At the end of “The Flash” episode “Elseworlds, Part 1” — the first installment in the annual CW/DC crossover event — the newest addition to its comic-book world makes a classic Bat-entrance: A masked hero stands on a rooftop in full costume, gazing down at Gotham.
It’s a familiar sight, although the World’s Greatest Detective rarely, if ever, wears hot pink — and certainly not as a wig. Instead, this is the introduction of Batwoman; as played by Ruby Rose, she’s poised to make history.
The many DC series produced by Greg Berlanti, including “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” “Legends of Tomorrow,” and “Black Lightning,” have been limited in previous years by corporate rules in how they might refer to other iconic characters, especially the “big three” (Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman) — though things have changed: “Legends” did pay a quick visit to Wonder Woman’s homeland of Themyscira, and Superman, as now played by Tyler Hoechlin, now appears semi-regularly on “Supergirl.”
And Batwoman is more than Kate Kane, cousin to Bruce Wayne: She’s openly gay, and her introduction in these episodes is a prelude to plans to develop and produce a new “Batwoman” series starring Rose. “We created it with a larger story in mind, for sure,” executive producer Caroline Dries said at a recent press event.
The CW’s DC shows have always been LGBTQ-friendly, but if “Batwoman” goes to series it will be the first live-action superhero show starring a gay character. (The first animated superhero show starring a gay character also exists within the CW DC universe: That honor goes to The Ray, played by Russell Tovey, initially introduced during the 2017 crossover event “Crisis on Earth: X” and later featured in “Freedom Fighters: The Ray” for CW Seed.)
“It’s awesome,” Dries said. “I mean, it seems like it should have happened already, but here we are. We’re pumped. Very blessed.”
According to Dries, discussion of bringing Batwoman into the CW/DC Universe began in 2017, but it took “a while” for Warner Brothers and DC to get on board. That reluctance stemmed from the strict rules surrounding what the CW shows can include from the larger DC universe; relaxing those guidelines was a huge milestone for Berlanti’s writers. “The Flash” showrunner Todd Helbing compared their newfound ability to reference Batman to the time that “Saturday Night Live” was finally allowed to use a forbidden word and then used it repeatedly in a skit. (The 1988 sketch “Nude Beach,” written by Conan O’Brien, uses the word “penis” a reported 48 times.)
“Greg was like, ‘Let’s use the crossover to introduce her. That’d be perfect,'” Dries said. So in August, just after the “Batwoman” announcement, the writers’ rooms began to work on including her in the Elseworlds event. “We as a group knew who the character was when we were breaking the story,” Dries said. “So our goal was trying to create a setup, story-wise, where we could meet her, be intrigued by her, introduce Gotham a little bit, you know, plant little visual things that are curious and then have people wondering, ‘What is this world she’s part of?'”
As introduced in the second part of “Elseworlds,” Gotham City is a far more dangerous place than Star City or Central City (where the Flash and Arrow live) — we learn this when Barry (Grant Gustin), Oliver (Stephen Amell), and Kara (Melissa Benoist) are mugged almost immediately after they arrive. “We were trying to create, with the music and the exteriors in the alleys and the grime, a sort of uncomfortable city,” Dries said.
Meanwhile, casting Rose added a lot to the character. “Ruby has a really strong, silent presence,” said Dries. “Her look is so powerful that you don’t want to take your eyes off of her. And so she just brings so much to the plate… I didn’t know how working with her would be, but that was a fun surprise.”
“Elseworlds, Part 2” is packed with Batman-related Easter Eggs, including the appearance of super-villain Nora Fries (wife of Dr. Freeze, and equally capable of wielding a freeze ray). However, a “Batwoman” series won’t focus on female villains; Dries said that was “just for the sake of the crossover. We didn’t really think about a woman or man or whatever.”
The way in which Batman-related projects identify Gotham can vary wildly, and Dries said “Batwoman” favored a Chicago-influenced landscape — as opposed to Fox’s “Gotham,” which leans more toward New York City.
“When we were talking about the heroes going to Gotham, we wanted to find a setting that differentiated it from other Gothams in today’s viewing world,” she said. (The final season of “Gotham” premieres in January, which means that if “Batwoman” gets the greenlight, the two shows won’t air simultaneously.)
For now, Batwoman’s future is uncertain: The character is now officially part of this TV show universe, but much depends on the development of the stand-alone series and subsequent pilot. “The whole thing has been done backwards. Like you know, we’re making a suit, we’re casting an actor, but we haven’t even written the script yet,” Dries said. “It’s been a really fun ride, but it’s a little surreal too.”
Rose, Dries added, has been “a real trooper… I’m sure she has, you know, the weight of the world on her shoulders.”
After all, like anyone else, Dries said that Rose “obviously wants to play a superhero.”
Part 3 of the CW event series “Elseworlds” series premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. on the CW.