilogy: when he can aggressively threaten and grip a criminal or enemy against the wall or when he isolates himself due to his river of emotion. A specific event is when he leaves America in Batman Begins to train as a criminal with Ra’s al Ghul, and when he realises that the League of Shadows is going to destroy Gotham; his moral attitude causes him to set the League’s temple on fire. This is because he is compassionate for his home and his emotions show that he does care – he cares enough to take such a risky and drastic action.
    “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” Come on, this is a brilliant line!
  7. Woman in distress. Everyone who has watched The Dark Knight trilogy will have seen Bruce Wayne’s love interest: Rachel Dawes. She was his childhood sweetheart and things could have worked out perfectly for them if Bruce’s twist in lifetime, the death of his parents, hadn’t occurred. Throughout the trilogy she has been that woman in distress – despite how she is fiercely independent and persistently curious – she has always needed Batman to rescue her. In Batman Begins, she was drugged by Scarecrow and Batman had to rescue her with an antidote. Again, in The Dark Knight, the Joker threatens her and pushes her out the window of a skyscraper and even goes so far as to kidnap her and set her within a trap for Batman. Is this not a woman in distress? Even Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises is in need of Batman’s help when she is surrounded by a cluster of criminals. This leads on to my next point:
  8. Woman threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male. Does the Joker fit into that description? He might not quite fit that description of ‘tyrannical’, but he does rule over the criminals of Gotham City within the palm of his hand. He can manipulate them all how he wants the playing field to be and crush them when they have betrayed him. He threatens Rachel’s life and therefore threatens Batman’s emotions.
  9. Gloom and horror. This is painted across the DC Comics world of Batman; death of loved ones, the death of villains and innocents, and the gloomy dread that hangs over Gotham City. We have the madness that stirs – Arkham Asylum being the house for the criminally insane. There are both physical and psychological terrors that range from the empowering fights to the nightmares crawling from the hallucinations of Scarecrow. Not to mention that Gotham is smothered by leading villains – all sadistic and mad. They challenge Batman’s strengths and test his weaknesses: Penguin, the Joker, Two-Face, The Riddler, and Harley Quinn… all are important aspects of the Gothic genre. I have already talked about Scarecrow, so let’s look at the others. Two-Face (Harvey Dent) creates a physical terror with his appearance: half of his face being burned and scorched, from the incident in The Dark Knight, and creating a psychological terror with the change in his attitude; one minute he is happy as Larry and then within the next he is as terrifying as the devil. Who wouldn’t find that at least a little bit scary?

The Joker, who famously looks like a clown, is no joke at all. We all love his favourite catchphrase “Why so serious?” I love this villain; he certainly has a sadistic sense of humour! And what about Harley Quinn? She works closely with the Joker – she was originally a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum treating the Joker and then fell in love with him. Her name is a play on the word ‘harlequin’ – a comical servant character. Also known to be a trickster and mischievous, which I think Harley Quinn does quite nicely.

Despite looking at a few of the villains, Batman is rather isolated and alone. The city sees him as a villain rather than a superhero – “Batman is the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs” which relates to a typical aching and suffering protagonist being of the Gothic genre.

So! We have looked at basic rules and compared them to Batman and Gotham City: we have a foreboding atmosphere, brooding weather, a prophecy of Wayne Enterprises, an emotional protagonist with a double identity, and villains that add to the decay of Gotham City. I’ll let you answer the earlier question: does Batman, and his world of Gotham City, fit into the criteria of the Gothic genre?

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About spectralvisions

Spectral Visions is an annual Gothic conference hosted by the University of Sunderland. It explores the dark, the decadent and the terrifying aspects of Gothic literature and language. This blog is a student-run initiative, where Visionaries showcase their creative talents and learning in short stories, poems and essays on the Gothic. You can follow us on Twitter at @spectralvisi0ns or like us on Facebook at facebook.com/uosgothic
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2 Responses to Is Gotham Goth-ic?

  1. ComicBoy says:

    So i found this artical through a friend, and i have to say i think it’s brilliant!! As a comic book lover i love this!! gothic isn’t really my stile, but the way the author has captured and compared them both really makes me want to read more! And what she said about a ‘ harlequin’ i never knew her name was a play on words, looks like you really do learn somthing new every day. I have saved this site and i hope to see alott more of her work in the future, If Miss Bird ever did go into publishing i would defently buy her work. Keep up the good work Emily!

    Like

  2. E.L. Wicker says:

    Great post, as a lover of all things superhero I really enjoyed it. When I saw the title to your blog post I nodded, yes. I think even the contemporary superheroes (as in the new TV shows) have a Gothic feel about them. Arrow, for example. I just get that feel when I watch it. We have his big house he used to live in, the (very annoying) damsel in distress, the scary enemies, and certainly high emotion. But it all ‘works’

    Liked by 1 person

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