'Batwoman' has arrived. She'll tell us who she is, while I'll tell you who she's not

Art by J.H. Williams III, copyright DC Comics Inc

The TV show is relatively faithful adaptation of the comics character, who first appeared in 2006.


By Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

Oct. 17, 2019 -- Batwoman has arrived on The CW, filling the bat-shaped hole in our hearts left by the cancellation of Gotham. And not a moment too soon!

Premiering on Oct. 6, Batwoman stars Ruby Rose as Kate Kane, a.k.a. the eponymous crimefighter, taking the place of Batman, who has been missing for three years. Gotham has gotten even worse in the interim, so the city has hired The Crows, a private security firm, to help police the city.

Family is a big part of Batwoman, in that it’s the bulk of the supporting cast. The Crows are run by Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott), who happens to be Kate’s father. Both are still grieving the deaths of Jacob’s wife and Kate’s (apparently fraternal) twin, who died in a Joker attack 15 years before the show opens. Except that the youngster may not have died, instead transforming into the homicidal lunatic Alice (Rachel Skarsten), the show’s antagonist for (at least) the first two episodes.

Meanwhile, Jacob has remarried, to Catherine Hamilton (Elizabeth Anweis), who is up to something illegal, and who has a daughter, Mary Hamilton (Nicole Kang), who just wants her older step-sibling to notice her. Oh, and Bruce Wayne – who has also been missing for three years, what a coincidence! – is Kate’s first cousin (Jacob is the brother of the late Martha Wayne).

Kate’s transition to vigilante is made possible by the discovery of one of Bruce’s Batcaves, complete with uniform and equipment, guarded (poorly) by Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson), another legacy character. He’s the son of Lucius Fox, who supplied all those Bat-toys in the comics, in Gotham (played by Chris Chalk) and in the Christopher Nolan Bat-trilogy (Morgan Freeman). As you’d expect, Luke becomes “the man in the chair,” as it was so ably described by Ned Leeds in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Ruby also has some friction/sparks with former flame Sophie (Meagan Tandy), who is apparently not strictly lesbian, as she is married to a man.

What? Oh, yes, Kate’s ex is a she. I guess I buried the lede: Kate is openly gay, just as is the actress portraying her. So that’s some TV history being made right there.

That’s freaking out some people, who review-bombed Batwoman on Rotten Tomatoes in what appears to be a deliberate campaign. It was pretty obvious, given that last week the average of critics was 72%, whereas the popular average (where the campaign took place) was less than 10%. Not subtle, guys. (And I’m assuming it’s all guys. Maybe the same guys who review-bombed Captain Marvel.)

Personally, the character’s sexuality merits little more than a shrug from me – after all, I’ve been reading Batwoman since her 2006 debut, where being gay was always just part of who she is. And who she was in those early comics was pretty cool, given the stories by the award-winning team of Greg Rucka (writer) and J.H. Williams III (artist/designer).

And speaking of the comics, there remains some confusion about who Batwoman is. And the answer is: Exactly who she is on the TV show. But the water is muddied a bit by a host of other women with “Bat” in their name, which has some non-comics-readers tentatively raising their hands to ask if Batwoman is this or that character, or related to them, or what.

I say “tentatively,” although in my long experience as a comics fan, no one is actually afraid of us. But most people are afraid that if they ask one of us a question, we’re going to give them far more than they ever, ever wanted. It’s like that commercial where people visibly age while the spokesman describes the company’s services. Hey, we’re nerds, we can’t help it. Information is our life’s blood.

Anyway, this is one-stop shopping to set the record straight, so here we go:

The first Batwoman appeared in 1956, a female version of Batman that turned out to be Kathy Kane (no relation), a former trapeze artist and motorcycle stunt rider who unexpectedly inherited a lot of money. Accustomed to the excitement of the circus, and familiar with wearing costumes and tempting death, she put her skills to use as a scourge of Gotham’s crime – and also to attract Batman, of whom she was enamored.

Some speculate that Batwoman was introduced to tamp down criticism of the Batman strip as latently homosexual (three men living in a mansion), and it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. The comics industry was almost shut down in the mid-1950s by such charges, and the remaining publishers would do almost anything to stay below the radar of the prosecutors, preachers and parents who seemed to believe that comic books caused juvenile delinquency.

And if so, you’d expect a female counterpart/love interest for Robin to rear her bat-eared head. And so it was. Katherine’s niece Betty wanted in on the action, and became Bat-Girl. Just as Katherine’s many come-ons forced Batman to gulp and blush, Bat-Girl aggressively flirted with a visibly uncomfortable Boy Wonder.

