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Is ‘Gotham’ bringing in a heavyweight Batman villain next season?

New character Theo Galavan appears to be an alias for a very old archnemesis.


Aja Romano


Posted on Aug 25, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 2:33 am CDT

Could a fabled archnemesis be lurking in the guise of an aristocratic prodigal son? OK Gotham, you have our attention again.

Our thoughts on Fox’s Batman origin story have gradually progressed from anticipation to bafflement to mounting frustration with its emphasis on cramming in DC Comics villains instead of giving us an interesting overarching narrative. But the introduction of a new character could change all of that.

The show’s creators have been calling season 2 “The Rise of the Villains,” which led us to wonder what we were watching in season 1, because it seemed to be nothing but villains. In an interview with TV Guide, however, executive producer Danny Cannon revealed that the sinister Theo Galavan, a new character from a wealthy Gotham family, might be the driving force that unites all the disparate interests of season 1’s villains.

Cannon told the magazine that Galavan has an “insidious” plan for the city now that he’s returned to it.

“He’s a little bit like the Great Gatsby and Dracula coming to town,” he said, “with money and influence and charm and trying to bend to Gotham to serve him.”

Cannon also revealed that Galavan was in fact “a very famous DC villain” who will “unleash and empower” the rest of the cities’ villains to unite and take over the city—all while doing his bidding, of course. 

If this city takeover and villain army sound familiar, it should. Galavan, as TV Guide notes, appears to be “a very famous DC villain” indeed: none other than Ra’s al Ghul, the many-hundred-years old Arabian-warrior-turned-continental-European-supervillain, creator of the League of Assassins, and one of Batman’s mightiest foes.

The introduction of Ra’s al Ghul could signal good things for fans who want Gotham to focus less on exposition and more on plot development. The show’s apparently endless rotation of villains hasn’t proved to be a good way to sustain Gotham‘s police-procedural formula week after week. 

But if all of those villains are about to be corralled and marshaled into an army for a single charismatic supervillain, that could be a great way to pull the show out of its rut, giving its stable of characters something to do besides languish in Gotham City’s jails or on the outskirts of town. 

Still, there are plenty of reasons to side-eye this development. The main problem is that the role of Theo Galavan has gone to British actor James Frain. Though Ra’s al Ghul’s ethnicity is a bit fuzzy, he is generally thought of to be of nomadic Central Asian or Middle Eastern descent. He was raised in an unknown city on the Arabian peninsula that was populated by citizens of mixed Chinese and Central-Asian ethnicity. 

If Frain turns out to be Ra’s, it will mark the third time in very recent pop-culture history that the character has been whitewashed. Liam Neeson took on the role in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, while Australian actor Matthew Nable played the character on the CW’s Arrow.

Matt MacNabb, co-founder of the Batman fan community Legions of Gotham, minced no words in sharing his opinion of the potential introduction of Ra’s.

In an email to the Daily Dot, MacNabb protested the show’s potential whitewashing of the character and blasted Gotham‘s tendency to completely ignore DC canon.

The idea of Ra’s Al Ghul appearing in Gotham wouldn’t be completely out of the question, but the idea of changing his race would be utterly absurd and contrary to the rich history of the character. The Gotham showrunners have proved time and again that they could care less about the established history of the DC Universe. They are determined to create their own continuity and version of events and characters, which I suppose is fine, albeit controversial. 

But MacNabb also noted that, despite the similarities between Theo Galavan and Ra’s, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the two characters will line up.

Ra’s is already a big part of Arrow on the CW Network, and the other likely option, Vandal Savage, is going to appear on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and we all know that Warner Bros. doesn’t like to overlap different versions of the same character at the same time. 

To be honest, we can only hope that its not Ra’s Al Ghul coming to Gotham to be bastardized, but perhaps instead someone that would be involved with the Court of Owls or a more obscure character out of left field.

So Ra’s al Ghul might be coming to Gotham, and if he is, that could either prove to be a very good thing for the show, or a very bad thing for the character. Or perhaps both. When it comes to Gotham, we’re not taking anything for granted.

Photo via William Tung/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Aug 25, 2015, 4:04 pm CDT