The CW has been doing a good to great job of adapting the DC Universe to live action, depending on the show and/or episode. The majority of the shows are in a shared universe, like the Marvel/Netflix ones were, and they’ve been doing a good job of building a comprehensive world. The latest addition is Batwoman, who popped up in last year’s Elseworlds Crossover and now gets her own show.
Some character history first: the original Batwoman was a Silver Age character, who only has her name in common with the current one. She and her Bat-Girl started their careers for the worst reasons I’ve ever heard: they had crushes on Batman and Robin. She was eventually killed, and later, in fine comic book fashion, returned a few times. Later, the character was brought back in a new version in 2006. The new Batwoman, also Kate Kane like the original, was very different. She was kicked out of West Point for being a lesbian, and was also the cousin of Bruce Wayne. Inspired by a run-in with Batman, she eventually created her own costumed identity. The character has also been stated to be Jewish, and wears a costume legendary comic book artist Alex Ross originally designed for a more mature Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.
The pilot is clearly set before Batwoman’s appearance in Elseworlds, as she was established in her role then and this an origin story. It moves around heavily in a few different flashbacks between the modern era and Kate Kane’s childhood. There’s a lot of world-building and character history as the episode goes on, but they establish all you need to know to launch the series.
It starts off with Kate doing a voiceover, a CW show tradition, about how stories and people change over time. She’s undergoing some extreme training that made me cold just to watch it, and her teacher pulls some nasty tricks to up the stakes. Her rant at him when she triumphs gets interrupted when he (the character is never named, IMDB gives the actor’s name as Gray Horse Rider) tells her she has a call from “Girl Who Talks Too Much.” We also get several flashbacks to a car accident where Batman failed to save Kate’s mother and sister.
The stats quo for the show gets set up: Batman has been missing for three years, Gotham has gotten much worse in his absence, and a major security force, the Crows, has largely taken over the city in try and keep order. There’s a big ceremony to show the city is finally moving on, where we meet the new villain, Alice (as in Wonderland), and a Crow agent named Sophie Moore, who gets captured by Alice’s gang. Kate’s father has apparently remarried, and her stepsister, Mary, calls Kate to tell her about Sophie.
In a different flashback, we see the connection between Kate and Sophie. Our heroine crashes a briefing about Sophie’s disappearance, and we get to see her with her Dad, Jacob Kane (referred to as Commander on the show and listed as Colonel, his comic book title on IMDB). Kate really wants to join the Crows, and her Dad is evasive and not helpful about that or Sophie’s disappearance. Her father refers to her as a female Bruce Wayne (foreshadowing, there) but she could “make something of herself.” In another experience, we see more of Kate and Sophie together, and the start of a big problem for them.
Not one to take no for an answer, Kate moves on to the Wayne Enterprises building, getting a good look at the evidently severe homeless problem in Gotham. She climbs up the outside of the building for some reason or other, and gets into Bruce’s old office, which leads to another flashback of her and her sister, as well as a glimpse of a necklace that’s very important to the Bat-mythos. Her reverie is interrupted by the appearance of Luke Fox, son of brilliant inventor Lucius Fox and, in the comics, the hero Batwing. Here, he’s a lot less heroic and more bumbling tech support, a bit like Curtis Holt started on Arrow. He tries to detain Kate for trespassing, and she shows who’s the better fighter. Turning the tables on Luke, Kate goes to the computer, uses a familiar password, and leaves.
She tries to bring her new findings to her father, and gets ambushed by a surprise party thrown by her stepmother and seemingly vapid stepsister, Mary. The mother, Catherine Hamilton-Kane, has an agenda, which leaves Mary rolling her eyes and Kate annoyed. In another flashback, we see a falling out between Sophie and Kate. Back in the present, Kate manages to make her father listen when she gleans a clue from the Wayne Enterprises footage, which leads them to an abandoned orphanage in the Burnside neighborhood. Burnside is the part of the city Barbara Gordon/Batgirl relocated to in the comics when a “soft reboot” made her a good bit younger. Her dad tries to get a plan together, but Kate takes off to rescue Sophie solo. Naturally, Kate goes in on her own. She is a very good fighter, but is alone and gets overwhelmed by numbers. Tied up, she meets Alice and gets a lot of villain monologuing with many Alice in Wonderland references and quotes thrown in. Alice, whoever she is, knows a lot about Kate. The Crows finally get there, and find Kate’s bike, but no sign of the woman herself, or Alice’s gang.
The missing lady in question wakes up on a stretcher and finds out that someone is essentially borrowing a page from Bruce Wayne’s book without the cape and cowl. Amused at learning a big secret, Kate leaves, somehow or other on her motorcycle which was found at the orphanage by the Crows, who don’t know where she is. Going back to the Crows’ headquarters, she has another argument with her father and stalks off. We’re not going to be lacking for family drama, it seems. At a loss, Kate goes back to Wayne Enterprises, ignores Luke’s protests again, and eventually finds the hidden control to take her down the Batcave. While the best-known cave is under Wayne Manor, Batman has had several others throughout the city, and the one under Wayne Enterprises was used a lot in the late 70’s comics. Naturally, Kate gets another bit of dramatic dialogue and decides to carry on Bruce’s quest to protect Gotham. She also learns a lot more about a tragic incident from her past and then gets a conveniently timed phone call from a contact about where Sophie might be.
The big event the elected officials have been talking about (like every disaster movie’s mayor insists there’s nothing wrong until it’s too late) is a Movie in the Park event, which proves to be a film that’s also part of the Batman story. Colonel/Commander Kane is running security for the event, and gets a call from Alice, who unveils her big villain plan. She forces Kane to make an impossible choice, which is when Kate arrives in her new identity. Batwoman gets her action debut and fights impressively, although it seems the costume could use better armor. There’s a last minute rescue, a reunion of a sort, and then a sighting that makes the public think Batman has returned.
The next day, the Gotham Gazette runs a piece by Vesper Fairchild (one of Bruce’s former love interests, played here by Rachel Maddow) about Batman being back, which provokes various reactions among the citizens. The elder Kane is dismissive and makes some assumptions which, interestingly, Sophie doesn’t correct although she knows better. A few minutes later, Kate and Sophie meet up again, and Kate finds some things out she was happier not knowing. Rejecting an offer from her father, Kate moves ahead with her new destiny and starts a journal that she plans to eventually give to her famous cousin. The show ends with Kate and Luke talking about a mystery I am sure will play a big part in the season, and a reveal about Alice that, honestly, I saw coming and was disappointed in.
What I liked: As with the other CW shows, the action, particularly the fight scenes, is good. I was intrigued by Kate’s trainer and hope we see more of him. The reveal about someone else’s secret life was a nice twist I didn’t see coming. There were lots of parts of the Bat-Mythos introduced that I hope get expanded on later. I like Kate’s approach to her new role. Alice was a good villain right up until the end (played by Rachel Skarsten, who one of the three main characters on the Birds of Prey show many years ago).
What I didn’t: Bumbling tech guy has been overdone. I hope Luke manages to grow towards the hero he is in the comics. The reveal about Alice was a bit clunky. I mentioned the odd glitch with Kate’s bike somehow catching up with her. I’m not sure about the surprise Sophie showed near the end; I suspect it’s going to offend some segments of the viewership.
Overall, I liked this. It shows a lot of promise, and I think it’s a fine new member of the CW/DC family. I’ll give it a high 3.5 out of 5.