DC Universe
DC Universe

Dark Metropolis

by Tess Trueheart 20 days ago in comics

Analyzing Gotham City

Dark Metropolis

The place is Gotham City, one of the great, enduring, visually stunning fictional cities in popular culture that originated in the pages of the comic book Batman.Gotham City, a colossal metropolis in the United States, functions as the dwelling of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, who protects the city against organized crime in the guise of his alter-ego, The Batman. Gotham's stark angles, creeping shadows, and dense, crowded, airless atmosphere have captured people's imaginations, both young and old,for decades. But Gotham City has moved outside of the pages of the comic book and evolved into an important symbol in fictional narrative.Gotham City establishes in the viewer’s psyche a gloomy playground into which ominous theories can be invested as he or she fully embraces the darker aspects of the imagination. This paper explores the history of Gotham City and the contextsin which it has adapted and thrived, with roots steeped in history and ever-changing architecture and atmosphere. Gotham City has been interpreted across various media for over 75 years and become one of the most iconic cities, not only in popular culture, but also the collective imagination.

Gotham City made its first appearance in Detective Comics #27 in May 1939(Fleisher xx)and was later named in Detective Comics #48, February 1941 (Fleisher xx)by writer Bill Finger. Washington Irving popularized the name,Gotham, a nickname for New York, in the 1807 November issue of his literary magazine, Salmagundi,in an effort to satirize New York culture and politics. Irving also sourced the legends of Gotham, Nottinghamshire, England, who were identified for their idiocy.(Lowbridge).He took that myth and applied it to New York. The connection between the two Gothamswas acknowledged in Batman Chronicles #6,explaining that Gotham City was initially built for the purpose of housing the criminally insane: "I even have a name for it. We could call it 'Gotham' after a village in England - where, according to common belief, all are bereft of their wits."(Lowbridge).How Gotham got its name outside the context of the comicslay at the feet of writer Bill Finger's desire to create a fictional city that any viewer from any location could identify. He thought over different names, but came to Gotham by chance: "Originally I was going to call Gotham City 'Civic City.' Then I tried 'Capital City,' then 'Coast City.' Then I flipped through the New York City phone book and spotted the name 'Gotham Jewelers' and said, 'That's it, Gotham City.”(Steranko xx).Ultimately, it was the right choice given that the character, Batman, was a dark and brooding antihero lurking in the shadows. Much as Superman's Metropolis reflects the optimistic configuration of the character’s structure, so does Batman’s homemirror his moody and agonizedpersona.Writer Frank Miller has his own interpretation of the psychological landscapes of these superhero twin cities: "Metropolis is New York in the daytime; Gotham City is New York at night." (Bopik).Batman is a dark, gritty figure because he comes from a foreboding, dark metropolis. Superman is uplifting and positive as Metropolis is a sprawling, optimistic, futuristic city of tomorrow. Initially the atmosphere of Gotham City was a reflection of the 1930s and 40s, which saw a plethora of true-crime noir cinema tales with gangsters and bleaker tones. But this would shift and change in thepost-war years as the comic book code was enforced upon the editing staff and the true-crime angle shifted more towards a lighter tone in the 1950s and 60s.With the caped crusader's adventures dealing much more with the fanciful science fiction tales that popularized the 1950s, the character of Batman would shift in the 1960s to a much campier and more comedic tone with the Adam West Batman TV series that ran on ABC for three seasons.(Fleisher xx).But it wasn't untilthe early 1970s that DC comics hired reporter Dennis O'Neil, who became the main writer on the Batman title. He wanted to bring elements of realism to the world of Batman so he shifted the portrayal of Gotham to become a grittier, more foreboding metropolis, rife with crime, grime, corruption, and a deep-seated sense of urban decay.In his own words, Gotham City is "Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November." (O'Neil).

His reconfiguration would become the most influential on post 70s creative teams, both in the comic book medium as well as film and television. But over time, O'Neil's realism was diluted and overwrought with exaggerated darker tones; in the late 1990s, Gotham became an unlivable urban nightmare. The strong gloomy attitude and atmosphere would come to a boiling point in a story arcthat described a major earthquake hitting Gotham City. The U.S. Government officially evacuated Gotham, abandoning and isolating those who chose to remain. "No Man’s Land" illustrated a visual of Gotham, lawless and bleak in its effects on the lives of the occupants of the city, explaining all proceedings from the time of isolation to re-opening and rebuilding.(Dixon xx).

