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And promise we will be seeing Two-Face eventually
[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Tuesday's series premiere of Gotham Knights. Read at your own risk!]
James Stoteraux and Chad Fiveash, the executive producers and showrunners of Gotham Knights, know what you're thinking: "Seriously? Another superhero show on The CW?" But for the longtime writing and producing partners, whose previous forays into the DC universe have included Batwoman, Gotham, and Krypton, the decision to co-create Gotham Knights with co-executive producer Natalie Abrams was born out of a desire to tell a different kind of superhero story.
"The big thing for us was really trying to tell a story about people becoming heroes that have the least opportunity, the least financial resources," Stoteraux told TV Guide in a joint interview with Fiveash. "It's one thing to be decided to be the city savior when you're a billionaire who has access to incredible technology, who has resources to bulletproof supersuits, and the part that was very exciting to us was, 'Oh, let's take away all of the things that would make this easy, and let's actually make it even harder for our would-be heroes. Let's not have them embraced as heroes, but as hunted, wanted criminals." [We wanted] to tell a story from the bottom of Gotham's social stratosphere."
Tuesday's series premiere of Gotham Knights begins in the aftermath of Bruce Wayne's murder, with his rebellious adopted son, Turner Hayes (Oscar Morgan), forging an unlikely alliance with the children of Batman's enemies when they are all framed for killing the Caped Crusader. As Gotham's most wanted criminals, this group of misfits—who are on the run from district attorney Harvey Dent (Misha Collins), among many others—must work together to clear their names, even as Gotham descends into chaos without the protection of the Dark Knight.
Misha Collins Is Ready to Show Off His Dark Side As Harvey Dent on Gotham Knights
Creating a show around a disparate group of teenagers, who become unlikely heroes in Gotham, "added a certain element of danger that we liked," Fiveash said. "They do have some technology, but they're not the up-armored heroes that we often see. … We always refer to [them] as DIY superheroes. They'll have cool stuff; they're just gonna have to make it or steal it."
"The other aspect of Gotham's history that we did feel like was a space to really explore is Gotham's founding, and our season-long mystery will take us a little bit further back in time than I think we've dealt with before," Stoteraux added. "It felt like a fun opportunity to delve further back into the Wayne history. Martha and Thomas Wayne are very well covered, and we wanted to wind it back a little bit further and explore the history of Gotham."
Following the premiere, TV Guide called up Stoteraux and Fiveash to discuss how they are working to carve out their own space in Gotham while honoring the DC comics, as well as the season-long mystery that will involve the infamous criminal organization known as the Court of Owls.
One of the biggest creative changes that you've made for this version of Gotham, apart from killing off Batman at the start of the pilot, is creating Bruce Wayne's adopted son, Turner. Why did you want to invent a completely new character and build the show around him?
Stoteraux: That's a good question, because in the comics, Batman has had several [children], whether officially adopted or just emotionally adopted. So I think one of the big questions that a lot of people have is, "Why did you invent this one?" And strangely, it actually comes from wanting to be faithful to the comics, in the sense that Turner Hayes' journey goes in a very different direction than I think people are expecting.
Honestly, if we had done that surprising element with one of his other children—Dick Grayson, Jason Todd—I think that would have actually been disrespectful to those comic characters in a way. We would just be altering things. And for our mindset, one of the things that we've really embraced is if we're not gonna honor a character and really tell a faithful version of it, let's not do that, let's just invent our own.
Fiveash: We really didn't want to graft onto Turner Hayes the Dick Grayson story or Jason Todd story or any of the others, because I just don't think you can really do that and still honor what's so great about the comics.
Stoteraux: There have been so many incredible versions, and there are a lot of elements of the story that people know. I think even casual fans know Harvey Dent turns into Two-Face. So what's great about Turner Hayes is that he is an unknown, and it allows us to anchor the story in a way where there are certain elements that, okay, yes, you know how certain things are gonna probably play out, but at least with Turner Hayes and with some of the other characters that we've invented, it gives you a bit of a wild card. You don't know exactly where this is gonna go.
There are elements of this story that we are very faithfully adapting, and the challenge for us is making it fun for people that don't know, and [adding] surprising elements to the story for fans that are well-versed in the comics. Chad, Natalie and I are coming at this as huge fans of the source material and finding ways of honoring it, but also taking things in maybe a different direction and hopefully subverting those expectations.
In the pilot, we're introduced to the other characters who will become part of the group of Gotham Knights: Duela (Olivia Rose Keegan), the daughter of Joker; Turner's best friend, Stephanie Brown a.k.a. Spoiler (Anna Lore); Carrie Kelley a.k.a. Robin (Navia Robinson); and siblings Harper (Fallon Smythe) and Cullen Row (Tyler DiChiara). How did you want to go about building the rest of the ensemble, and how would you describe the dynamics within this band of misfits?
