What’s on the Box?: Batwoman (Season One)

Whatson the Box
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Season One

Air Date: October 2019 to May 2020
UK Network: E4
Original Network: The CW
Stars: Ruby Rose, Rachel Skarsten, Meagan Tandy, Nicole Kang, Camrus Johnson, and Dougray Scott

The Plot:
Three years after Bruce Wayne (Warren Christie) disappeared from Gotham City, taking his vigilante persona Batman with him, Kate Kane (Rose), Wayne’s cousin, returns to Gotham to confront her childhood demons and ends up becoming Gotham’s newest vigilante protector, Batwoman.

The Background:
Ever since the “Arrowverse” began with the first episode of Arrow (2012 to 2020), we have seen hints and references towards Gotham City and its resident bat-themed vigilante. Nowhere was this more explicit than in Arrow, where Oliver Queen/The Hood/The Arrow/Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) mostly occupied himself not with being a left-wing protector of the socially handicapped and more with being a pseudo-Batman, adopting not only many of the Dark Knight’s more grim and stoic mannerisms but also the majority of his rogue’s gallery.

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The Arrowverse has long been under the shadow of the Bat.

By the time the Arrowverse eventually swelled to the point where they were actually able to pull off a pretty decent adaptation of Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1985 to 1986), things had changed quite considerably. Not only had an unconnected show, Gotham (2014 to 2019) delved into the origins of almost every one of Batman’s popular villains, Batman (Alain Moussi and Maxim Savarias) and Bruce Wayne (Iain Glen) had appeared and featured quite prominently in Titans (2018 to present) and, prior to the Arrowverse’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” (2019 to 2020) crossover, Kate Kane/Batwoman had been introduced in the CW’s previous crossover, “Elseworlds” (2018).

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Arrow transplanted much of the Bat-mythos onto Oliver.

Unfortunately, like many other DC television projects, the Arrowverse is slightly handicapped by not currently being able to include Bruce Wayne or Batman in any direct capacity. I honestly feel like, were The CW allowed to use Batman, we would have gotten nine years of the Caped Crusader rather than the Emerald Archer but, despite this block (which, to be honest, makes no sense because of Titans and Gotham), the Arrowverse had been able to make sly nods to familiar elements of the Batman mythos. Kevin Conroy even appeared as an aged, disillusioned alternative version of Batman in “Crisis on Infinite Earths” but it’s safe to say that the shadow of the Bat loomed heavily over not just the Arrowverse but, somewhat obviously, over Batwoman especially.

The Review:
It’s no secret that I am a massive fan of Batman and, yet, I’ve struggled a bit with the way he’s represented in live-action. I got into Arrow quite late into its run but really came to resent how it transposed Batman’s characteristics and rogues onto Green Arrow, even though it worked in the context of the Arrowverse where Oliver’s more stoic and serious approach to crimefighting juxtaposed with the more optimistic approach of Barry Allen/The Flash (Grant Gustin). While I am also somewhat familiar with Batwoman from the comics, I can’t say I’m a massive expert on her beyond the basics and basically went into Batwoman hoping more for an interesting female-led superhero show. I couldn’t really get into Supergirl (2016 to present), despite how good Melissa Benoist looks and is as the titular Supergirl/Kara Danvers or the inspired decision to cast Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor in its later seasons; honestly, the show seemed to be filled with way too much sexual tension between Supergirl, her female co-stars, and basically between every female character in the show…which is weird as I never got that vibe from the male-led Arrowverse shows.

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Ruby Rose is great as a tough-as-nails Batwoman.

Batwoman, however, has the distinction of already being a lesbian character; not only that, she’s quite a guarded, tough character, meaning that the show is less about her desperately trying to repair failed relationships with her friends to the point where you suspect she is in love with them and more about her standing up, loud and proud, as being an equal to the men in her life. As such, Ruby Rose is a great choice for Kate Kane/Batwoman; she looks fantastic in the suit (when its shot in minimal lightning and kept in shadow), and has a tough-as-nails demeanour about her made all the more apparent by her signature snark, scowl, and abundance of tattoos. Unfortunately, like Supergirl, Batwoman faces many comparisons to Batman throughout the show; episodes are frequently intercut (and, in my view, ruined) by voiceovers from media gossip Vesper Fairchild (Rachel Maddow), who comments on Batwoman’s hair, wardrobe, and effectiveness compared to Batman and Kate is constantly asking Luke Fox (Johnson) for input on how Batman would handle certain situations (she even had to have her Batarangs “recalibrated” to account her for having shorter, weaker arms).

