Batwoman, my rambling review

Please don’t ruin this for me

Image: close up of Batwoman

That cowl makes your head look really, really round. Picture copyright of the CW Network, used without express permission, please don’t sue me.

(Contains vague spoilers up to the end of the second episode of the first season)

I really want to like this show. It features a super powered woman, which is what I’m into. And I like this Ruby Rose person they have playing Batwoman. She’s got a neat looking face. I don’t know how else to describe it. She has sharp, angular features that are somehow still feminine. Neat. I like looking at her face.

To start from a digression, apparently back in the day, when Steve Ditko and Stan Lee were writing the story in The Amazing Spider-man where the Green Goblin’s identity was revealed, they argued about who it should turn out to be. Ditko said it should be just some guy, a random person, because that was more realistic. That’s how life is, the people we cross paths with aren’t fated to be there, our fate is revealed in retrospect when we realize who it was we’ve encountered that impacted our lives. I don’t know the exact shape of his position, so I’m describing it my own way.

In any case, as you might already know, it was Stan Lee’s idea that won out, that it would be more “dramatic” if the Green Goblin were somebody Peter Parker knew. And so it was that the Green Goblin was revealed to be Norman Osborn, the father of Peter’s best friend, Harry Osborn.

So far as I can tell, the consensus is generally that this was the right way to go. I know that Neil Gaiman said that “of course” this was the better idea, because I heard about the whole thing from an interview with him. I think most people just take it for granted that this was the way it should go because it was the way it went.

The thing is, I’m not so sure that Ditko was wrong, at least in the sense that it might not always be the best choice to have that kind of connection between characters.

I wasn’t alive when the Green Goblin story arc was first put out there, so I can’t say how much this idea was novel or surprising for people back then. I know that when I was in the theatre and Vader revealed he was Luke’s father, it was dramatic for me in all the ways that Stan Lee must have intended for Osborn’s reveal to be. So, I think I can understand how intertwining characters backstories can heighten intrigue for the audience.

But on the other hand, finding out that Luke and Leia were siblings started to feel like going to the well too many times.

It’s become so much of a trope in the world of fiction to find out that mysterious other people are a relative or ex lover or that friend that disappeared that fateful day long ago, that it’s no longer a surprise, it’s expected. It’s de rigueur, which I believe is French for “hack”. All the built in conflict that’s supposed to ensue from having your enemy turn out to be your parent or lover or friend or whatever, just feels like a colour by numbers template with predictable results.

Which brings me back to Batwoman. It’s not just that Batwoman’s nemesis, a woman going by Alice, and the best acted character in the show, is possibly Batwoman’s long lost sister. Batwoman is Batman’s niece. Her main tech support guy is the son of Batman’s main tech support guy. Batman has disappeared, and in the absence of a vigilante to protect Gotham, a security firm has stepped up to fill the gap. Who is the head of that firm? Batwoman’s father. Batwoman’s ex-lover happens to also work there, and is the only employee with speaking lines. Batwoman stumbles into some kind of off-the-books underground hospital… being run by her step sister. Batwoman’s step mother is a business tycoon and billionaire, so you know she’s going to be the money behind plans that Batwoman will end up fighting and there will be that theoretical extra conflict because they are related.

Everybody “just happens” to be in some position or another where they are intimately connected to each other as family and friends, and also to all events of the show. The things they to choose to tell or not tell each other is supposed to be dramatic because of the inherent quality of them being close to each other in terms of their relationships. It’s to the degree that it’s kind of over the top and dumb. Instead of spending the season having Batwoman and Alice at odds with each other, building a relationship that the audience will grow with and become wrapped up in, they want us to just start with the audience being told a relationship exists. They’re sisters, and they’re enemies! Crazy, yeah? So, every time they fight it’s that much more emotional! Right? Right?

No. It’s just lazy writing, telling me they have a back story and then hoping that keeps me interested while an actual story develops. Assuming a story does actually ever develop.

It’s also kind of distracting and weird. It puts us in this world where all events that matter happen within this very narrow bandwidth of characters, so that you’re kind of wondering how this city runs with only about twelve people who seem to live in it, and six of them run everything.