In the early 2000s, writer Grant Morrisonwould take on a new form of urban renewal and this brought Gotham back into the land of the living:

"If Gotham was so bloody awful, no one normal would live there and there'd be no one to protect from criminals. If Gotham really was an open sewer of crime and corruption, every story set there would serve to demonstrate the complete and utter failure of Batman's mission, which isn't really the message we want to send, is it? You've got Batman and all his allies as well as Commissioner Gordon and the city still exudes a vile miasma of darkness and death? I can't buy that. It's simply not realistic and flies in the face of in-story logic (and you know I like my comics realistic!) so my artists and I have taken a different tack and we want to show the cool, vibrant side of Gotham, the energy and excitement that would draw people to live and visit there.

This was a stark contrast to the dark crime-ridden landscapes of the 1970s upwards. Grant Morrison's approach to Gotham allowed Batman to conduct the war on crime in a more practical city.

The character and ambiance of Gothamare integral to the fictional cityscape. Under the direction of different editors and film directors, artists and writershave taken the structure and architectural workings of the city and given it its own distinctive look and feel that is ever-shifting, with the comings and goings of creative teams. From Denny O' Neil to Christopher Nolan, interpreters of Gotham City's buildings and structures have leaned more towards the realistic architectural periods and styles using exaggerated characteristics, layering them one on top of the other, retrofitting Gothic cathedrals with huge Art Nouveau statuary, and combining elements of futuristic Japanese architectural influences with massive Greek statues to represent a threatening metropolis.

In 1989, art director Anton Furst was given the task of fully realizing a dark cinematic vision for Tim Burton's Batman. This would be the first on-screen shadowy interpretation of Gotham City; he wanted to "make Gotham City the ugliest and bleakest metropolis imaginable." (Furst).

With intricate flying buttresses intertwined with Art Deco structures, huge skyscrapers cast shadows over the city reaching up towards the bleak moonlight: a darkly baroque visual cityscape.

Over the course of time,many of these visual cues have become clichéd. By the time Joel Schumacher was on board to direct Batman Forever(Fleisher xx), Gotham City was bright with neon and colossal Greek male bodies

incorporated into buildings and various structures. A hint of influence from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner(Schumacher)utilizes neon-bathed clusters of advertising, high-tech mega-structures and huge chemical plants that co-exist with enormous buildings and a crumbling urban backdrop; the bright colors are enhanced when contrasted alongside the bleakness of the surroundings. But by the time of Schumacher’s second turn around, Batman's universe had become a Gotham City overwrought with unrealistic visuals.

Schumacher’s interpretation proved to be unfavourable with most audiences, not only for the visuals.Batman and Robin(Schumacher)was not a commercially successful film, so the studio decided to put the Batman franchise on hiatus. It wasnot until it was rebooted and restructured by Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight(Reeves)that it took on a new and improved vision. Many people credit this to the world that he and his creative team fashioned. He took it upon himself to give the city a more realistic depiction, choosing not to shoot in soundstages, but rather in the real world.Nolan and his art director,Nathan Crowley, drew elements for Gotham from Hong Kong, Chicago, New York City, and Tokyo.

Rather than creating a gloomy amalgamation of different styles on the studio backlot,the crew filmed on location in Chicago districts, giving the city a different impression and life. The Chicago backdrop does not appear as art-directed, created sets, but rather as realistic structures that have their own built-in history and life. The viewers understand that the structures carry real concrete weight, and they realize that this contrasts with prior Gotham interpretations where structures were exaggerated using different artistic styles. They are not distracting to the eye but blend naturally and seamlessly, creating a world that a fantastical character, like the Dark Knight, can realistically inhabit. However, although the shooting location for The Dark Knight Rises(Reeves)had changed from Chicago to Pittsburgh, Nolan's alternative vision of Gotham still retains its realism and urban landscape, adding to the overall mythology of the fictional city.