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Batwoman‘s main plot is adapted from the “Elegy” story.

Despite this, Kate is very much her own character; she never sought to become Batwoman and, instead, utilised a modified version of Bruce’s suit and technology to assist in her investigation into Alice (Skarsten), a mentally unstable maniac who themes her crimes after her namesake from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll, 1865). You might think having the show’s main villain being a knock-off of D-list Batman villain the Mad Hatter is a mistake but, it turns out, that the link between Batwoman and Alice was a big part of the “Elegy” (Rucka, et al, 2009 to 2010) storyline during Batwoman’s time in Detective Comics (1937 to present).

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The less said about this flashback the better…

As a result, the main plot of Batwoman focuses on Kate’s discovery that Alice is actually her long-lost, long-presumed-dead twin sister, Beth. Like Arrow, the story of Kate and Beth’s childhoods and pasts is told through flashbacks, through which we see how Batman (in broad daylight, the first of many issues this show has) failed to properly secure the car young Kate (Gracyn Shinyei) and Beth (Ava Sleeth) were in, resulting in the death of their mother and Beth ending up a prisoner of the sadistic August Cartwright/Dr. Ethan Campbell (John Emmet Tracy and Sebastian Roché) and forced to befriend his disfigured son, Jonathan Cartwright/Mouse (Sam Littlefield). Unfortunately, after only a few episodes, I kind of lost interest in Alice as a character and a villain; she’s just crazy for the sake of being crazy and is more annoying than anything, especially as she often flip-flops between being a full-on murderous sadist and being a scared girl desperate for help. As a villain, she’s just not that compelling and it gets very annoying how she is constantly captured, only to escape, or seems to be on the road to rehabilitation only to immediately do a 180 and Kate falls for her act every. single. time.

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Dougray Scott is a welcome addition to the cast.

Left mentally unbalanced by her time in captivity, Alice leads the Wonderland Gang in targeting her estranged father, Commander Jacob Kane (Scott); quite how Batwoman managed to snag Dougray Scott is beyond me but he’s a great addition to the show, lending a gravitas and feeling of professionalism that is sorely missing due to Batman, Alfred Pennyworth, and Commissioner James Gordon all being absent. Jacob heads up a private security agency known as the “Crows”; for all intents and purposes, they are Gotham’s police department as, while they work with the Gotham police, they’ve basically transplanted them in Batman’s absence. Scott has great chemistry with Rose; the two have a frosty relationship with many wrinkles and a lot of friction as Kate believes her father gave up on Beth and turned his attention to blaming, and hating, Batman instead. She also strives to be seen as an equal and beneficial to his cause, though repeatedly turns down his offers to join the Crows as she comes to accept her role as Batwoman. Eventually, their relationship improves but his views and opinions on Batwoman begin to sour, with the season ending with Kane declaring all-out war on Batwoman and any who aid and abet her.

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Kate and Sophie’s sexual tension is a major part of Batwoman.

Rounding out the cast, and the drama, is Kate’s ex Sophie Moore (Mandy), who denied all knowledge of their same-sex affair in order to graduate from military academy and join the Crows. Kate is heartbroken when she returns to Gotham and finds Sophie married to fellow Crows agent Tyler (Greyston Holt) and much of the show’s wonky relationship drama hinges on their “will-they, won’t-they” back and forth as Kate attempts to move on to other relationships and finds a decent distraction in her vigilante activities. This becomes more complicated when Sophie’s relationship breaks down after her past with Kate is revealed to Tyler and when Sophie inexplicably becomes attracted to Batwoman (who publically outs herself as a lesbian, thus becoming instantly attractive to all lesbians).

