After watching Batwoman, I understand why Batman doesn’t have a family.
Yes, I realize he has Alfred and Damian Wayne (at least in the comics), but unlike his pal Superman, Bruce has avoided marrying or intentionally starting a family. Personally, I’ve always thought of this as something brought on by the emotional trauma he suffered as a child—a deeply personal obstacle that we hoped he might someday overcome. But after seeing how much Kate Kane’s life and role as Batwoman has been shaken up and nearly destroyed by her family, I have to wonder if her more experienced cousin might be onto something.
Batwoman, the most recent addition to The CW’s “Arrowverse,” debuted last fall to much fanfare. For fans of The CW’s DC slate, it not only brought Gotham and the Bat-mythos to the network’s shared DC universe for the first time, it also gave the small screen its first LGBTQ+ superhero. Sadly, those also brought the show a lot of scrutiny, and if you’ve never seen it, it’s likely some of that has impacted your opinion of the series.
That’s a shame because Batwoman is one of the best DC shows on the air right now. It had, hands down, the best debut season of any Arrowverse series since The Flash in 2014, something that’s doubly remarkable considering that Batwoman had its season cut short by our current coronavirus pandemic. It managed to wow us without even getting its grand finale.
However, what’s unique about Batwoman is it didn’t accomplish this by leaning into traditional superheroics. Kate’s gadgets and vehicles are not on par with Batman’s and the show’s action, while fine, lacks the style, scale and excitement of its predecessor Arrow or higher budgeted DC shows like Watchmen. Rather, Batwoman’s strength is in its complex and fascinating family dynamic. Season 1’s primary villain is Alice, the Lewis Carroll-obsessed psychopath who we learn early on is really Kate’s thought-dead twin sister, Beth. Beth feels abandoned by her family and betrayed by Gotham City law enforcement, so she lashes out at both—her efforts made all the more sinister and violent by the nightmare her childhood became after her presumed death. However, what makes Alice such an amazing villain—arguably the best super-villain on TV at the moment—is that she does this while still deeply wanting a relationship with her sister and father. Her homicidal reign of terror is an extremely misguided cry for help.
Speaking of Kate and Beth’s father, he’s an important part of the dynamic as well. A former military colonel, Jacob Kane now runs the Crows, the private security agency tasked with keeping Gotham safe. Jacob’s first season journey is a shocking and extraordinarily difficult one, walloping him with simultaneous grief, guilt, trauma and vulnerability. As Gotham embraces its newest vigilante protector, Jacob finds the Crows suddenly out of favor—a rejection of the law and order principals that Jacob has devoted his entirely life to. Batwoman is accountable to no one and operates outside the rigid ideals of due process at the heart of a healthy system of justice. (At least, this is likely what Jacob tells himself, but Batwoman is far too smart a show to make the situation so cut and dry.)
What Jacob doesn’t know is that Batwoman is secretly his own daughter—the daughter he’s emotionally needed after discovering his other daughter was never dead and has been twisted into a mass murderer that perhaps could have been avoided if he’d kept up his search for her.
Both of Jacob’s girls have rejected his ideals and positioned themselves at odds from him. He just doesn’t realize it yet. Meanwhile, both Jacob and Kate have vowed to bring Alice to justice, even though she represents something they’ve always longed for and maybe secretly hoped—that Beth is still alive.
And Alice? The great irony of Batwoman is that she may be the only Kane who isn’t deluding herself about what she wants, at least not at first. She wants her family back. She just has some really messed up ideas about how to get that.
I’m going to avoid spoilers, but just know that this dynamic leads to some absolutely gut-wrenching moments in the season. I’m talking moments that had me screaming out at my TV screen and shaken up afterwards in the best way possible. Yes, Batwoman is a show rocked by a Crisis on Infinite Earths and where characters are inexplicably capable of passing themselves off as someone else by wearing their stitched-on faces, yet despite all the comic book flourishes, the Arrowverse’s first Bat-show is a relentlessly compelling and all-too-human family drama at its core.
Speaking of Crisis, it must be said that Batwoman really doesn’t truly hit its stride until after the game-changing crossover event. It proves to be exactly the sort of shake-up the Batwoman creative team needs to reset the show in a less typical direction, so stick with things if the first few episodes don’t grab you. Also, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. Discussing Batwoman’s first season admittedly feels a little strange now that we know Rose is leaving and it’ll be continuing in a different direction next season with actress Javicia Leslie playing an all-new Batwoman named Ryan Wilder. Frankly, you don’t lose your titular character without it changing everything about the series, and the producers’ decision to create an all-new character rather than recasting Kate will almost certainly disrupt—if not entirely destroy—the very dynamic that I’m extolling as the show’s big strength.
Yet, it’s precisely because of the effect Crisis had on Batwoman that I’m willing to give the show’s creative team the benefit of the doubt. Shaking things up has yielded amazing results this season, so there’s no reason to think it won’t next season as well, while adding remarkable, much needed diversity to the mix in casting Leslie. But regardless of what Season 2 may hold, Batwoman’s debut season remains an amazing work of superhero storytelling and a stunning example of how deliciously complex these worlds of costume clad heroes and villains can be. It’s a powerful reminder that all the super suits and batarangs in the world can’t protect you from the damage brought on by those that we’re closest to.