Gotham Citys has become immersive space in culture and,just as the character Batman himself reforms and reconfigures through different media platforms, so does the city because it is so closely tied to the character.Now, viewers are not only able to experience Gotham through the pages of comic books or on cinema screens, butalso the very popular Batman Arkham Asylum videogame series(McWhertor), which allows characters to navigate through the city, scaling rooftops and jumping off buildings.And yet to premiere is a Gotham TV series,(IMDb), which focuses on the character of James Gordon as well as Bruce Wayne before he was Batman. This is an interesting aspect of how a fictional world, which is influenced by the real world, can take on a different plane of existence in a collective mind. The thinking of artists and writers blend equal parts of architecture and the living out of human stories to shape and form an imaginary amalgamation of archetypes and images the collective mind of a wide audience into a hyper-realized shadowy realm created with darker shades. How we perceive and create art is a direct response to how we live out our daily lives. We flesh out and make sense of our own experiences from a collage within our minds in order to fully understand life as we live it. Since Batman is inescapably one of the most recognizable and popular characters throughout the world,;his adventures and universe are attractive and luring to the audience. He exists in a dark and brutal world,yet one with redeemable factors. Even though Batman's Gotham is a vicious world, it is saveable and, in a way, safe because within reality we know that there is not a dark knight hiding within the shadows to protect us and look over us like a veiled Guardian Angel. “Imagination-runs-wild” architecture is allowed to fully grow like an uncontrollable life form. City planning is not a concern. Gotham is a city allowed to grow without the boundaries of reality holding it back. This allows spectators to themselves into a different place:the constantly shape-shifting world of Gotham City, which embodies their own fears of metropolitan brutality.

The influences of ever-growing landscapes and their authority on contemporary sensibilities are felt in the awareness of the community. People are more and more coming to form collective interconnections both local and worldwide. Imagined landscapes can no longer be looked upon as inanimate foundations;the background to modern daily living is filled with escape into fictional societies and out of context. It should be recognised that fiction is reformed by our actual reality, taking apart different aspects of our daily lives in restructuring itself within our fictional canon. The fictional existence isa contributing factor in the construction ofourcontextual scenery. The understanding of how and why Gotham City is a projection of a darkened cultural landscape mirrors our own social urban anxieties. Different creative teams take the task upon themselves to look outside their windows and pick and choose different aspects of our world to use within the fictional universe that has grown over 75 years into its own fully formed, ever shifting universe that we can feel upon hearing the title of the city:.Gotham:. We can form a three-dimensional picture within our minds and muster all the senses necessary to fully experience this fictional place. We know its architecture. We know its bleak tones; we know that it's cold. We get a sense of its surroundings and its sounds.We can place ourselves there. And even though it is dark and a little frightening,we know that a figure is watching over us, protecting us even though we have the spectator’s vantage point of reality, safe from fiction. Even if we did exist within this fictional realm,there is a dark, brooding avenger watching over us in protecting us. This is the attractive nature to the darker aspects of Gotham's daily life. We like to experience fear. It is a built-in aspect of our genetic makeup. We want to feel her blood rush in a primal level, but yet at a safe point. We gravitate to the dark forest because we don't know what secrets it might hold. Gotham is the modern-day version of the darkened scary forest. Powerfully, she draws spectators to the bleak pleasures of the universe in which the characters who populate Batman's world exist.

Appropriately Christopher Nolan closes out his Dark Knight trilogy with this passage from A Tale of Two Cities, read by James Gordon

This passage is integral to Christopher Nolan's vision of Gotham City,which has Bruce Wayne’s psychological construction closely tied to the urban landscape of his homecity. He witnessed his parents’ murder at a very young age.(Fleisher ).The perpetrator of this crime was a desperate homeless man, a product of Gotham’s economic decline. Thus the character of Batman is a product of his environment because of this unfortunate tragedy. Deep within the dark streets of the metropolis this eventmoved the character to take on the task of obsessively tempering his body and mind to crime-fighting perfection. Gotham is a key element of the Batman mythos and will always be locked to it. Even though it may take on different shapes, sizes and tones, much as the Batman character does, Gotham City will remain intact as an integral part of the mythology of the character. Gotham City is an achievement of the imagination assembled from our darkest urban fears.

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Tess Trueheart
Tess Trueheart
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