In last year’s massive “Elseworlds” crossover event in The CW’s “Arrowverse,” Ruby Rose officially debuted as Kate Kane, otherwise known as Batwoman. With the character’s introduction, which occurred across interconnected episodes of The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl, viewers were treated to news that Bruce Wayne’s Batman was nowhere to be found in Gotham City. The so-called “Dark Knight” was gone without a trace, leaving a power vacuum among the city’s massive rogues gallery and those willing to stand up to them.
Almost a year later, the inevitable Batwoman spin-off series premieres this Sunday. Developed by The Vampire Diaries and Smallville alum Caroline Dries and starring Rose, it’s the first of The CW’s many, many “Arrowverse” shows to kick off the new television season. It’s an obvious move by executive producer Greg Berlanti, of course, as the final season of the flagship Arrow show is also about to premiere. Someone needs to pick up the mantle first adopted by Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen, after all, and it seems that Rose’s Kane is the right woman for the job.
As much as Rose shines in Batwoman‘s bat signal, her heroine faces insurmountable narrative odds and, sadly, isn’t always able to rise above them (judging by the two episodes made available for review). For starters, Arrow has been on the air since 2012 and, in the years since, has had plenty of time (and wiggle room) to help Berlanti launch his massive “Arrowverse.” Batwoman, on the other hand, is literally being shoehorned into the crime-fighting archer’s position without the possibility (or the luxury) of so much time.
The real issue, however, arises for the same reason that I chose to begin this review with the show’s Batman-is-missing plot device: Batwoman cannot escape Bruce Wayne. Or, put in a slightly different way, the new series doesn’t really try to escape the Batman-shaped hole in its premise. Yes, it makes sense that someone with the means and the abilities would step into the vigilante’s vacancy if necessary. And judging by the state of Gotham City in the pilot episode, it’s completely necessary. The Lewis Carroll-quoting Alice (Rachel Skarsten) quickly proves to be too much of a handful for Jacob Kane’s (Dougray Scott) private security force, known primarily as “The Crows.” A masked hero is needed.
The Batman plotline works as a setup for Kane’s eventual transformation into Batwoman, of course, but this was already established in last year’s “Elseworlds” crossover. And while the pilot should perform due diligence by referencing this fact, both it and the second episode, “The Rabbit Hole,” spend a lot of time unpacking Bruce’s sudden disappearance, Kate’s misgivings about his mysterious bachelor life and the apparent apathy of his masked alter ego. A few simple flashbacks or expositional scenes would have done the trick.
Which is a shame, because whenever Batwoman veers away from the Batman story and focuses entirely on Kane’s, it shines like the best of the “Arrowverse.” It’s no Legends of Tomorrow, mind you, but it’s still quite good when it wants to be. This is largely due to Rose’s performance. Her take on Kane, along with the aide of Dries, Berlanti, and the rest of the writing staff, smartly adapts the modern kernels of the character as laid out in Detective Comics #859 and Batwoman: Elegy. She survived a horrible accident that left her sister and mother dead and her father distraught. It also ignited a powerful fury for all things Batman, whom she blamed for the deaths.
As Kane, Rose successfully parses this backstory and brings it to life, along with the character’s iconic origins as a West Point cadet who was kicked out for being a lesbian. For not only does Batwoman embrace this aspect of her character — it celebrates it. From her romance with fellow cadet Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy) and their subsequent fallout to the pair’s many run-ins in Gotham City, where Moore works as a Crow and Kane becomes a vigilante, Batwoman integrates the comic book source material’s LGBTQ threads and embraces them fully.