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Julia is pretty and bad-ass but ends up being a bit of a stereotype.

The seeds for this were planted a few episodes in with the inclusion of Alfred’s little-know-of daughter, Julia Pennyworth (Christina Wolfe), a semi-cockney, bad-ass spy who Kate has a past sexual relationship with, because if it’s one thing that is true across not only the Arrowverse but all fictional television, all gay people are immediately and uncontrollably attracted to each other. This is exemplified further when Julie starts making semi-regular appearances; circumstances see her working alongside Sophie and growing closer to her and, of course, a sexual relationship builds between them.

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Alice drives a wedge between kate and her step-sister, Mary.

We’ve also got Kate’s younger stepsister, Mary Hamilton (Kang), who operates perhaps the most well-known illegal clinic where she treats castaways from Gotham’s hospitals and basically functions as Batwoman’s medical support as the show goes on. Once Alice is revealed to be Beth, Mary and Kate’s relationship begins to suffer and comes to a breaking point after Alice fatally poisons Mary’s mother (and Kate’s stepmother), Katherine Hamilton-Kane (Elizabeth Anweis), and she dies in Mary’s arms. Kate is then torn between her desire to both reach Beth, bring Alice to justice, repairing her relationship with Mary, and the fact that Alice has ensured that Jacob is framed for the crime, which shakes the city’s faith in the Crows and has them clamouring for Batwoman instead. Eventually, however, Mary figures out Kate’s dual identity and feels slighted for some time at her step-sister keeping her in the dark about her actions; this relaxes somewhat after she is officially let in on the secret and then desperately tries to become part of Kate’s Bat-Team. Honestly, far too many people find out Kate’s identity over the course of the season, which really compromises her integrity as Batwoman for me.

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Batwoman becomes a media sensation thanks, in part, to her brief association with “Slam” Bradley.

As a result, Batwoman becomes a far more public figure than I am honestly comfortable with for a Bat-branded vigilante. It is very heavily implied that Batman was just as publically celebrated and the subject of news reports but Batwoman straight-up ends up plastered all over social media and even explicitly outs herself as gay when the city begins to “ship” her with Samuel “Slam” Bradley (Kurt Szarka), an attractive hero cop who makes a brief appearance. Other characters from the Arrowverse also appear in the series’ tie-in to the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover which, honestly was the only reason I actually watched this show week to week.

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Batwoman‘s Bat-Signal is pretty pathetic.

Moving on from the casting, I have to talk about the show’s aesthetic; first, while the Bat-Signal is present, it has to be the lamest iteration I’ve ever seen. Normally, it’s this massive floodlight but, in Batwoman, it’s this piddling little thing that looks like it’s struggle to light a hallway much less cast the iconic Bat embalm into the night sky. Second, like Arrow, much of Batwoman takes place in cityscapes. This means there’s a lot of offices, conveniently abandoned warehouses, and scenes that take place on the city streets. Despite the fact that Gotham has been without Batman for three years, the city has, arguably, never looked cleaner and more well-kept; similar to how Gotham appeared flawless during the daytime scenes of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008), Batwoman’s Gotham seems like a relatively safe place to life for the most part. This is implied to be because of the presence of the Crows and the convenient absence of Gotham’s more colourful super criminals but, still, I kind of expect my Gotham to be just as dark and dirty as Star City was in Arrow, which was rarely ever shown in the daytime.

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Batwoman‘s Batcave is like an updated version of the 1960’s ‘cave.

Speaking of Arrow, like all of her fellow Arrowverse cohorts, Batwoman has a secret base of operations where she can suit up and monitor events in the city. You might have heard of it; it’s called the Batcave. Batwoman’s Batcave, though, is perhaps the cleanest and most simplified version of the ‘cave I’ve ever seen. Even the Arrow’s Arrowcave, with all its obnoxious high-tech furnishings, looked more like a Batcave than Batwoman’s, which seems to be a cross between the Bat-bunker from The Dark Knight and the iconic Batcave from the 1960’s Batman television series (1966 to 1968) with its sixties-style flashing lights and terminals (it even has a little toy Tyrannosaurs rex which, to be honest, is a nice little allusion to the impractically gigantic T-Rex Bruce likes to keep in he Batcave).

