After months of covid-19 related delays, a new season of the CW’s Batwoman is here with a brand new vigilante at the helm. I’m happy to confirm that Javicia Leslie is absolutely fantastic as Ryan Wilder, the new Batwoman. If you skipped this show because of Ruby Rose, or just because you have too much TV on your plate, it’s time to come back for a second look, because with Leslie at the helm, this show finally feels like the Bat-verse CW you want.
Or at least I want. I’m not here for a deadly serious Batman. The conceit is inherently wild and goofy and I want my Bat-related shows to be inherently wild and goofy. Season one of Batwoman attempted that and had utterly ridiculous things like heads in freezers, showdowns in the middle of brightly lit stadiums, and Rachel Skarsten’s villain Alice.
But Rose was terrifically uneven as a lead and despite what some (I assume mainly producers in entertainment) think, you actually need a really good actor as the titular lead of a TV show. Leslie is so good she makes everyone around her better. There’s a real energy to the scenes she shares with actors from the first season, and over the two episodes I watched, I could see the cast really coming together and clicking.
However, the biggest improvement for the superhero series may be from having Ryan as the lead instead of Kate Kane. While Kate had a powerful reason for donning the cowl in Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III’s Batwoman reboot at DC Comics, the same could not be said for the show. She seemed to almost fall into the role; she took on the cape and cowl because the show needed her to, rather than for any real character-driven reason.
This new hero’s story is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, completely intertwined with Kate’s. But we’ll get back to that. First we need to discuss the most triumphant moment of the episode. Ryan has a lot of very understandable and believable rage that ultimately manifests in the season two premiere (“What Happened to Kate Kane?”) when Hush tries to murder her with a kryptonite bullet. She takes the shot like a champ, hops up, and then PUNCHES BRUCE WAYNE’S FACE OFF HUSH’S BODY.
Incredible. Amazing. Did you think the show was going to have Hush mess around for half a season pretending to be Bruce Wayne? Because nope! Batwoman laid that story to rest in 40-plus minutes. But let’s circle back to how we got to Batwoman punching a man’s face off.
At the top of the premiere Kate’s plane streaks across the sky before crashing near where Ryan is sleeping in a van. She immediately rushes over to look for survivors because she’s a good person, and instead of finding a green ring, she finds Batwoman’s suit—and no sign of Kate herself. The show makes it clear that there is no trace of Kate’s body and that means she can absolutely return at some later date (perhaps with a little of the facial reconstruction surgery that soap operas like to use when they recast actors). But the story also treats it as if Kate is dead.
Her family and friends mourn her. Sophie draws back from a relationship with Alfred’s daughter, Julia, because of her grief. Kate’s dad Jacob and her sister Alice both become more vicious. Stepsister Mary and close friend Luke Fox both cry in the Batcave as they realize what the plane crash means. And then...Ryan is suddenly donning the cape and taking out bad guys and having a really fun time doing it.
The Batsuit on Batwoman is almost more akin to Iron Man’s suit than Batsuits from the comics. Instead of Kevlar and silk, it’s Kevlar and a few million dollars in fancy technology that Ryan has to stumble through understanding as she uses it to take out bad guys. Over the course of the premiere, we get Ryan’s backstory too; she was an orphan who found a loving adoptive mother, and when the two tried to move into the apartment she was paying for with her new job they found Alice’s gang squatting there. Her mother was killed, Ryan nearly died, and all the great upward momentum she was making in life disappeared. Sophie and the rest of Jacob’s paramilitary police force, the Crows, can’t stand her because she’s had some run-ins with the law previously, but even then—one situation involved an ex-girlfriend—it seems a little overzealous considering who else is running around Gotham.
But it works for Ryan. Kate, and really any billionaire who opts to fight crime with a suit instead of their considerable wealth and influence, always felt kind of silly as a thorn in the Crows’ side. The first season wanted to point out how absolutely terrible it was that Gotham outsourced its policing to a private company with no oversight, but that rarely worked when everyone Kate cared about worked there and she had zero desire to encourage them to find other employment.
Ryan is well aware of the Crows and how bad they are and has no personal attachments that keep her from taking them on. She’s also got a bone to pick with Alice that feels earned—and difficult to overcome. Plus she’s not loaded! And seems pretty smart! Kate often felt like a dumb jock who decided to take on the world because why not. Ryan feels like a smart woman who genuinely wants to help make the world better, and not just for herself. She has that sense of duty that makes the comic version of Kate so damn compelling. After a year of wondering where the heck Kate Kane is, Batwoman has finally found her, and her name’s Ryan Wilder.
- Oh yeah! Remember how Hush took on Bruce Wayne’s face so he could steal kryptonite and do other bad stuff? Julia Pennyworth IMMEDIATELY clocks him as a fake and Ryan then PUNCHES HIS ACTUAL FACE OFF in the climax of the episode. They wasted zero time putting that storyline to rest. I’m still in shock. Incredible.
- Also, Hush shoots Ryan with the kryptonite and she is largely OK despite the show repeatedly saying it would be a fatal shot. So...is there a chance she’s metahuman?
- Seriously Leslie is having so much fun as Ryan that her joy is infectious. You’ll absolutely grin as she takes on her first bad guys.
- The Batmobile finally makes its appearance. It sucks.
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