“Trust me. This isn’t the story I expected to be telling. But you know as well as I that stories, like the people who tell them, aren’t always what they seem to be. I suppose I should start here, in Gotham. Three years ago when Batman mysteriously disappeared, it divided the city. Some hoped he’d be back; others figured he was dead. I thought he abandoned Gotham for the same reason he abandoned my family. Because he didn’t care.”
The Arrowverse is losing its founding member. The shortened 8th season of Arrow was its last. It was certainly time. The series was starting to literally fold back on itself, and it was time to move on. But that doesn’t mean the universe it created is getting smaller. It’s expanding. Batwoman joined the universe, and the huge crossover this season and Superman & Lois is about to join next season. There are no empty spaces around this table, at least not for long. Enter Kate Kane, played by Ruby Rose. It’s a character almost as old as the Batman himself. Kate Kane’s Batwoman entered the franchise in the mid 1940’s and was then a love interest for Batman. It’s kind of ironic that her original appearance was intended to quell the concern that Batman and Robin were giving the appearance of being gay, and her character was intended to drive home the point that Batman wasn’t gay. Now in the 21st century the concerns have shifted from the worry that a character will be thought to be gay to pressure to have gay characters and heroes in the shows. So the character that was created to deflect the idea of a gay hero becomes the first television hero who is openly gay. This certainly isn’t your grandfather’s Gotham City.
In the original comics it was expected that Kane would marry Batman. Alfred would often write a fictional within fiction stories that had Dick Greyson take on the mantle of Batman II with the son of Kane and Bruce serving him as Robin II. Alfred would delight in sharing these stories with Master Bruce, and they would appear as stories in the comics. Eventually the characters were somewhat rebooted, and Batwoman disappeared from the scene for much of the next few decades. Now we have a somewhat more modern version of the Kane character and her entry into the Batman mythos.
Kate Kane has been traveling around the world for five years training with some of the best martial artists on the globe. She receives word that her stepsister Mary (Kang) has been kidnapped. She returns to offer her help. Her father is Commander Kane (Scott). He runs the paramilitary group the Crows, who have taken over Gotham’s protection in the days since Batman left the city. They have become a fearsome force, and Kate has been training to serve as his right hand, but he has found another right hand. Many things have changed in Gotham, and it’s not just the disappearance of Batman. Sophie (Tandy) was her lover for many years until they were caught at the military school they both attended. They were given the option to recant their homosexuality or be tossed out. Kate refused, but Sophie betrayed her and signed the recantation letter. Now her ex-lover is the second she thought she was training to be and is now married … to a guy.
In all of this betrayal, it is Batman she feels most betrayed by. When she was very young The Joker took over a school bus that crashed into the car she was in with her twin sister and mother. Batman came, but she was the only one who survived … at least that’s what she thought. She believed Batman had turned his back on her and that her sister Beth was dead. Her world is about to be turned upside down.
Kate goes to the abandoned building of the Wayne Foundation where her cousin Bruce used to work. He has also disappeared, and no one still makes the connection. There she finds it’s not totally abandoned. She encounters Luke Fox, played wonderfully by Camrus Johnson. He’s been holding down the fort waiting for Bruce to return. It’s there she discovers who Bruce was and that he hadn’t turned his back on her family. With a new villain and a brutal gang on the loose, she decides to don the cape and cowl with some modifications. The public thinks Batman has returned, which brings some of his old enemies back to Gotham. So Kate must either drop the identity or make sure Gotham knows there’s a new bat in town. A little this and that and eventually a bright red wig, and we have us a Batwoman.
The season’s villain is Alice, played brilliantly by Rachel Skarsten. Kate discovers that it is her sister Beth (they were not identical twins). After the crash she had been “saved” by a man named August Cartwright (Tracy), who has a gifted but scared son named Johnny (Holmes). She was kidnapped and kept for 15 years with only Alice In Wonderland and Johnny to entertain herself with. The two bonded over his disfigured face that required masks made out of human flesh to look complete. Now Beth has taken on the name and nature of Alice and this season is going through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. Material from the Alice books is going to dominate the season. Most of the episode titles are direct quotes from the material, and Alice and Johnny, whom she affectionately calls Mouse (Littlefield) speak in code derived directly from the books. I’m actually surprised that Lewis Carroll wasn’t given a writing credit on the show.
