The CW‘s DC world has managed long-term success in a realm that seems especially tricky to negotiate. That success dictates that new shows need to showcase a certain similarity while trying to carve their own relevance out of something that’s been around a while. Enter Batwoman.
A spin-off originating from the 2018 bridge episode of Arrow, “Elseworlds”, which featured Supergirl, Arrow, and Flash (though not everyone was in their original bodies), Batwoman takes us to a Gotham from which Batman mysteriously disappeared three years ago. Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) was in that episode, and now we get to see how she manages to become Batwoman, and we’ll get a lot of exposure to her strange family.
Unfortunately, the series begins with a sort of furious desperation to churn through so much establishment that it loses touch with what might make this show interesting. Kate has grown up hating Batman, because she blames him for the death of her mother and sister. When she was a child, Batman didn’t quite rescue her family when their car was about to go over the side of a bridge, and though Kate made it out, Batman never came back.
Now, with Batman gone, Kate has spent her life trying to prove herself to her father Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott), whose private security firm has tried to take up the slack now that no one is answering the Bat Signal. Kate’s training, and overall effort, opens the door for us to reminisce about the time she got kicked out of a military academy for being gay, and watching as her girlfriend abandoned her to stay in.
It’s all relevant because we ultimately learn that Gotham’s villain-du-jour, Alice (Rachel Skarsten – who awesomely was in Birds of Prey) might be Kate’s long-thought-dead sister. Of course, it’s also relevant for Kate to have a difficult relationship with her father, because the return of any Bat isn’t something Jacob is going to be happy about.
We enter the show with Kate trying to prove herself, and since she was semi-adopted by Bruce Wayne, who also disappeared three years ago (no, no one gets it), she breaks into Bruce’s offices to try to get information to help her father. Things then play out much as you might expect when a highly-trained combat specialist breaks into Bruce Wayne’s world looking to help correct the injustices of the world.
Once things get rolling, the show pulls in everything fans love about all the other CW DC shows, not least that it’s rather goofy, but most importantly it has characters that drag you through the story. The fighting is distractingly comic and Ruby Rose doesn’t deliver “serious” to any real degree, but she’s surrounded by people chewing scenery, which in this case is a lot of fun. Skarsten steals the show in a role that viewers are either going to love or be utterly bored by. Alice is treading into Joker territory, though she has a pointed fixation to her madness and the unique spiral into villainy will likely prove to be the show’s greatest asset. Camrus Johnson, as Luke Fox, the caretaker of Wayne’s estate, doesn’t quite explode out of the gates, but gives hints that he’s going to ultimately have a massive fan base. With little to work with, he’s already offered up a certain perfection of comic-sidekick charm.
Ultimately, the show is about the pulls and twists, and how far people are willing to tag along with Ruby Rose. The writing opens the door for a lot of fun and something similar enough to a Bat World adventure. The show’s future is a function of how quickly we get to the snarky Batwoman with the wry smile that we see in the show’s promos because staring sternly while mad at daddy isn’t working nearly as well. The trick here is that we’re still guessing where we’ll be exactly once the establishment settles, and it looks like this may prove the most watchable CW DC effort yet, because it’s setting a stage that draws on the elements that have worked for Gotham, whatever the format. It just isn’t there yet.