The Fate of Gotham

Will New York's mythology survive or thrive on Judith Miller's epic erosion of The Times?
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It's a story that Bob Kane and Stan Lee would have loved: a reporter who is more than she appears to be uses her fantastic powers to uncover a conspiracy, expose a threat, and unmask an enemy. The legions of evil (or the undead, take your pick) pursue her. She saves the city. She steals the heart of the girl. Justice is on her side. Get Sam Raimi to direct the movie, and you can bank on a $50 million opening weekend.

We've heard the story before. We'll hear it again. New York, Metropolis by day, Gotham by night, is built on a mythology of stories like these. It has sold us Bruce Wayne, that marvelous, damaged man with a thirst for revenge who turns into the Caped Crusader, and we've bought it time and again. Clark Kent has only to take off his glasses and his shirt and shazam, he's Superman to us. Peter Parker puts on a spandex body suit and thwarts J.J. Jameson at the Daily Bugle and we clap our hands in glee.

And now, they tell us, there's another myth to be written into the Big Apple, another hero for sale: Miss Run Amok. Despite the $200 haircut and the definitively un-herolike Jimmy Choos, Sulzberger and Keller have done a remarkable job with the packaging. They've shrouded her in mystery, whisked her off to jail like Mary Jane on Spiderman's arm, and invoked the great God Freedom of the Press in her honor, accompanied by the subtle drumbeat of denial and disinformation.

But their little performance wasn't quite enough. The audience, hungry for adventure, wanted more. And so, the Dynamic Duo finished with a coup de grâce befitting Lex Luthor: they finally unleashed their staff on the story and told their heroine to tell all. And not with a bang, but a whimper, the offering was soon complete: two articles, one whose weak and thready pulse of information could not be bolstered by the talented journalists who struggled to give it life, and, of course, the heroine's story, a trumped-up tell-all that told us nothing. They dropped them into the Times as if they were kryptonite and could lull us into submission.

Instead of the Odyssey that we were told to expect (or even, for that matter, the Starr Report that some of us were hoping for), we have been given, instead, the journalistic equivalent of a peep show. Somehow, Miss Run Amok and her two promoters think that, by showing us a little skin and a whole lot of shimmy and shine that the surface will be alluring enough that we'll close our eyes and buy this story, just like we bought all the others. They think they've outsmarted us. Somewhere, right now, Miss Run Amok and her Dynamic Duo are having a good chuckle.

The problem is, friends, this isn't a comic book. In fact, it doesn't even come close. The characters aren't complex, they're just complicated. There aren't any real showdowns here, just a little soft-shoe and a whole lot of semantics. Where is the struggle between good and evil? Where is the compelling back story?

At the moment, there doesn't seem to be a real hero in the bunch – just some actors with about as much finesse as a troupe of amateurs butchering MacBeth in dinner theater. And speaking of, Miss Run Amok, you can scrub those notes as hard as you want, and you still won't get the blood out.

Friends, for your own sake, I hope you haven't had the T-shirts printed yet.

On the surface, the story seems the same as the comic books, but Kane and Lee and any other self-respecting comic book artist and author would shake their head at this pitiful mess of a plot line. There is no action, just hedging, no conflict, just the eternal wait for a vague and untenable resolution, no clear-cut hero and no definitive villain. There is no one for us to identify with except, perhaps, Wilson and Plame, who have, for now, vanished from the spotlight as if beckoned elsewhere by the bat signal.

Miss Run Amok is what we are left with, and we are sorely disappointed. She doesn't live up to our expectations of a hero. She doesn't have the depth of character and the ethical standards essential to each and every comic book character that has moved us.

We know that Batman would never become a political mouthpiece and would have solved his "source" dilemma in three frames. We realize that Doc Ock may hunger for power and revenge, but heartache is the true source of his vengeance, not an unquenchable thirst for money and fame.

So with this questionable hero still at center stage, what is to become of Gotham's famed mythology? Will Miss Run Amok outlast her critics and prove her worth? Will she enter the lexicon as revered as the legion of heroes, comic book and otherwise, that have come together to form the enduring legend of the town? Or will she be reduced to verbiage and a cautionary tale?

If only The Times were the Daily Bugle - then we'd be able to figure it out. If J.J. Jameson were at the helm of "the newspaper of record," he wouldn't give us an eloquent and empty song and dance. He'd just slap his desk and give us an answer that, offensive or not, would at least be crystal clear.

Instead, for now, we have the triumvirate at the helm, and we must be content to wait and see how the story plays out. Let's hope that the characters can find a way to make it meaningful again. If so, then, with a swell of music and a rush of light, Miss Run Amok may find redemption and bring order to Gotham instead of chaos.

And if the scales tip the other way, well, then so be it – Gotham has survived worse. If Miss Run Amok is not the hero that she claims to be, then she will instead become a rumor, whispered about for a time and then forgotten, a stone dropped along the edge of some beach, a footnote. Miss Run Amok will not mean the end of Gotham, but Gotham may well mean the end of her.

Still, it would be much easier if the story were a comic book. Then all we'd have to do is just turn the page.

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