Stoteraux: Our goal here was to create an ensemble that was simultaneously people who are working together, but also a tinder box that feels like it can explode at any point. Cullen and Harper as siblings are bonded. But even when you meet [Cullen, Harper and Duela] in the middle of this break-in, they're not a well-oiled machine; they clearly don't like each other. So even within that sub-group, there is division, and their relationship is very much a kind of marriage of convenience—they're going along with a job simply to get money.
We begin with them as a unit that is dysfunctional, and then throw in the other characters from disparate backgrounds. They represent people that are living at the margins of Gotham's society, and then they're forced to team up with Turner who grew up not wealthy, but then for the last decade has been living in Wayne manor [with] all the trappings of wealth, and they look at him and see this incredibly privileged, rich kid. Their union, again, is a forced marriage of desperately having to work together to clear their names and survive.
Our joke is, they're gonna solve the murder of Bruce Wayne, if they don't kill each other first. And we're very intentionally starting them at a point where they're not actually terribly good at being thieves or even being heroes, and we really wanted to play into the fact that they were completely in over their heads, and that things often go wrong. They start from a position of, "Hey, we just want to clear our names," and then they slowly, episode by episode, find themselves forced into the role of being heroes. And what they come to realize is, through being thrown together by this kind of common tragedy and the death of Bruce Wayne, they may not like each other, but they need each other.
Even though they come from different backgrounds and have wildly different perspectives, the one thing they do have in common is they're living in the wake of their family's legacy. "Are we gonna follow in our parents' footsteps, or are we gonna challenge that direction? Are we gonna escape the traps that have been laid for us?" Turner will be finding himself in the position of, "Oh, my dad was Batman. Am I supposed to continue that legacy?" Duela is very much trying to both escape and live up to her father's legacy. Growing up as the Joker's daughter, people just assume you're completely evil and terrible, and from her perspective, she's like, "If everyone's gonna think I'm bad, I'm just gonna be the best bad person I can be."
There's a sense of dread that is established in the pilot when viewers are introduced to Harvey Dent because most fans know that he ultimately transforms into the supervillain Two-Face. It's just a question of when he makes that transformation, not if. How have you chosen to arc out this story, knowing that you would have to arrive at that conclusion for the character? Will we see that happen by the end of the season?
Fiveash: You will see Two-Face. Harvey Dent is, I think, the most tragic villain in the DC Comics universe because [of] his fall from grace, and there have been some really great portrayals of the Harvey Dent origin story in film—Tommy Lee Jones, Aaron Eckhart. Feature films have a certain amount of real estate, and they've got a lot of stuff to do in those two-and-a-half hours, but we knew that we had the opportunity and the challenge to really make this the definitive Harvey Dent origin story.
Stoteraux: You don't necessarily see it, but you do learn the origins of this tragedy, and it goes back to his own childhood and the way he was raised. So we get to unpack all of that and use the fact that the audience does know where the story ultimately goes, and then play with the fact that they don't know how we necessarily get there. [We wanted] to really infuse that journey with as much dread, but also this kind of pathos of really feeling for a guy who does strive to do the right thing and does really want to make Gotham a better place and bring a sense of justice to the city, but he ends up becoming one of its biggest villains.
And that's why casting Misha was so critical. We really wanted to not make the audience wait around for that moment, but to actually be in a place of [them] not wanting that moment to happen. The way we unfold this story—we tell it as a mystery—is a lot of fun, and there's also an unexpected romance there that I think audiences will find fun and certainly was some of our favorite stuff to write.
The final moments of the finale reveal that the Court of Owls is likely responsible for framing Turner and the rest of the Knights. What can you tease about how that mystery unfolds this season?
Stoteraux: We do reveal that our big villain is the Court of Owls and this cabal of elites that have ruled Gotham [since] its founding, and that was very much intentional. As TV viewers ourselves, we know the frustration of watching mysteries that feel like they're just dragging out one question after another, and that was [us] turning over a big card at the end of the pilot and our way of trying to make a pact with the audience that we're not gonna hold back. The story is gonna constantly be moving, so having them discover a huge lead at the end of the pilot was important. The fun of the Court of Owls is, okay, we do know it's the Court of Owls, but we do get to have a bit of fun with playing with who's behind those masks.
Fiveash: Being such big fans of mysteries, what we always try to do is, yes, we're gonna answer the questions along the way, but the answer will invariably bring up new questions that we need to answer.
Stoteraux: And we'll answer those questions. But the mystery is not moving in a totally linear direction. There is a huge clue in Episode 3 that the Knights themselves don't realize they've actually uncovered until I think five episodes later, and then it sort of loops back. All the puzzle pieces, in each episode, will be moving into place, but not necessarily in the order I think the audience is necessarily expecting. And with this sort of strong mystery drive, we can then branch off to tell more character stories. We will get to meet Stephanie Brown's family. We'll get to meet Carrie Kelley's mom.
Gotham Knights airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW.