Gotham (the TV series) is a prequel to Detective Comics #27. It chronicles the teenage years of Bruce Wayne after his parents are killed and before he puts on the batsuit.
Gotham: Dawn of Darkness (the novel) is a prequel to the TV show. It adds further context to the primordial muck that helps create Batman. It’s a fine book, perhaps better than most TV tie-in efforts. But there are scant few secrets to unlock. The circumstances leading to that fateful night when Thomas and Martha Wayne were gunned down in Crime Alley were, and would always be, a series of unfortunate events.
But prequels are fun. And we wouldn’t be surprised if more prequels were in the works. Why not? Let no stone be left unturned. Let’s go all the way back to medieval Europe. Undoubtedly Rowan and Isolde Wayne displayed personality quirks during the Crusades that are still relevant to the ongoing Batman saga.
In the meantime, author Jason Starr has written a novel about Bruce Wayne’s star-crossed parents. It’s a pretty grim tale. Thomas, in particular, was a clueless dumbbell. How did he ever become the richest man in Gotham City? He displayed no business acumen or intellectual intensity at all. At work he was facing heat from the board of directors. And his coworkers dismissed him as irrelevant.
His personal life wasn’t much better. He’d rather spend time in his “man cave” than with his beautiful wife. And during two separate occasions, Alfred Pennyworth had to shoot a couple of hoodlums to keep his employer safe. It’s a good thing the family’s manservant spent time with England’s Corps of Royal Marines and Scotland Yard – he literally possessed a license to kill.
To make matters worse, the Wayne patriarch makes a bad decision every time he turns around. He consorts with Dr. Hugo Strange, he hires a slovenly detective with a gambling problem to handle his private affairs, and inexplicably he encourages his family to walk down an alley late at night in a bad part of town. Truly, the guy was a bad judge of character and had no common sense whatsoever.
On the upside, it’s nice to discover that Detective Harvey Bullock was delightfully boorish even as a younger man. Without a doubt, Bullock is our favorite character from the TV show, and the author does a great job translating his gruff behavior to prose. He’s big and loud and horny and endlessly entertaining. Also great is Amanda Wong, his “ninja sidekick.” She’s a pistol, no doubt about it.
As you’d expect, Gotham: Dawn of Darkness is filled to the brim with a gaggle of crazy screwballs, most notably Fish Mooney, Oswald Cobblepot, and Edward Nygma. You can even see Selina Kyle in the shadows if you squint hard enough. No matter how eccentric they may be, however, these characters take a back seat to the drama at Wayne Manor.
But that’s the way it should be, right? We’d love to read novels about the early years of the Penguin, the Riddler, and Catwoman (DC’s Super Villain High School, perhaps?), but in this particular story they’re just a small piece of the Gotham miasma.
“Things are getting worse in Gotham,” said Martha as a swirl of bad luck clung to her. “We’re living in a dying city.” She’s right of course. Her hometown was a pit. But she didn’t know the half of it. All Gothamites (including her 14-year-old son) were prone to perversity, depravity, and decadence. “Everyone in Gotham is whacked!” said Bullock.
[Gotham: Dawn of Darkness / By Jason Starr / First Printing: January 2017 / ISBN: 9781785651458]