NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Gotham Knights” are present in this review
Oh boy. This is very awkward.
I don’t just mean the overall final product of the inevitably ill-fated Gotham Knights. Though don’t get me wrong; It’s pretty bad, if this first pilot episode is any indication. I’m more accurately referring to the very fact that Gotham Knights, not to be confused with DC’s recent and unrelated video game of the same name, began its run doubly doomed. Seriously, this teen drama couldn’t have taken its shot at Batman Family accolades at a worse possible time; The CW is in the midst of new ownership and a major overhaul for starters, one that’s currently got the network dumping its many teen and young adult-oriented shows so aggressively that you’d think they were radioactive. On top of that, DC also happens to be seeing a major restructuring right now, one that’s resulted in new co-CEO’s, James Gunn and Peter Safran heading up the all-new DC Studios banner; A banner that aims to finally unify most of DC’s upcoming movies and TV shows, and even their future video games, apparently, into a singular shared cinematic universe. Unsurprisingly, this has predictably resulted in most of DC’s ongoing TV shows outside of The CW also getting the chop, or being killed in the crib.
The writing was definitely on the wall for Gotham Knights before it even made it to the airwaves to boot. The series’ marketing was met with a tepid response by Batman/DC fans, who have already struggled through an oversaturated market of sub-par Batman Family TV spin-offs in recent years, all of which lack the proper presence of the Dark Knight himself. The new DC Studios heads also blatantly omitted Gotham Knights from their shared ‘DCU’ continuity’s planned ‘Elseworlds’ projects (read: DC movies and TV shows that take place outside of the core DCU’s world), despite mentioning The CW’s own Superman & Lois among those Elseworlds plans. It seems to be a given then that Gotham Knights won’t make it past one season, if even that, and that it will almost certainly join The Flash in DC’s television graveyard by this Summer.
Fortunately (or, perhaps, unfortunately, if you were rooting for it), this doesn’t seem to be any big loss. Gotham Knights is a bland, juvenile and aggressively disposable new take on the Batman Family mythology; A take that’s mercifully contained to its own universe, where it can’t drag some other superior Batman Family property down with it. The series centers around Turner Hayes, an original lead character that doesn’t exist in DC Comics lore, and was made up for this show. Turner is essentially a surrogate to Dick Grayson, the original adopted son of Bruce Wayne/Batman, whom he eventually trains as the first incarnation of vigilante sidekick, Robin. The difference with Turner however is that he never became Robin. He doesn’t even know that his adopted father is Batman, in fact. So, Turner is Dick Grayson, if you took out literally any interesting element of Dick Grayson’s backstory.
Regardless, Turner finds out Bruce Wayne’s secret identity at the same time as the rest of Gotham City, namely when Bruce/Batman is murdered under mysterious circumstances. Three adolescent criminals, Harper Row, her brother, Cullen Row, and the Joker’s alleged daughter, Duela, are then blamed for the murder, with Turner also being implicated after it appears that he paid off the would-be young assassins. When the four suspects are arrested, Bruce’s friend and Turner’s surrogate uncle, Harvey Dent, played in a highlight role by Supernatural’s Misha Collins, is saddled with the case, whereupon it could become a make-or-break prosecution on the way to Harvey’s planned mayoral run.
I will say that the Harvey Dent material in this Gotham Knights pilot is not bad at least. Collins is easily the highlight among the show’s main cast, delivering a weary, but crafty take on Harvey Dent that will hopefully finally evolve into the earnest small screen Two-Face that’s been denied to viewers after two failed attempts now, one on FOX’s Gotham, and another on The CW’s own Batwoman. Harvey also stands as the one major Batman Family character in the series’ ensemble that doesn’t feel like a product of the Batman IP’s table scraps, something that’s evident through a truly laughable looking Robin, Gotham Knights’ one surviving vigilante, which happens to be the Carrie Kelley incarnation. No disrespect to Carrie Kelley, but she’s almost completely contained to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns graphic novels otherwise, which don’t even take place in the main DC Comics continuity. On that note, the apparent biggest threat to Gotham City in this universe being the Mutant Gang, a faction of thugs also ripped directly from The Dark Knight Returns (though at least they’ve been occasionally represented in mainstream Batman media since that publication), also feels like a let-down, especially when this is yet another DC TV universe wherein Batman has inexplicably murdered the Joker. Because apparently Warner Bros. executives would rather gouge out their own eyes than allow Batman and the Joker to be properly featured in a live-action DC TV show, despite repeatedly referencing them in said shows!
