In the US: Sundays, 8pm, The CW
In the UK: Will air on E4 in 2020
Batman is a problem. At the cinemas, you can’t get rid of him. He’s everywhere. As soon as you think you’ve got rid of him, he’s back again. Four movies in the 80s and 90s. Three Christopher Nolan movies. Batman v Superman. Justice League. And now we’ve got Robert Pattinson about to suit up for The Batman.
That’s too much bat, man.
On TV, however, DC has been pretty strict, with zero TV versions of Batman allowed while there’s a Batman at the cinema (ie never). We’ve had 10 seasons of young Superman in Smallville and Supergirl‘s had her own Superman (Tyler Hoechlin); we’ve even got alternative reality and previous versions of Superman lined up for The CW’s annual superhero show crossover. But the sainted Bat hasn’t once shown up.
What we have been allowed is ersatz versions of Batman, ranging from Smallville‘s Adam Knight through to the comic book Batman knock-off himself, Green Arrow, in Arrow – the first season of which was itself a (very good) knock-off of Batman Begins.
And now we have Batwoman.
Although there is a long and exciting discussion to be had about whether the most famous superheroines are merely female versions of superheroes, rather than characters in their own rights – cf She-Hulk, Spiderwoman, Supergirl, Miss Martian, Batgirl – the comic book Batwoman is at least a relatively different creature from playboy Bruce Wayne and his becowled alter-ego.
A former student of West Point who gets thrown out for being gay, she ends up stealing military weaponry to create her own Batman-style arsenal. Of course, it then turns out she’s Bruce Wayne’s cousin, but what you going to do?
On TV, not so much it seems. Because this is a Batwoman not at all confident she can escape the Bat’s shadow.
He’s such a problem, that man.
Despite our already having met this ‘Arrowverse’ Batwoman, played by Ruby Rose (John Wick – Chapter 2), in the previous Arrowverse superhero crossover, Batwoman rewinds time in its first episode to give us an origin story for the previously fully formed superheroine.
Three years previously, Bruce Wayne disappeared from Gotham. No one knows why. Coincidentally, at the exact same time, so did Batman. No one knows why.
Hmm. Surely… nah. Must be a coincidence.
Without a Batman – or a functioning police force, apparently – Gotham goes to hell again. Emboldened, gangs run rampant. The city starts employing Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible 2, Snatch, Quantico)’s Crows security company.
However, for various personal reasons, a new gang led by Alice in Wonderland fan Rachel Skarsten takes against Scott and abducts his protégé (Meagan Tandy). Who happens to be Rose’s ex-West Point girlfriend. Rose, who’s been roaming the world learning survival skills so she can join the Crows, returns to rescue her.
And discovers in the process that her cousin used to be Batman. Gasp! Who could have guessed it?
But since he’s not using it, with the help of Lucius Fox‘s son, Luke (Camrus Johnson), she’s soon converting Bruce’s cowl and cosi so it can be worn by a woman…
Greg Rucka is currently TV’s rising star of exciting but woke comic book source material, given his Stumptown has proved a good basis for ABC’s PI revival, and the show is smart enough to use a lot of the good groundwork he put in place when he created Kate Kane.
This first episode gives us most of that initial background material, albeit without Renee Montoya (for now at least – plus we’ve already had a version of her in Supergirl). That gives us a firm background to the character, as well as some interesting themes to consider, including father-daughter relationships, as well as sister-sister relationships, which aren’t often the core of TV superhero fare.
The Alice in Wonderland allusions are also novel, too, and the show’s Red Alice/Batwoman dynamic neatly avoids the standard homoerotic tensions foist upon any two female adversaries (cf Birds of Prey), allowing it to address more interesting topics, while still having a lesbian lead.
The trouble, though, is that welded on top of that is everything Batmany and Arrowy available. We’ve got British actor Dougray Scott playing Rose’s dad, who’s now a quasi head of police (cough, cough, Paul Blackthorne, cough, cough). We’ve got the usual stunts and tricks of Arrow. We’ve got the same style of shooting. We’ve got the beginnings of an Arrow-style back-up support team.
That nice origin story in the comics for how Kate Kane got her costume? Here, she literally asks the bloke who made Batman’s costume to widen it a bit around the hips.
Sometimes you have to work for jokes. And sometimes a show literally takes Batman’s costume, gives it a wig and calls it Batwoman.
Riddle me this
The show should be praised for at least being better than Gotham. Skarsten adds variety and colour, without going too far over the top, as the show’s Joker. Scott is at least bothering to act, rather than phoning it in like he easily could have done. And it is all pretty good fun.
I can’t really say harsh words about Camrus Johnson, as he is the latest and most nerdiest of Arrowverse’s nerds – if a man gets given a script saying, “Channel Urkel“, there’s not much room left for nuance.
Rose, on the other hand, doesn’t inspire. She has the physicality. She has the gayness. But that’s it. Personality seems to slip off her and her range is from zero to glowers. Even Stephen Amell could do better than that when he first started.
Never once did I think “Oh, that’s the Kate Kane from the comics.” Hell, “Oh yes, she definitely was in the military” would have been a good compromise step.
The pressure’s on her, of course, as TV’s first out superheroine, but she really needs to relax into the role. And realise acting is a lot more than simply flexing different muscles at different times in certain co-ordinated ways.
TV isn’t quite missing Batman, of course. DC Universe’s Titans has given us two Robins and a Bruce Wayne/Batman, so far, and done a very good job of it. While it does have a tendency to keep droning on about Batman whenever either of the Robins is on screen, that’s only one of its many arcs, since it has Raven, Donna Troy, Hawk and Dove, Beast Boy, Starfire and others, all with their own concerns. That means its Batman obsession doesn’t really dominate.
Here, despite trying to lay down a female woke full house on the table, Batwoman is all about the Batman. I’m hoping later episodes can start talking about something else for a change, because there’s nothing more tedious than a loquacious Bat-fan, talking about his (or her) obsession.
If you do just want a Batman TV show with a wig on it, Batwoman will probably do okay. But if you want something superheroic that has something new to say – about Batman or not – I’d say watch Titans.