Review by C.J. Bunce
For all the hype, CW Network’s latest series adapting DC Comics had an uneventful start this week. After Arrow, The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Black Lightning, and several crossovers, Batwoman is the next crimefighter to throw her dagger-lined gloves into the ring. The pilot is a straightforward introduction following the Greg Berlanti model of the other CW Network shows: A voiceover by the caped hero/heroine, backstory training in a far off strange land, and a tidy origin tied up in a bow with a closely-connected villain, to be the focus of conflict over the course of the first season. And like the other series, excepting the later introduction of Superman in Supergirl and crossovers, there’s no expectation that one of the biggest characters of the DC line-up will ever show. In this case, that means Batman, but the set-up for the first episode of Batwoman pretty much requires an appearance at some point in the show’s future.
Batwoman is Kate Kane, played by Ruby Rose, who has had cameo appearances in the other CW series, starred opposite Jason Statham in last year’s summer action flick The Meg, and she got to show her skills as a badass character in John Wick: Chapter 2, the last Resident Evil, and appeared opposite Vin Diesel in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. She brings an edgy quality that matches the comic book superheroine, complete with tattoos that would distract from any other character but works for Kate Kane. Batwoman changes the course for the CW Arrowverse, with real-world issues of lesbians in the military, gender identity, and bias, so hopefully the series ultimately finds the right balance to match that edginess. The first episode very much reflects that less-than-edgy quality of Arrow. But it’s only the beginning, and the other series in this genre took some time to get going, too. Sorry–Rose doesn’t don that cool red supersuit in the first episode.
The only question is whether Ruby Rose, who seems to fit perfectly into the superheroine role and this take on the comic book story, can match the charisma and acting of series antagonist Rachel Skarsten, who plays Alice, an Alice in Wonderland-inspired villain who isn’t really who you think she is. It feels early to let loose an identity bombshell, but Batwoman’s writers jump right in, revealing what you’d think would be big secrets (we won’t disclose them here). Skarsten has had her share of fantastic badass roles, too. She was Dinah Lance in the original Birds of Prey, Tamsin the Valkyrie in Lost Girl, and she was the young Queen Elizabeth on Reign. Skarsten’s Alice has some similarities of the Arkham Asylum variety as that millennial-favorite character Harley Quinn, but Skarsten’s level of acting is more subtle and polished than we’ve ever seen Harley portrayed.
Supporting roles go to Dougray Scott (Ever After, Doctor Who, Arabian Nights) as Kate’s father, who runs a security company after Batman and Wayne Enterprises seemingly leaves Gotham City to the villains and ruin. Luke Cage’s Camrus Johnson plays the befuddled Luke Fox, presumably the young Lucius Fox from earlier incarnations of Wayne Manor denizens, with Unstoppable’s Meagan Tandy as Kate’s ex-girlfriend, and Twin Peaks: The Return’s Elizabeth Anweis as Kate’s step-mother.
Batwoman is also the latest series of the DC Universe to veer from the comic book origin story. Enough is adapted to make the character more than familiar, but the writers seem to be leaving behind some good material.
It’s been easy to step away from the lighter fare of the CW Arrowverse. After Arrow continued to veer far from its comics origins, the CW series including the initially fun show The Flash all seemed to stand still. That’s until the recent crossovers and return to classic multiverse and elseworlds storylines driven by characters in The Flash. So either Batwoman will be another character molded into the fold, or the series will need to do something to set her apart.
This is the last season of Arrow, but maybe there’s hope for the future of the TV franchise with the forthcoming winter Crisis on Infinite Earths episodes, which will put Brandon Routh (arguably the best Clark Kent of all) back in his cape as Superman, feature John Wesley Shipp back again suited up as The Flash, Tom Welling and Erica Durance as Clark and Lois from Smallville, see Grimm’s Elizabeth Tulloch returning as Lois Lane, and tie-in this new Batwoman, too. Plus Jonah Hex and Supergirl.
The series has promise, but CW has given us little to go on in just the first episode. Batwoman airs Sundays at 7 p.m. Central. To catch the Crisis on Infinite Earths event, you’ll want to set your DVR to record Supergirl on Sunday, December 8 at 7 p.m. Central, Batwoman on Monday, December 9 and The Flash on Tuesday, December 10. The crossover will continue Tuesday, January 14, 2020, with Arrow at 7 p.m. Central and conclude in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow at 8 p.m. Central.