Monday, March 13, 2023

Gotham Knights, on CW

Honestly, the new leadership at Warners probably saved the DC franchise by axing the unreleased Batgirl movie if reports were correct it killed off Michael Keaton’s Batman. He was a lot of people’s introduction to the Caped Crusader and superhero movies in general. Seriously, they bring put him back in the mask, just to murder him? That would have produced some massive ill will. However, killing off a hardly seen Batman in a CW show based on a DC video game is another matter. Yes, Batman is about to die (violently), but his adopted son and a rag-tag band of rejects hope to find his killer and clear their names in Gotham Knights, developed by Natalie Abrams, Chad Fiveash, and James Stoteraux, which premieres tomorrow on CW.

Turner Hayes’ birth parents were also murdered, which was presumably why fellow “orphan” Bruce Wayne adopted him. The wealthy philanthropist never revealed his secret identity to Hayes. He seemed determined to keep his adopted son separate from his Dark Knight world. Yet, he still trained Hayes extensively in martial arts and fencing. The now-privileged teen only learns the truth when Batman is murdered, presumably by Duela, the slightly unhinged daughter of the Joker and Harley Quinn, and her current running mates, Harper Row (known in the comics as Bluebird) and her trans brother Cullen.

Just as Hayes and his platonic bestie, Stephanie Brown, start using the Bat-computer to investigate possible payments to Duela’s crew, he finds himself framed as the source of funds. Barely escaping the crooked cops trying to kill them, Hayes reluctantly convinces the outsider-weirdos to team-up to prove their innocence. In addition to Brown, they have an ally in Hayes’s classmate Carrie Kelley, who also happened to be the final Robin—and isn’t wanted for murder.

Based on mysterious coins that keep turning up, Hayes and company deduce the real culprits are the Court of Owls, which is sort of like Gotham’s Illuminati, the secret power pulling all the strings. Working with Duela and the Rows is not easy, but as they start interfering with the Court’s criminal enterprises, they gain a reputation as a new vigilante group dubbed the “Gotham Knights,” by a press that is unaware they are also Gotham’s most wanted.

Gotham Knights
is definitely a mixed bag, but the stuff that works makes it compulsively watchable. As Hayes, Oscar Morgan too much of a cold fish to be a compelling lead, but Olivia Rose Keegan is entertainingly twitchy and erratic as Duela. Frankly, Navia Robinson portrays Kelley/Robin with the kind of grounded charisma that should have made her the lead of the series, whereas the constant whining of Fallon Smythe and Tyler DiChiara as the Row siblings gets to be a chore to sit through.

Fortunately, the series also gets some help from adults. Misha Collins is terrific as District Attorney Harvey Dent, who will slowly start to believe Hayes’s claims of innocence. Of course, since his name is Harvey Dent, he will have his own issues to deal with. Doug Bradley (of
Hellraiser fame) has one of the best guest-starring turns of the year in episode six, playing Joe Chill, the gunman convicted of killing Bruce Wayne’s parents, who wants to speak to Hayes before he is finally executed.

Since CW’s demographics lean more towards viewers in their 50’s, further episodes should concentrate more on the conspiratorial thrillers aspects than identity melodrama. Of the six episodes provided for review, the Joe Chill episode is by far the best, because of Bradley’s presence and gravitas.

The backstory surrounding the Court’s supervillain-assassin, the Talon is also pretty cool. A good superhero show needs strong evil-doers and the combination of the shadowy Court and the sinister Talon is quite effective.

Gotham Knights
does some decent world-building. For moderate to casual fans, it is interesting to note how the series uses and mutates the iconic Batman lore. Recommended despite its nods to wokeness, Gotham Knights premieres tomorrow (3/14) on the CW.