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Luke Fox is Batwoman’s tech support and the show’s comic relief.

Luke Fox practically lives in the ‘cave, functioning as Batwoman’s tech support and “guy in the chair”; you’d think this would be a great way to introduce the wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon/Oracle and inject some sexual tension between her and Kate but, instead, we have a hybrid of Lucius Fox and Alfred. In the comics, Luke became the Bat-themed vigilante Batwing and I wouldn’t be surprised if Luke doesn’t take up this codename at some point in the show’s run; hell, if Jimmy (sorry, “James”) Olson (Mehcad Brooks) can suit up as the vigilante Guardian over on Supergirl than anything is possible.

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Luke adapts the Batsuit to fit Kate’s…specifications…

While Fox is initially relegated to Batwoman’s tech support (developing her gadgets and suit, monitoring and communicating with her when she’s out in the field, and so forth), he gets a bit more focus as more and more people join their team and, especially, when he feels compelled to confront the man who killed his father (yeah, Lucius Fox is also dead in this series…) right when Kate is struggling with having taken a life. Fox is apparently some kind of genius as Batwoman’s suit is apparently so sophisticated that it’s full of technology that monitors her heartbeat, oxygen levels, and all kinds of stuff that I find difficult to believe is weaved into a far more form-fitting outfit than anything Batman is known to wear. Initially, Kate wears a modified version of the standard Batsuit as she takes to the streets and is thought to be Batman but, after she sees all the good she’s doing and the hope she’s bringing, she has Fox alter it further to include a wig and her signature red colouring and is officially announced as Batwoman.

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The Bats are publically celebrated as heroes and saviours rather than myths.

This is one of the things I actually have an issue with in the show; when Batwoman was introduced in “Elseworlds”, Batman was a myth so powerful that even Oliver Queen didn’t believe that he was real. Jump over to Batwoman, though, and not only is Batman openly the subject of media gossip and coverage, he’s a widely known and celebrated hero of Gotham City. The Crows, especially Jacob, despise Batman for his anonymity and for abandoning the city and even Kate was distrustful of the Caped Crusader until she found out who he was; once she did, she was inspired by his legacy and began continuing Bruce’s journals to chronicle her own journey. My issue here is the idea of Batman as a “hero”; as I prefer Batman to be an urban legend, feared by criminals, distrusted by the police, and a figure of mystery to the general public, something about gossip columnists openly discussing his methods and the entire city acknowledging his presence and celebrating him as they would the Flash rubs me the wrong way. Even Arrow handled this aspect of its titular vigilante better, with Oliver’s hooded alter ego not really being publically acknowledged or celebrated for some years so it’s a bit weird for me to see Gotham’s citizens “crying out” for their hero’s return.

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Bruce designed a gun to stop his own Batsuit..

And then there’s Batwoman’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne; through dialogue with Fox, Kate learns more about Bruce’s motivations, how he handled the burden of his duel identity, and the reasons behind him walking away from Batman and Gotham. To begin with, Bruce/Batman is almost this mythic figure, some lofty ideal that Kate can only dream to live up to, much less match. But then some cracks begin to form, the first being when Fox reveals that Bruce commissioned the creation of a gun that could penetrate the Batsuit, with the implication being that, were his technology to fall into the wrong hands, Bruce would be happy to kill the perpetrator. The second, and most egregious, is the revelation later in the series that Bruce quit being Batman after he killed the Joker (here also referred to as Jack Napier).

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Kate ends up choking a maniac to death.

