Oh, no, I’m not done with this thing yet. After 2.5 freakin’ hours of this mess, there’s a lot to untangle. So my third criterion in analyzing a storytelling failure is the setting. I will admit in some movies the setting is largely irrelevant. Clueless was an adaptation of Emma set in 1990’s Los Angeles and that was just fine. However, the comic book mythos the filmmakers were trying (and failing) to capture, the setting is very important.
Disclaimer – I’m not a fan of this show. That said, I’m going to try to be fair in my criticism.
Originally this show was pitched as a police procedural with Jim Gordon before Batman appeared on the scene. I liked that concept and I was interested in it. Then the pilot starts with the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents (with a bonus appearance by L’il Catwoman). That was when I realized this was not going to be a police procedural with Jim Gordon in his quest to try to keep some semblance of justice in a corrupt city. The show was a prequel series. Oh dear.
is, “Location, location, location.” So I have to wonder why do fictional characters live in objectively terribly places? Obviously there is a story reason for it, but some places are just so terrible the characters must be oblivious to the horror of their hometown. Or else they really can’t figure out how to get out of there, and maybe that’s the real tragedy. So here’s a short list of some terrible places to never live, because odds are you won’t live there very long…
1) Arkham, Mass. – this was Lovecraft’s favorite setting, and Arkham Sanitarium was the inspiration for Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum. While on the surface Arkham was just a sleepy little New England town, terrible things lurked under the surface (sometimes literally). Miskatonic University housed a copy of the Necronomicron, the book of the evil dead. The colour from out of space landed in a farm field nearby. The citizens know the town is full of dark legends and horrors and seem to accept that bad things are just going to happen, and for all that, they just don’t leave.
Of course, this one is a ringer. Arkham is meant to be a horror town, and the citizens’ awareness of the nature of their town only increases the horror factor.
2) Sunnydale – it’s on a Hellmouth, so of course it’s awful. While not the demons-spewing-forth-and-corrupting-the-land type of Hellmouth (see “Diablo I” and “Diablo II“), the more passive Sunnydale Hellmouth instead seems to attract all kinds of evil to the little suburb. Vampires and demons flock to Sunnydale. There are all sorts of cursed artifacts just lying about and even worse monsters just waiting for someone to wake up/disturb. And Sunnydale has just one super-powered individual to handle all the evil (well, two, but that was an accident, and up until the seventh season, they were the only ones for the entire world). Granted, Buffy had help, but still, she had homework too.
And like the folks in Arkham, the kids at least in Sunnydale seemed to realize they were trapped in some horror-movie town. Buffy didn’t win Homecoming Queen, but she did get a special award for reducing the fatality rate in the high school to a record low. Why the hell were people still living there? Of course, this one is still something of a ringer. Much of “Buffy” makes fun of these horror tropes, including the fact people still live in places that are horror-movie towns.
3) Gotham City – I know, pretty much any world with superheroes means that world is in jeopardy on a semi-regular basis. But Gotham City is damp, dirty, and crime-ridden. It always seems to be raining there, or just finished raining, or just about to rain. There are lots of garbage-strewn alleyways. The police force is understaffed and it seems to have more than any superhero-world city’s fair share of dangerous criminals. The criminal justice system seems particularly broken, as well as the mental health institutions. Of course, when those two broken systems combine, forming Arkham Asylum, well, that place is so poorly run it might as well have a revolving door. Either the guards are largely incompetent or the psychiatric staff are largely incompetent. I very much like the depictions of Gotham citizens in “B:TAS.” In one of the late season episodes, “The Creeper,” the title character (the hero version of the Joker) barges into a clothing store for a costume, the customers scatter but the sales clerk does her job without a hint of surprise or panic. It’s like she’s used to such things…
Batman has a whole family of helpers to work with him to manage Gotham, and it just doesn’t seem to get any better. The citizens of Gotham are victims of narrative convention. If Gotham actually gets better, Batman and Co. have nothing to do so there are no stories to tell. Still, in the context of the world, the citizens have got to be thinking there’s someplace else to go. But then again, Gotham City is supposed to be damp, dark, and crime-ridden.
4) New York City (Marvel) – switching universes doesn’t help too much. Now, in DC Metropolis has a problem with big baddies going to town (literally) to prove themselves against Superman. NYC has this problem times about 150. The Avengers and the Fantastic Four are both headquartered in NYC. Also, most reservist Avengers live in NYC and the X-men have headquarters close enough to drive to NYC for day trips. Dr. Strange (the on again, off again Sorcerer Supreme) lives in Greenwich Village. For a while (and perhaps again, I’m not sure), Luke Cage and Iron Fist ran a company called “Heroes for Hire,” which did exactly what you think with that name. Such a high concentration of superheroes make it virtually guaranteed there will be some kind of supervillain attack and/or alien invasion and/or magic invasion. Or Mr. Fantastic’s latest invention will go horribly wrong.
And like Gotham City, despite the very high concentration of superheroes, the crime rate in NYC doesn’t seem to be improving. Daredevil spends most his time patrolling Hell’s Kitchen and Spider-man covers a lot of the rest of the city. The presence of Heroes for Hire didn’t seem to make a dent either. For me, NYC in Marvel has the most inexplicable in-context normalcy. Arkham is meant to be a horror town. So is Sunnydale, to some degree. Gotham City is supposed to be Dark and Edgy. But NYC is supposed to be pretty much the same bustling hub that it is in the real world, except, of course, all the bad things that happen. Insurance rates must be astronomical.
But hey, people have to live somewhere, right? But in some cases, they’d probably just be better off living somewhere else.