BATWOMAN: A Hope for Gotham
I am a huge Batman fan. I read the comics, I watch all the movies and TV series, I collect memorabilia, etc. Batman has been my favorite hero since I was a child. I like delving into the world of Gotham and seeing what new stories come out of it. That’s not an easy thing to do when Batman has been around since 1939 and there’s been tons of comics, movies, and TV series created around him, each with their own take on the original story. Does it sometimes get tedious and repetitive? Sure, but every now and then there’s something unique that makes me see a new perspective of Gotham.
One such story comes to mind and it doesn’t even have Batman in it. In 2006 DC came out with the first Batwoman comic. I’ll admit that when I first heard the title I was already skeptical. I hadn’t been much of a fan of the female characters in Gotham. In my opinion up until recently they haven’t
been written or portrayed well. I also get tired of the endless amounts of sidekicks and other Bat personas (Batgirl, Batwing, Nightwing, Robin, etc.) so adding a Batwoman to the mix seemed unnecessary to me. However, after reading on a bit further I found out that she was going to be queer and I found myself much more interested. Finally, a female character in Gotham I could relate to!
The comics are beautifully illustrated and I did like Kate Kane’s story. I’m still impressed that Rachel Maddow is a fan too. She wrote the introduction to the debut comic and has a recurring cameo role on the Batwoman series as “Vesper Fairchild,” a tabloid radio reporter. I highly recommend you read them if you haven’t yet. If you only get around to reading one of them, try “Elegy” because it is the comic that the TV series is based on.
In 2020 The CW announced they would be making a Batwoman TV series starring Ruby Rose. I remember how excited I was seeing the promo posters online and watching the teaser trailers. Finally, an openly queer female lead superhero on basic TV! It was on The CW so I wasn’t expecting anything too dark or graphic, but it was still something remarkable to me.
SPOILERS AHEAD! To recap briefly, Kate Kane is Bruce Wayne’s cousin. As a child she survived a car accident that killed both her Mother and sister, Beth (who would later be found alive and would become the villain, Alice). Her father, Jacob Kane, is the head of The Crows private security firm in Gotham (a private police force in addition to Gotham PD). As an adult Kate decides to follow in her father’s footsteps and joins the Rock Point Academy (a training academy for future Crows agents). There she meets Sophie Moore, a young Black woman who is also queer, but in the closet. They fall in love and have a secret affair, but eventually are found out. When officially questioned, Kate admits to her sexuality and Sophie denies hers. Kate is expelled and Sophie is allowed to graduate and becomes a Crows agent. Kate leaves Gotham for a time.
Years later Kate returns to Gotham after hearing that Bruce Wayne has mysteriously disappeared and left his company to Kate. Batman has also mysteriously disappeared and yet no one seems to have thought the two were connected. When she visits her father at work, she runs into Sophie, who is now married to a male co-worker there. It is awkward and there’s still some sexual tension between them.
At Wayne Tech, Kate meets Luke, Lucius Fox’s son, who was Bruce’s right hand man and now would be Kate’s. He welcomes her, but still keeps her at arm’s length.
Her father remarried and has a step daughter, Mary, who is in medical school to become a doctor. She moves in with Kate as roommates in the loft above a lesbian bar that Kate buys and runs on the side.
After exploring Bruce’s office, she accidentally stumbles upon the entrance to the Bat Cave and finds out the truth about Bruce and Batman. Luke reluctantly agrees to work with Kate as she becomes the new Bat. However, she wants to make it her own so she decides to make some modifications to the Batsuit like making it fit her form better, changing the bat symbol to red, and adding a red wig. Although I think wigs are impractical for crime fighting, I appreciated the changes Kate made. She didn’t follow in Bruce’s shadow and give Batman credit for her hard work.
With Wayne Tech’s resources, access to all of Batman’s gadgets and gear, and with Luke’s technological savvy plus Mary’s medical expertise, Kate now has a fully functioning “Bat Team.” That mixed with an intense rivalry between Kate/Batwoman and Alice, and an ever building love triangle between Sophie, Kate and Batwoman (Sophie doesn’t know Kate is Batwoman yet), we now have a very Batman-esque story with a queer twist.
Although entertaining, it wasn’t that different from other Bat themed stories. Ruby Rose did well portraying Kate Kane as an unlikely hero who broods with angst. Unfortunately it just felt like a female version of Bruce Wayne. As much as I love Rachel Skarsten and her portrayal of Alice, the constant back and forth of sister vs. sister became repetitive and tedious after a while. I wanted so much more for Alice’s character. Even though she did heinous and unforgivable acts, there were times when I felt for her. Her past was horrific and not her fault. Plus, there were several times when she chose to work with and help Kate/Batwoman and yet each time she did they betrayed her and threw her back in Arkham and each time it only fortified her anger and revenge. Luke, Mary, and Sophie were very much side characters and most of the episodes centered around Kate’s story. It wasn’t bad for a first season, but it didn’t break the Batman “mold” that much and it left me wanting more from the plot and characters.
