Bruno Heller, the showrunner for next season's highly anticipated Gotham series from Fox, has confirmed that he intends to features a slew of Batman villains in the television show — including The Joker — and believes his show will "surpass the [Christopher Nolan] Batman movies."
"In terms of what [director and executive producer Danny Cannon and director of photography David Stockton] are doing — visually — Gotham will surpass the Batman movies," he said. "The movies are a very rigorous, kind of Germanic take on that world. They’re visually stunning, but not particularly visually pleasurable. I would say this is much more on the street level of Gotham. There’s more people, it’s a more colorful place, it’s a more vivid place, it’s more crowded. The inspiration for me and Danny was New York in the ’70s, because we both remember that as a seminal moment, coming to the city for the first time. This is very much that kind of Gotham — intensely visual and three-dimensional and layered and gritty and dirty and sexy and dangerous."
Gotham takes place when Bruce Wayne is a boy whose parents have just been murdered, and Heller called young actor David Mazouz "without a doubt, the best actor to ever play the part of Bruce Wayne."
"Frankly, before David was cast, I was ambivalent about how much we would use Bruce Wayne in the series," Heller said. "Like I say, he’s off-the-charts talented. So I’m hoping to use him as much as his mum will allow us to, and in the kind of stories you’d imagine. It’s not going to be young Bruce Wayne going out and saving the day, because that’s not what kids do. It’s about the strange education of this young man. He has a good idea of where he’s going early on. But it’s about the growth of this young man."
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Heller said all of the first season is already mapped out, and the series will feature not only young Bruce Wayne and rookie cop Jim Gordon, but also Harvey Bullock, the Penguin, Riddler, young Catwoman, Poison Ivy, former "tough marine" Alfred Pennyworth, and others — and "possibly Harvey Dent." The series will show what "inspired" the villains to eventually become their older selves.
Heller said Jada Pinkett Smith, who plays the "pre-iconic villain," Fish Mooney, doesn't evolve into a different character (as some fans have suspected), but "gives a performance that will surprise and shock people.
Citing The Killing Joke as his favorite story (although emphasizing that this TV series will "start fresh," going in a different direction than any comic), he also said the Joker will eventually be introduced to the series.
"He’s the crown jewel of the Batman villains," Heller said. "He will be brought in with great care and a lot of thought."
Heller acknowledged that Heath Ledger's portrayal in The Dark Knight was "a wonderful performance," but said "you can’t get into doing this without going there."
"It will be a different character [from the one in the movies]. It’s certainly going to be more Heath Ledger than Cesar Romero," he said.
Heller admitted Gotham has a darker tone than most network shows, and said its prequel story gives it an advantage over series like Agents of SHIELD.
"Not to comment on Agents of SHIELD, but [the SHIELD agents] are in the same temporal space as their superheroes. So while watching it, I imagine you feel, well, it’s kind of mean not to show us Thor. If Thor is there in the next room, or the next town, why not come by and see us?" he said.
"For Gotham, if we could bring Batman in to say hello, he’d say hello," Heller said. "It’s not that the celebrities are in the VIP lounge while you’re out front wondering where they are. In this case, the heroes aren’t 'born' yet. They’re kids. I am cognizant of that as an issue. But look: Most stories that people tell don’t have Batman in them. You’ve just got to make the story you tell as compelling as it can be."
The focus of the show will be Detective Jim Gordon, but Heller said the series will be serialized — not procedural, as some fans might expect from a police story.
"There’s a procedural framework for it, but the world of Gotham is too big and operatic and complex to do it any other way but serialized," he said.
"The stories have to be as large and compelling as the city it’s set in," Heller added. "That’s not to say that you couldn’t do a straight-up police procedural. But, for instance, because we are following the villains as well as the police, you’re already breaking out of that procedural mold."
The screenwriter is happy to be working on a Batman story that doesn't have Batman — even saying that he's more fascinated by Gotham than the hero himself.
"I don’t think Batman works very well on TV — to have people behind masks," Heller said. "Frankly, all those superhero stories I’ve seen, I always love them until they get into the costume. And then it’s, 'Oh, OK, they’ve ascended, they’ve stopped becoming humans.'
"We want to see people’s faces," he said. "TV is about emotion and character, not stunts and special effects. This is a way of entering that world in a fresh way."
Heller said he'd been talking to DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns for "a few years" about doing "something in the DC canon," and he eventually pitched the idea behind Gotham by posing the question: What if young James Gordon was the detective who investigated the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents?
"Once you make that connection," he said, "it opened up a whole world of storytelling that we realized hadn’t really been looked at before, which is the world before Batman — the world of Gotham, young Bruce Wayne and young James Gordon and the origin stories of the villains."
In Gotham, viewers will see "a world that's going to become that familiar world of Batman, but it's not there yet. It's an embryo.
"Penguin, for instance, is not a powerful gang leader; he’s a gofer for a gangster," he said.
The writer, who was behind the acclaimed Rome on HBO, compared the Bat-universe to Greek and Roman mythology — and then insinuated that he's not following an existing story, but creating a unique universe just for Gotham.
"There are so many iterations of the story and so many great versions [that] there is no one road to go down. And if you stick to one of those roads, then you lose other parts you could go down. I read everything I could and then — I didn’t throw it away, but I started fresh. I would hate to pick a particular Batman iteration because I would be dismissing others. But for me, The Killing Joke was one of the great ones in the comic books. Obviously the [Frank] Miller version [The Dark Knight Returns], as well."
Heller said the final scene of the series would be "something like" Bruce Wayne putting on the cowl. "But that's six or seven years down the line, hopefully