Much of the season finds Kate trying to redeem her sister, only to watch in horror as she playfully kills and terrorizes Gotham City with her Wonderland Gang. Watching these two actors/characters is a study in contrast. Not sure how Ruby Rose was ever cast in the role. She’s incredibly flat throughout. There’s no real emotional anchor here between her and the role. She’s given an incredible supporting cast, and the writing is very solid. Still she can’t emote to save her life. On the other hand, Rachel Skarsten delivers as compelling a performance as you’ll find in the entire Arrowverse. Her gift of nuance and madness bring the character so alive that you’ll find yourself at times feeling genuinely disturbed by the performance. The chemistry she enjoys with her Mouse, Sam Littlefield, is just as wonderful. This is a character we should have gotten tired of two episodes into the run; instead, the show only truly comes alive when she’s on the screen. She more than makes up for the failings of Ruby Rose, but she shares chemistry pretty much everywhere else. She’s the star of this first season of Batwoman hands down.
There are no slouches in the rest of the cast. Dougray Scott is … well … commanding in his role of Commander Kane. He has incredible conflict when he discovers that Alice is the daughter he gave up for dead 15 years earlier, but he maintains that military-like strength that makes him as much a villain as a hero in Gotham. Meagan Tandy plays Kate’s ex-lover, Sophie, who ends up caught in between Batwoman and the Crows. She does a fine job of playing it all. The roles should have been reversed, and Tandy would have made the better show star. Camrus Johnson is also very good as Luke Fox. His Dad was Lucious Fox from the comics and recent films. He becomes the Batman gadget expert and the voice in Batwoman’s ear when she’s fighting crime. He’s a solid choice and a great character. Nicole Kang might be the character who will be the most fun to watch. On the outside Mary is a social influencer with a totally materialistic/fashionable look at life while blowing off medical school. But she’s hiding a side that cares deeply and runs a secret underground clinic for the poor. She wants so much to be a part of both Kate and Batwoman’s lives that she ends up in danger too often but handles it with a rather down-to-earth style. This character has some serious growth potential, and I can’t wait to see where it goes, if it’s allowed to continue. Sadly, circumstances might lead to big cast changes soon.
Why the big changes, you ask. Ruby Rose and the showrunners came to a mutual parting of the ways, and Rose walked away from the role after this first season. It’s likely the best thing that could have happened for everyone involved. But the characters were so linked by this family connection that I’m not sure if that dynamic moves the attention to an entire new field of actors and characters. There are folks out there who will chalk up mine and other critic’s low opinion of Ruby Rose due to the fact she was a gay actress playing a gay character, and for myself that couldn’t be more off the mark. I don’t care if a character/actress/hero is gay or straight. If the character is compelling, I’m all in. I’m not a fan of changing these kinds of things in long-established characters like James Bond or Spider-Man, but Kate Kane isn’t a character I would call that established. Most of you likely didn’t know of her before now. So I’m completely OK with her being gay. My information on the new actress is that she’s also gay. Fine. But let’s make her as compelling as her surrounding characters this time.
Gotham has a pretty nice production style that is very different from the city of the Gotham series. This is a dark place, but more glossy and flashy than the previous version. It’s a more modern place than the films and doesn’t have any real character of its own. One of the problems with the Arrowverse is that the places don’t really matter so much. There’s enough style to give the individual shows their own voices, but they honestly could be anywhere at all.
