Ever since Frank Miller's comic The Dark Knight Returns, Batman has sloughed off his primary-coloured carapace of camp, and wrapped himself in a cape of black. From moody Michael Keaton to yet moodier Christian Bale, as well as the violently bleak Arkham Asylum video game, Batman is defined by conflict and self-doubt, where his idealism is constantly jaded by evil. And now Gotham, a new live-action TV series from Fox, is set to keep everything similarly rainswept and gunmetal.
The first trailer has been posted on YouTube, and it sets its stall out as being the ultimate origins story. It follows the eventual Commissioner Gordon from his induction into the police force, and his quest to find the killers of Bruce Wayne's parents. Along the way he will encounter Catwoman, The Riddler, Poison Ivy and Penguin, all also embarking on their criminal careers, while young Wayne uses the deaths as the crucible for his transformation into Batman.
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Its first problem is of course that it's in the shadow of one of the most blockbustingly successful film franchises ever, and their mega-budgets – this can't help but look a little flat by comparison. As with Marvel's TV spinoff Agents of SHIELD, you also need to conquer the feeling that this is a lazy cash-in or mere nerd-pandering.
If like SHIELD the show can cleverly flesh out the fictional universe, it could yet succeed. The Bale films worked by placing the cool, almost bland Wayne against the outrageous villainy of the Joker, Bane et al; here, Gordon is the flint for the villains to create sparks from. He's played by Ben McKenzie, the gruffly hunky blank slate from The OC and Southland; Jada Pinkett-Smith as nightclub owner Fish Mooney, along with the aforementioned baddies, look set to be loopily cartoonish around his stolid centre. With vivid, talky scripting, it could carve out a niche away from the grandly sweeping drama of the films.
But does the world really need another Batman origin story, especially one painted in the same greys as Miller used nearly 30 years ago? What would be more radical is to attempt what Joel Schumacher did in the 90s and update the high camp of the earlier TV series and comic strips, dialling up the latent screwball mania of the Batman universe, which, as Jim Carrey and Danny De Vito proved, can still be lethally creepy. After the inevitably dark Batman and Superman film that's in the works, it would be good to see a little more light and shade brought to Gotham City.