Don’t sleep on Gotham Knights. Some of you might be dismissing it as “another Batman show without Batman,” but that’s only telling half the story. There are plenty of reasons to enjoy The CW’s latest DC Universe drama. The series follows a group of teenagers who are framed for the murder of Bruce Wayne, and if you’ve seen the first episode, then you know that the Court of Owls has been pulling the strings, which means the kids have their work cut out for them.
First of all, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. I’m aware that between Birds of Prey, Gotham, Batwoman and Titans, we’ve had a lot of shows set in Gotham without Batman. Maybe this is a hot take, but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. Batman might be the city’s most notable resident, but that doesn't mean he’s it’s only important person.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Batman. But the Dark Knight is kind of a big deal—almost too big of one. If you put Batman in a scene with a group of characters, your attention will almost always be on him. With Batman gone, Gotham Knights gives us a chance to get acquainted with Turner Hayes, Duela, Stephanie Brown, Carrie Kelley, Harper Row and her brother Cullen. I’m particularly excited about Duela, because in the comics she’s somewhat of a wildcard. (If you’ve seen the first episode of the show, then you already know that The CW translated her chaotic nature perfectly.)
By the way, there is almost a zero percent chance that we’ll ever get four distinct live-action versions of Duela appearing in multiple movies like we’re getting with Batman over the next several years. So, I’m glad we’re getting at least one show that focuses on her.
I’m not saying that it’s impossible to develop characters when Batman appears in a story, but it is different. And let’s be real, starting the story with Batman’s murder raises the stakes. It means that the teens are entirely on their own. The Court of Owls has killed the Dark Knight, and now they’re targeting the teens. If Batman wasn’t able to survive his clash with the Court, then what chance do the kids have?
The GCPD is after them, and the Court is after them. They have nowhere to turn. If Batman was alive, then they could just wait for him to save the day, but the Dark Knight has fallen. His absence changes everything about the story, making it more interesting.
We’re only one episode into Gotham Knights and I’m already hooked on these characters. Turner Hayes is different from most of the orphans we’ve seen Bruce Wayne adopt. He’s not a martial arts expert, a computer hacker, or an acrobat. He doesn’t seem to have the makings of a crimefighter…yet. It hasn’t escaped my notice that Turner refers to Bruce as “dad,” something Dick Grayson and the others have only done on rare occasions.
This suggests a different relationship between the two characters. Turner even says in his eulogy that while Bruce was Batman to the city, he was just his dad to him. One interesting thread throughout the pilot is Turner dealing with the fact that his father kept a large part of his life from him. When he learns that Carrie Kelley was Robin, it’s almost too much for him. “You knew my dad in a way I never will,” he tells her.
With Bruce Wayne dead, Turner is left to deal with these feelings on his own. He can’t talk it out with Bruce the way that Dick or Damian could in the comics. It’s another benefit of not having Batman in the story! I’m excited to see some new, young Gothamites take the spotlight. I’ve loved these characters in the comics for years. They’re precisely the sort of deep-cut DC superheroes that are rarely fleshed out on the screen and it’s surreal to see them starring in a network television show.
If you want a story featuring Batman, then there are plenty of options. But if you want something different, then Gotham Knights is the series for you. Don’t think of it as a show without Bruce Wayne. Instead, think of it as the show with Cullen, Duela, Turner, Carrie, Harper and Stephanie. These aren’t your typical teenagers, and this isn’t a typical superhero drama.
Gotham Knights airs at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. CT) Tuesdays on The CW.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.