PROTECTOR OF GOTHAM
Ruby Rose’s Kickass, Lesbian Batwoman Shows Plenty of Promise
“Batwoman,” the latest addition to the CW’s DC Arrowverse, contains plenty of high-octane action sequences that will satisfy fans of the genre.
You’ll be forgiven for feeling a bit overwhelmed by the DC Arrowverse, the CW’s interconnected small-screen world based on the comic book giant’s many properties. Bringing together the Green Arrow (Oliver Queen), the Flash (Grant Gustin), Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), the Legends of Tomorrow, and Black Lightning (Cress Williams), it’s a convoluted, crossover-happy franchise that makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe look downright straightforward (and simplistic) by comparison. And with the introduction of its newest big-time player, it’s not about to get more clear-cut—or accessible—anytime soon.
While Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) has recently been re-added to the Arrowverse mix, Batman has so far remained MIA. Which isn’t to say that Gotham is without a protector. Having had its heroine first introduced in last year’s Elseworlds event, Batwoman (premiering Oct. 6) now firmly cements Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) as a different sort of Caped Crusader, and yet another crime-fighting member of the Arrowverse’s already stuffed roster. Creator/showrunner Greg Berlanti, the insanely prolific man behind this entire endeavor (among many others), is intent on expanding the CW’s comic-book saga until it literally bursts. And with his latest, he takes his cue from recent DC Comics’ storylines to deliver a distinctly feminist, lesbian twist on the Dark Knight template.
As on the illustrated page (at least since 2016’s DC Rebirth re-launch), Kate is the wealthy cousin of Bruce Wayne. Why Batwoman has done away with Kate’s Jewish ethnicity is a question left unanswered by its origin-story pilot, although it does focus heavily on her still-burning feelings for Sophie (Meagan Tandy), a former girlfriend who opted to break up rather than get expelled from the military academy she and Kate both attended, and which frowned upon their homosexuality. That backstory is dished out by quick-hit flashbacks, as is Kate’s traumatic childhood tragedy, in which Batman was unable to save her mother and sister from plummeting to their deaths after a car crash caused by the Joker.
Those twin events have left Kate bitter at the world, and though it’s clear she’d like to confront Batman over his failure to rescue her family from doom, she’s stymied by the fact that the cowled hero has been missing from Gotham for the past three years. The city’s protection has thus become the responsibility of Kate’s dad Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott) and his Crow Security, a private contractor that Kate would like to join, but is prevented from doing so by a father who doesn’t want her in harm’s way. Family and romantic dynamics are fraught with tension in every direction in Batwoman, and as befitting a Berlanti-DC series, they’re additionally complicated by external threats, which in this case come via Alice (Rachel Skarsten), a blonde-banged baddie in an overcoat who crashes a ceremony at which the mayor was set to turn off the Bat Signal, and promptly kidnaps Sophie.
Kate hears about this abduction while off in some random Artic outpost where she’s being trained by a mysterious sage in the art of, um, swimming to the bottom of freezing cold water, unlocking her handcuffs, and then escaping the frigid depths even as the hole in the icy surface is covered. I’m not sure what this exercise is specifically testing, but it’s reminiscent of the Bruce Wayne-Henri Ducard sequences in Batman Begins. It’s also not the last time Batwoman’s maiden episode conjures memories of Christopher Nolan’s movies, as a later showdown between Kate and Alice in an under-construction skyscraper recalls the final battle between Christian Bale’s do-gooder and Heath Ledger’s Crown Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight.
Shouting-out to its illustrious predecessors is hardly a sin, and for the most part Batwoman is content to chart its own course, establishing its heroine as an outsider with a defiant streak, abandonment issues regarding her literal and figurative dads, and a desire to do what’s right for her metropolitan home. Rose’s copious tats are shown off just enough to verify her non-conformist bona fides, which are further underlined by her piercings, stylishly short coiffure, and favored ensemble of a leather jacket and Ramones T-shirt. At least in the show’s maiden installment, Rose does a functional job bringing Kate’s various issues to life, even if her grim, cocky attitude feels a bit one-note—a shortcoming that will hopefully be remedied once Kate settles into her new role as Gotham’s protector.
Speaking of which, Kate eventually decides to visit Wayne HQ (she was close with Uncle Bruce), and discovers that he was actually—non-spoiler alert!—Batman. The fact that Bruce has been absent for the same three years as Batman would seem like an obvious clue to everyone in Gotham that the two are one and the same. Nonetheless, Kate’s infiltration of Bruce’s office leads to the discovery of the Bat Cave, and his secret identity. It also gives her access to his gadgets and suit, which she retrofits—with the help of Wayne Security Chief Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson), aka the son of Lucius Fox, and Kate’s de facto Alfred—for her own purposes.
All of this is dramatized with the aid of clumsy Rose voiceover and dialogue that’s equally cornball—for example, when Luke tells Kate that the Batsuit is “literal perfection,” she responds with “It will be, when it fits a woman.” Fortunately, its more heavy-handed instincts are often countered by its obligation to stage regular bouts of fleet, lively combat, and in those set pieces, Rose acquits herself nicely, delivering roundhouses—and taking a beating—like one might expect of a John Wick vet. And in Alice, the show provides a villain who, boasting shades of both the Joker and the Mad Hatter (obviously, given her Wonderland-ish name), seems primed for big, exciting things.
Whether those come to pass will be born out by both the remainder of Batwoman’s initial stand-alone season, and also, by her inevitable participation in the Arrowverse’s larger extravaganzas—including the upcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths. For now, however, she seems to be on solid ground—if not quite ready to soar.