Ruby Rose is officially joining the CW’s Arrowverse, donning the red and black cape and cowl as Batwoman during this year’s four-way crossover between Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow. When they announced plans earlier this year, Variety reported that the crossover event would serve as a massive backdoor pilot for a planned solo series for the character to potentially launch next year, pending network approval.
Kate Kane, Batwoman’s civilian alter ego, has a long and strange history in the pages of DC Comics, having first appeared way back when in 1956, then going by Kathy Kane. That version, though, was wiped out during the seminal 1985 comic event Crisis on Infinite Earths. In 2006, writer Greg Rucka brought the character back in a massive reboot which changed the very core of the hero, not only making her the cousin of Batman’s Bruce Wayne but also making her the first openly gay DC Comics hero to headline her own series.
It is this version of the character Rose will portray this fall, and while details of the crossover event and the characterization of Batwoman remain largely a mystery, there is plenty in her comic book origin story from which we hope the producers take inspiration.
The style and tone
When you crack open any page of the original run with art by JH Williams III (Williams also penned the series when it became a monthly comic), one thing in particular jumps out at you: the gorgeous images. Williams’ art is nothing short of incredible as he creates a highly stylized yet somehow grounded world in which our hero operates. Seeping with horror tones mixed with notes of Batman’s essential noir style, the images are heavily contrasted, the world colored not only by harsh shadows but by the colors of Batwoman herself, splashes of blood red against more muted tones. The series also evokes a near dreamlike state as it dips into horror elements and combines with the aquatic themes of the book’s first story arc, a kind of style that makes reading the complex panels a fluid motion, not unlike a cinematic experience.
While it is unlikely that these exact images could easily be parlayed into a television series, especially with the budget restraints of the CW, this tone, an eerie mix of horror and hard-boiled detective, and the stylized imagery that never quite tips into the harsh viewing of Sin City, are a core element of what makes Batwoman the comic stand out, and it would be tragic not to try to replicate it at least in some way on screen.
Speaking of tone, as much as horror plays a part in influencing the emotions dredged up in the series, the classic noir themes are just as important, and those begin and end with the involvement of the Gotham City Police Department. While the police have featured heavily in the other Arrowverse shows, none have really nailed the “detective story” element that is very much at the core of the Bat-family side of DC Comics, Batwoman included. While Kate Kane is not herself a cop, she does spend a great deal of time around them, both as one of the many masked heroes consorting with the city’s ever-mounting crime problem and because she definitely has a type. Both of her main romantic interests in the comics have been police detectives: Renee Montoya in Elegy, and Maggie Sawyer in the main series.
But where a series like Arrow or The Flash utilizes police detectives as allies to the series main heroes, what sets Batwoman apart is the way the story actually follows the same case from the perspective of both women. Maggie’s ground level investigation of the case is just as important and sometimes even more interesting as Batwoman’s, especially since it serves to bring a face and emotional weight to the case and the victims.
A darker DEO
Supergirl has brought us right inside the Department of Extra-Normal Operations for the past three seasons. We’ve come to know the people who work there and who run it and come to trust both them and their motives. They are the Good Guys. When Kate Kane encounters them right at the start of the comic series, they are a far cry from the noble organization we’ve come to know and love. Instead, they are suspicious and ruthless and have no qualms about blackmailing Batwoman into joining their ranks, even as she doesn’t necessarily agree with their methods.
Assuming, of course, that the Batwoman we meet in this year’s crossover is a hero from Earth-One (rather than the Earth-38 of Kara Danvers and our DEO), the series offers the perfect opportunity to introduce a brand new kind of government agency, one much more in line with our current opinions on government overreach. Two seasons ago, Kara did mention the DEO and their mandate to the President of Earth-One’s United States, so it stands to reason in the intervening time a shadowy branch of the American federal police force may have been formed and is looking for a few good superheroes to join their ranks.
Kate Kane’s very messed up family
Family plays an important role in all of the Arrowverse series, even if a big part of that role is to serve as emotional trauma for the show’s main hero. Kate Kane has plenty of family baggage to add to the mix, as her family has seen its fair share of death and feuds. When she was a child her mother and twin sister were kidnapped and murdered and her relationship with her stern military father has never really recovered. Of course, things in comics are not always as they seem, and Kate quickly discovered that her sister hadn’t been killed after all, but driven mad and turned into the villain Alice. Her cousin, Bette, also takes on a superheroic secret identity as Flamebird, unbeknownst to Kate, and it goes over about as well as you might think.
Kate’s family is actually handled in an interesting way throughout the comics, with her relationship to her father serving as the main source of stress for the burgeoning hero. But while it is almost a given that he will appear in the series in at least some capacity, the addition of a character like Bette might also offer producers an opportunity to show a relationship that bears some resemblance to the one between Supergirl’s Kara and Alex while still standing in stark opposition to the sunnier side of DC.
Her Jewish heritage
In addition to being an out and proud lesbian, Kate Kane is also one of the few heroes of DC’s pantheon who is Jewish. Jewish characters are wildly underserved on television, appearing, usually, only when the story is very much ABOUT the fact that they are Jewish and they are even more rarely main characters. The Arrowverse has introduced a small handful of their own Jewish characters (Arrow’s Felicity and Legends’ Martin Stein — though he was literally killed by Nazis last year), but none of those characters have headlined their own series.
There has already been some backlash to the casting of Ruby Rose specifically because she is not, herself, Jewish, and while those arguments are valid to some extent, the greater concern, of course, is whether or not the producers make the character’s religion a part of the story.
Her military background
Each hero brings their own skill set to their chosen profession and to the larger team of heroes across the various television series, and each has a story of how they got there, whether they were not-so-stranded on a deserted island or raised on an alien planet. Batman develops his skills out of an obsessive need to be the greatest detective in the world and a near-obnoxious desire for perfection. Kate Kane has no such hang-ups. In her personal life, she is a socialite, a party girl, and generally content to keep that as her public persona, but in her profession, Kate falls back on one very specific part of her personality: her military training.
While Kate never actually managed to serve in the Army, her military family, her motivations for enlisting, and the skills she learned while attending West Point all feed into the kind of hero she is. Not only is she tough and stoic and good with her fists and various weaponry, she also has an attention to detail, a respect for authority and law enforcement, and a desire to protect people that can sometimes land her in hot water. The reason she never graduated West Point is that her integrity wouldn’t allow her to lie about her sexuality, even, and perhaps especially, under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Kate’s integrity and honor are a core part of her personality and ones which make her a unique entry into the Arrowverse, combining some of the best elements of the dark and serious Arrow with it’s lighter and more hopeful counterparts.