When the European settlers came to America they brought carpenters, shipbuilders, potters, blacksmiths, farmers - settlers. People to work and live the land.
It began with furs - beaver, otter, raccoon, even bear sometimes. The fur trappers needed a place to set up camp, after all. There was a river, there was a lake, there were pristine old forests. It was perfect. They could ride the river downstream to the coastal ports. They could paddle back upstream, across the lake, for more trapping land.
Other places in America, the first fur trappers were French or Canadian. Here, they were English. And one Englishman, the youngest son of a family of seven, of a family of wainwrights, was the first to look at their encampment with more than temporary eyes. In his heart, he said “This is home. This is my land. I will make it proud. I will make it something more.”
No one paid any mind to the fact that the indigenous people avoided settling in this area. They hadn’t thought it strange not to, and the Europeans hadn’t thought it strange not to ask.
This English son, called Wain, built a permanent cabin and boat launch. He named it Gotham Landing - after his childhood village.
There were stories, among the indigenous people, about strange lake creatures that could be seen as great shadows under the water. Of furred beast who walked like men in the forests. Of giant swooping birds who flew during thunderstorms. Of those who had wandered into the wood and come back not quite the way, they went in. Even then, there was an oddness, an otherness to the area.
If you build it, they will come. Gotham Landing became more than just a fur trapping camp. As logging up river boomed, the lumberjacks and axemen would ride down. Gotham Landing became a small town. They boasted their own farms, a smithy, fisherfolk, trappers, and traders. The town would take the coin of the loggers and thus the town grew.
Later, when the industrial revolution happened, Gotham Landing would simply be Gotham. There would be a thriving city along the banks of the Gotham River. There would be mills powered by the force of the river powering the city. During this time, to double the number of mills that could operate, a great canal was built. A narrow island now stood in the river - mill wheels on either side.
The stories of strangeness still happened. Fishermen still saw unexplained shadows in the water. Herdsmen still lost sheep to large, furred creatures on the edges of the forest. Newly built coal and iron mines swallowed miners in the darkness - only sometimes spitting them back out again. But Gotham endured. Gotham stayed. This was part of the city. This was a part of life.
Large barges bought the raw coal and smelted iron to the coast. Later there would be trains, belching black smoke. Gotham would be a town of industry. It was a town where time moved oddly sometimes - making daylight drip like honey or making the night last and last and last. It was a town where shadows belonging to no one walked the streets. It was a town where you could hear raucous calls of unknown birds during pitched storms. Sometimes, the streets didn’t lead to the same place all the time. There were doors that led nowhere, or that went everywhere all at once. Gotham did not ask. Gotham did not wonder. This simply was.
It wasn’t until the Great Depression that Gotham was swallowed up by the strangeness. Before, the otherness contented itself with buildings that disobeyed geometry, people sharing dreams, and unowned shadows. Now though, now there was hunger and desperation. Now the otherness became a darkness. Criminal activity spiked. Organized crime carved itself a home. But there are still sightings of lake creatures, of forest beings, of winged shadows in storms. Gotham may be darker, but it is still Gotham.
A plan to bring Gotham back to glory is formed - on the desk of the mayor of the city. A plan to tempt scientists, engineers, teachers, professors, the learned and educated to Gotham. The Waynes are still here. Embedded in the land. The spelling of their name changed even as Landing was removed. But they remained. This Wayne was not the mayor, but his best friend and confidant. His schoolmate. A Wayne had started Gotham and they stayed - putting down roots into the soil - which meant something different here than anywhere else. They grew with the city, hard workers working hard. Building and growing. Wayne meant something in Gotham. Wayne meant Gotham.
The plan to make Gotham more than just a jumped up factory town moved forward. Gotham University was built. Schools were given generous budgets. Libraries built across town, stocked with the printed words of scholars. Scientists are given laboratory space, their experiments funded. Here, during the beginning and end of World War 2, an intellectual oasis is born. Gotham gives birth to new engineers, to scientists, to cunning politicians. Oppenheimer may have been from Berkeley, but his team were Gothamites.
It isn’t until the Cold War that Gotham is again swallowed by the dark. The educational focus of the city too close to Communism for the country to forgive. The schools get their budgets slashed, libraries close, laboratories underfunded. Money makes its way into the police force. After all, when your neighbor could be a Russian-Pinko spy, you need more cops. The mob families flicker in and out of the shadows. Criminals breed like rabbits, despite the bumper crop of blue-clad, silver badged foxes.
Gotham sees the police force grow exponentially - regular beats, detectives, investigators, coroners, prosecutors, judges. The criminal justice system grows - the organized crime growing parasitically along with it. They start with bribes and protection rackets. They end with owning half the city.