In a fantasy world full of impossibilities, this was perhaps the most impossible thing of all: Pretty girls being the romantic aggressor instead of the aggressee. It probably altered the romantic expectations of generations of comics readers beyond the reach of therapy.

Art by Carmine Infantino, copyright DC Comics Inc.

Some viewers are confusing Batwoman with Batgirl, who first appeared on TV and in comics in 1967, and is still around.

But the Bat-duo’s shelf life was short. Katherine disappeared from Bat-comics in the mid-1960s. Later she reappeared, only to die -- more than once – and is no longer an active part of the mythology.

Betty, too, disappeared around the same time in Bat-comics, but proved more tenacious. She later reappeared in Teen Titans, eventually changing her nom du combat to “Flamebird.” She disappeared again after “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in 1986, along with a host of other characters deemed superfluous or irrelevant by DC editorial. But she was revived again in 2005 briefly, and then again in 2011, both times as Flamebird. In her current gig, she is “Bette” Kane, cousin of the current Batwoman.

One may mourn the fate of Batwoman and Bat-Girl, but not for long: They weren’t very good characters. Also, there was competition on the horizon: the all-new, all-different Batgirl. And her origin was in the oddest of places for a comics character: television.

In 1967, the Batman TV show ratings were slipping, and the producers decided to boost viewership with a little sex appeal in the form of “Batgirl,” secretly Commissioner Gordon’s heretofore-unknown daughter Barbara, played by Yvonne Craig. No stranger to genre fare (Star Trek, Land of the Giants, Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Craig ably filled a purple Batsuit for the show’s third season, which proved to be its last.

Reverse engineering from the TV show, Bat-editor Julius Schwartz, Bat-writer Gardner Fox and Bat-artist Carmine Infantino introduced the character to comics – before she actually appeared on TV. (Sorry, Yvonne.) Barbara has had a tempestuous time as Batgirl – at one time becoming a paraplegic and using her mental skills as the superhero information broker Oracle – but has proven enduring to this day, where she once again wears a (homemade) Bat-suit. She was instrumental in launching the superhero team Birds of Prey, replicating that role (as played by Dina Meyer) in the 2002 show of the same name.

So the first Batwoman, Bat-Girl and Batgirl are who the current Batwoman is not. In the comics she is already an established superhero on a par with Batman, but not subject to him. On TV she is growing into the role, and has yet to accessorize her Bat-suit with the memorable red highlights and wig, but will do so soon (in the very next episode). It’s yet to be seen if Mary will take the place of Bette and want in on the Spandex action as well (but I wouldn’t bet against it).

Courtesy The CW

Kate Kane’s Batwoman persona doesn’t look like this yet, but she’s growing into it.

It’s a shame that so much of this fiercely feminist Bat-female has to rely so much on a male’s equipment and reputation, and it’s even worse that she’s fighting a ghost, with Batman totally absent. (A ploy used in the TV Birds of Prey as well, and one I find deeply implausible.) We haven’t had a live Batman on TV since Adam West (except for some glimpses in Gotham and hallucinations in Titans), and the received wisdom is that Warner Bros. is reserving the Bat for movies alone – which explains his TV niche being filled by Green Arrow (on Smallville and Arrow), and now Batwoman.

But Batwoman is certainly an able replacement. It’s not a perfect show yet; there are some obvious growing pains. But if we can’t have Bruce – and evidently we’re never going to – I’ll gladly take Kate.

Find Captain Comics by email (capncomics@aol.com), on his website (captaincomics.ning.com), on Facebook (Andrew Alan Smith) or on Twitter (@CaptainComics).

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So we're watching the most recent episode of Batwoman on Sunday night when Tracy turns to me and ask, "Are we enjoying this?" the same question that presaged us dropping Legends of Tomorrow and Black Lightning. I told her that I was enjoying it as much as Supergirl and The Flash, which, now that I'm thinking of it, isn't so much anymore. But I do want to stick with all three, at least through the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover.

All three of those shows are officially on notice at our house.

My wife doesn't watch Legends any more, and while we intend to keep watching Black Lighting, there is no urgency anymore. We actually skipped some episodes last season. (I watch what we skip after she's gone to bed for column purposes.)

There's still some enthusiasm for Supergirl and Flash, but we tend to watch Riverdale first. And we haven't sampled Nancy Drew yet, although we're taping them. 

But as you say, things may change after the Crisis. For all we know, they'll kill everybody.

I still enjoy The Flash. I'm finding Supergirl rather dull this season. I bailed on Black Lightning early on; watching it felt like homework. Legends of Tomorrow has always been on the bubble with me, and I don't know why I persist; it isn't terrible enough to make me drop it outright but not entertaining enough for me to enjoy it like I once did.

