If we assume that cultures are created and transmitted by fairy tales we should also admit that nowadays those tales are often movies and tv series, and not only books. Gotham and Gomorra to this regards sound to me like twins that explain America (USA) and Italy, protestant and catholic cultures, or spirits, even though the latter is strictly based on hard facts and the first is pure fiction.
Gotham is an unexpected tell-tale to me. Frankly, I’ve never understood why a hero should be a bat, instead of a lion, a puma, a cougar or any other rapid and cool animal (preferably a catlike, of course). Batman movies, and even a forgettable tv series broadcasted in Italy when I was a child, are countless, and I scarcely got the cool in it. Too dark, too flat, too plotless. This prequel makes a sense of all and tells me why it is liked so much by American people. Batman is the protestant hero, as anyone in Gomorra may be a catholic hero or anti-hero, as in Catholicism we are all sinners. Two different versions of good and evil.
Let me explain how I decline this old sociological clash in a half serious matter. Gotham is the scene of the primordial America: a not-nation without cities, made of farmers and pilgrims full of hope and religion laden grudge. Whatever is urban, which in Italian is synonymous of civil and polite, in Gotham (like in many other narrations, let’s cite only Devil’s Advocate) is vice. The assumption in “what was before Batman”, is corruption, but even goodwill to defeat it. Villains – that etimologically means from the countryside, poor and rude, and therefore bad people – are not vicious people. Not only. In the prequel Gotham is infested by pre-villains who pursue evil in order to correct Gotham from evil. The Balloon man or the woman who uses hypnosis act in the name of de-infestation from politics and capitalists (evil in their minds). Both are worthy of some comparison with Dante’s depiction and representation of sins and their eventual punishments. (Yep, the tale is pretty good.) So why this use of evil is evil, if it is to defeat evil? My answer is that American culture and society are based on money, Calvinistic capitalism: if you are at the top of the hill, you may be labeled as filthy by the others as a matter of envy, but you must never destroy or overturn it. Actually, this would be even very socialist! Let’s turn to how characters were before Batman begun.
Penguin for instance. Penguin is son to a weird mother and he is fatherless. He is seriously lame and has everything to be a perfect underdog, since he got a dark or punk style (can’t say exactly). Nonetheless he is one of the most terrible villain. Why, and how? He develops hate and angriness from being considered a cripple and uses the underestimation people have upon him to destroy each of them, any time. He is a subtle and magnificent strategist whose main move was to swear loyalty to the main boss. Penguin is himself through deceiving, through committing evil and trying to have an upgrade. Career redeems him; career is his sin.
Cat(-woman) is a young orphan. How can she be guilty if the first theft she does is some milk for a cat and only later food for her? As Penguin she doesn’t begin as a villain. She develops this on the basis of her social conditions. As far as I can see, Cat tries only to defend herself, until her frustration toward the bat-boy is greater than her. None would deny these villains became so due to their doom. On the contrary, if this would be an excuse in a catholic context, in a protestant mode this is the explanation and confirmation of their predestination. They are villain as a by-product predestination, but they are the rot of society.
Dr. Edward Nigma is another underdog, nerd version. He is a good guy, but none takes care about his professionalism and cleverness. He may solve hard problems, he may be very useful to the cause of his job to anyone, but people dislike him. As his love for a colleague cannot find a proper dating and he is continuously belittled, he starts to become a villain. He finds his identity from riddling, to try to appear cool to riddle. His main ridiculous nerdy behavior turns to be his main vicious patterns. In order to be fatally noticed he will use riddles. If being good is nerd, being gimmickly bad will convey popularity. The moment of free will, when people realize to be able to become villain, is the moment of realizing a plot of vendetta.
[Upper class bat-boy in this peculiar Bildunsroman: he gets legitimation by discovering that vendatta is worth if you are to adjust a wrongdoing (and you must adjust things)]
I might continue, but I guess this is the point: in Gotham people who are in lower social and human conditions try to release themselves. On the other side they find the system, embodied by the wealthiest, who oppose them. In Gotham reality is a struggle between who got a position (mostly in a dishonest way) and who try to rob it. For instance the green gas commissioned by the rich class to make the perfect soldier is delivered to them to make them understand and taste the evil they made. But in Gotham, even only to show that richness and power were got through evil is in se a greater evil. In Gomorra evil another story. Evil is told, described, and anyone may aspire naturally to be part of the big mob as it is the only way to emerge from misery. Contrapositions are between negative heroes, and the few good are marginal characters.
Between the two, I enjoyed much much more Gotham. It is fiction, it is far. Gomorra is reality, is almost home, is a sort of perversion I sadly understand better. I can dream about New York (or any other American skyline with skyscrapers), I cannot dream about the negative heroes of suburbs of Napoli. And, what is more, I – personally – cannot call them neither negative heroes. They are not heroes at all, and they are … vile. Indeed they are nothing but brave-less.