Scientists, languishing in their underfunded labs, with no oversights and lower morales start to go bad. There are rumors of an underground facility that holds a frozen woman. There is talk of the mob families owning the mayor.
Here is another Wayne. A bright paladin of a lawyer. Working for the city, defending them with the sword of law and scales of justice. He cannot be bought. He is made district attorney. He is made into a corpse. No one can prove murder or accident. But the result is the same.
His son, Thomas Wayne, a young man still in high school, dedicates his life to medicine. His steady girlfriend, Martha, dedicates herself to business. Later, when Thomas is a doctor and Martha is his wife, they will help usher in a new age in Gotham.
During World War 2, the Wayne Corporation had been a leader in innovations of all kinds. After the war, progress stalled and project fields lay fallow. With Martha at the helm, the company blossoms again, leaping again to the top spot. She is shrewd, intelligent, and ruthless. Thomas is a man of medicine. Together, Wayne Corporation chiseled out new fields in chemistry, biology, medicine, and genetics. Projects are funded here that elsewhere had been rejected. Scientists and doctors return like migrant birds, Gotham guiding them like true North.
Despite the modern age, Gotham is still home to strange stories, odd happenings. Of strange people - something off about them, but unable to pinpoint what. Thomas and Martha are Gothamites to the core. So, when their son is born, and bats are swarming the twilight sky, they do not think it strange.
Time has marched on and the oil crisis grips the country. Gotham falls again. The Mob families step fully out into the sunlight, having grown strong and fat on Gotham’s successes. Now they are unafraid, too large for any natural predator. The weird darkness runs rampant. There are rumors of crocodile men in the sewers. Thomas and Martha bring every ounce of cunning, of influence, of loyalty they can to bear. The city limps on.
Outside a theater, Thomas and Martha Wayne are shot. Here a young boy, only eight years old, stands in the rain and the blood. Wayne blood. Blood that was first. Blood that grew with Gotham. Here a young boy, in the blood and the rain, standing in a dark alley, becomes something more and less human.
It is subtle, like in the days of yore with the loggers and lumberjacks went into the forest, coming back left handed when they went in right. Coming back jumping at shadows or jumping into shadows. When the forest swallowed you whole and sometimes spit you back out again. There are rumors that the mob family, which one differs from telling to telling, has an assassin that counts his kills on his own skin. Large shadows still swim in Gotham River.
It takes Bruce fifteen years to grow up and into his otherness. Batman arrives in Gotham.
But so do others. Some were there all along. Some in hiding. Some may not have existed at all before. Something has changed now. The shadows still creep, the creatures still howl, but now, now it’s all in the open. Strange things happen and even stranger things result. There are people, not quite human, all too human maybe, with abilities unknown. There are science experiments going wrong, going right, going in directions unavailable and unknowable anywhere outside of Gotham. The not-quite-rightness of Gotham continues.
They are called supervillains now. Before they were lake monsters, forest creatures. They were the shadows without casters. They were the ones the woods ate up and spit back. They just have different names now.
The people of Gotham don’t kill these creatures. They don’t vivisect them on shiny metal tables in hidden laboratories. They don’t send them away. The people of Gotham know, on a level embedded and finer than their DNA, that what Gotham creates is Gotham’s alone. You cannot kill the darkness, you can only harness the light.
Arkham Asylum is built on the border of the old woods, on the bank of the ancient river. It contains until it can’t. But it is always there. Waiting for others, creating some of them, a home for the strange and dark.
Batman helps the citizens of Gotham. Batman helps the strangeness. He balances. A Wayne of Gotham. Tethered by blood in a way inexplicable. A Wayne, the first to say, “This is home. This is MY home. I will make it proud. I will make it more.” And the land remembers. The darkness knows.
Gotham is many things. Strange, weird, dangerous, and wonderful. But - People still live here. The Joker may kill and terrorize, but no one moves away. Poison Ivy may regrow the old forest in the middle of downtown, but the people just walk between the trees to the store. Killer Croc might live in the sewer, but no one changes the sewer infrastructure. This is what it means to live in Gotham.
There is a balance in Gotham. Between the strange and the not. A center of oddness that goes down deep into your bones. And no one minds. They can do things here that no one else in the entire world can do.
There are fear-crows and harlequin jokers and cold scientists and riddles in the dark. But no one leaves.
There is Batman. There are Robins. There are Waynes.
“This is mine. This is my home. I will make this land proud. I will make this land something to behold.”
Great is not synonymous with Good. Awesome did not always mean Cool. Gotham is Great and Awesome and full of the yawning horror that makes your brain remember you were once prey.
It has become something to behold.
And it is Proud.