SDCC 2019: Batwoman spoiler-free review: stylish and satisfying

WBTV screened the pilot episode of new CW superhero show Batwoman at San Diego Comic-Con. Here's what our US pals thought...

We first met Batwoman during The Arrowverse crossover event this past fall, when she was already doing her hero thing – matte black suit, flaming red wig, bold lip and all. It was the right call for the crossover, but to start the series the Batwoman premiere backs up to tell Kate Kane’s origin story within the context of her place within the Wayne family and this iteration of Gotham. 

The Batwoman premiere starts with a charity event to finally turn off the bat signal in an effort to help the city move on after Batman left Gotham three years ago. A new villain, Alice, who speaks in quotes from the Lewis Carrol books and has henchmen with rabbit masks, has other ideas. Kate Kane is Bruce Wayne’s maternal cousin (but doesn’t know what he did with his nights) and is called home to Gotham when someone she cares about is put in danger.

Flashbacks fill in the details on Kate’s aborted military training, which lead her to her travels abroad to train to be good enough to join her father’s security service, The Crows, which fill Batman’s void. Much has been made of Kate Kane and Ruby Rose’s identities, a lot of which has been incredibly harmful. To be clear, Kate Kane has been a tattooed lesbian with a military background. She is portrayed by Ruby Rose, a queer, gender fluid actor who uses she/her pronouns.

The character wasn’t changed for the television show and so far, seems highly comics accurate, specifically following Greg Rucka’s critically acclaimed Elegy storyline from the Detective Comics books. Batwoman’s premiere treats Kate’s sexuality as a matter of course, notable only when other characters make it so. Her identity is nothing to shy away from, and Kate is shown kissing a woman early and often, in much the same way it would be handled with a hetero hero. 

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Batwoman quietly brings up a genuine asset of diversity: upending old tropes in favour of new story possibilities. What does it do to the tired concept of the damsel in distress if both romantic leads are women? How differently do those rescues read when both women are incredibly physically, mentally, strategically capable people? How does it change storytelling to populate a show almost entirely with powerful women?

Batwoman’s Gotham is gritty and on the brink of something, though it’s not entirely clear what. Chaos? Gentrification? A hostile takeover, a la the Glades? The supporting characters help illuminate the rest of the city’s dynamics and bring a lived-in feel to the show. It seems like the class disparities associated with the Bat will be present here as well. It will be hard in the current climate for a wealthy heiress to be a hero, but her identity certainly helps, as does her allergy to authority. An early teaser shows Kate giving an expensive watch to someone panhandling hints at a penchant for redistributing wealth – perhaps something to look forward to.

Unlike Supergirl, which had to follow the blueprint laid out by CBS early on, Batwoman doesn’t feel like she’s in the shadow of her more famous caped cousin so much as she is actively contending with his legacy – or rather, his absence. When we first meet Kate Kane, Batman has been missing for three years. She, like some in her city, feels abandoned by the dark knight, while others say good riddance. Batman isn’t lingering just off screen, dashing out of the shot, or messaging his cousin online. He has vanished, leaving a security vacuum in his wake. It seems likely he will come into the picture down the line, but his absence feels like an intriguing mystery, part of the bleak setting and Kate’s origin story, rather than an excuse the writers came up with to give the B-Team a shot. 

While Supergirl has since come into her own, Batwoman has the benefit of not only that well-plotted Elegy storyline, but the fact that Kate Kane is a grown woman who knows herself and is already in fighting shape. While Kate might be finding her footing as a masked hero throughout the show and exploring who she is to her family and friends, she comes into the show with significant military, martial arts and survivalist training and a clear idea of her own ethics. Like Melinda May on Agents of SHIELD, she reads like someone who is comfortable in a fight even when simply walking down the street. The action sequences are inventive, believable, and, between the camera and lighting, visible.

Batwoman is a stylish entry into the Arrowverse, one that is worthy of both the Bat family and the impressive DC TV lineage. For those of us who have been clamouring for more women heroes and more LGBTQ representation, it’s a big step forward. That said, those who have criticised it sight-unseen will be surprised by how genuinely satisfying the action is, how compelling I believe the story and its villain will be as the season unfolds, and how hard it will be to resist the undeniable swag of Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane.

No UK broadcaster has yet been confirmed for Batwoman.

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