When the news broke last summer that a new Batwoman would replace Kate Kane under the cowl on the fledgling CW series, it seemed like 2020 had struck again. The show’s debut season introduced a powerful new Gotham City hero, making Ruby Rose’s Kate the first openly lesbian superhero to lead her own show. In addition to plenty of LGBTQ+ themes, Batwoman dealt with a myriad of other important topics, from kidnapping to abuse to discrimination to family drama. Set in a post-Batman Gotham, it was dark and gritty and everything a Gotham-set show should be, and Kate’s presence made it easy to say, “Bruce who?”
But would a new Batwoman have the same effect? As information rolled out about Ryan Wilder, the character taking over the titular role, it was obvious that the showrunners were serious about keeping the series’ season one feel, but making it even more applicable to a modern audience and not shying away from current events.
Since she’s a character specifically developed for the TV show and not one known from comics (although she did make a comic appearance in Batgirl #50, released last October), Javicia Leslie’s Ryan is a bit of a wild card. She doesn’t have to follow any set storylines or adhere to known canon. And from the second we meet her in the show’s second season premiere, it’s clear that she’s not only her own person, but one who’s worthy of taking on the role of Gotham’s hero. (Even if it takes her a bit to get there in her own mind and the minds of Kate’s friends. Thankfully, no one acts like Kate never existed!)
Ryan’s backstory is complex. Orphaned at a young age, she found a family with her adopted mother. But thanks to a shady lady friend—Ryan, too, is an out lesbian—she’s imprisoned for 18 months for a crime she didn’t commit. Excited to start over after her release, her plans were dashed when Ryan and her mother become the victims of a vicious attack, and Ryan found herself alone yet again.
When we meet her, it’s clear that she’s struggling to make a place for herself. We see her in job interviews in which her years of martial arts training are overlooked because of her time in Blackgate. She assures the interviewers that she’s perfect for the job, that her time in prison has made her more aware of the world around her and the dangers of the people who live in it. But they can’t see past that black mark on her résumé.
Ryan’s story, in addition to being compelling as fiction, doesn’t shy away from tackling current societal issues. She’s not just a young Black woman. She’s a young Black lesbian who struggles with contempt from society because of her criminal record. (And likely contempt for who she is and who she loves, as maddening and unfortunate as that is, but the season premiere doesn’t go there.) Her story is realistic and important, and it will be wonderful to see how the show deals with all of the above as the season progresses—along with how the show combines these modern, real-life themes with the more fantastical elements that are essential to the Bat story.
When Ryan finds Kate’s Batwoman suit, she sees it as fate—a way to get the vengeance she’s looking for without having to deal with the condescension and discrimination she faces in her day-to-day life as a citizen with a record. When she’s in the Batsuit, she’s a larger-than-life figure, not just an ex-con. Batgirl can make a difference where Ryan Wilder can’t. She quickly realizes that the suit is a symbol, however, and she can’t just treat it as a prop or a means to an end. It’s something that Kate understood, too, and likely a tenet that every superhero with a secret identity knows well. Although Ryan first wants to be Batwoman for selfish reasons, it’s a true testament to her selfless nature how quickly she realizes that she can do some real good in her city, and how quickly she steps up to be the hero the city needs (and deserves).
Ryan’s not Kate. Their stories won’t be the same, and their struggles will be unique to their lives and personalities (and villains!). But Ryan’s a worthy successor and worthy addition to the Bat-family. Gotham’s in good hands.
Oh, and if none of this compels you to check out the new Batwoman and the show’s second season, another one of Batman’s legendary toys is introduced, and it makes quite the, uh, roaring entrance.
Batwoman season two premieres Sunday, January 17 on The CW. Check out our official Batwoman show page for more articles, videos and news on Ryan and the rest of the Bat-family.