The Golden and Silver Ages (1939-1966)
James Gordon appeared in the first Batman story, in 1939’s DETECTIVE COMICS #27. He was initially depicted as a run-of-the-mill police officer who was distrustful and suspicious of Batman’s antics—largely because his effectiveness embarrassed Gordon and his fellow officers. He soon came around, however, going so far as to “deputize” Batman officially, declaring that his activity in the city was legal, in 1941’s BATMAN #7.
By and large, Gordon was a constant background character for most of Batman’s early adventures, spending little time in the spotlight. However, it was revealed that he had a wife and teenage son named Tony in 1951’s WORLD’S FINEST #53.
The Bronze Age (1967-1985)
Gordon’s family was rarely seen in the Golden and Silver Ages of comics. That changed with the introduction of his daughter Barbara (a.k.a. Batgirl) in 1967’s DETECTIVE COMICS #359. By this time, it was established that Gordon was a widower.
1983’s BATMAN #361 brought Gordon an assistant in the form of Lieutenant Harvey Bullock, though he was assigned to work with Gordon by the crooked mayor Hamilton Hill—as a means of undermining the commissioner’s police work. This ultimately resulted in Gordon suffering a heart attack. Fortunately, Bullock reformed his corrupt ways and, in time, became a staunch ally to Gordon.
BATMAN: YEAR ONE (1986)
Following the massive continuity reshuffling of 1985’s CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, Gordon’s history was rebooted. In the 1986 storyline “Year One,” it was established that he had served in the military and as a police officer in Chicago, demonstrating cunning, shining integrity and physical prowess. From there Gordon was reassigned to Gotham, and learned that the city—and the police force itself—was saturated with mafia-controlled corruption.
Gordon’s open refusal to play by the “rules” of the corrupt GCPD earned him a reputation among his fellow cops and Gotham’s underworld, just as Bruce Wayne, who had recently returned home from his time training abroad, was beginning to craft his Batman identity. Gordon was initially tasked with bringing Batman to justice. But over the course of his investigation, he began to doubt that apprehending Batman was in the city’s best interest. Meanwhile, the stress of his job and his moral quandary led him to have an extramarital affair with his fellow officer Sarah Essen. At the time, Gordon’s wife, Barbara, was pregnant with their son, James Gordon Jr.
The affair provided ammunition for the corrupt Commissioner Loeb to blackmail Gordon and placed him on the radar of mafia boss Carmine Falcone, who abducted Gordon’s family in an effort to stop his meddling. Luckily, the Gordons were saved by Batman, and Gordon and his new ally exposed Commissioner Loeb for his mafia connections, marking the beginning of their crime-fighting partnership.
Sadly, Gordon’s transgressions eventually resulted in divorce, and Barbara moved back to Chicago to raise James away from his father.
The Modern Age (1986-2011)
Following “Year One,” several stories retroactively expanded upon Gordon’s history and relationship with Gotham City. 1996’s BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN explored one of Gordon’s earliest cases with Batman alongside district attorney Harvey Dent. Together they formed an alliance to take down “the Roman Empire,” a crime family led by Carmine Falcone. In the process, however, they uncovered a string of murders surrounding the Falcone family, perpetrated by someone they code-named “Holiday,” due to their pattern of killing in concert with holiday events.
After unmasking Holiday as Falcone’s son Alberto, Gordon rose through the ranks from captain to commissioner of the GCPD, and he and Batman maintained a steady, productive working relationship.
Gordon eventually adopted his niece, Barbara Gordon, after her parents were killed in a car accident. Unbeknownst to Gordon, Barbara went on to become Batgirl, and a part of the Batman family (as detailed in 2003’s BATGIRL: YEAR ONE). She was shot and paralyzed by the Joker in 1988’s BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE, in an attempt to drive Gordon insane.
In 1999’s “No Man’s Land” storyline, Gordon remained in Gotham following its isolation and slow descent into chaos after an earthquake struck the city. In an effort to maintain law in an otherwise lawless land, Gordon became the leader of “the Blue Boys,” a gang of the remaining GCPD officers in the city who attempted to maintain order. Before the No Man’s Land sanctions were lifted, Gordon's fiancée, Sarah Essen, was caught in a trap by The Joker and murdered, leaving Gordon with the realization that his entire family had in one way or another been victimized by Gotham’s rampant crime. Even with this realization, Gordon was unable to kill The Joker and instead brought him in alive, a move that took a massive emotional toll on the commissioner.
Not long after Sarah’s murder, Gordon was shot in an attack and left in a coma. The ensuing storyline, 2003’s “Officer Down,” forced both Batman and Barbara Gordon to reevaluate their relationship with vigilantism and the way that bystanders could be affected. Gordon recovered from his wounds, but retired from the force. In his place, the GCPD promoted Michael Akins to commissioner.
Despite removing himself from the police force, Gordon remained in contact with Batman throughout his retirement. He returned to his role as commissioner one year after 2005’s INFINITE CRISIS.
In the 2015 storyline “The Black Mirror,” it was revealed that Gordon’s son, James Gordon Jr., who’d been raised in Chicago, had grown up to be a serial killer. He came to Gotham to hunt down his family, but was apprehended and sent to Arkham Asylum by Dick Grayson, operating at that time as Batman.
The New 52 (2011-2016)
After the continuity of the DC universe was reimagined following the events of 2011’s FLASHPOINT, Gordon was reconceived as a younger man, still married to his first wife, Barbara, and the biological parent of his daughter, also named Barbara. Gordon remained the commissioner of the GCPD, and a close ally of Batman, throughout most of the New 52 era.
In 2014’s BATMAN ETERNAL, Gordon was sentenced to jail after being manipulated into shooting an unarmed suspect. Gordon elected to stay and serve his time, despite the dubiousness of his situation, and remained in Blackgate for an extended period, surviving by following Batman’s methods of maintaining order by example.
Following the disappearance of the Dark Knight in the 2015 storyline “Endgame,” Gordon was tapped to perform the role of a new state-sponsored Batman, with the help of a mechanized suit of armor, to maintain order in the city. Gordon’s new job pitted him against the murderous Mr. Bloom in 2016’s “Superheavy.” But Bruce Wayne eventually resumed the mantle of Batman—to Gordon’s relief.
Gordon’s status and persona remained largely unchanged following the continuity-altering events of 2016’s DC UNIVERSE: REBIRTH #1, though he was now slightly aged to his original appearance, sporting gray hair and a mustache. To this day, Gordon continues his partnership with Batman while working as the GCPD’s commissioner.