It’s an interesting time for the CW to be starting a new DC Comics-based show. With Flash in its final season, the decade long run of the Arrowverse is about to end, to the displeasure of many fans. The corporate excuses for ending the popular shows make even less sense when they debut a new one. Nevertheless, here we are with the debut of Gotham Knights, an interesting little “Elseworlds” (in its own reality) show connected to nothing else in the larger comic book or television world. This is going to be a long piece, both about the first episode (cleverly titled “Pilot”) and the history of some of the things they smashed together to make the show. If you want to just skip to the actual review, that’ll be down below, clearly marked. If you’re curious, or enough of a comic geek to want to know what I’m going to talk about, that starts now.
Even the series title has some history behind it. The Gotham Knights have variously been Gotham City’s baseball, or football, team. The baseball references started back in 1946, so the concept has been around a while. There was also a short-lived team that was occasionally called that, led by Batman (of course) with a membership that included Clayface trying to reform, Azreal, Batwoman, Batwing, Orphan (Cassandra Cain’s latest alias), Red Robin (Tim Drake’s least popular codename), and Spoiler. This show has virtually nothing to do with that lineup, except for Stephanie Brown. Gotham Knights is also a recently released video game.
They took a lot of interesting elements to make up this world. There’s what appears to be a nod to the Clocktower the Birds of Prey were based out of, and became a landmark in Gotham for quite a while. The Clocktower also appeared in various guises in the Birds of Prey tv show and on Arrow. Of course, we get to see Wayne Manor, the Batcave, and Wayne Tower, a largely forgotten piece of Bat-lore they brought back for the Dark Knight trilogy and the Batwoman tv show. And we get to see blimps cruising over the city, a concept first popularized in Batman: The Animated Series.
Oddly, this is far from the first show set in Gotham to not feature Batman, as Birds of Prey, Gotham, one season of Titans, and Batwoman all did that. It’s not even (very minor spoiler for a throwaway line) the first show where Batman has apparently killed the Joker. They’ve done that in both Batwoman and Titans. The show also matches Batwoman’s puzzling lack of some important Bat-Family characters, but we’ll get there later.
The cast of characters has some interesting choices as well, from all over the place in Bat-Mythos. The major players we meet in the pilot are:
Harvey Dent– originally one of Batman’s earliest allies in his war on crime, the District Attorney was horribly scarred when crime boss Sal Maroni threw acid in his face after Dent wouldn’t back down from prosecuting him. Dent snapped and became the villain Two-Face, although here he seems to have survived much further into Batman’s career without the disfiguring origin. Dent is played by Misha Collins, probably the best known actor in the cast, having played Castiel on Supernatural.
Duela– This character has a complicated history going back to 1976, appearing in the Batman Family comics and the original Teen Titans. This version appears to have been greatly streamlined from her complicated history (be glad of that) and claims to be the Joker’s Daughter. Here, she is one of the better-connected characters to Gotham’s underworld, and one of the group’s better fighters. She’s also wildly unpredictable, which is fun to watch but not what you want in teammate.
Carrie Kelly– Possibly the oddest choice to be included, this is the name of the Robin character from the near-future dystopian Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. She, too, is a formidable fighter, has some of the coolest gadgets, and knows the most about the Batman. She’s gone through a lot of changes in this incarnation (both in what time she’s living in and her appearance), including a secret identity that might be a nod to a certain famous Man of Steel, not that we hear about any other heroes in this initial episode.
Harper and Cullen Row– Ok, they’d probably hate being lumped together, but they tend to come as a unit. In the comics, Harper was from the Narrows, one of Gotham’s rougher neighborhoods, and first appeared stealing food from a Wayne charity gala. Gradually, more about her was revealed. Harper is bi, her brother Cullen is trans. They had an abusive father, and bullies at school to deal with. Batman saved them from the bullies at one point, and Harper, a technical genius, proved to be an ally to the Dark Knight, helping design some technology to help him keep an eye on Gotham City. Later, she became the hero Bluebird. Here, the two are living in a shelter, still from the Narrows, and criminal associates of Duela. Harper seems to the more aggressive and skilled of the two, at least thus far.
Stephanie Brown- Steph also has a long and complicated history in the Bat-Family, in part due to retcons of her history. She’s best known as the daughter of Cluemaster, a D-List Batman villain. Stephanie got tired of her father’s crimes putting their family through hard times, so she created the identity of Spoiler to stop him. Gradually, she became more of a hero, working with (and dating) Tim Drake, the third Robin. Later, she became Robin herself, faked her death, came back as the third Batgirl in a great comic run, and then suffered the retcon that was the New 52. She was reset to just Spoiler, her other identities wiped away. Here, she’s a good friend to one of the characters, although she’s hinted there might be more to her than we know, so the Cluemaster connection might still be there.
Cressida Clarke– She’s from the comics, created by James Tynion, one of the better Bat-writers of the last several years in my opinion. I really can’t say much about her because of spoilers.
