With Ruby Rose cast in the lead role, the new Batwoman series was always going to be a tad controversial. Perhaps the makers thought that controversy would garner wide attention and therefore a bigger audience. If so, it’s a pity that they didn’t also think to work harder on the quality of script and production in order to keep a loyal fanbase (more on that later). Suffice it to say, Ruby Rose (model and TV celeb, with a notable performance in the second John Wick movie) plays ‘the first openly lesbian lead superhero in television’ but the actor themselves only identifies as ‘genderfluid’: and hence the controversy(?). Yes, already you can perhaps start to see issues with the makers getting the nuance, tone and wokeness right for certain (inter)sections of audience. It’s a shame, because such issues completely overshadow what should be most important here – turning Batwoman into an accessible and successful lead character.
So let’s talk about the tone of the new Batwoman series. This Batwoman series actually smacks of the original, extremely camp Adam West Batman series. The fight scenes involve lots of rolling around and cartoonish punches. You almost expect to see ‘Zap’ and ‘Kapow’ flashing up on the screen. All well and good (‘homage’, you might be thinking)… except where the ‘camp’ Adam West series is knowing, arch and ironic, this Batwoman series is all earnest, angsty and ‘STRAIGHT’, so the tone is contradictory. And that gives us the second issue. There is zero irony in the Batwoman series. Everything is black-and-white. There are no shades of grey. There is absolutely no moral ambiguity. I’m sorry, but such a view of the world is utterly childish, ignorant… and (socio-politically) dangerous. And this lack of both irony and shades of darkness entirely misses the ‘spirit’ of the current depictions of the DC-verse, Gotham city and Batman (not to mention the fabulous Joker movie, just reviewed on this site).
What’s left? Sigh. The lack of moral ambiguity means there’s no central moral dilemma for our lead character. And without a moral dilemma for the lead to struggle with, that lead character also doesn’t have a chance to show much… character. Instead, they are just a ’cause’ and little more. We are told to feel sorry for the lead time and again (with multiple repeated uninteresting uninflected flash backs) – but feeling sorry for someone isn’t the same as liking them and rooting for them (and it’s these last two things an audience needs if it’s going to care enough to keep watching a character’s story). And I really did want to like the show, because I’m a feminist and a fan of the Batverse – but Ruby Rose in the Batwoman suit just seemed a feeble version of Batman, and the villain (‘Mad Alice’) is a super diluted version of the Joker.
Sorry, but there are just a few more issues I should mention. Continuity and credibility. There are none. Ruby Rose (playing Kate Kane) is hit in the face with a cricket bat. Really hit. Hard. Next scene? Not even a bruise, let alone a broken nose or caved-in skull. And that next scene doesn’t explain how Kate is suddenly out of the clutches of the baddies (except for ‘oh, my men picked you up’). And then we have Kate rescuing her ex but falling with her four or five floors, through a roof and onto a bed, where they hold each other as lovers and fingers touch mouths, etc.
Bringing me to the final issue of… coherence. What a shame that overall the opening episode is a shambles. Some messages are so shouty and dogmatic that they are insulting, if not alienating. More subtle messages (if there even are any) are lost amid the cacophony. I fear that audiences will not get to episode 2. They will be switching off for good. I can absolutely see now why IMDb scores it 3 out of 10. That said, Rotten Tomatoes gives it 73%. Perhaps that latter statistic should give me/us pause. Hmm. Clearly some people like it. I hope so. I’d love to see the series improve and get it ‘right’. And do you know what? Ruby Rose has charisma. Let’s hope it’s enough to see Batwoman become the icon she/they always should have been. Amen.
[A J Dalton is the writer of the lead essay in ‘Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction‘.]