Batman is one of the most popular characters in modern pop culture. Movies featuring the caped crusader have made billions at the box office, and it’s no surprise that the hero has been making a splash on the small screen for years as well.
From live-action and campy in the 60s, to a genre-defining animated series in the early 1990s, Batman has been a staple of television. But what’s interesting is how many Batman shows don’t actually feature the superhero at all.
This month, Gotham Knights premiered on The CW. It’s set in the universe of Batman, but it begins with the apparent death of Bruce Wayne.
The plot, instead, centers around the billionaire’s adopted son having to team up with the children of Batman’s greatest foes, in order to solve his murder. Batman is clearly the hook of the show that’s designed to pull in viewers, but it appears that he isn’t really going to be a part of it.
And that’s far from the first time that’s happened. Shows that are related to Batman, but don’t feature the Dark Knight as a main character, have created their own little subgenre of TV shows.
(Note: For this list we won’t be looking at any other DC shows. Yes, they all do exist in the same universe as Batman, but these are shows where proximity to Batman is touted as a major appeal of the show.)
(That means no Smallville or Wonder Woman on this list.)
1. Birds of Prey
Gotham Knights isn’t the first show that’s focused on a successor to the crime fighting mantle of Batman. Back in 2002, a Birds of Prey TV show was made to explore the idea of Batman and Catwoman’s daughter, taking up her father’s mantle of fighting crime.
The show took the comic character Huntress and changed her backstory to make her the daughter of these two characters. She teams up with Barbara Gordon as Oracle and Dinah, the daughter of The Black Canary.
The opening montage featured obscure footage of Batman and Catwoman from the movie Batman Returns, suggesting that this character was meant to be the daughter of the Michael Keaton version of Batman. Batman himself, however, never appears in the show, and it seems like the characters don’t even know if he’s alive or dead in the series.
A single one-sided phone conversation with Alfred is all we ever get of Batman in this series.
While ten-year-old Bruce Wayne is in this series, it’s hard to say that it’s a Batman show in the traditional sense. Gotham takes place immodestly after the shooting of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
The main character of the series is Jim Gordon, who at this point in time is still a detective for the GCPD. The series also features several of the most famous Batman villains before their criminal careers take off.
While Bruce Wayne is a character throughout the series and does commit acts of vigilantism in the series, it’s hard to argue that he would be considered Batman in the series. Wayne does appear as the fully formed Batman in the final episode of the series.
The CW’s Arrowverse has featured a lot of DC characters, over its multiple shows. What started as just a show about the Green Arrow, eventually grew into a multi-series mega franchise, with no less than five different shows running simultaneously at one point.
However, when the franchise expanded to Gotham, the show developed for the Arrowverse was centered on Batwoman, not Batman. The series takes place after Batman has mysteriously disappeared.
His cousin, Kate Kane discovered Bruce Wayne’s secret and decided to take up the mantle. While Batman is discussed a fair amount throughout the series, and several of his villains make appearances, Batman himself doesn’t show up.
In one episode, Bruce Wayne can be seen on the cover of a magazine, and appears to another character in a hallucination, but it absent for the entire show. That is, unless you count the alternate universe Bruce Wayne that shows up in the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, portrayed by Kevin Conroy.
Comic fans know all about the history of Alfred Pennyworth, before he was employed by the Wayne family. While most versions of Batman will touch on the idea that Alfred served time in the military as a younger man, Pennyworth goes deeper into his time as a soldier in the British Special Air Service.
While Batman never appears in this show, due to the fact that it takes place several years before he’s even born, his eventual parents (Thomas Wayne and Martha Kane) do appear as characters. This show is also meant to take place in the same timeline as another show on this list, Gotham.
While the show never featured Batman, it’s clear that the show’s close relationship with the Bat Family was meant to be a way to draw in viewers. Later on in the series, that connection was made even more obvious when the title was later changed to Pennyworth: The Origin of Batman’s Butler.
Which Batman TV show is your favorite? Which character from the Batman universe is your favorite?
Let us know in the comments below!