Batman is considered one of the greatest superheroes in the world and his relationship with Gotham City is an essential part of the character. Batman can be seen as an extension of Gotham, with his actions shaping his home as much as it shapes him. The city itself has a long history, with it drawing comparisons to New York and Chicago. Gotham is a place of corruption, darkness and desolation. But where does the name come from and how was it founded? The Comic Vault is taking a look into the seedy underbelly of arguably the most famous city in pop culture.
The New Jersey connection
Originally, Batman’s home was meant to be New York City, but writer Bill Finger chose to come up with a fictional location.
“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. We didn’t call it New York because we wanted anybody in any city to identify it.”
Over the years, Gotham has been compared to many real life locales, but the city’s traditional location has been established as New Jersey. This has been backed up by several sources. In 1977, publisher Mark Gruenwald indicated Gotham is located in New Jersey in Amazing World of DC Comics #14. New Jersey was also confirmed as Gotham’s location in 1979’s World’s Finest Comics #259.
Atmosphere and architecture
The atmosphere of Gotham has been likened to 1940s Chicago, due to the perpetual criminal element. Other atmospheric themes include urban decay, hopelessness and supernatural influences. Gotham has been depicted as a sentient being, testing the people that live within it. Batman has referred to his home as having a ‘dark heart’ and it feeding on the misery of the citizens.
Gotham’s architecture can be described as part of the Gothic Revival style, as the city features many gargoyles and cathedrals. There is a mix of old and new architecture, which creates a sense of the past being an ever-present force. This ties into Batman’s crusade, as he is unable to let go of the past, constantly reliving the murder of his parents. Even so, Bruce Wayne is determined to create a brighter future for his home, developing modern structures that stand out among the Gotham skyline. Notable Gotham locations include Wayne Tower, Gotham Cathedral, Crime Alley, Arkham Asylum and Ace Chemicals.
A city built on wealth and corruption
Alan Moore is responsible for writing the history of Gotham City. In Swamp Thing #53, Moore established Gotham was founded in 1635 by a Norwegian mercenary called Captain Jon Logerquist. The British took it over, though it was liberated by the time of the American Revolutionary War.
From the very beginning, Gotham was linked with the supernatural. In Peter Milligan’s ‘Dark Knight, Dark City’ arc, the American Founding Fathers were responsible for summoning a bat-demon that became trapped beneath the city foundations. This could possibly be why Gotham has been described as feeling alive.
During the American Civil War, Gotham was defended by an ancestor of the Penguin. The Cobblepots and The Waynes have been linked to Gotham throughout the centuries. Ancestors of Batman, Penguin and Hush are identified as founding members in 2011’s Batman: Gates of Gotham series. Alan Wayne, Theodore Cobblepot and Edward Elliot constructed three major bridges in 1881. Elliot became increasingly jealous of the Wayne family’s popularity, a trait passed down to Hush.
In the modern day, Gotham faced several issues. A major crisis happened in the 1998 story ‘Cataclysm,’ with a massive earthquake destroying the city. This led to the government cutting Gotham off from the rest of the US. In 1999’s ‘No Man’s Land,’ the remaining citizens are forced into gang warfare in order to survive. Gotham was eventually rebuilt by Lex Luthor, who used the goodwill generated to become President of the United States.
Despite the many perils of Gotham City, Batman has never stopped fighting for and against his home. The Dark Knight shares a symbiotic relationship with the city, as it seems neither can exist without the other. Batman will continue to overcome the challenges Gotham throws at him, and as a result, it makes him a more effective crime-fighter.