Bird’s Eye View: Steampunk in Gotham?


On her flights over time and space, my mechanical bird DeeDee gets a landscape view of alternative histories in our future-focused culture. Occasionally we’re lucky to get a quick fly-over . . .

Greetings to all of Lisa’s readers:

DeeDee here. It’s been a whirlwind month touring culture, with a few quick stops along the way. I’ve had great headwind, as steampunk seems to be blowing over the pop scene like a hurricane. But right now, I’m not sure whether my feathers are ruffled or all puffed out in pride . . .

Because our favorite vintage future fandom has finally come full circle. From its roots in DIY to its latest invasion of DC Comics: steampunk has arrived in Gotham.

As a bird-on-the-go, I’m always two knots behind what’s happening. Imagine my surprise when I caught the first episode of Gotham and saw this latest version of Catwoman (Camren Bicondova). Headgear, anyone?

Gotham - Cat Woman

Aside from looking like mass-produced goggles swiped from a nearby con, this nod to the steampunk cliché had me opening my beak to shout “Cheap! Cheap!”  Was the costume designer a closet geek, or was this a sign of things to come?

I didn’t wait long for an answer.

Screen shot 2014-09-28 at 8.54.30 PM
Gotham’s police precinct. Or is that London, turn of the (last) century?


Screen shot 2014-09-28 at 9.02.59 PM
Clocks abound, cleverly inserted in really strange places . . .


Screen shot 2014-09-28 at 9.07.55 PM
Meatpacking plant? I was expecting Robert Downey, Jr., to stroll by.


Screen shot 2014-09-28 at 9.08.08 PM
Even Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) gets her own red-velvet brothel.


All in all, that’s an awful lot of steam for a twenty-first century city.

As a bird of steel, I try not to fly in circles, but on this one, I can’t help feeling a little batty. On the one wing, this modern fusion of steampunk and the 21st century is everything I love. And it is also straight out of various Batman comics where Gotham maintained a “retro” feel.

But on the other wing, this also feels like a definite wire across the sky: Hollywood has discovered steampunk.

What will Hollywood appropriation do to the fandom?

We knew this was coming of course. We had hints in Looper, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, and even Heroes of Cosplay on SyFy (among others). But this is different. In Gotham, we have not one nod, but a whole world defined a steampunk aesthetic . . .

Or at least, what Hollywood thinks is a steampunk aesthetic.

I may be mechanical, but I admit I’m nostalgic for the “good old days,” when nobody knew what steampunk was except, well, the steampunks. It’s not the mashup between superheroes and steampunk that I mind. It’s the fact that vintage futures are now the cat’s meow of culture . . . and you know how we birds feel about cats.

The future will tell how mainstream attention affects the fandom. For the time being, all we can do is keep our well-goggled eyes on Gotham, and get back to making the fandom that started with, well, fans.

Cheerio, folks! There’s fair weather for takeoff.

Happy flying,


What do you think about the steampunk-esque aesthetic of Gotham? Are you excited or saddened that our happy world has come to the masses?

4 thoughts on “Bird’s Eye View: Steampunk in Gotham?

  1. I haven’t seen Gotham yet, though I will when it hits British tv. But I’m very glad to see those sort of retro visuals, as they’ve made the city distinctive in many versions of Batman, both on page and screen, and help turn the place into character in itself. Looking forward to seeing more.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a relatively new (having discovered the name of the Steampunk aesthetic in 2008 but having actually discovered it as long ago as 1999) steampunk enthusiast, I, for one, think that our subculture is an extremely hospitable one (as opposed to, say, goth subculture, which some see as intimidating to enter, let alone pull off aesthetically). This allows for many people to discover us. We seem to attract a large number of good people, morally speaking. More on that in a bit.

    Of course, this brings forth the insatiable juggernaut of Hollywood commercialism. The machinations of the producers and directors will usher in a new era for the Age of Neo-Steam. However, this Hollywood scene will inevitably attract a few problems. The things I fear from it include: More immoral/amoral people in the scene (call me sheltered but at this point I have yet to meet a mean steampunk and yet I have met some really nasty film/TV buffs), overall cheapening of the aesthetic through association with Hollywood (they will find one singular facet of Steampunk and they will saturate the neo-culture with it, skewing the mindsets of the coglings), and in the en, once Hollywood has grown tired (as they are a fickle, petulant child of industry) – the dooming of Steampunk to the likes of an “obsolete fad” (diehard steampunks are going to stay no matter what, but our image will be worse than many others’).

    But hey, who can honestly say what the future truly holds? The Age of Steam died once before and we brought it back. What’s to say it can’t become even more glorious through this revelation?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh, you’re an amazing wrier. I couldn’t have said it better myself:
      “Once Hollywood has grown tired (as they are a fickle, petulant child of industry) – the dooming of Steampunk to the likes of an “obsolete fad” (diehard steampunks are going to stay no matter what, but our image will be worse than many others’).”

      THAT is what I fear more than anything else. Because until something becomes known by the mainstream, it can’t become obsolete, really. It is timeless. Once it has widespread attention, it belongs to a time, a place, an era. TimeLESSness is somehow lost–no matter how many diehards stay. In ten years? We’ll be something they chuckle over. “Oh yes, the year 2017 [or whatever], when people dressed up in silly retro costumes. That’s so out now.”

      Ironically, one of the key points of the original steampunk visionaries was the inherit obsolescence of technology. As soon as the machines of industry swoop in, that obsolescence begins. It is the beginning of the end of innocence.


  3. Pingback: Is national genre culture declining? | Andrew Knighton writes

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