At the end of the first season came a surprising announcement that Ruby Rose was leaving the series and they were looking for her replacement for the second season. It was assumed that once they found a replacement the story would continue with Kate as the lead. However, that’s not what happened. Instead, they created a new lead character, Ryan Wilder (played by Javicia Leslie), who would be the next Batwoman.
Ryan is a young queer Black woman who has struggled living in Gotham. She was born into the foster system and didn’t find a foster mother who actually cared for her until she was in middle school. As a young adult her foster mother was murdered by a street gang working for Alice and after that Ryan struggled to survive on the streets of Gotham. She got mixed up with dangerous people and crime and ends up getting caught.
She did her time and comes back to Gotham on probation. She’s doing her best to get a fresh start and make her foster mother proud. When we meet her, she is living in a van and feeling lost. But soon she happens upon some debris from a plane crash that included Kate Kane as a passenger. There were no survivors and Kate’s body hasn’t been found yet. However, Ryan does find Kate’s luggage that contains the Batsuit.
In typical Batman fashion, Ryan decides to borrow the suit and exact her revenge on the men who murdered her foster mother. She does bring them to justice and in doing so meets Luke and Mary who have been looking tirelessly for Kate and the Batsuit. However, when there is a confirmation that Kate died in the plane crash, they hesitantly agree to give Ryan a trial run as the new Batwoman. It takes time for each of the main characters and Gotham in general to accept Ryan and build trust between them. From this point on, Batwoman begins to break the Batman mold and evolve the franchise into something relevant and necessary.
This series shifts the focus from one lead character to a cast of characters that equally contribute to the story. Each of these characters is played by a person of color and that is a huge shift for a Batman series. The plot now includes social justice issues that focus on POC like the Black Lives Matter Movement. What I love about this series is how these issues are handled. We get to see people of color working together to bring true justice to Gotham. Instead of just fighting criminals, they focus on breaking down the systems that create the crime in Gotham. Unlike Batman, Batwoman uses both her resources as Batwoman and Ryan Wilder (CEO of Wayne Tech) to try and fix what’s broken in Gotham instead of only dealing with the products of Gotham’s corruption. They bring a feeling of hope to the city.
Another issue that this series focuses on is mental health. As we’ve seen in every other Batman story, Gotham’s corrupt systems create villains who are defined by their insanity. Batman captures them and puts them in Arkham even though everyone knows Arkham is just as corrupt as all the other systems in Gotham and that its inmates are not receiving the treatment they need . It’s always bothered me that Bruce Wayne didn’t utilize his prominent position and fortune on improving the conditions and treatments at Arkham to actually help his villains so they wouldn’t continuously break out and harm others. I feel like Batwoman took the time to show the damage that old way of thinking caused and how it just continued to create more villains. Alice is the main villain and through the seasons we get to see how much trauma and pain she has been through before becoming Alice. I felt a sadness for her and how the system failed her in so many ways. Even though she is a villain whose crimes are heinous and unforgivable, she is also a victim of crimes committed against her. Although she refuses help from Kate or her father, eventually she can no longer live with what she’s done. Although she has done great harm to Ryan and Mary by being responsible for the murders of both their mothers, they decide to break the cycle of abuse and choose to help Alice get the treatment she needs to get better rather than giving up on her and letting her stay in Arkham. I look forward to seeing what happens to Alice (Beth) once she gets the help she needs. Batwoman is still cleaning up the streets of Gotham, but instead it’s by helping her villains so that they no longer feel the need to be villains anymore. Where Bruce and Batman failed, Ryan and Batwoman are changing the narrative.
I also appreciate how queer this series is. Sophie is much more than a love interest for Batwoman. Throughout this series she is on a journey to figure out who she is and be openly queer. She explores her sexuality with several women and eventually comes out to her family. She and Ryan’s journeys as queer women who have lost the women they loved leads them to each other. Their relationship is adorable and I’m rooting for them. Another queer relationship featured is between Detective Renee Montoya and Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy). This was another example of how Batman captured and kept Poison Ivy sedated instead of trying to help her. Batwoman chooses to let her and Renee go free and live a full and happy life together. More proof that love wins in Gotham.
Lastly, Batwoman shows how differently things are handled in Gotham when women are the ones making the difference. Ryan and her team focus their efforts on real change in Gotham and lead with compassion instead of vengeance. They face their traumas instead of letting it fuel their cause. Unlike Batman, Ryan is herself first and Batwoman second. That in itself makes a huge difference in how Batwoman operates. There’s a scene from a DC crossover episode in season one with Kate Kane as Batwoman working with Kara Danvers as Supergirl and even though they don’t see eye to eye, they put their differences aside for the greater good. Afterwards they even become friends. I had to chuckle about how different this outcome was compared to Batman vs. Superman which was basically all about toxic masculinity until Wonder Woman had to come in and break it up. It’s amazing how differently women handle being superheroes and the advances their stories add to the genre.
All in all I am continuously impressed with the Batwoman series and the hope they bring to this narrative. It is everything that I have wanted to see happen in a Batman story. It is proof that even a city as hopeless as Gotham can change. I am looking forward to new upcoming chapters in Gotham’s future. Here’s hoping it gets renewed for season four.