When Darth Vader revealed he was Luke’s father, that line was earned by building on two solid movies worth of story telling, learning about who these characters are. So when it came time for Luke to confront what it might mean for his arch enemy to be a relative he wished he knew, it was a reveal that was earned. Here, I don’t know who the fuck Batwoman and her sister are, I just keep getting flashbacks of how they were separated in a car accident, which tells me a lot about what they went through, and nothing about why I should care.

And what’s up with Batwoman being Batman’s niece? Are you telling me that vigilantism is genetic somehow? That’s a weird premise to put out there for all that it implies about how if you’re not related to the right people, go fuck yourself because you can’t learn to be a hero. Maybe that was the only way the writers could think of for why Batwoman stumbles across the Batcave?

Which is a really weird choice when you consider there’s already a recipe to follow that makes way more sense in that Batman has a well established history of taking in people who aren’t relatives and training them to be vigilantes. There have been female Robins in various comics before, such as The Dark Knight Returns as far back as the eighties. So what’s up with having Batwoman being this ready made vigilante just because she has a famous uncle, and all she has to do to become a hero is find a suit? It would be the a lazy choice were it not for the fact that there are better options to be selected equally as lazily, so I don’t even know what to make of it, except that it just disappoints.

And by the way, literally all it takes for her to become Batwoman is to find the suit. She sees Batman’s old suit hanging in the Batcave, she tells Son Of Lucius to tailor it to fit her, and barely one scene later it fits perfect and she can do everything Batman could. Yeah, I know she trained to be a police officer or whatever, so she came into the situation with some skills. But being a crime fighting vigilante who plays on the level of Batman is a many leagues higher than that. It doesn’t just come with a suit.

Anyway, maybe having every character all wrapped up in a ball of interconnectedness was a budgetary decision, so they could keep the cost of the cast down to a minimum. After all, the show has the look and feel of a restricted budget. Batwoman’s costume, especially her cowl, are kind of off somehow. Ruby Rose’s head looks too big and round when she’s in Batwoman mode. In all the promo pictures, she has this flowing hair that’s an unnatural shade of red that looks pretty cool, so maybe the costume will improve.

In any case, everything is too brightly lit and lacking atmosphere. And most disappointing of all, the fight choreography is weak. Ten, maybe twenty years ago this would be a good show, action-wise. If I could have seen shows of this quality when I was a kid, my mind would have exploded from excitement. Do you even know how shitty the live action Spider-man TV show that was on when I was a kid was? But the bar has been raised. I don’t expect every hero show to have fight choreography on the level of Netflix’s Daredevil, but as shows like that establish the top end, the bottom end of the range also increments up, and Batwoman is barely qualifying.

Last gripe, I promise… they keep trying to have Ruby Rose pose like a super hero in the in moments between fights or flights when she’s in Batwoman mode. When she drops down from above and lands in front of some bad guys, or when she just walks with purpose from one part of the set to another, or even if she’s just standing when listening to someone. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like, a shoulder thrust forward here, a tucked in chin and head facing off to one side there. I don’t know, but trust me on this, they have her posing and posturing with stances that are “heroic” in intention, but just look really awkward. Her movements come across like a twelve year old in a Superman costume for Halloween.

Look, if you want her to convey that heroic stature, you’re going to have to accept that she’s a fit woman, but not muscular and imposing the way some actors are. She has a relatively small frame, and a feminine one, and you can go a lot of different ways with that, but what you can’t do is assume that looking super heroic means one thing and try to push this actress into that template. There’s an opportunity here to create a new definition of a heroic demeanor, and I don’t know what that would be, but it couldn’t look sillier than what’s happening now.

Actually, now that I think of it, when Ruby Rose is not in the Batwoman outfit, and she’s just hanging out in her leather jacket and her “this is how TV costume departments tell you I’m a rebel” Ramones shirt, she carries herself with a natural gravitas that conveys she’s tough and not to be messed with. I buy her as a hero much more when she’s just being herself than trying to be anyone else’s image of a hero. So, maybe just do that…?

So, yeah. I’ve watched two episodes, and I’m trying not to hate this show for all its missed potential. I want it to work. I’m giving some leeway because shows often take a while to get their footing. Sometimes shows spend whole seasons finding what they really need to do. And to earn a higher budget. This show has parts that could be something great if it could come together.

But if I’m being honest, so far it’s my hopes that are keeping Batwoman on my roster of shows to watch, more than what the show has provided. That and Ruby Rose’s neat looking face.