The CW is bringing Batwoman to television, starting with this fall’s Arrowverse crossover event. After that, she’s set to get her own show. While details on the show’s plot are scarce, we know this version of Batwoman will be the openly gay, ex-military vigilante introduced in 2009’s Elegy miniseries. That means the show will almost certainly take story cues from Elegy and the subsequent New 52 run. Knowing this, it seems Batwoman will have to contend with a problem that once stymied Arrow: mixing gritty action with magic.
Batwoman’s Links to Magic
Batman may rarely deal with mystical enemies, but the modern Batwoman contends with them regularly. Her adventures in the New 52 include facing off against werewolves, Bloody Mary, a vengeful ghost, Medusa, and a vampire. Many of her enemies are linked in some way to the Religion of Crime, which could best be described as “if the League of Assassins was a Satanic cult”. She occasionally teams up with characters that have experience in dealing with magic, like Wonder Woman.
The use of magic in the modern Batwoman’s adventures sets her apart from Batman in a crucial way. Kate Kane’s world isn’t one of gangsters and maniacal clowns, but of witches and apocalyptic cults. It’s part of what makes Batwoman her own unique, interesting character, rather than a copy of her male counterpart. Similarly, the TV show would be wise to lean into the magic angle in order to set itself apart from Arrow. In doing so, however, they will have to thread a tricky needle.
The Arrowverse Has Always Struggled With Magic
Seasons 3 and 4 of Arrow featured a great deal of magic. Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits were introduced, and sorcerer Damien Darhk menaced Star City. Magic users Vixen and John Constantine also made appearances. Unfortunately, many fans pushed back against Arrow’s sudden embrace of mysticism, and more recent seasons have returned to a more mundane status quo.
The other Arrowverse shows have also had trouble with magic. For example, Silver Banshee disappeared from Supergirl, and Vixen’s powers were downplayed in many episodes of Legends of Tomorrow. But while the other shows could distance themselves from magic when things didn’t work out, Batwoman may not have that luxury. It will almost certainly be mining the New 52 for its storylines. This is a good move, as the show will be adapting the most popular and successful version of the character — but that also means magic needs to be a part of the mix. Adapting the character without it would be like doing The Flash without the Speed Force — it just wouldn’t work.
Batwoman Needs a Different, Unique Tone
Arrow’s magical adventures were unsuccessful because they felt like they were part of a different show. It’s hard to reconcile Damien Darhk’s powers with the gritty feel of the show’s early seasons. The different shows may take place in the same universe, but they each set different expectations for themselves by establishing a unique tone.
Take the opening minutes of The Flash. The first thing we hear is Barry Allen explaining that to understand his story “you need to believe in the impossible”. This sets the tone for a series that hinges on human beings with “impossible” abilities, like super speed. Similarly, Arrow set a tone that was all about physicality and realistic action by opening with Oliver Queen doing parkour through a dense jungle and firing off an arrow.
The vague descriptions we’ve heard so far about Batwoman indicate that the show will emulate Arrow in some respects by focusing on a dark, damaged hero fighting urban crime. But to avoid hamstringing itself when magic inevitably enters the storyline, it needs to embrace Kate Kane’s links to the occult right from the start. There are many ways to do that, but if the show doesn’t commit, it will only lead to narrative problems down the road.
There’s a lot riding on the success of Batwoman. It will bring Gotham City into the Arrowverse, perhaps laying the foundation for the Dark Knight to one day arrive. More importantly, it will add to the CW’s diverse superhero lineup by featuring an openly lesbian heroine. And it will be the live-action debut of one the Bat-family’s most important and under-appreciated members. All of that together means the CW needs to get it right, and figuring out how to handle magic is key to that.
Batwoman will debut in the Arrowverse’s fall crossover. The Batwoman solo show is expected to premiere sometime in 2019.