Turner Hayes– We know the least about him, because he’s an original character for the show. Apparently adopted by Bruce Wayne after the murder of his parents (like many of the Robins), he grew up in Wayne Manor, apparently ignorant of Bruce’s other life. So far, he seems to be the most sheltered and least useful (sorry, but so far he is) of the characters. He goes from spoiled kid to petulant teen to tragic figure to fugitive over the course of the first episode. That’s a lot, and maybe when he gets a chance to catch his breath, we’ll see more of what he can do. So far, all we know is he’s haunted by the deaths of his parents and is a skilled fencer.
This is where the actual review starts, for those who wanted to skip all the history above, which I completely understand. The show opens with Turner Hayes musing on his fortune at being adopted by Bruce, with a voiceover that shows Bruce in his office. Bruce has a little secret drawer that makes no sense at all, and then we cut to Turner fencing and besting annoying classmate Brody. To make up for his disappointment at Bruce not showing up for the match, Turner decides to throw a stereotypical high school, no parents around party. Here we get to see Carrie, a “girl from Trig,” and Steph, Turner’s best friend. Also making an appearance is Cressida Clarke, Turner’s… well, I’m not sure. Notionally a guardian, she doesn’t seem to be doing anything to stop the huge underage drinking party.
At Wayne Tower, we see a very slick break-in crew making their way up to Bruce’s office. It’s a small team, but very good at what they do. Eventually, we learn this is Duela, Harper Row, and her brother Cullen. They, in turn, learn they’ve been set up when they finally break into the office and get a major unpleasant surprise. Going on the run, they continue to impress with some cool tricks as they evade the cops, steal a car, and Duela recreates a Joker scene from one of the movies.
Back at the Manor, sirens sound and the cops show up. Turner gets ready to talk his way out of things, and instead gets shocking news, delivered by family friend Harvey Dent. Long hidden secrets start to come out, and Turner gets one huge surprise after another. Later, alone with Stephanie (really, Cressida isn’t much of a guardian), Turner rants, drinks, throws a tantrum, and then makes another huge discovery. During a solemn ceremony, Turner once again does a voiceover as the earlier-seen break-in crew gets captured. Duela is many things, but not a quitter.
In the wake of these many major events, Gotham mourns and riots. Among the problems are the Mutant Gang, another fixture from the Dark Knight Returns future. Cressida compares herself to a more famous Wayne family guardian, and insists Turner keep going to class, oddly having no problem with his drinking. She has interesting priorities. Duela gets grilled by Dent and Ford, who seems to be the personification of the GCPD for this show, or at least this episode. Not intimidated, Duela points out some logic failures in the line of questioning they present.
Turner has a rough time at school, and later goes to a hideaway he and Stephanie apparently share. He mourns everything he’ll never know about his father, and Stephanie hints at there being good reasons to keep secrets sometimes. They decide to use one of their recent discoveries to try and do what they can to solve a major mystery. As they go to work, Harper and Cullen get questioned, and we see Dent is at least a lot cooler than Ford. Not that this is hard. Stephanie makes a major discovery just a bit too late, and things look bad for Turner. The young man gets a lot more bad news all at once, and then the writers either show they don’t understand at all how police custody works, take some shortcuts for dramatic effect, or we just see Gotham corruption and indifference. After a brawl most anyone could have predicted, the cops show up and seem really into using their clubs.
Events start moving even faster as Turner calls Stephanie for help and advice, Dent gets some interesting political advice, and we see once again how slick Duela and company can be. The kids are hauled off to Blackgate Prison, which is wrong on just about every level, morally and procedurally. Things don’t go smoothly, a desperate plan doesn’t work, the group argues among themselves, and yet more GCPD corruption is revealed. Just as things look hopeless, there’s a surprising rescue. After an emotional scene in a grim place and an origin story, the group goes into hiding.
Wrapping up all that happened in this episode, and it’s a lot, we get Dent giving a press conference he doesn’t want to hold, another surprising discovery that brings in another element of the Bat-mythos, and a grim nursery rhyme that’s so fitting for Gotham City and provides a contrast to another player carrying out a mission. We end with a few more big surprises, and the concept for the show established: mismatched group of fugitives have to solve a big mystery and clear their names, with massive forces arrayed against them.
What I Liked: Considering the trailer for this show looked pretty bad, this was a good first episode. Duela and Harper are interesting and fun, and make a great team. I’m intrigued by Carrie and Stephanie. It’s nice seeing Dent as a good man before he goes bad. They drew from a lot of different eras for this series, and they blend them together surprisingly well.
What I Didn’t: The weird secret drawer near the beginning made no real sense. Turner and Cullen didn’t really do much. Hopefully, they’ll get better as the show goes on. Cressida doesn’t seem like someone you want watching your kid. There were a lot of weird notes with the cops, but there are several possible explanations.
I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. I have a lot of questions about characters either referred to in passing or not named at all, but I hope we’ll get there. I’ll give this a 3.5 out of 5, and I’m certainly sticking around for the season.