James Gordon was the Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department.
Gordon was promoted to Commissioner at some point before the Joker's reign of terror. He was well aware of the criminal element in Gotham City, including corrupt officers like Max Eckhardt. When Batman began operating, he initially regarded the vigilante as just a rumor. Gordon also worked closely with Mayor Borg and District Attorney Harvey Dent, and seemed to be a friend of Bruce Wayne.
Meeting the Batman
Whilst at the fundraiser for Gotham's 200th anniversary celebration, Gordon was seen playing Craps. During it, he was badgered by reporter Alexander Knox on what seemed to be the ninth occasion for a comment on Batman's existence. During the game, Gordon was informed by an officer that Carl Grissom's right-hand man, Jack Napier, had been sent to the Axis Chemicals plant. Learning Eckhardt was leading the capture, Gordon discreetly left the fundraiser to deal with the situation.
Arriving as officers began fighting with Napier's men, Gordon quickly took control of the operation from Eckhardt and ordered his men to capture Napier alive. During the fight, he first caught glimpse of Batman when the vigilante subdued one of the hoods. After sending his guards to search for Napier, Gordon investigated the main mixing vats and unknowingly rescued from a potential assassination attempt. However, Napier's friend, Robert Hawkins, caught Gordon by surprise and threatened to shoot him if Batman gave up. Gordon witnessed the subsequent altercation between Batman and Napier. When the latter fell into the chemical vats below, Gordon ordered his men to arrest Batman and, after the vigilante's escape, decided to remain quiet until they knew what his motive were.
Joker's Reign of Terror
Gordon was among the police officers to respond to Vinnie Ricorso's murder, initially believing that Batman may have been responsible. He, along with Borg and Dent, struggled to deal with the Joker's tampering with beauty products and the chaos in brought to the city. After Batman was able to stop the criminal from releasing Smylex gas at the 200th Anniversary Parade, Gordon led the GCPD to arrest them at the Old Gotham Cathedral. However, they were unable to enter the tower, due to Joker blocking the entry by detaching one of the bells. Gordon had his officers activate their searchlights to improve visibility of the confrontation. He later investigated Joker's body after he fell from the tower, where he discovered a small laughing bag he'd activated during the fall.
After Joker's death, Gordon had his officers arrest the Clown Price of Crime's goons, finally putting an end to both his and Grissom's empire. He later appeared with Borg and Dent to inform Gotham's citizens of the developments, including a letter from Batman. During it, Gordon unveiled the Batsignal, which the city could use to summon him when needed.
The Red Triangle Gang's Attacks
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In the sequels, Gordon played only a minimal role compared to his role in other media, but was shown to completely trust Batman and publicly defended him. Gordon even appeared to doubt Batman's involvement in the kidnapping of the Ice Princess in Batman Returns, and tried to stop the GCPD from shooting him.
Although Barbara Gordon is his daughter, or niece depending on which version, in the comics, in the last Schumacher film of the series, Batman & Robin, her name was changed to Barbara Wilson and she was Alfred Pennyworth's niece. There were no known women in Gordon's life in that series, although his wife appeared with him at the party that Bruce Wayne hosted at Wayne Manor and Poison Ivy seduced him, which caused him to gave in, and he gave her the keys to Gotham City Police Headquarters in Batman & Robin.
Behind the Scenes
In Batman, and its three sequels, Gordon was portrayed by Pat Hingle. Visually the character draws inspiration from the original Golden Age Gordon, an older man wearing a Derby hat. The role of the police Commissioner being more desk work than street level is also realistically portrayed, ignoring Frank Miller's then new, younger take in Batman: Year One (1987). Curiously, this is one of the few incarnations that is never seen wearing eyeglasses, much like the Dozierverse version played by Neil Hamilton.
- Pat Hingle, along with Alfred actor Michael Gough, appeared in all four of the original Batman Motion Picture Anthology. This is often used as evidence that the Burton and Schumacher films are both in the same continuity/universe.
- Gordon's first name (James) is never revealed in any of the films, but appears in marketing materials.
- Gordon had much of his left little finger missing. In real life, this was due to an injury Hingle had sustain after falling down a 50+ foot elevator shaft.
- Gordon was originally going to be shot and killed by Two-Face in an early draft of Batman Forever, but the idea was turned down when Warner Bros wanted a family-friendly Batman film.
- In the original plans for Batman '89 conceived by Joe Quinones and Kate Leth), Gordon, like his comic counterpart, would have been the father of Barbara Gordon. Whether this will also feature in the series is currently unknown.