James Worthington Gordon has been with us for a long time. He first appeared in Detective Comics (the DC in DC Comics,) #27 in May of 1939, the issue that introduced Batman himself. Jim Gordon of the Gotham PD was created by the immortal Bob Kane and Bill Finger as the very first of all the recurring characters in the Batman saga.
He’s been portrayed in live action and animated films, and on TV in various ways. In the comic book world, he began as a police detective who is skeptical of the masked vigilante Batman, and at first resents what he sees as interference in police matters. He comes to accept and even rely on his help as time goes by. As we know, however, the ways of DC Comics do not unfold in a straight line. There are Pre-Crisis and Post-Crisis versions, multi-verses, and as a result, multiple ways that the stories unfold.
Through it all, though, Jim Gordon has been one of the most consistent characters. He’s the honest cop determined to do the job the way it should be done, and equally determined to hold his fellow police officers to the same true blue standards. He’s the straight arrow of all straight arrows…or is he?
Let’s just say, most of the time.
15. James Jr.
How can it be that the ultimate dedicated cop has a son who’s a serial killer? Those long hours chasing the Joker and other super criminals and serving as straight man to Gotham’s Caped Crusader take a toll on the family, and the price they pay is highlighted in DC Comic’s Black Mirror, (Detective Comics Vol 1 #871, January 2011,) focusing on Jim and his relationship with son James Gordon Jr. Jim Jr. was born early in Gordon’s career in Gotham during his marriage to Barbara Kean-Gordon, (more – much more – on that later) a marriage that eventually dissolved. It turns out baby Jim didn’t take the situation too well, and was showing signs of disturbing behavior early in childhood – killing small animals, friends disappearing, that kind of thing. In Black Mirror, he shows up to contact Jim Senior, claiming that he’s on medication and it’s all good…and then tell him all about how he’s just killed the waitress in the diner they’ve been talking in by stuffing her head down the toilet. The father-son story is just one part of a plot that ties together Dick Grayson, Harvey Bullock, the Joker, and several minor villains, and it turns out James Jr. is not just a psychopathic serial killer who maims and murders for kicks, but a crafty schemer who launches a plan to taint Gotham’s baby food. Jim Senior, you just weren’t there.
14. The Affair
Fooling around on your pregnant wife – really Jim? There are various versions of the story line involving Jim Gordon and his wives. In most, he starts out married to Barbara Eileen Kean-Gordon. In Batman: Year One, which came out in 1987, Gordon has just come to Gotham after a stint in Chicago. He’s married to Barbara, who becomes pregnant shortly after they get there. Jim’s not entirely thrilled with the thought of bringing a child up in the cesspool of crime that is Gotham. Enter Sarah Essen, a detective – an attractive, blonde detective – who arrives to help the GCPD. It doesn’t take long before those long nights spent chasing the many villains of Gotham fuel the chemistry between the two cops, and before you know it Jim and Sarah are hitting the sheets on the sly. In fact, Jim’s crooked superior blackmails him about it, which leads to his confession to Barbara. Sarah transfers out of GCPD, and Jim goes back to Barbara, but the damage is done. Jim remains obsessed with Sarah, though, and years later in All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder (2007,) he’s still married to Barbara, who is now an alcoholic. Babs gets in a car accident and who does he call but Sarah. Not his finest moments.
13. Jim The Alcoholic
The way of DC Comics, as we know, is not a straightforward one. Elseworlds is a series of comics that DC created to exist outside the DC Universe canon. The imprint issued titles on an irregular basis between 1989 and 2003, and one of the best has to be Batman: Gotham Noir. The story is set in Gotham in the 1940s. Here, Jim Gordon is a failed cop and a down and out alcoholic private detective. And he’s Selina Kyle’s ex. The back story has it that he served in the army with Bruce Wayne during WWII, only to come back to a city awash in crime and corruption. It was enough to drive him to drink, you could say. Gordon gets framed for murder and has to solve the case himself while trying to stay clear of the GCPD. This story sees Gordon in full on noir badass mode, with Batman as a minor character in the plot. He solves the case, but will he give up the booze?
12. James Gordon As Batman
“I’d like to go on record as saying this is the dumbest idea in the history of Gotham City.” It’s Jim’s own admission at the end of the DC Divergence story line. We’re not sure if we can really place the blame on Jim for this one, or whether that should really go to the DC execs themselves. Many fans were questioning the notion, but after more than 75 years, perhaps the time had come for Jim Gordon to try on the bat cape himself. At the end of Batman #40 (April 2015,) Bruce Wayne appears to die alongside the Joker in the final battle to end all battles between the two archenemies. Gordon decides that Gotham still needs its Caped Crusader, and so he reluctantly takes on the role in a specially designed mechanical suit sponsored by Powers International Corporation. Naturally, many complications ensue. Batman doesn’t exactly work within the boundaries of the law, after all, leading to issues for Gordon as Batman. It turns out that Bruce Wayne isn’t dead after all, and is forced to return to the role when new villain Mr. Bloom proves to be too much to handle. Gordon apologizes for making him come back, but Bruce/Batman lets him off the hook.