Riverdale, I never took to.

I'm enjoying the entire slate this season. I dropped Arrow last year, but this season is going out with a bang.

Batwoman was a slow start but it's growing on me. Nancy Drew is holding me, certainly more than Riverdale did.

For the first time ever, I'm enjoying Arrow more than Flash. It's on a timer and knows it, and is holding nothing back. 

We've watched a couple episodes of Batwoman and Supergirl so far, and most of Flash. We're recording Black Lightning, but haven't started the new season yet. Since it's not tied in to the CW-DCU (yet), there's less urgency to catch up.

We're only a couple episodes into Riverdale, but after a subdued start (with the tribute episode to Luke Perry), it went from zero-to-bonkers with Veronica's combination press conference/Chicago number.

So, we were catching up on Batwoman (we had only watched the first two episodes before life intervened). Then Sunday arrived, and Watchmen came on ... and my wife elected to keep watching Batwoman. That says something. Yes, we are enjoying it.

Honestly, I wasn't crazy about her being so derivative of Bruce at first. But they've turned that into chicken salad. Kate has to embrace the Batness of it all because she inadvertently raised the city's hopes and then had no choice but to follow through. And she's narrating the show as letters to Bruce that, presumably, she will never send, so it's sort of a diary. (I still don't like Bruce being "missing" because I can't conceive of anything short of death that would make Batman be away from Gotham for three years.)

I do like Rachel Maddow as Vesper Fairchild. She's having a blast and it's catching.

I was glad to see the cute and engaging actress who played the vampire chick on The Passage again, but somehow they managed to put her in some of the most unattractive outfits a pretty girl has ever worn. That's, uh, weird. Had to be on purpose so it's baffling.

The step-sister, whom I disliked at first, is turning out to be the best part of the show.

The dad is the worst, because the actor is so one-note.

Looks like Alice is going to be more or less a supporting character, which is fine, since she's interesting. Batwoman isn't exactly Peter Parker, so I don't have any problem with her letting her murder-y sister walk around free -- for now. Although there should come a point where her better instincts cut in, or she will lose the audience.

We always laugh how these twins don't bear any resemblance, though.

Captain Comics said:

So, we were catching up on Batwoman (we had only watched the first two episodes before life intervened). Then Sunday arrived, and Watchmen came on ... and my wife elected to keep watching Batwoman. That says something. Yes, we are enjoying it.

Initially I wasn’t sure I would like the show. By the second episode I was hooked, as was my wife.

I do like Rachel Maddow as Vesper Fairchild. She's having a blast and it's catching.

We watch her on MSNBC every day and we didn’t realize it was her!

Looks like Alice is going to be more or less a supporting character, which is fine, since she's interesting.

Kate is Batwoman and Alice is Bats##t. She really holds the screen in every scene.

We always laugh how these twins don't bear any resemblance, though.

Are they supposed to be identical or fraternal?

I'm really enjoying the dynamic with Mary and Mouse both resenting in different ways the pull between Kate and Beth ("Do you know how many people I've killed? It's a number between one and zero.").

Rachel Skarsten really does do a great job as Alice, much more entertaining than I found the comics version.

Fraser

Captain Comics said:

So, we were catching up on Batwoman (we had only watched the first two episodes before life intervened). Then Sunday arrived, and Watchmen came on ... and my wife elected to keep watching Batwoman. That says something. Yes, we are enjoying it.

Honestly, I wasn't crazy about her being so derivative of Bruce at first. But they've turned that into chicken salad. Kate has to embrace the Batness of it all because she inadvertently raised the city's hopes and then had no choice but to follow through. And she's narrating the show as letters to Bruce that, presumably, she will never send, so it's sort of a diary. (I still don't like Bruce being "missing" because I can't conceive of anything short of death that would make Batman be away from Gotham for three years.)

I do like Rachel Maddow as Vesper Fairchild. She's having a blast and it's catching.

I was glad to see the cute and engaging actress who played the vampire chick on The Passage again, but somehow they managed to put her in some of the most unattractive outfits a pretty girl has ever worn. That's, uh, weird. Had to be on purpose so it's baffling.

The step-sister, whom I disliked at first, is turning out to be the best part of the show.

The dad is the worst, because the actor is so one-note.

Looks like Alice is going to be more or less a supporting character, which is fine, since she's interesting. Batwoman isn't exactly Peter Parker, so I don't have any problem with her letting her murder-y sister walk around free -- for now. Although there should come a point where her better instincts cut in, or she will lose the audience.

We always laugh how these twins don't bear any resemblance, though.

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