Let that sink in for a second: Batman was not only willing to kill to stop someone who stole his Batsuit, he also killed the Joker, and felt he had to quit being Batman because of it. While I don’t actually mind Batman killing, it’s unsettling when so much emphasis is put on Bruce’s uncompromising moral standing only to throw it all away by him creating a gun and killing his greatest enemy. Worse still is that Fox only reveals this to Kate after she has strangled August Cartwright to death for what he did to her sister and mother. Now, again, I don’t mind Batman killing under the right circumstances; I grew up with Michael Keaton’s fantastically haunting portrayal of the character so I’m used to a Batman who is willing to cross the line now and then and fully believe that, in his line of work, casualties and fatalities are bound to happen. It’s also worth noting that Batwoman is a former soldier and, especially in the comics, is not adverse to killing when it’s absolutely necessary. Over the space of three episodes or so, though, Kate struggles with her actions in a way that, again, Oliver Queen never really did; when he first returned to Star City, Oliver killed specific targets and his enemies without a second’s thought. Later on, he tried to “do better” by not killing but easily went back to shooting arrows through people’s hearts not long after and he’s no less a hero for it, so why would Batwoman (or Batman, for that matter) be?

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Batwoman wasn’t too shaken when she killed the alternate Bruce Wayne…

Still, Batman’s code against killing is an important aspect of the character and going against that is always going to ruffle a few feathers; it also seems like a really lame, super easy excuse to write Bruce/Batman out of the show. It’s also worth noting that it was taking a life that led to the aged Bruce becoming a remorseless killer in “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and that Kate killed him (whether by accident or design) during a fight and showed very little remorse over this.

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Batwoman featured a few of Batman’s D-list rogues.

Moving on, though, the show features a small selection of Batman’s D-list rogues; though she has no ties to the Mad Hatter, Alice’s mere presence alludes to his existence; the Joker, as mentioned, is disappointingly dead; and a version of the Executioner (Jim Pirri) also appears. Being that this is a female-led show, and a lot of the show’s plot is focused on female empowerment, there are a few female villains in Batwoman (the oft-forgotten Magpie (Rachel Matthews) and Nocturna (Kayla Ewell), for example) but most episodes revolve around Alice in some way, shape, or form, and her efforts to get revenge on Kate and her father and temptation towards redemption.

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Hush eventually makes an appearance.

Thomas Elliot (Gabriel Mann) also shows up early in the season as a friend and rival of Bruce’s but is quickly revealed to have deduced Bruce’s identity as Batman and to be as crazy as a bag of cats so he ends up in Arkham Asylum. Thankfully, though, Batwoman is full of face transplants and glorified plastic surgeons and, through the influence of Alice and Mouse, Elliot breaks out of Arkham, gets his face sliced off, and ends up wrapped up in bandages and taking on the persona of Hush. Unfortunately, though, Elliot is both just another crazy guy and another rich guy in a suit, so he’s far from the physical or intellectual threat as the comic book Hush, though the season does end with a massive cliff-hanger as Elliot applied a patchwork skin to his face to assume Bruce Wayne’s identity.

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Batwoman‘s fights are decent enough, when they actually happen.

Something Batwoman likes to employ, for whatever reason, is the implementation of licensed songs to punctuate its more dramatic (read: soap opera) moments. Songs like these may have fit into teen dramas like Smallville (2001 to 2011) but they seem massively out of place in a Bat-centric show. Luckily, Batwoman takes its lead more from Arrow for its action sequences and fight scenes; generally, episodes will open with some kind of chase, kill, or action sequence. Kate (and/or Jacob) will then investigate something, or have some kind of confrontation, and then she’ll hit the streets as Batwoman, maybe take out some goons, before working towards a finale against whomever is the main threat of the episode. Fight scenes are far more hands on and up close and personal than in Arrow, though, as Batwoman favours hand-to-hand combat over a bow and arrow. Like Green Arrow, Kate masks her voice with a voice synthesiser, which I always prefer over the idea of the Bat-characters putting on a voice (despite how good these voices have been), but this doesn’t stop multiple characters guessing or knowing her identity within only six episodes.