11. Creating Wrath
Cops are supposed to catch the criminals, not create them. Batman Special #1 came out in June 1984 and focuses on Wrath, one of Batman’s notable foes. Wrath is one of Batman’s classic villains, part of the Rogues Gallery that includes the Joker, Riddler and many others. Wrath wears a similar costume to Batman’s and has similar methods, making him a kind of antithesis to our superhero, and a thorn in his side. Batman Special #1 reveals Wrath’s back story. It turns out his parents were both burglars who were shot and killed by a young cop who thought he’d caught them committing a robbery. It turns out that they were just trying to slip out the window to skip rent – and the shootings happened when their young son was there to see it. The trigger happy young cop turns out to be Gordon, back when he was new on the job. Wrath comes back to town as an adult looking for revenge, and he wreaks a lot of havoc before Batman steps in to take him down. Way to go Gordon.
10. Cop Beatings
If we’re to believe the way cops are depicted in TV and movies, not to mention the comic book world, being a policeman means walking a tightrope between corruption and serving the public interest. Even a resolutely honest cop like Gordon has to walk in the mud once in a while, and the struggle is to stay honest. In Batman: Year One, Gordon comes to Gotham after a 15 year stint in Chicago to a thoroughly corrupt GCPD headed by crooked Commissioner Loeb. Gordon’s partner is Detective Flass, a lout who soon comes to chafe at Gordon’s aversion to unwarranted beatings and straight arrow ways. Worst of all, Gordon refuses to participate in the bribery and lucrative corruption scams the cops have going. In retaliation, Flass and others lay a beating on Gordon. Flass even goes the extra step of threatening Jim’s wife. Jim emerges bloodied and bruised, and set on revenge. Gordon tracks Flass until he finds the right moment to ambush him and beat the snot out of him. He ups the ante by stripping Flass and leaving him naked, lying handcuffed and helpless in the snow. Hey, we all gotta cross the line once in a while.
9. Gordon Turns On Batman
Do you turn on a friend when times are tough? Batman: No Man’s Land is a crossover story line that DC ran debuting in 1999 and involved several issues and characters, including Harley Quinn. In it, a cataclysmic earthquake destroys Gotham. The city is left isolated after the feds declare it a no man’s land, and all the bridges to Gotham are destroyed. Criminal gangs and supervillains take over the city, as Gordon remains and tries valiantly to maintain some kind of order. So where is Batman? He’s AWOL for the first three months, and Gordon feels deeply betrayed. In desperation, he actually turns to Two-Face, who initially agrees to enter into a partnership, but promptly kidnaps him. After Gordon escapes, Batman resurfaces. Jim confronts him and lets loose on him for letting Gotham go to hell. Trying for a truce, Batman removes his mask, but Gordon refuses to look. Batman had his reasons, and Jim should have known it.
8. Shooting in Dangerous Places
Gordon may be an honest cop in the most corrupt of cities, but it has to be said that he can be a little too quick to shoot – and that it’s just not a good idea to shoot at all around powerful electrical controls. Batman Eternal is a series that had a one-year run starting in April 2014, and in it, an untimely shot from Gordon sets off a chain of events that changes Gotham forever. Commissioner Gordon is battling Professor Pyg, one of the craziest of Gotham’s many insane supervillains, as he tries to protect innocent children in the Aviation Museum. Jim calls on Batman for help, and the caped superhero comes to save the kids before tracking down Professor Pyg. They hunt him down and Jim follows him into the subway, cornering him. He tells the thug to drop his gun, while the terrified thug tells him he hasn’t got one. Jim fires, and the bullet passes through the criminal and hits a transformer that sends two trains colliding into each other. Security footage shows that the thug wasn’t holding a gun, and Jim goes to jail; (long story, but it’s an illusion). It’s just the start of the year-long plot line that ends up with Jim joining Batman to save Gotham from an army of supervillains and Arkham escapees.
7. Boss Gordon
Jim Gordon shows up in JLA: Earth 2, a graphic novel published by DC Comics in 2000. In it, the post-Crisis Justice League of America battle their evil counterparts after Alexander Luthor, the sole hero in the Antimatter universe, bridges the gap between Earth 1 and Earth 2. Naturally, the villains of Earth 2 are aiming to take over. In Earth 2, the police chief is Thomas Wayne, and in the Antimatter universe, it is Thomas who survived the shooting that killed his wife and young Bruce. Gordon has chosen a life of crime and appears as Boss Gordon, one of the powerful crime bosses who controls the city. He’s an ally of Owlman, Bruce’s brother Thomas Jr. who blames his father for the outcome of the shooting and turns supervillain. Interestingly, Boss Gordon even looks different, a pudgy, balding version of his Earth 1 self. In the end, Boss Gordon and his gang are defeated by Batman and Commissioner Wayne.
