The Mistake Batman TV Shows Keep On Making
The CW has dropped a trailer for Gotham Knights, an upcoming show seemingly calculated to make Batman fans groan so deeply that the resulting vibrations will shatter the Earth's crust and release whatever primordial demon is running the network. The show follows Batman's son (a new character, not the satanic little badass from the comics) after he's framed for his dad's murder and teams up with unrecognizable versions of beloved DC Comics characters to find the real killers. Yes, this is a Batman show without Batman in it. Why does that sound so familiar? Probably because they've been trying that idea for 20 years now, usually with less than stellar results.
It started with Birds of Prey, the 2002 show where Batman straight up ditches Gotham for unknown reasons, and his superpowered daughter steps up to protect the city with her two BFFs. It was very loosely based on the long-running comic of the same name, but the comic felt no need to justify Batman's absence by turning him into a deadbeat -- he's just off doing his own thing in another comic. Another way the show turned out to be unfaithful to the comic is that it was canceled after only 13 episodes, making it the opposite of "long-running."
Even before Birds of Prey aired, Warner Bros. had been working on a show about a young Bruce Wayne with the rule that he wouldn't put on the cape and pointy ears until the very last episode, even if it lasted 20 seasons. After many failed attempts to make a "Batman before Batman" show over the years, Gotham FINALLY came out in 2014 ... only to quickly devolve into a trashy soap opera whose characters happened to be named like some Batman villains. Gotham is perhaps most notable for spawning the most unfortunate fandom name in existence: "Nygmobblepot," for people who wanted the show to be 40 minutes of Young Riddler and Emo Penguin kissing every week.
Gotham also led to Pennyworth, a pre-prequel about the early days of Batman's sassy British nanny. This time, the excuse for not showing Batman is that he won't even exist for (judging from the actors' ages) like 50 years. Reviewers have pointed out that the weakest part of the show is the fact that it has to bend over backward to have some strained connection to something passably resembling the Batman canon. This is one case where they would have been better off not having a Batman connection at all.
And finally, we come to Batwoman, where Batman has once again left Gotham in the hands of a female relative. The show started great (maybe because Kate Kane was basically a gender-bent Bruce Wayne in terms of personality), but it eventually became clear that the writers weren't quite sure how to make a Batman-less Batman show that still made sense. Here's a single sentence from Wikipedia's summary of season two: "In addition, Black Mask later has Jacob arrested by the police officers on his side for withholding the information that Alice is Beth Kane, where Jacob cuts a deal that gets him placed in a prison in Metropolis while 'Circe' gains Jacob and Mary's trust in order to steal some items belonging to Batman's enemies." Ah yes, that old trope.
The irony is that the best Batman-related show of the past 20 years, hands down, is Harley Quinn, which is also the only one that didn't give a crap about just throwing Batman in there instead of hiding him to "preserve his mystique" or something dumb like that. Batman exists and is active in the world of this show but just isn't the center of it, and it works -- which should have been obvious all along because there are like 50 comics series where that's the case.
In fact, come to think of it, Gotham Knights would probably be way better if it was about a frustrated (but living) Bruce Wayne having to deal with his son Taynor or whatever his name is and his annoying Zoomer friends. It's not too late to save this show, CW!
Follow Maxwell Yezpitelok's heroic effort to read and comment on every '90s Superman comic at Superman86to99.tumblr.com.
Top image: Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution