Alibi V.28 No.45 • Nov 7-13, 2019

Idiot Box

Passing the Cape

“Batwoman” on The CW

Batwoman

The CW has firmly staked its claim as home to DC Comics. Thanks to its “Arrowverse” of shows (“Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” “Supergirl”), the network is doing bang-up business luring fans from DC’s uneven theatrical efforts (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League, Suicide Squad, Aquaman). After the release of the critically debated Joker, however, it became increasingly hard to escape the conclusion—whether you liked the film or not—that maybe DC’s Batman universe was starting to feel a bit … played out.

Earlier this year FOX wrapped up its pre-Batman series “Gotham” after five seasons, Epix recently launched the Bruce Wayne’s butler-centric series “Pennyworth,” and Warner Bros. is scrambling to lock in the umpteenth recasting of its latest Batman feature (Robert Pattinson = Batman). At this point, it feels like we’ve explored the Batman universe within an inch of its life.

So it is with a certain amount of trepidation that we greet The CW’s newest installment in its DC Comics universe, “Batwoman.” The series is wisely based on J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman’s iconic modern version of the character in Detective Comics and Batwoman and follows their story arc quite closely. Surprisingly, few movies and TV shows draw direct inspiration from actual comic book storylines, preferring to envision their own “cinematic” plots. This “Batwoman” is a perfect example of why Hollywood should be paying even closer attention to the comic book origins of today’s action hits.

The CW starts by introducing us to Kate Kane (Australian model/actress Ruby Rose, who left a strong impression in Season 3 of “Orange Is the New Black”). Kate is a young cousin to millionaire Bruce Wayne. Seems that Wayne vanished from Gotham City three years ago. Quite coincidentally, the vigilante known as Batman also disappeared three years ago. Plunged into crime and chaos in the wake of Batman’s absence, the city has only recently been returned to order thanks to the ubiquitous presence of “The Crows,” a paramilitary security corporation that has taken over the city’s protection. The Crows just happen to be run by Kate’s estranged father (played by Dougray Scott of Ever After and Mission: Impossible 2). Kate’s been MIA for the past few years, having gotten kicked out of military school for making out with a fellow (female) classmate.

Upon her return to Gotham, Kate stumbles—conveniently, of course—across cousin Bruce’s secret, long-abandoned Batcave. With the help of her military training and the assistance of tech nerd Luke Fox (son of Batman’s main gearhead, Lucius Fox), Kate suits up in Bruce’s old duds and tries to take his place. Her history with the Dark Knight is complicated one, though. Not only is she Bruce Wayne’s cousin, but as a young girl she had a run-in with Batman. The Joker ran Kate, her twin sister and her mother off a bridge. Batman paused long enough to secure the vehicle with a cable. But the bumper eventually snapped, sending Kate’s sister and mother to their deaths. Now it seems that a crazed terrorist by the name of Alice (Rachel Skarsten) is taking Gotham by storm. As it turns out, though, Alice is really Kate’s long-lost twin sister. Only Kate and a bunch of dusty Batman equipment stand between the schizophrenic and vindictive “Alice” and Gotham.

“Batwoman” gets a lot of credit for its grown-up writing and its strong attention to character. As in the “controversial” comic, Kate is portrayed as an unapologetic lesbian hero, and it’s heartening to see Rose (a gender non-conforming lesbian) in the part. The show builds up a credible backstory, tightly connected to Kate’s sexuality. Her complicated connection to Batman’s legacy and her confusing relationship with the story’s main villain provide “Batwoman” with more emotional fodder than your average superhero action series.

“Batwoman” also takes its time building up storylines. It’s not really until episode 4 that Kate takes up the mantle of “Batwoman.” Before that, she’s just filling in as Batman—a decision that gives citizens of Gotham a false sense of hope and brings some of Batman’s old archenemies out of the woodwork. Only by embracing her own identity (messy thought it is) can Batwoman triumph. The same holds true for “Batwoman.” So far, the series has done an credible job finding an identity of its own. And it gives longtime bat-fans some hope that there are still fresh stories left to tell in the Batman universe.

“Batwoman” airs Sundays at 7pm on KWBQ-19.