“Gotham Knights is a bland, juvenile and aggressively disposable new take on the Batman Family mythology.”
Okay, so, what exactly happens during this pilot episode for Gotham Knights? Well, not much, actually, and that’s another major problem with this show. On top of the adolescent leads all being frustrating, one-note amateurs that hardly command the presence of the Caped Crusader in most any DC media you could name, once Batman is killed, there are no real surprises or exciting sequences to speak of in this pilot. The leads are sent to prison, they break out on the way to Blackgate Penitentiary, they talk in circles, they make references to a much more interesting Batman tenure that we will never see, and then they decide to clear their names, with Turner’s best friend, Stephanie Brown (another lesser Batman Family member from DC Comics lore) also roped into proceedings as the token tech support person, while Harvey Dent promises the city that he’ll arrest all of them. That’s it. That’s nothing!
Oh, and while we’re on this subject, I also have to note that the very premise of Gotham Knights feels like it doesn’t work when you actually apply some thought to it. This is because the show relies on the asinine premise that a highly experienced and highly skilled Batman in his prime, one who has been Batman for decades, somehow got taken out by a bunch of punk kids with virtually no combat experience! Either this universe has the shittiest Batman in the entire DC Multiverse, which seems pretty unlikely, or everyone in this universe’s Gotham City is a drooling, braindead idiot. I know it’s Gotham, and it’s an infamously corrupt city, but there’s unchecked corruption, and then there’s just complete nonsense. There’s no way that anyone would realistically believe that Turner and co. are capable of killing Batman, least of all with a hilariously gift-wrapped crime scene! That’s a very large problem working against Gotham Knights at every conceivable turn!
Alright, let’s be fair on another note; Gotham Knights also wastes no time setting up its obvious endgame for this season, that being the secret society of rich Gotham overlords, the Court of Owls. That’s not a bad villain choice, granted. The Court of Owls have been featured in several Batman Family-inspired shows, including the aforementioned Gotham and Batwoman, and in the Gotham Knights universe, they appear to have a particular vendetta against the Wayne family. This episode does end with a surprisingly brutal flourish for a CW series as well, after a Talon (if you don’t know, this is what the Court of Owls calls their assassins), decapitates the corrupt detective that initially tried to kill the young leads, with pretty much no censorship in the act. I do have to respect Gotham Knights for potentially not holding back with its violence, something I’m frankly surprised at, considering that this is a CW series that was marketed heavily to younger viewers. Still, this alone is nowhere near enough to save what’s otherwise a very dull, by-the-numbers murder mystery with a sloppy Batman Family makeover.
Gotham Knights could have had potential in some other time, if it wasn’t airing at a moment when both The CW and DC were being aggressively gutted and restructured. Even considering that however, this is an extremely forgettable Batman Family series, one that does virtually nothing with the enormous innate potential behind the Batman IP. Most of this show’s characters are shallow and bland, most of its dialogue is trite and absurd (though admittedly, I’ll take Gotham Knights’ dialogue over the infuriating, cringe-inducing dialogue that Batwoman often spewed on a bad day), and most of its storytelling is predictable and uninteresting, even before considering that the show’s very concept is completely non-sensical. It just doesn’t feel like Gotham Knights truly needed to exist, which I suppose will make it easier to kill when DC Studios’ axe inevitably comes for it.
The age of compromised Batman Family TV spin-offs is over. It died with Batwoman. Let it go.