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The Summary:
Ultimately, the season started off quite well and had a lot of promise but fell off a cliff very quickly; after a few episodes, Batwoman becomes very formulaic, makes some questionable decisions regarding Batman’s legacy and the inclusion (or exclusion) of famous Bat­-characters, and ended on a massive cliff-hanger that, by the looks of it, we either won’t get resolved in a second season or it will be significantly different because of the behind the scenes shenanigans. After flip-flopping about a hundred times, Alice decides she hates Kate and Batwoman as they betrayed her and got her locked up in Arkham Asylum. Thankfully, she makes fast friends with Thomas Elliot, who has snapped and basically believes Bruce Wayne to be his best friend, and she and Mouse concoct a bizarre plan to cut off Elliot’s face (and have him disguise himself ((because face transplants are super easy and impossibly convincing in Batwoman)) so they can get out of there. The remainder of the season focuses on Alice trying to acquire, and then decode, Lucius’ journal so she find out how to penetrate the Bat-Suit and kill Batwoman…despite the fact that she had a means to do this earlier in the season.

BatwomanFinale
Batwoman ends on quite a cliffhanger that will probably have a poor resolution in Season Two.

In a contrivance that makes my head spin, it turns out the Kate’s suit is so incredibly bullet proof that the only thing in the world that can penetrate it (beyond the special bullet introduced earlier in the season that the writers forget about) is…Kryptonite. This presents a problem as Supergirl (whom Batwoman has a very rushed but quite charming, friendship with) entrusted Kate with a shard of Kryptonite to use against her if she ever went rogue. Although Luke compresses the only other shard into powder, Alice is heartbroken when she is forced to kill Mouse as he threatens to leave without her and swears to kill Kate once and for all. This coincides with Elliot assuming the role of Bruce Wayne and Jacob’s vow to end the Bat infestation in Gotham City to keep vigilantes from supplanting his organisation and leaves Batwoman on a massive cliff-hanger but most likely will get swept under the carpet when the series returns to television.

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Seriously, these two need to just get a room!

I was interested in Batwoman for a couple of reasons: first, I wanted to see the second part of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and the legendary Kevin Conroy as a live-action Bruce Wayne and, second, I was interested to finally see a Bat-themed show as part of the Arrowverse. Unfortunately, despite some decent casting, action sequences, and costume design, Batwoman started to lose me around the third episode (basically the moment it was revealed that Bruce had developed that Batsuit-ending gun). It wasn’t as annoying as Supergirl or as pointless as DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (2016 to 2020) but it’s still not on the same level as The Flash (2014 to present) or even Arrow; I pretty much only dip in and out of Legend of Tomorrow because they made the smart decision to put John Constantine (Matt Ryan) on the team and completely gave up on Supergirl after the show devoted all of its runtime to Kara desperately trying to repair her relationship with Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath), which descended to the point of parody when it seemed like they were desperately in love with each other but in vehement denial over it.

Yet, I feel the same thing is going to happen with Batwoman; it wasn’t as explicit with its comparisons of Batwoman to Batman or at pushing its pro-female agenda, so it’s much easier to watch than Supergirl, but a lot of its narrative decisions were questionable. Not having Bruce Wayne/Batman in the show really hurts it, in my opinion; this would have been a great opportunity to combine the Arrowverse series with Titans and have Iain Glen reprise his role in an older, mentor role after being incapacitated. Instead, Bruce is just…gone and, while his retirement kind of worked for Nolan’s films, it never sits well with me when Batman just gives up his life-long crusade. And what about Dick Grayson? Jason Todd? Tim Drake? All the rest of Batman’s cast of characters, both friend and enemy? Where are all of them in this world? The questions Batwoman raise far overshadow any of its positives and I can’t say that Batwoman really impressed me in its first season and, considering that Ruby Rose has decided to walk away from the show and the role will be completely recast and supplanted, I doubt that it’ll be a suitable replacement for Arrow, no matter how many seasons it runs for.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

What did you think of season one of Batwoman? Are you interested in seeing subsequent seasons and appearances by Ruby Rose in the Arrowverse or would you rather the CW pulled the plug on this show? What are your thoughts on the way Batwoman handled the portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Gotham City? Whatever you think about Batwoman and the Arrowverse, feel free to leave a comment below.

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