“In the beginning there was only a single black infinitude. Then the infinitude found release, and finally the darkness broke, filling it with life and finally the multiverse, every existence multiplied by possibility, and spread out before space and time in infinite measure. Civilizations rose and fell. And rose and fell again across reality’s grasping expanse. Life. A precious gift persevering in the face of every obstacle until finally the age of heroes was born. Chaos, the constant enemy of life kept at bay by champions from across the multiverse. Joining forces to fight on behalf of all creation. They found each other just in time, because now the entire multiverse is about to come under attack. There is a malevolent force at work, one driven by a singular goal: the destruction of all there is. I have planned, there are some who say I have schemed, but the day for preparation has passed. The crisis is upon us…”
Batwoman joins the other shows in the epic 5-part crossover event Crisis On Infinite Earths. Give Warner Brothers bigtime credit here. They have been doing a great job of including these crossover episodes in each of the different shows’ release sets. They’ve fine-tuned the inclusion this season by taking some advice I’ve been giving for years. This time they cut a separate disc that has the entire event all in one place so you can pop that baby in and watch it all without interruption. That’s exactly what I did, and man, was that fun.
It really started with last year’s crossover and the introduction of The Monitor (Garrett) who used that crisis to test the heroes of the Arrowverse. Then the final season of Arrow used its last handful or so of episodes to lay the groundwork. Oliver becomes the central hero who makes a deal to lay down his own life to protect Barry and Kara, whom fate has originally selected to die in the crisis. The crossover event begins on Supergirl.
Lyla Michaels (Anderson) becomes harbinger and gathers the players from the various Earths and cities. Supergirl is first because Earth-38 will be the first to be taken by the anti-matter storm that is driving across the multiverse to inevitably destroy all Earths in all universes. She has to watch her Earth die along with Argos where her cousin Clark (Hoechlin) and Lois (Tulloch) are living with their new baby, Jonathan. Both are saved along with Kara to fight the crisis. We learn there was an Anti-Monitor who was experimenting with anti-matter and created this wave. His plan is to wipe the multiverse clean so that he can write his own universe of anti-matter, and thanks to Nash Wells, this year’s Flash Wells, the door is opened and the destruction is unleashed.
The second entry comes with Batwoman, and we learn that the only hope of defeating this anti-universe is through seven people called paragons. They represent virtues like truth, courage, love, hope, humanity, destiny, and honor. Four are revealed in this episode, and so the search is on for the other three. That means we get to meet alternate versions of the heroes that are represented by earlier film and television depictions of these characters. Kevin Conway, who has voiced Batman/Bruce Wayne on a ton of animated shows, is one of those encounters. He’s dressed in an exoskeleton suit and is a bitter Wayne who lost everything and has become an instrument of destruction, even killing the Superman of his world. We get to see Tom Welling return as a retired Superman, and we’re back on the Kent farm from Smallville. Brandon Routh gets to jump out of his Ray Palmer guise for a short time and put on a modified version of his Superman Returns suit to show us a retired version of that Man of Steel. He’s now The Daily Planet’s boss. We even get a short cameo by Burt Ward who, of course, played Robin in the camp 1960’s television show opposite the late Adam West’s Batman.
The Flash delivers hour three, where the Arrowverse is joined by another comics hero enjoying a third season as a streaming DC show. Cress Williams brings his Black Lightning character to the show. It also marks the return of the 1990’s The Flash, John Wesley Shipp, as Jay Garrick.
Hour 4 Arrow spends one of its final 10 episodes joining the fun. Here we even catch up with Ezra Miller, who played The Flash in the Justice League film and the intended but beleaguered Flash feature film. Now Oliver is playing a little Jedi Master games with the team. He’s a rather mysterious hooded character who helps guide the team. Barry has to travel to the Speed Force, where he must reunite the team after the destruction of the multiverse. It’s a place outside of space and time and the only place they can exist at that point.
The final hour comes courtesy of Legends of Tomorrow. The team now has a version of the time ship which is now voiced by Wentworth Miller who of course played the redeemed Captain Cold Leonard Snart and who was Dominic Purcell’s Prison Break brother. Purcell is Rory, Snart’s old partner, and they manage to have great chemistry even when one of them is nothing but a voice. The end of Crisis on Infinite Earths is not exactly a win. They could not save the multiverse, but they did save one of them. Now that Earth: Prime contains elements and characters from various Earths so that Supergirl now lives on the same planet as the other heroes. The 1980’s comic event was the brainchild of Marv Wolfman, who had migrated over to DC from Marvel and pitched the idea to solve DC’s then really bad continuity issues. Multiple places had confused readers to such a point sales were at a decades-long low, and this story across all the DC’s titles allowed them to reset everything to free them from old continuity and issues, much like Star Trek employed the Kelvin time-line in the new films to reset everything. The entire Arrowverse will now get a chance to reboot things without completely wiping the slate clean. There will be no more “breaching” to travel between the many Earths. The timelines will also be altered so that each hero will be returning to a world somewhat changed from the one they left, and they’ll have to catch up on the new history of the consolidated planet.
