DC Comics tied together Gotham City Police Commissioner James “Jim” Gordon and Batman together, back in the very beginning, in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. In fact, Commissioner Gordon appears in the very first panel of the first Batman story, “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.” He doesn’t get a first name in that story, and they described him simply as “Commissioner Gordon.” But it is in his home that we meet Bruce Wayne. So from the start, these two crime fighters were inextricably linked. And James Gordon’s eight decades of comics history are just as interesting as the Bat’s.
A Bat-Ally From the Very First Panel
Created by writer Bill Finger, with perhaps some input from Bob Kane, they named the character for Commissioner James W. “Wildcat” Gordon, also known as “The Whisperer,” a 1930s pulp novel character. In those very early Batman stories of the ’40s, Gordon hated having a caped vigilante around in Gotham. He loathed the way Batman took the law into his own hands, making his own police force look like fools. But in Batman #7, the Dark Knight and Gordon come to an understanding, and realize working together is better for everyone. So Gordon deputized him, officially making Batman a vigilante no more and thus beginning their history working together.
Gordon was a linchpin of almost every Batman story from there on out. He essentially served as Batman’s “boss,” in a manner of speaking. This portrayal extended into the 1949 Batman and Robin serial, and definitely into the Batman TV series in 1966. Although Gordon always called Batman on his red Bat phone, in every episode, The Dynamic Duo reported to him. In those first several decades of Batman comics, they did not give Gordon much of a personal life. Or almost any hints to an existence outside of police work. But that all changed in 1966, with the arrival of Batgirl. Who just so happened to be Gordon’s own daughter.
Gordon’s Crime-fighting Daughter
In late 1966, the producers of the Batman TV series came to DC, asking them to create a new female hero to incorporate into the series. DC’s Carmine Infantino came up with Batgirl, who was Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon. She was a librarian, but with a keen interest in police work herself. They would later explore this father/daughter relationship further on the TV series. But Barbara’s introduction, in a sense, set James Gordon’s comic history on a new path with a supporting cast and extended family of characters all his own.
During the Bronze Age of comics, they revealed that Barbara actually had a brother too. But probably not the brother you’re thinking of. (We’ll get to him later). Anthony “Tony” Gordon was the first son of James Gordon in the comics. Initially referred to as being away in college, Tony later disappeared while hiding from communist spies. (These were the Cold War years, remember.) Not long after, he dies on a mission, saving his sister. When DC’s event series Crisis on Infinite Earths alters reality, DC Comics drastically changes James Gordon’s history. And they erase all of Tony Gordon’s existence.
Batman: Year One
In 1986, DC Comics reintroduced Gordon in Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One. The four-part story totally reimagines James Gordon’s history with the Dark Knight. Miller de-aged Jim Gordon from a grizzled old man always chomping a cigar, into a younger man expecting his first child. In this incarnation, Gordon transferred from Chicago PD to Gotham City. There, he soon discovers that almost the entire Police Force was crooked. Captain Gordon becomes “the only good cop in Gotham,” for lack of a better term. And he forges an alliance with the nascent Batman.
He also has a wife in this story, Barbara Kean Gordon. In Year One, Frank Miller showed her as several months pregnant with James Gordon, Jr., their first child. Jim Gordon had an extramarital affair during much of this story, with fellow officer Sarah Essen. Although their romance ends and the Gordons go to marriage counseling, in later years, when Gordon is older and Police Commissioner, it’s clear Barbara left him over this. Year One is the first time we saw dents in Gordon’s pristine do-gooder image, showing how he’s an imperfect, morally fallible man.
The post Crisis timeline is where things get wonky for James Gordon being the father of Batgirl. After all, if Batman was just starting out when James’ first child wasn’t even born, that means that by the time Barbara Gordon debuts as Batgirl, Bruce Wayne would be in his 50s at least. So in the post-Crisis era, DC revealed Barbara as Gordon’s niece. Jim Gordon adopted her as a teenager, and after a car crash killed her parents. A few more continuity reboots later, Batgirl became Jim’s biological daughter again. But what about young James Gordon, Jr.? This is where things get pretty dark.
James Gordon Junior, the Bad Seed
It took years to find out what became of the baby boy from Batman: Year One. In Scott Snyder’s Batman: The Black Mirror, we meet this younger James, now an adult. We learn he is a complete sociopath and serial killer, who tortures and murders for pleasure. His mother Barbara took him to Chicago after her divorce from Jim, already suspecting her son’s dark tendencies. They institutionalize him as a teenager after he disfigured a school bus driver, among other criminal behaviors.
Released several years later, he goes on a killing spree, and attempted to frame the Joker for his crimes. This puts him in direct conflict with not only Batman, but also his sister Batgirl. The elder James’ failure with his own son is a black mark on his soul he would always wrestle with. After almost killing his mother, Batman captured him, and put James, Jr. away in Arkham Asylum. This means that one of Batman’s greatest allies, as well as one of his enemies, are both children of Commissioner Gordon.
The Clown Prince of Crime
As much as his own son was a thorn in his side, no one has done more damage to James Gordon than the Joker. As a way of proving that all a good man needs is one bad day to lose their mind, the Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon. He later forces the captive James to look at pictures of her torment. But Gordon doesn’t give in to despair, and his moral resolve is only stronger after the ordeal. Then, after he marries Sarah Essen, with whom he once had an affair, the Joker murders her. This all occurred during the No Man’s Land storyline. Once again, Jim Gordon’s moral compass perseveres, as he chooses not to murder the Joker as revenge.
The Robocop of Gotham City
Like his other closest crime-fighting partner, Dick Grayson, James Gordon once took on the mantle of the Bat during the New 52 era, when DC reshaped its history once again. Gordon was Police Commissioner, depicted as a younger man once more. During a storyline where Batman was thought dead, James Gordon takes up the mantle of the Dark Knight in a robotic mech suit. Which, to be honest, looks more like a giant bunny rabbit than a robot bat. But for nearly a year, Gordon was Gotham’s Batman, until Bruce Wayne inevitably dons the cape and cowl again.
In the most recent Batman comics, after yet another continuity shakeup in DC Rebirth, the Batman Who Laughs, a twisted version of the Dark Knight from another reality, drove Gordon mad. Although he recovered, he stepped down from the role of Gotham Police Commissioner, replaced by Renee Montoya. How long he stays off the force remains to be seen. Of course, they did not answer the real question about James Gordon during all the years. How can a detective as good as Gordon not know who Batman really is? Well, the answer is he probably does. But to protect himself, he’s chosen to not investigate any further. Smart move, Jim.
Gordon on the Big and Small Screen
James Gordon’s portrayal in most media incarnations has reflected his Batman comic history. In Batman ’66, he was the veteran cop, portrayed as an older man. This held true to the version played by Pat Hingle, in the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman movies. When Frank Miller reinvented the character in Batman: Year One, almost all future media incarnations took their cue from his version. Most notably, Gary Oldman in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and in the TV series Gotham. As long as there is a Batman, and Batman stories, James Gordon won’t be left out. Just this year alone, we’ll get Jeffrey Wright and J.K. Simmons as Jim Gordon in two separate projects. Gotham’s finest officer remains indispensable.