I can’t think of any television series in recent memory that has inspired such vitriol as Gotham Knights. The Bat-fans don’t want it, having grown tired of shows about Batman without Batman after Gotham, Batwoman and Pennyworth. The Arrowverse fans are uninterested in it, wondering how The CW and WB Discovery can justify it after cancelling the likes of Stargirl and Legends of Tomorrow. There’s also a branding issue, with the series sharing its name with a poorly received video game. Throw in every single DC Comics show apart from Superman and Lois and Harley Quinn being cancelled in anticipation of the new DCU, and Gotham Knights seems doomed from day one.
The sad irony is that Gotham Knights is far better than its early trailers and episode synopses make it out to be. Granted, with a diverse cast of attractive young people alongside a few veteran TV actors, Gotham Knights does little to differentiate itself from every other CW superhero show made in the past twenty years. And yet, it makes far better use of the Batman trappings than any show in recent memory, bringing several beloved secondary characters to life perfectly.
The story of Gotham Knights centers upon Turner Hayes (Oscar Morgan), who was adopted by billionaire Bruce Wayne after the violent deaths of his parents. Raised in ignorance of his father’s double-life as Batman, Turner is more stunned than anyone when Bruce Wayne is found dead wearing Batman’s cowl after being thrown through his office window. The finger of suspicion soon falls on Turner after it is discovered that the teenagers believed to have killed Bruce Wayne were paid using his bank account.
This leads to an unlikely alliance after the teens escape from custody and Turner comes to believe that Harper Row (Fallon Smythe) Cullen Row (Tyler DiChiara) and the erratic Duela (Olivia Rose Keegan) have also been framed. Thankfully, the teens do have allies in the form of Turner’s best friend from Gotham Academy, Stephanie Brown (Anna Lore), and Batman’s sidekick Carrie Kelley (Navia Robinson). The teens also have an unexpected friend in District Attorney Harvey Dent (Misha Collins), who smells something fishy in this case, even as he’s pressured to convict the teens quickly for the sake of his mayoral campaign.
Three factors redeem Gotham Knights; its use of the Batman mythos, its unique aesthetic and its cast. Fans of the comics will recognize multiple shout-outs, with various elements of the story drawing upon sources ranging from The Dark Knight Returns (i.e. the Mutant gang and their distinctive costumes and the presence of Carrie Kelley’s Robin) to the more recent runs of Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV. The set design screams Gotham City, with GCPD blimps hovering over Gothic skyscrapers. The ensemble play well off of each other and the characters are true to their comic book counterparts, with Anna Lore’s Stephanie Brown and Misha Collins’ Harvey Dent seeming to have stepped right off of the comic pages. I also enjoy Olivia Rose Keegan’s Duela, though there is more to her character than meets the eye and I don’t believe for a moment that she honestly is The Joker’s Daughter.
Admittedly, there is little in Gotham Knights that hasn’t been done before in other superhero adaptations, but I cannot honestly say that it has been done better. The aforementioned Gotham Knights game, for instance, also centered around an investigation into the death of Batman and a battle with forces that sought to reshape Gotham City. Canny comic readers will be able to deduce who the real killers are based on some of the supporting character names before the end of the first episode.
In the end, Gotham Knights is not outstanding, but it is not the nightmare most predicted either. Were it not for the management changes at The CW and WB Discovery in the past year, I think it might have a decent shot of becoming the next Smallville. Unfortunately, with Bat-fans already having written the series off, I doubt the show will find the support it needs to see a Season 2.
Gotham Knights premieres on March 14th, on The CW.