The Case of Commissioner James Gordon

by Arn McConnell (Wold Atlas, vol.1, no.3)

Ever since that fateful day in 1938 when the Batman entered the crimefighting scene, Police Commissioner James W Gordon has been there, slugging out at crime in his own inimitable style. In a career that lasted over thirty years, Gordon never gave up in the fight against evil. While some may call him more orthodox that the Batman, none could call him less a hero.

Yet there is strong evidence that Gordon's war against crime has not always been by the book. In fact, Gordon too, at one time, was a masked vigilante--and he predated the Batman by three years!

To uncover the true story of Commissioner Gordon, let us examine his life story and the myths concerning him.

James W. Gordon was born on January 5, 1900 in New York City. Among his ancestors were James I of Scotland and Catherine Gordon, mother of Lord Byron. His family, the Gordons of Gight, were known for their turbulent nature, and natural success in politics. Although James' immediate forefathers had no contact with politics and were generally placid fellows, both of these qualities--a turbulent personality and a flair for getting votes--would find their way into the young James.

Little of James' childhood is known except that he grew up in a ....... neighborhood of New York. We may accurately assume though that James had picked out his career at an early age. There was no doubt about it--he wanted to go into law enforcement.

He graduated from law school in 1924, which would indicate he originally intended to become a lawyer. For some reason, he later switched his plans and became a police officer. In the eleven years between 1924 and 1935, Gordon's rise in the police hierarchy was meteoric. In 1935, we know Gordon had attained the position of Police Commissioner, thereby becoming the youngest commissioner New York had ever seen, at the ripe old age of thirty-five. James W. Gordon had wasted no time in his constant trek towards the top; but then, James W. Gordon never wasted time.

1935 also saw the coming of a new crimefighter. Called the Whisperer by both underworld and police alike, this crimefighter used special dental plates to contort his face into a visage of terror. It is my thesis that the Whisperer and Commissioner Gordon were one and the same.

There are many arguments against this theory. First , let us examine the arguments for it. As the Batman texts specifically state, Gordon was born in 1900--and since the Batman texts also tell us Gordon was commissioner by 1938, he would be a very young commissioner, indeed. The Whisperer's alter ego was named Commissioner James "Wildcat" Gordon, and was said to be the youngest commissioner of New York ever. Both Commissioners Gordon were known for their hard-hitting styles, and both were known to wear garish clothes--particularly combinations of red and white.

But there are, on the surface, discrepancies. A number of fallacies have arisen concerning Commissioner Gordon, primarily due to recent interpretations. Most people see him as an elderly, white-haired, slightly paunchy fellow with glasses and a family. Besides, he is made out to be Commissioner of Gotham City, not New York.

Since Gordon is definitely not more than thirty-eight when the first Batman adventure took place, this image must be considered at least partially faulty. When the commissioner was first depicted in Detective Comics #27, he was distinctly more stocky than paunchy. In many of the early Batman texts, Gordon's hair was portrayed as brown, not white. As for the Gotham City argument--even the most cursory examination of the texts will show this to be shot full of holes. Until December of 1940, Gotham City was called, simply...New York.

Nor does the fact that the Batman Gordon was supposed to have married in 1926 present much of a problem. Since James "Whisperer" Gordon's girlfriend, Tiny Traeger, disappeared from the Whisperer's stories in 1937, we may assume the Batman texts made a typographical error. Instead of reading 1927, I believe James W. Gordon married Tiny Traeger in 1936.

If Commissioner Gordon was the Whisperer, this would explain a number of suggestive actions on Gordon's part. The Whisperer, we know, was active from 1935 to 1941-42. The Batman made his debut in 1938. It was not until 1941 that the Batman was finally accepted by Commissioner Gordon-- three years after he had started crimefighting. Is it possible that Gordon, while still active as the Whisperer, was jealous of this young upstart? And that, when Gordon retired his Whisperer routine in 1941-42. he also gave up his animosity towards the Batman? It would certainly explain Gordon's abrupt change of opinion.

A remark made by Gordon in the November 1955 issue of Detective Comics is given new light by this theory. In this story, Gordon has dressed up like Batman, who is away. At one point, Gordon is overpowered by a gang of thugs, who laugh, "It's an old man Batman! Let's show him!" But Gordon replies, "Old man, am I? Maybe so, but I was learning to handle characters like you 20 years ago!" Gordon then defeats the crooks. "Twenty years ago" from 1955 would be c. 1935, the time of the Whisperer's activity.

The only question raised by this theory is why Gordon retired as the Whisperer. But then, it answers itself upon consideration. Could even a Wold Newton hero be expected to fight crime secretly, hold a job as police commissioner, and raise a family at the same time? That would undoubtedly prove impossible for even the most powerful hero. it remains a sign of James W. Gordon's stamina and strength of character that he managed just this for so long. Even the Batman would nod his head admiringly.


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All rights reserved. The text of this article is copyright 2000 by the author, Arn McConnell. No copying or reproduction of this article or any portions thereof in any form whatsoever is permitted without prior written permission and consent of the author.