Overall this was a very good event. It’s the best yet, and now I’m not sure how they are going to beat it in future years. With COVID shutting down productions, I’m willing to bet there will be no major crossover this next season. That doesn’t mean there won’t be visits, but it’s going to take heroic effort just to get the seasons back on track without the pressure and challenge that such a huge event entails. The event also sets up the establishment of a Justice League within the Arrowverse. In a wonderful homage to the old 70’s cartoons of Justice League and Super Friends, they set up in a building that looks just like the cartoon Hall Of Justice, and there’s even a nod to the alien monkey character Gleek.
As for Batwoman, that show will see the most dramatic changes with a change in the show’s lead. This is a first for the Arrowverse. They are not recasting Kate Kane. Instead a new character played by Javicia Leslie will become a new character taking on the mantle of Batwoman when the season begins again.
Each episode is presented in its original broadcast aspect ratio of 2.00:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. This high-definition image presentation will take you to an entirely different world. There’s a lot of gritty texture to be found here. Colors don’t often pop. This is often almost a monochromatic world, but once in a while a single color will pop to deliver stunning contrast. It might be a red wig or a bright dress, but it offers just the right balance to break up any of the dreariness to be found here. Fortunately, black levels are up to the challenge with rather sweet shadow definition. A lot happens in these shadows, and we wouldn’t want it lost. For a television show, this is as fantastic as a world gets.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is often alive with just the right mix of surrounds to immerse us deeply into this world. The score is pretty dynamic at times, and it drives the atmosphere that dominates this entire show. Dialog comes through perfectly clear, and you get just the hint of enough ear candy to keep you alert at all times.
Deleted Scenes on select episodes.
Crisis On Infinite Earths – The Architects Return: (11:55) Many of the DC people who were involved in the original 80’s comic story talk about that event and the impact it had on DC and comics in general. Marv Wolfman is the center of that discussion and offers a ton of inside information on the comics event.
Crisis Management: (13:08) Showrunners from each of the five shows talk about the connection between the comic event and the crossover. There’s some welcome behind-the-scenes footage, and Marv Wolfman continues to glue it all together.
Crisis Past And Present – Kevin Conway Bat Legend: (3:17) A profile of Conway and his cameo on the crossover.
Crisis Past And Present – Superman vs. Superman: (4:37) A behind-the-scenes look at the Superman fight as well as a profile on Brandon Routh’s chance to put the suit back on from his film version of Superman.
Characters In Crisis – Pariah: (4:18) A behind-the-scenes look at Tom Cavanagh’s new version of Wells who plays a big part in the event.
Characters In Crisis – The Anti-Monitor: (4:55) A character profile on the event’s big bad.
The Best Of DC TV’s Comic Con Panels San Diego 2019: (51:05) Warner Brothers has shifted from including each show’s panels to highlights from all of the DC shows appearances. It’s the same feature on each release. Take what you can get here, because next year there won’t be any Comic Con stuff to include thanks to the pandemic.
No one knows what kind of presence this show will have or what kind of impact it will leave. It’s all going to get a reboot come the second season. It’s unfortunate that the pandemic took away a handful of the season’s intended episodes. There’s a bit of a cliffhanger here, and I’m not sure how they resolve it without Ruby Rose. If they had chosen to merely recast the part, it would have made for an easier road. I expect they’ll be some awkwardness as the second season begins, but hopefully all of that will resolve and the show will be given a chance to really find its legs and take its place within the Arrowverse. “The big question is what are we going to call her? Batlady? Batchick? Talk to me, Gotham. We need a name.”