Stay out of Gotham, Batman, because there’s a new caped crusader in town. Greg Berlanti and Caroline Dries’ “Batwoman” finds its landing at The CW at a crucial hour for fans of the Batverse. FOX’s “Gotham” recently wrapped; Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Joker” brought everyone’s favorite maniacal nihilist back into the fold this past weekend. Now is the perfect time to introduce someone who can combat the rising tide of Gotham villainy. This time a heroine will take up the night watch, Bruce Wayne’s cousin Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), who dutifully transforms into the titular role. With previews of her prowess in last year’s “Elseworlds” Arrowverse crossover, the masked magnate now has a home of her own on DC’s primary television network. The exciting pilot proves Rose is more than capable of carving a gritty niche for Batwoman among the dense superhero crowd.
With an intro reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins,” Kane begins her training in the coldest of climates with strict elder instructor in tow. Upon her return to Gotham, her father Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott) unveils his military-trained security team to coincide with the Bat-Signal’s official shutdown. Known as the Crows, this elite force is charged with protecting the city in lieu of Batman’s three-year absence. Interrupting the event is the mischievous Alice (Rachel Skarsten) and her Wonderland gang. Skarsten assures viewers quickly on that Alice is no mere “villain of the week.” Exuding a brand of insanity that reads cultivated and not inherent, this Lewis Carroll obsessive – and Mad Hatter admirer to be sure – has palpable tragedy locked beneath the wildness. The gang prizes themselves with the capture of Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy), star Crow agent and Kate Kane’s former love.
Part of what makes “Batwoman” such an important show is that it not only elevates onscreen lesbian representation – and by extension the LGBTQ community – but it also explores what it means to be attracted to the same sex in these male-dominated comic book arenas. In the case of Kate Kane, she is kicked out of her father’s military academy after her homosexual relationship with Sophie is discovered. Rather than risk hurting her career path, Sophie refuses to drive off into the sunset glow of lover’s paradise, thus ending her romance to the embitterment of Kate.
One of the main draws of the narrative is hoping Kate can free Sophie from “the closet,” held together by locks of shame, heterosexual commitments, and Sophie’s esteemed position at work that defines her more than anything. With Gotham drenched so deeply in toxic masculinity, it only makes sense for there to be homophobic overlap among the populace. The promise of exploring such backwards contentiousness is what bravely sets this show apart from less substantive DC story material.
There is an array of minor characters in Katy’s orbit who show promise but are given shallow probing. Defense contractor Catherine Hamilton-Kane (Elizabeth Anweis) and her daughter Mary Hamilton (Nicole Kang) are Kate’s respective stepmother and stepsister. Cordiality is as warm a temperature as Kate’s relationship with her stepmother gets, though Mary at least shows signs of being the closest thing she has to a sibling bond. Tragedy struck in Kane’s childhood, which found her mother’s vehicle forcibly driven off the road, over a bridge, and ultimately into the river below. Despite Batman’s best gadgetry efforts, Kate was the only survivor; her sister and mother were the victims of this fatal accident. Believing Batman was more interested in catching villains to serve his ego, Kate harbors resentment until she discovers just how closely related she is to Gotham’s sworn protector.
As DC’s newest hero brought from page illustration to live-action, Ruby Rose is as tough and capable as you’d imagine. She never shields Kate’s sexuality and heart, living each scene with pride and ardent confidence. What makes Kate Kane such a fascinating protagonist is that while she’s quick to react, she’s also quicker to adapt and investigate. Rose is perfect at exuding a yearning for transparency, and never compromising when it comes to uncovering all the secrets she can to maximizing her agency. Men are the gatekeepers of so much of Gotham’s inner workings, but Batwoman is the first crimefighter in the city to truly subvert this omniscient control.
The CW certainly found their next must-see DC series, and the darker shift in tone will only draw audiences previously resistant to the network’s soapy leanings. However, the pilot isn’t without its gaffes. Sometimes the serious, cool-toned glossiness of “Batwoman’s” cinematography clashes with the script’s colloquial dialogue. Furthermore, I’m not sure the writers necessarily needed to adhere to comic book source material by having Kate Kane be the cousin of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Her family could have had deep financial ties to Gotham without being related to the Waynes. Kane’s inevitable continuation of Batman’s legacy – thanks to her outmaneuvering of Lucius Fox’s son, Luke (Camrus Johnson) — would have felt more earned rather than inherited had the familial bond not existed.
Moreover, in “Supergirl,” Kara Danvers already functions as the less-famous Kryptonian compared to her cousin. Two female characters from the same universes viewed as being in the shadow of their more popular male cousins can feel a tad diminutive and constricting. That said, perhaps the similarity the two heroines share will somehow be touched upon during a future crossover. Overall, “Batwoman” is a groundbreaking step for mainstreaming LGBTQ heroes in leading positions, especially out lesbians who rarely get an opportunity to be freely themselves on television.
Catch “Batwoman” on The CW every Sunday night. The pilot episode is now available to steam on the CW App.