Gotham City goes through so much, so frequently, that it can be hard to keep track of all the crises the city faces. If Batman isn’t tangling with the Joker as he tries to poison the city’s water supply, he’s trying to stop Mr. Freeze from holding the city to ransom with a giant ice cannon. The “Gothtopia” event of 2014, which ran through the Batman family of titles, is another one of these crises, but it puts a twist of the DC Universe’s darkest metropolis.
In this storyline, Gotham was a perfect, gleaming city, nearly crime-free and described as a place where dreams come true. Bruce Wayne had a happy life with Selina Kyle, and the heroes of the Bat-Family were equally content in their new, near-perfect lives. However, this shining facade still hid a grim Gotham that was hiding underneath.
Kicking off in Detective Comics #27 by John Layman and Jason Fabok, “Gothtopia” begins as any Batman story might. Poison Ivy is rampaging through Gotham, raving about how everyone needs to be woken up, Meanwhile, a gleaming white-armored Batman and his partner Catbird — Selina Kyle in a hybrid of her traditional leather catsuit and a Robin uniform — bring her to justice. This updated Dynamic Duo do just that, but not before Ivy’s words tip Batman off to the idea that something isn’t right.
As the crossover goes on, Batman becomes more and more weary of the practically perfect and crime-free city over which he now guards, especially after noting an exponential increase in suicides from citizens with seemingly perfect lives. As soon as the spell on Batman is broken, the other victims of this shared hallucination turn on him. To keep from injuring any of his allies, Bruce takes the fall and allows them to lock him up in the Crane Center for Health and Wellness, a revised Arkham Asylum. It’s here that it is revealed that this is all a city-wide illusion cast by Scarecrow over the unsuspecting citizens of Gotham in Detective Comics #28-#29, by Layman, Aaron Lopresti and Art Thibert.
Crane had been tinkering with his traditional fear toxin, modifying it so that it elicited a feeling of contentment instead of terror. In spreading this new toxin throughout Gotham, he created a perfect testing ground in which nobody would be able to disturb his experiments of fear. But because of the way his new toxin worked, Crane’s test subjects and victims were left shattered by the experience, which led to the rash of violent suicides. Batman manages to escape the Asylum, taking Ivy along with him after using her poisoned kiss to transfer her toxin-immunity to himself, before being confronted at the Asylum gates by Scarecrow and the other members of the Batfamily held under his sway. Playing into Scarecrow’s ego, Bruce submits himself to another dose of Crane’s toxin to save Catwoman and seemingly betrays Ivy.
Batman continues to play along with Crane’s game, even conducting a few fear experiments of his own on 12 different career criminals before sabotaging Crane’s plan to spread his toxin across the Eastern seaboard by using the counteragent he was able to formulate with Ivy’s help. As soon as the illusion is shattered, the Bat-Family are freed from Scarecrow’s control and move to take down the villains he’d had under his thrall, while Batman takes down Scarecrow himself using his own toxin.
However, Batman isn’t the only hero in Gotham. Apart from Detective Comics, the storyline also ran through issues of Batwing, Batgirl, Catwoman, and Birds of Prey, and it altered the lives of these heroes just as much. Luke Fox’s relationship with his father was better than it had ever been, Barbara Gordon had a happy family life, Catwoman was finally partners with Batman in every way, and the Birds of Prey were beloved heroes. By playing on their greatest desires, it wasn’t hard to understand why these heroes fell victim to such an ingenious scheme.
There is nothing Batman wants more than to rid Gotham of the crime and corruption that stole his parents from him. This isn’t the first time that a villain has “fixed” his city, but he knows it’s a never-ending battle without any shortcuts. For the heroes of Gotham, the only Gothtopia they’ll trust will be the ones that they bring to life themselves.
Batman's hometown is usually one of DC's darkest, dingiest locations, but the Gothtopia storyline transformed it into a gleaming utopia.