6. Gordon vs. Vampire Batman
Things get so crazy in Gotham at times that sometimes, questionable decisions are your only option. The Batman and Dracula trilogy began with Red Rain in 1991, then Bloodstorm in 1994. Gotham has been invaded by a vampire coven headed by Dracula, and Batman ends up a vampire. The Joker gets mixed up in the action, along with Catwoman, who becomes a werecat. Batman, naturally, is trying to control his blood lust, and Gordon is heading the GCPD’s vampire hunting squad. They stake Batman at his own request. In 1999’s Crimson Mist, Gordon revives Batman by removing the stake as the city struggles with a crime wave. (Is there ever a time when Gotham isn’t struggling with a crime wave?) Batman helps out by slaughtering his enemies, beginning with the Penguin and Riddler. As the body count grows, Gordon realizes his mistake, and forms an alliance with Two Face and Killer Croc to kill the vampire Batman. In a dark end to the series, Batman kills Killer Croc and Two-Face, and gets Gordon to rig the roof of the Batcave to explode. It does, burying Gordon in the rubble and exposing vampire Batman to the sunlight.
5. Zombie Gordon
There’s no backstory on this, but we have to wonder what version of Jim Gordon ends up as a zombie. In this take on the character, he’s flesh eating Zombie Gordon, a mindless beast who is controlled and kept on a heavy chain by Bat-Soldier, the analogue version of you know who. Zombie Gordon appears in Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists – Part Three: The Beast Within. Lord Havok and the Extremists are part of the Justice League story line, a group of supervillains who begin as terrorists on an Earth-like world in a parallel universe. Havoc and the rest of the Extremists are made into supervillains by the explosion of an experimental nuclear device. While it’s a unique portrayal of Gordon, he’s just a minor player in a complicated story that includes Herr Superman, Bizarro as an analogue of Wonder Woman, the Czar of Russia, a struggle between the Extremists and metahumans, and the ultimate annihilation of Universe 51. Whew.
4. Gordon F&cks Up In Flashpoint
Flashpoint was a huge crossover event that debuted in 2011. It involves an alternate timeline and included both core and tie-in titles and it’s largely part of the Justice League story line. In Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance #1 (June 2011) Batman throws criminals off buildings, Wonder Woman and her Amazons have taken over the U.K. and Superman and the Justice League was never formed. Jim is the chief of police, not commissioner. Thomas Wayne is Batman, and Martha Wayne is the Joker. After tracking Martha Wayne to old Wayne Manor, Gordon rushes in without backup. Now we’ve seen all those cop shows, and we know this never work out well, so why doesn’t Gordon? He ends up shooting Harvey Dent’s daughter, who has been disguised as the Joker and taped to a chair, mouth taped shut with a Joker smile painted on her. Shooting a criminal – or anyone – while they’re tied up in a chair? Can we say excessive force? In any case, it’s a mistake Jim pays for dearly when Martha/Joker shows up to slash at his throat, poisoning him with Joker venom, and he dies.
3. Who Is Barbara?
Barbara Gordon – the Batgirl version, not the wife – who is she exactly? Librarian by day and badass crime fighter by night, Batgirl began in the Pre-Crisis continuity as Jim’s daughter, a sibling to Tony Gordon. Post-Crisis, we find that Tony didn’t make the cut, and Babs, instead of being his daughter, is Jim’s niece. She was adopted by Jim and his first wife, also Barbara, after her father and mother die when Barbara is a young preteen of 12. After Jim and wife Barbara divorce, he retains custody of young Barbara. Roger Gordon was a drunk, and killed himself and his wife in an inebriated car crash. But then the plot thickens. In Batman: Gotham Knights #6 (2000) Barbara/Batgirl happens on a letter from her mother back in the day that seems to suggest she and brother-in-law Jim were having an affair – and that Barbara may actually be his daughter. Tapping the sister-in-law? Tacky James, tacky.
2. Gordon In Chicago
In all its various versions and continuities, Jim’s marriage to Barbara is always problematic, and it has to be said that Gordon himself seems to be largely to blame. Gordon of Gotham is a miniseries that came out in 1998 and it steps back in time two decades before the current DC Universe, just two months before his arrival in Gotham in Batman: Year One while Jim is still a cop in Chicago. There, he’s a young cop taking night classes in criminology and struggling with the fact that Barbara wants a child, while he doesn’t feel ready. But burying himself in work will solve the problem, right? On top of that, he launched an investigation into police corruption, and when he’s thwarted, he fired back by uncovering not just police but political corruption in the mayor’s office. He takes down a couple of cops and politicians, but in such a way that no one on the Chicago PD is willing to trust him ever again. Way to burn bridges Jim – although we can’t really quibble with this one because if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have ended up in Gotham in the first place.
1. Gordon, The Establishment Goon
Gordon of Gotham also reveals a bit of a fascistic side to our favorite GCPD member. In one scene – remembering this is Chicago in the late 1970s – he goes an anti-hippy tirade on one of his perps. “You wear your funny clothes and your long hair. You call honest cops “pigs.” You sneer at everything — family, religion, country. And what do you have to offer? Bad music, drugs, and a talent for sitting on your butts. You don’t produce anything anyone needs — food, shelter, security. If it weren’t for the people you ridicule, you’d starve. If it were up to me, I’d let you die in the streets and be collected with the trash.” Gosh Jim, judgmental much? It’s a side of Gordon we don’t really see anywhere else in the DC Universe, but then again, once he got to Gotham, dirty hippies on the street were the least of his worries.