Let me start by saying, I love Batman and most of Batman’s sidekicks. I like Batman better than Superman, partly because he is a regular human guy, and partly because at heart he is a traumatized child and most of us can relate to that. At the same time, I understand very well that Bruce Wayne is a wealthy psychopath whose money and technology protect him from his crimes. I can secretly admire him, but honestly, there is no way he’s a good role model.
The CW likes Batman too, so much so that they’ve given one on his (several) spinoffs her own show. Batwoman airs on Sunday nights. Please note that this is not “Batgirl,” but a completely different character, one who rises to fill the role and duties of Gotham City’s vigilante after Batman and Bruce Wayne (weird, huh?) both disappear. In the comic books, Batman either 1) retires along with Superman and Wonder Woman, and/or, 2) came back but was killed by Darkseid or 3) wasn’t killed by Darkseid but was sent back thru time to the age of the dinosaurs. Let’s hope Batwoman doesn’t decide to address any of that!
In the CW’s stylish new show, Batwoman is the alter ego of Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), the rebellious lesbian daughter of Joshua Kane, CEO of a private paramilitary security force called the Crows. Kate’s mother and sister were killed in a car accident (Batman failed to save them; Kate barely got out of the car in time), who idolized her wealthy, reckless cousin Bruce Wayne. When her ex-girlfriend-turned-Crow, Sophie (Meagan Tandy) is abducted by a new comicbook-crazy villain-in-training who calls herself Alice, Kate returns from where she’s been learning fighting and survival skills to rescue her. In the process she uncovers Bruce’s secret identity and the batcave, and manages to forgive the absent Batman in about a minute and a half for twenty years of resentment that the bat “cared more about catching the badguys than helping innocent people.”
With “Luke Fox,” (Camrus Johnson) a Wayne employee, helping her with the tech, Kate resurrects the bat, bringing joy and some concern to a terrified and basically lawless Gotham. Along the way she rescues Sophie.
Like any TV show, there are things I like and things I doubt. And like most of these posts, I’ll do the list.
Things I like:
Visual Style: The first episode creates a good-looking Gotham City. It may just be that I know more about Gotham than I even did about DC’s other generically-named cities (Edge City, Central City, etc), but this town has character. Admittedly it’s a bad character, but still.
As always, pretty people are the order of the day and the CW didn’t skimp here. Ruby Rose, with her angular, high-fashion-model build and her assertive cheekbones, is the perfect physical specimen to support the batsuit and all the dramatic poses it requires. If the CW decides to do a spinoff called Batwoman’s Cheekbones, they will totally be up for it.
Stepsister Mary (Nicole Kang): Mary is my favorite character so far. She starts off as a shallow, self-centered society girl, and she’s a delight. She’s like a Kardashian only pleasant. Then we discover that social-ditz, med-student Mary secretly runs a street clinic in Gotham. Mary is brilliant, and her clinic and her medical training will come in handy for stepsis Kate when she has those flying-around-in-the-batsuit injuries that are virtually unavoidable.
The tech: I love Batman’s toys, and so does Kate. This could really be fun.
The Social Commentary: Kate is booted out of the ritzy military school she and Sophie attend, when they are caught smooching. Kate refuses to sign the “no homosexual conduct” pledge. Sophie signs it and breaks up with Kate.
“They don’t want you here,” wealthy, white Kate says to her girlfriend.
Sophie, a woman of color, checks Kate’s privilege. “I don’t have the luxury of being offended by that,” she says.
This actually could become a problem, casting Sophie as a craven, closeted woman with white one-percenter Kate as some kind of hero, but for right now, that sentence was priceless.
The voice-over narrative conceit: This worked for me only when I found out what it was. At first, Kate’s journal-entry narration really bugged me. Near the end, though, we find out that she is keeping a journal to show Bruce Wayne when he comes back (from the dead or the dinosaurs or whatever.) That made me think I liked it.
Rachel Maddow. Yes! The MSNBC commentator and writer does some voice work on the show, and I’m hoping for a cameo.
What I doubt:
Okay, honestly? Ruby Rose’s acting ability. I’m not sure any serious show about the Gotham vigilante can rely on the lead’s sheer good looks to carry such a complicated, dark character. Casting Kate/Batwoman as someone who is primarily a daredevil could lead to the problems that, well, Daredevil had. This show is going to have to count on Luke Fox, Mary and probably evil-nemisis Alice (played by Rachel Skarsten, formerly the Valkyrie Tamsin on Lost Girl) to carry the emotional weight of the show. But the show is not called Friends and Enemies of Batwoman.
The Universe. A dark, corrupt Gotham doesn’t worry me (although it does confuse me). No, what worries me that one positive review I read said that Batwoman has “everything we love about the Arrow-verse.” What were the things we loved? Unimaginatively corrupt cities? Mysterious invisible floating islands? Elastic timelines that never worked? The same plot recycled and recycled? Batwoman has already shorthanded “We’re Starling City/Star City lite over here,” with the idea that the municipal police are virtually nonexistent and the Crows, a corporate vigilante group, provide what security there is to a handful of the very rich. My problem with that is, far from giving a critique of it, Kate Kane thinks that’s cool. I mean, she says things like, “People aren’t afraid anymore, and that’s bad.” Note that she doesn’t say criminals, she says people. This is a bad start.
Alice: There is no question about who Alice is. Really, there is so little question that I wondered why people were acting like they didn’t know who she was. Then her identity was revealed at the end of Episode One. In one way, that’s good. Dragging out something that was headlights-in-the-dark obvious would have made Kate and her annoying father Joshua look even more stupid. In another way, it leaves less room for any real story about a person who shouldn’t be much of a villain. My desperate hope is that she is the puppet for a more plausible Big Bad, someone hiding in plain sight, who hopes to benefit (maybe politically?) from a fearful populace and a private army that can’t meet the deliverables in its contract.
Wimpy Heroes: The Crows are trained at the level of Delta Force or SEALS, at least allegedly, with top of the line technology (except for the stuff sitting pristine and unused at Wayne Enterprises, where it’s been for three years). They are soundly thrashed, not once but twice, by a giddy Lewis-Caroll-quoting demi-villain and a bunch of guys in rabbit masks. I mean, yes, Alice has a mole in the Crow organization, but still. Really?
The last show I tried to watch that took a new character from the title character’s universe was a dismal Krypton on Syfy. That show sank because it tried to do too many things. The difference here is that Kate Kane in an in-universe character and so is Batwoman. That may make a difference.
I like Mary, and the style of the show, and the toys. And Rachel Maddow! Those are all pluses. On the other hand, it celebrates being related to Arrow, a series with a main character who was contemptible and a storyline I found impenetrable. Batwoman espouses values that are bad; the wealthy individual over the community; privilege over service. Great cheekbones might not be enough to save it.
On the other hand, there is Mary. I think I’ll watch a few more episodes, and hope that the battle for Kate’s soul is interesting and authentic… and that Rachel Maddow shows up. (Oh, no! I am informed in this article that Maddow will not appear on camera.)