- "Decent people shouldn't live here. They'd be happier someplace else."
- ―Jack Napier[src]
Gotham City was Batman's hometown and his base of operations.
The city was founded by John T. Gotham. Due to the absence of contributing businesses due to corruption and criminal influence, the city's tax base was crumbling.
Carl Grissom was the biggest crime lord operating in a high rise apartment building, until he is gunned down by his former hitman, Jack Napier. Below the Grissom building was Flugelheim Museum, built into its foundations. Napier later committed a mass murder in the museum using a custom nerve gas. Shortly thereafter Batman's vehicle was spotted by citizens for the first time as it was chased through Gotham Square by Joker Goon Cars.
Eventually Joker hijacked 200th Anniversary Parade and tried to up the scale of his mass gassings, targeting a larger crowd of what he viewed as greedy peasants. Batman destroyed the Axis Chemicals plant in response to his parade announcement made prior. This seemed to have little effect as the parade went on with balloons filled with poison gas and a large number of men still at his disposal operating the floats. Batman arrived in an aerial vehicle to pull the balloons into the sky. Outraged Joker stood in the middle of Broad Avenue daring Batman to attack, as he approached Joker shot the plane down with trick gun. The vehicle smashed into the steps of the old cathedral, where the parade was launched. Joker planned to make his final stand in its belfry, the highest point in Gotham's skyline.
Joker took Vicki Vale hostage and forced her up to the top of the old cathedral with him. Batman survived the crash, and had his final confrontation with Joker in the belfry. The police bore witness to these events from steps of the cathedral, unable to pursue the pair because of the stairwell being destroyed by a massive bell. The fight ended with Napier falling to the ground below; when the GCPD inspected his corpse, they found that he had activated a laughing box in his jacket on the way down.
Press Conference at City Hall
The Dark Knight himself sent a letter to city officials, assuring the people of Gotham that he will be there to protect them if a further evil surfaces in the city.
The Red Triangle Gang launched an attack on the annual Lighting of the Tree by the time City Hall was moved to Gotham Plaza. Their aim was to kidnap Max Shreck and bring him back to the Old Zoo in Gotham Park. This was only achieved by their ringleader himself, the Penguin after Batman had been summoned to disperse the riot. Dozens of citizens were beaten and set on fire prior to his arrival. A man called Organ Grinder opened fire on the tree with a gatling gun, destroying the ornaments and lights.
There was a second attempt to light the tree in Gotham Plaza, an act of defiance from the Mayor in spite of the circus gang's constant violence. This time the Penguin planned to frame Batman for murder of the Ice Princess, who was placed in danger on the edge of a rooftop across from the Dictel building by the Catwoman. Frightened by his umbrella full of bats she fell to her death, her body landing on the tree lighting button. The civilians looking upward from the street spotted Batman looking over the edge and blamed him as they were attacked by a massive swarm of bats released from the tree.
During this time there was a recall set up by Shreck, and Penguin made his bid for Mayor. The afternoon following the Relighting of the Tree tragedy, a rally was held outside City Hall. His speech was interrupted by voice recordings he made to Batman the previous night, gloating about how he had fooled Gotham's citizens and how he regarded them as "pinhead puppets." The crowd grew angry, throwing tomatoes and booing him off the podium. Immediately, abandoned by Shreck and his associates, Cobblepot reacted by firing his machine gun umbrella on the crowd and fleeing into the sewers of Gotham Park.
A mass gathering of radio-controlled Penguin Commandos occurred that night in Gotham Plaza after Cobblepot's humiliation. As the prepared to fire their rocket launchers on downtown buildings they suddenly returned to the drainage gates they emerged from. In sewers of Gotham Batman instructed Alfred to jam their signal from the cave. As the Batskiboat neared the zoo's drain tunnels, two sentries fired their rockets, but they failed to land a hit due to Batman's piloting maneuver. When the boat reached its destination it smashed through the Arctic World exterior along with Cobblepot's escape vehicle.
Behind the Scenes
In the opening lines of the Sam Hamm screenplay for the 1989 film, Gotham was described as if "Hell erupted through the pavement and built a city". Hamm and Burton both read Alan Moore's Kling Joke transcript before it had been drawn by Brian Bolland and found inspiration Moore's description of the city. Burton went so far as to take Moore out to lunch, and took his advice to get Gotham City "right" to heart. Though Burton adored the art in the published version of Killing Joke, Bolland failed to bring Moore's description of the city to life. When it came time to select a production designer, Burton chose Anton Furst after seeing his dark fairytale sets in The Company of Wolves. Burton an First brainstormed the notion that the buildings reached over a few stories were built around the existing structures of Gotham City. Those skyscrapers cast a shadow over the city that was coupled with the smoke from Gotham's industry and kept the city in perpetual dusk. The comics never depicted the city as unusual or retro-futristic prior to the feature film, though Nigel Phelps has cited some elements of Frank Miller's 1986 Dark Knight series as an influence.
Furst's design theories for the film were an attempt to imagine what might have happened to New York City had there been no planning commission and had it been run by pure extortion and crime. Hence, there were no height restrictions, the skyscrapers were cantilevered toward the street rather than away, there were lots of bridges over the streets. First instructed his set illustrator Nigel Phelps to take direct inspiration from Shin Takamatsu's architecture for the Flugelheim Museum and Monarch Theatre. The key location in the film is the Old Gotham Cathedral where Batman is first shown on nightly patrol, the highest point in the skyline. The belfry is also location of his final showdown with the Joker. Phelps' drawings of the cathedral towers were inspired by Gaudí's Barcelona cathedral and Japanese fortresses. All of Nigel Phelps illustrations were done in charcoal without color, using black and white to emphasize extreme shadows.
Nigel Phelps did not return to do drawings for the second film, instead choosing to stay with Anton Furst's company, who left to sign an exclusive contract with Columbia Pictures with Jon Peters. For the second film, Burton turned to Bo Welch for a fresh approach to what previously been established. Tom Lay and Tim Flattery created illustrations of the skyline and key downtown locations in Gotham Plaza. Marty Kline designed many locations related to Gotham Park and the Old Zoo, including the Arctic World pavilion. Welch wanted to introduce Russian fascist architecture, making the city feel larger and more oppressive. At the same time the design team wanted to distance themselves from European and Asian influences to not feel like a complete repeat of the original. Burton wanted a slightly more "American' feel with traditional art deco and World's Fair architecture as well as 1950's/60's industrial design. This take on Gotham would heavily inspired the city seen in Batman: The Animated Series, which debuted in the fall of the same year.
In a 1992 comic book storyline, Destroyer, a man who was obsessed with Cyrus Pinkney's architecture blew up several Gotham buildings in order to reveal Pinkney's structures that were hidden; the editorial purpose behind that was to transform the city that was depicted in the comics to resemble the designs created by Phelps and Furst for the 1989 Batman film. DC actually commissioned Phelps to create charcoal drawings for the new official Gotham City of the 90s. Three of these illustrations were actually used on the covers though no credit is given.