Batman is, arguably, one of the most recognizable and marketable characters in the world. He’s beloved by everyone from toddlers on up. He also has one of the most vocal and devoted fanbases of any single character in media. The expectations when creating a show about Batman are higher than any other superhero, and showrunners who want to play in that world either aren’t allowed or aren’t willing to go there. That brings us to Gotham Knights, the new–and last–CW show of the Arrowverse era. Spoilers follow for Gotham Knights, Season 1, Episode 1.
Batman is dead, and a powder keg has ignited Gotham City without the Dark Knight to protect it. In the wake of Bruce Wayne’s murder, his adopted son Turner Hayes (Oscar Morgan) is framed for killing the Caped Crusader, along with the children of some of Batman’s enemies: Duela Doe (Olivia Rose Keegan), aka The Joker’s Daughter, an unpredictable fighter and skilled thief who was born in Arkham Asylum and abandoned by her father, Harper Row (Fallon Smythe), a streetwise and acerbic engineer who can fix anything, and her brother Cullen Row (Tyler DiChiara), a clever transgender teen who is tired of being polite and agreeable. With the charismatic and hard-charging District Attorney Harvey Dent (Misha Collins) and the GCPD hot on their trail, Turner will rely on allies including his best friend and formidable coder Stephanie Brown (Anna Lore), and unlikely Batman sidekick Carrie Kelley (Navia Robinson). But our Knights will soon learn there is a larger, more nefarious force at work within Gotham City. This team of mismatched fugitives must band together to become its next generation of saviors known as the “Gotham Knights.”
What Gotham Knights isn’t
Let’s get one thing out of the way, as it may not be clear to those more casually interested in Batman media: The CW’s Gotham Knights, a show in which a group of young people connected to Batman come together to fight a conspiracy run by the secretive Court of Owls, has no relation to WB Montreal’s Gotham Knights, a game in which a group of young people connected to Batman come together to fight a conspiracy run by the secretive Court of Owls.
While WB Montreal’s game features the likes of Jason Todd, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Barbara Gordon, the CW’s show follows Bruce Wayne’s adopted son, Turner Hayes (Oscar Morgan), Duela Doe (Olivia Rose Keegan), and siblings Harper (Fallon Smythe) and Cullen Row (Tyler DiChiara), as well as Carrie Kelly (Navia Robinson). For as much of an iron grip as WB and DC seem to have on Batman, it’s curious how a show and a game came out within months of each other with the same title and almost identical plot outlines.
What Gotham Knights is
In a word, pretty bland and full of weird choices that expose its limitations. While the quality of shows like The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, and others is bumpy at best, they’re unquestionably superhero shows that pull heavily from their comic book counterparts for story, characters, and tone. Gotham Knights seems to mostly want to hint at and hang onto the coattails of Batman, rather than fully embracing it.
The first strange choice is Turner Hayes, the adopted son of Bruce Wayne. Wayne adopted him after his parents were murdered and worked to raise him without revealing his true identity. The show didn’t pick Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, or Damien Wayne–probably because they wanted a character that they could shape without the expectations that come from those who have already donned capes and domino masks.
What that actually does, though, is make it look like they wanted all the potential of a Batman story with none of the baggage. The baggage, however, is precisely what Batman fans tend to enjoy. So we have this blank slate of a character, and the truth is that he doesn’t get any less blank by the end of the episode, and you could insert him into a half-dozen other shows that have aired on the network and he’d seem perfectly at home.
The other characters have more explicit connections to the Batverse, but they’re tenuous, gossamer threads compared to the sturdy chains that bond the cast of the Gotham Knights game. Duela Doe is the estranged daughter of the Joker. Harper Roe is a gifted tinkerer who becomes Bluebird in the comics, and Cullen is her brother. Carrie Kelly is, of course, the Robin of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
Nothing to do
I tend to say that Arrowverse stars elevate the material they’re given. Performers like Stephen Amell, Cress Williams, Dominic Purcell, and Rachel Skarsten showed that you can make some truly rough material watchable with a properly committed performance and understanding of the character. It’s hard to tell here, though, whether Morgan will be able to because they’re giving him so little to work with. He’s generic enough to almost be a self-insert-style character–he’s just a guy. He’s a good-looking guy who is right at home with so many other CW leads, but he doesn’t get to do much other than be handsome on camera.
Of the five kids, only Keegan has room to do something a little fun with the character. Keegan gives Duela, as the daughter of the Joker, some fun manic energy that makes her a little bit unpredictable. While the Rows and Kelly have established DC connections, they aren’t quite able to stand out thus far.
Adjacent to the Knights is Turner’s friend Stephanie Brown (Anna Lore). DC fans will recognize that as the name of the Puzzler’s daughter, and the true identity of Spoiler and the fifth Batgirl. Here, there’s no indication that she’s the daughter of a criminal–something that would immediately give her a strong connection to the team. She’s able to fluently use Batman’s computers at just a glance, but nothing in the show supports that. Right now she’s just a prep school kid who is inexplicably good at hacking for Plot Reasons.
The only other bright spot in the cast is Misha Collins as Harvey Dent. At least in this pilot episode, though, he doesn’t have much going that makes him Harvey Dent, and he’s another sign of the way this show seems set up to disappoint. Batman fans–and not just the most devoted ones–know that Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face and that he and Batman butt heads. But this Harvey is in a world where Batman killed the Joker, and was careless enough to be assassinated by the Court of Owls. If he becomes Two-Face at some later point, that untethers his origin from Batman, a character to whom he’s always been thematically linked. If he doesn’t become Two-Face, then he’s just a guy once again.
One of the fun parts of CW DC shows has always been the fight choreography. It might not hold a candle to the choreography of a movie fight, but Arrowverse shows, especially Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow have always gotten the most out of their fight choreographers. Arrow had so many killer fights that it’s hard to pick out just one (though it’ll almost certainly be Slabside Redemption from Season 7). But Gotham Knights, which is ostensibly a show about unpowered people protecting Gotham from crime seems to have barely bothered with fight choreographers. Fights are choppy and uninteresting. They don’t even manage to convey the kids’ inexperience terribly well–it all just feels like sloppy choreography.
In general, it feels like Gotham Knights was given a bunch of connections to Batman lore to get some attention, but the connections are so tenuous, and the show is so afraid to explicitly connect them to Batman in meaningful ways that it becomes distracting. Gotham Knights is almost certainly the last of the CW’s DC-connected shows, and it feels like the early days of Arrow when the show was afraid of its roots. If the show had come a couple of years earlier, it would probably look very different. Right now, though, it feels less like a last hurrah and more like a quiet whimper.