I’ll be honest: Batwoman, the CW’s latest entry in the expanding DC superhero lineup, is not off to a particularly smooth start. Though to be fair, it had an almost impossible hill to climb. Ruby Rose’s take on Kate Kane/Batwoman had already been introduced during last year’s Arrowverse “Elseworlds” crossover, so it was a little jarring to rewind and see how her character came to adopt the cowl we’d already seen her wear. In fact, much of the episode was a retread of the essentials we’d already learned in that crossover: Batman and Bruce Wayne have been missing for a few years now, Bruce Wayne is Kate’s cousin, Kate is a total badass, Gotham kind of sucks. Also? Kate is TV’s first out lesbian superhero lead, which is a big deal (CW has already had TV’s first openly queer superhero lead in bisexual team leader Sara Lance/White Canary, played by Caity Lotz, over on Legends of Tomorrow) and an element that the premiere deservedly pushes to the forefront. But the biggest hurdle the show has to jump is the legacy of Batman himself, and what it means for Kate to adopt the vigilante persona her cousin had abandoned — and that also becomes the show’s greatest strength. In a delicious bit of karmic balance, the entire internet was yelling about the dubious politics of Joker this weekend while Ruby Rose was quietly smirking in a Batcave, saying that Batsuit will be perfect once it fits a woman.
Really, so what if this show is off to a rocky start? At least it’s here at all — and it’s laying some promising groundwork for the series to come.
A lot of Kate’s backstory, as established in the season premiere, hews closely to her comics counterpart. Her mother and twin sister Beth both died during a terrorist attack (that she survived) when she was a child — though the show adds that Batman was on the scene and tried to save them, but failed. Her father, Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott), is a military man who now runs a private security firm called The Crows, which seems to be employed by the city in lieu of a police force in this Batman-bereft Gotham. Kate herself was a former military cadet who was forced to drop out of the academy when her relationship with fellow cadet Sophie (Meagan Tandy) became public knowledge — though Sophie chose to deny her sexual orientation, break up with Kate, and complete her training. She now works for Jacob, which puts her in harms way when a mysterious new Wonderland-inspired gang, run by a Lewis Carrol-quoting honcho named “Alice” (Rachel Skarsten), decides to disrupt the official Batsignal-shutdown ceremony and kidnaps her.
Kate has been traveling the world for a few years to train in various survival skills which ostensibly will help her join The Crows but clearly will make her a far better Vigilante. When the episode starts she’s learning the ancient art of “Harry Houdini-ing yourself out of ankle cuffs and then breaking yourself out from under a sheet of ice before freezing to death and/or drowning” from an unnamed trainer, only to run back to Gotham when she hears that Sophie’s been taken. The attack has been designed to force Jacob’s hand, because Alice claims to have beef with his little army running the city — though it feels more personal than that (spoiler: IT IS). Jacob, meanwhile, doesn’t want Kate to get too involved, which is why she decides to investigate the kidnapping herself… by breaking into her cousin Bruce’s office and stealing access to his city-wide security cams. Look, it’s all pretty flimsy, but the upshot is that Kate a) meets Bruce’s right-hand guy, Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson), and b) accidentally uncovers Bruce’s secret elevator to his secret cave full of bats. Yup, her beloved cousin is the missing vigilante whom she’s always blamed for her sister’s death — and in learning that neither Bruce nor Batman were quite the men she thought they were, Kate finds the answer to her own life as well. She’s always been looking for a purpose and never quite fitting in (the military, the Crows), and now she’s inspired to pull a Bruce and forge her own path as a symbol to strike new fears into the hearts of Gotham’s worst. And the rest is history, right?
Not quite. This is still just the pilot, and while I can see why it was necessary for Batwoman to face the long shadow cast by Batman head-on, I worry that it may struggle to escape that shadow in the long run. There’s an extensive voice-over, which is revealed to be Kate writing a journal of her exploits to Bruce should he ever come home, and it serves to keep the mystery of Bruce’s departure in the forefront of the viewer’s minds (I’m not sure if that was a quirk of the pilot or a trick they’ll employ each week, but I desperately hope it won’t be the latter). Of course, Supergirl also has managed to acknowledge the presence of Superman, and even have him on screen, while still making sure the narrative focus is squarely on Kara Danvers, so I’m hopeful that the new series will also find the right balance now that all the introductory backstory has been done and dusted. The most promising hint comes at the very end of the episode, when it’s revealed that the maniacal Alice is actually Kate’s not-so-dead sister Beth, and she’s hoping to rule the city with her twin — a twist that comic book readers will have already guessed, but which still bodes well for the arc of the show. Alice is exactly the kind of cartoonish rogue we expect to see in any sort of Bat-property, and she also means that Kate’s family problems won’t begin and end with her missing cousin.
With Arrow fast approaching its end, Batwoman can easily pick up its grimdark mantle within the Arrowverse and run with it. There’s plenty of fun material for creator Caroline Dries to pull from to establish Kate Kane as a hero in her own right — without being a substitute for Batman. After all, that suit really is more perfect on a woman. And even if Sophie has a new man in her life, we already know Kate has incredible chemistry with Kara (looking at you, upcoming “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover!).
[And here’s a mystery: That unnamed trainer I mentioned? He is credited as an actor named Gray Horse Rider — who I think is actually performer Byron Chief-Moon (himself the subject of a 2007 documentary called “Byron Chief-Moon: Grey Horse Rider”). If I’m right then I don’t know why he was credited the way he was, because I rewound the episode and “Gray Horse Rider” is the name they list as a guest star. Maybe he chose to go by his stage name? And they spelled it wrong? It’s so weird!]
Header Image Source: CW