In another time, or on another network, Gotham Knights could have been a very successful new addition to DC TV. The new CW drama offers a fresh, CW-ized take on TV Batman, minus the bat himself, that combines the mythology people know with an alt-universe version of that mythology that most casual viewers probably don’t. The end result, based on the six episodes made available by the CW, is a show with a lot of information that needs to be dispatched quickly–including the murder of Batman–at a time when the network it’s on seems to be closing the door on DC superheroes. And that’s disappointing, because once you’re done trudging through all of the exposition, Gotham Knights is a fun ride.
In this story, Batman was murdered with the same gun used to kill his parents, and a gang of three plucky teen criminals–led by Duela (Olivia Rose Keegan), daughter of the Joker–have been framed for the crime, though they claim they were only hired to steal the gun. The money they were paid traces back to none other than Bruce Wayne’s adopted son, Turner Hayes (Oscar Morgan), who didn’t put out a hit on the dad he didn’t even know was Batman. Wayne family friend Harvey Dent (Misha Collins) has a political career that depends on catching Batman’s killer, so Turner goes underground as a fugitive with Duela and her sibling friends Harper (Fallon Smythe) and Cullen (Tyler DiChiara).
The gang are helped by hacker (and daughter of Cluemaster) Stephanie (Anna Lore) and Batman protege Carrie “Robin” Kelley (Navia Robinson). While the teens, lacking any of Batman’s money or tech, carry out various heists to try to figure out who is actually responsible, a mysterious, evil secret society called the Court of Owls operates in the shadows.
Naturally, there’s a lot of setup required here, pulling from a number of Batman-centric comic book stories over the years, and it’s too much setup for this pilot to handle. How does Batman have an adopted son no one’s ever heard of before? Where are we in Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face? What was Bruce Wayne’s relationship with all of the people who now, after his death, are finding out that he was Batman? Where did the Joker’s daughter come from? How did Carrie Kelley become Robin? How did Harper and Cullen end up in a life of crime? How did Cullen’s family react to him being trans? How does Stephanie feel about her friend Turner? These are all questions asked and mostly answered in the premiere episode, but they don’t help answer the bigger question of what this show is and where it fits into the world DC television. How does it come on the heels of the cancellation of Batwoman, written by writers of Batwoman, but have nothing to do with Batwoman or the flickering-out Arrowverse?
While the pilot does what it can, there is simply too much information that needs to be communicated in an hour-long episode of TV. Thankfully, the true rhythm of the series is made clear in later episodes, at which point it becomes a whole lot of fun. You just have to get over the glut of clunky exposition first.
Gotham Knights is filled with Batman-style shenanigans but without all of Batman’s stuff. No fancy computers or spy tech, no money or elaborate suits and capes. These kids have to be scrappy and smart, and they’ve all got skills passed on to them by their questionable parents or parental figures that help them solve puzzles, diffuse bombs, and infiltrate the GCPD.
Cullen is a natural at blending in with other uniformed officers, and Duela, who Keegan plays with a familiar crazed look on her face, is just strange enough to think any plan will work. The new Robin is an essential part of the team, but she’s also got some secrets of her own just waiting to be spilled. All the while, Harvey keeps getting an ominous glint in his eye, reminding us that we’re counting down to watching this heroic, just District Attorney turn into a classic Gotham bad guy. It’s the kind of fun that both TV and film haven’t had with the world of Batman in a while, even if Turner is, like his late dad, still only able to focus on his multiple dead parents.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to watch Gotham Knights without constantly wondering what its future holds. In the past, The CW would have been the ideal place for a show like this to thrive.
Beautiful, diverse teens dramatically reckoning with modern versions of classic comic problems has been a slam dunk for the network in the past, but in 2023, The CW is practically apocalyptic. Almost all of its shows, which had long been cradled and protected by former CW president Mark Pedowitz regardless of their viewership numbers, have been canceled or are in their final seasons. It’s hard to imagine what, if any, scripted shows will remain after 2023. Gotham Knights is premiering in a TV hellscape, after the demise of multiple other beloved shows that share a world with Batman. Batwoman and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow died unceremoniously, but this show gets to live? Where’s the vigilante justice in that?
That, of course, is not Gotham Knights’ fault, and it’s a miracle these days that any show gets to see the light of day at all. It just doesn’t help that the show’s place in the general lore of Batman might be a bit muddled to a general audience that isn’t usually tuning in live to The CW anyway. This DC show is not set in the same world of DC as the network’s other DC shows or any of the DC movies, and for some reason, it’s got the same title as a completely unrelated video game with a vaguely similar premise. And beyond the questionable present and future of The CW, it’s unclear if this particular Batman universe has a place in James Gunn and Peter Safran’s new vision for DC, so it might not even find a home on HBO Max. Is there even a point to getting invested in a show like this, or will we all just end up heartbroken when it goes away?
It’s unfortunate for Gotham Knights that it’s debuting in this way at this time, because it’s a fun show that might just be too buried in too many messes and too many Batmen to have a chance to live up to its potential.