Remember when Batman was fun to watch? Certainly, the figure goes through eras where he’s more dour than usual, but with the popularity of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, it seems that the character has been on a decidedly grim bent on screen. Still, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who’s getting tired of sad, angry, existential Bat-plots. So how do we make Batman fun again?
It turns out, you just hand Ruby Rose a Batsuit and let her take care of everything.
[Some spoilers for Batwoman, episode one.]
The first episode of The CW’s Batwoman is kind of a big deal for being the first superhero show to headline a visibly queer hero. (Constantine could have had that honor, but the Matt Ryan version didn’t canonize his bisexuality until he was dropped into CW Berlanti-verse of DC heroes.) Fans of the comics know Kate Kane’s story well: Cousin to Bruce Wayne, kicked out of the military for being gay and refusing to hide it, donning a Batsuit with long red hair attached to the cowl to make it harder to suss out her identity, Kate has a different set of traumas than her cousin, but plenty of reasons to want to fight crime by night as a vigilante.
While first episodes (and even first seasons) can make it difficult to glean the quality of an entire show, Batwoman’s premiere does one thing unaccountably well—it’s solid, dependable fun. Even with the sad backstory (Kate lost her sister and mother in car accident when their sedan goes over a bridge), the heartache born of institutional homophobia (her relationship with fellow cadet Sophie Moore is torn asunder when they’re caught, and Sophie signs a statement denying homosexuality to stay in the military), and the daddy issues (she has one overprotective father in the form of Jacob Kane), Kate is allowed to explore, mess up, and find her place with the type of cavalier glee typically only reserved for male superheroes. It even throws in some choice Bat-tropes, like the Chosen By A Swarm of Bats moment, and the Broodingly Overlooking the City moment.
The show pits the vigilante justice of Batman and other superheroes against Jacob Kane and Catherine Hamilton-Kane’s private security firm, The Crows. Kate’s father and step mother have worked hard since Batman’s disappearance three years ago to make their company the new answer to the hole left by Batman’s absence, despite Gotham’s City’s seeming hope that Bats will return to them. The presence of The Crows not only makes perfect sense for what Gotham would be willing to do in order to maintain order, but also means that we have two problematic means of protecting the public that both rely on capitalist influence—either the Wayne family fortune, or private security that offer their services for a price. Whether the show will chose to tackle this issue remains to be seen, but it’s a fascinating set up nonetheless.
Then there’s Alice, leader of the Wonderland Gang and newcomer to terrorizing Gotham, who is quickly revealed to be someone quite relevant to Kate and her past. The lack of secrecy around many of the twists in the first episode makes it clear that mystery isn’t really the vibe that Batwoman is going for just yet. To start, the show seems keen on building relationships and enjoying the new dynamics it has created; Kate’s former girlfriend Sophie, the first to be imperiled on the show, already seems to be starry-eyed over Batwoman, and what’s better, she’s married. So this may be the first time that we’ve seen the love interest in a superhero plot pine for a hero of the same gender while being married to someone of the opposite gender. (We also don’t yet know if Sophie is bisexual, or if she decided it was better to appear straight for her career, and either decision leads to some very interesting options down the line, storytelling-wise.)
There’s also the tense relationship between Kate and her dad, which clearly needs some tuning. He’s quick to tell her that she is all he has left as a reason for refusing to let her join The Crows, despite having a wife and a stepdaughter, is all I’m saying. The idea that Kate might be choosing the Batwoman mantle for her own reasons, but also partly to keep her father from worrying about all she’s planning to do, is one of the smarter choices the story makes in altering her narrative from the traditional Bat-origin. There’s a lot of fun Batverse mythology thrown into the first episode as well, though how anyone could neglect to guess that Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same person when they’ve both been missing for the exact same period of time if goofy enough to be comical.
That’s not to say there aren’t missteps. There’s some glaringly odd racial stereotyping with Kate’s unnamed mentor at the start of the episode, and it’s aggravating that nearly every CW hero outside of Black Lightning centers on a white person who often has one or more people of color serving as support/sidekicks—in this case, Kate has Luke Fox (son of Lucius Fox) and her step-sister, Mary Hamilton—though both Mary and Luke are wonderful characters in their own right from what we’ve seen so far. It’s also unclear whether or not the show will follow the comics by making Kate a Jewish woman; outside of Magneto (and that lovely glass-breaking moment in Into the Spiderverse) there’s little onscreen Jewish representation in the superhero genre. But the show is only just beginning, so they’ve only just started to build their world and its characters. There’s a lot of space to grow.
Altogether, Batwoman hits all the notes it needs for a first adventure. Getting the chance to follow Kate’s first steps into a vigilante career is bound to be exciting, but more importantly, it takes a mythos that has been veering toward severity for too long, and gives it a chance to enjoy itself a little more.
Emmet Asher-Perrin also really loved how not-slick Kate was when she forgot to unlock the door as she walked away from her super-fly rescue. You can bug him on Twitter, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.