Once upon a time, Ruby Rose was hate-messaged off of Twitter. Her crime was being cast as the lead in the CW’s upcoming live-action Batwoman series, where she would play the titular superhero and her civilian alter-ego, Kate Kane. The CW drama is the first superhero show to be led by a solo queer leading lady. OG Batwoman fans accused Rose (a genderqueer person and lesbian) of not being queer enough to play Kate, who is also a lesbian.
Any good story about Gotham needs a tortured central figure, a family tragedy, and an unhinged villain. We learn Batwoman has all of these ingredients pretty quickly in an exposition-heavy premiere episode (“You’re a female Bruce Wayne” is said without any winking irony).
Kate returns to her turbulent hometown after a years-long sojourn to become the kind of warrior she believes her father Jacob (Dougray Scott) wants her to be. The Kane family business is the Crows, a high-tech paramilitary group that has stepped into the Gotham power vacuum left by the suspicious disappearance of Batman. Where has the caped crusader gone for three years? That’s a major premiere season mystery. For now Crows are here to protect the citizens of the fictional world’s sootiest, scariest metropolis. Kate is absolutely desperate to join the Crows, especially since a deranged Alice In Wonderland-obsessed villain named, well, Alice (scene-stealing Rachel Skarsten) is now terrorizing Gotham with her chillingly masked goons.
It’s no surprise Jacob isn’t so wild about Kate’s career ambitions after losing the other women in his life. Over a decade before the events of Batwoman, Kate witnessed the deaths of her mother and sister Beth. That gruesome image, and the haunting survivors guilt that comes with it, are the psychic wounds that have made Kate Kane who she is (remind you of anyone named Bruce Wayne?). Those memories have also warped Jacob and Kate’s relationship in ways neither of them could have guessed.
That’s why Batwoman is, at its heart, a family show as much as it is a superhero adventure. That sentiment is even true when it comes to how Kate Kane, badass extraordinaire, is able to become Batwoman. She doesn’t simply stumble into the bat cave one day as some stranger off the street. Instead, she is the younger cousin of Bruce Wayne, who has been hiding his Batman persona from his loved ones for years. What it means to pick up that daunting family legacy — and whether Kate wants to be a city-wide symbol of hope in the first place — becomes a major undercurrent of Batwoman’s first season. That’s a theme that becomes particularly evident in the drama’s second episode, “The Rabbit Hole,” which was made available to critics.
“Rabbit Hole” also deepens Kate’s perspective as a queer woman. As trailers have confirmed, the burgeoning vigilante has some romantic ties to Sophie Moore (Teen Wolf's Meagan Tandy), a Gotham security agent. However, this isn’t a dreamy love story from the jump (nothing in Gotham ever could be). Instead, there are oceans of mistrust and betrayal here in a shockingly homophobic world. Batwoman’s hometown comes off so bigoted it’s difficult to know if Jacob’s issues with his daughter stem from his own prejudices as well as fatherly paranoia.
With just two episodes of a lengthy season available, only time will tell if Batwoman becomes a homophobia dirge. Thankfully the drama’s fellow DC Comics-CW siblings have become oases of inclusion and whiz-bang joy, so it’s unlikely history-making Batwoman will make its queer leading lady’s life unnecessarily painful.
After all, there is so much fun to be had in the series, despite the heavy gray tones inherent to Gotham. Star Ruby Rose has crackling, platonic chemistry with Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson) the neurotic son of Lucius Fox. Lucius is a character name you might recognize since Morgan Freeman played him in the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman trilogy (a series with no bearing here on Batwoman). Luke is Kate’s neurotic foil, serving as both her Alfried-like bat cave support system and Lucius-esque tech expert. Then there is Kate's step-sister Mary Hamilton (You BFF Nicole Kang), a supposed party girl with fascinating depths Batwoman has never noticed.
Nicole Kang and Camrus Johnson turn in such good performances in early episodes that I have begun to ship Luke and Mary, two people who have yet to meet on screen. That's how powerful they are.
Batwoman is shaping up to be the queer, boundary breaking superhero television deserves. Now we’ll have to see if it can become the one it needs.