How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept Ryan Wilder
Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, is currently one of my favourite comics characters. Selina is cunning, determined, forceful, she’s been Batman’s nemesis and lover in equal measure and his match as both. Tom King wrote a Batman/Catwoman romance arc that rivals Superman and Lois Lane for DC’s best power couple. It was one of the best comic runs in recent memory.
In the early 2000s, word came out that Catwoman would be getting her own movie… but this would not be the decade-late return of Michelle Pfieffer’s brilliant take on the role. No. This was Halle Berry as an all-new character, Patience Phillips. When the director, the mononymed Pitof, was asked if this was in the continuity of Batman Returns, he said “I tried to find my sources more in the character of Catwoman herself. To me, the Catwoman we’re filming now with Halle Berry is in the continuity of the others,” an answer that proved he did not understand the question or indeed the word “continuity.” Even if the movie hadn’t been a complete train wreck that ended Pitof’s feature directing career, I had little interest in it, because this wasn’t Catwoman, this was a rejected Crow sequel with the word “crow” crossed out and “cat” written in with crayon. Honestly I don’t even consider it a DC Comics movie.
Selina Kyle is an icon. Patience Phillips is nothing.
In the wake of the announcement Ruby Rose, lead actress and title character on Batwoman, wouldn’t be returning for season two, I admit that I was pretty incensed when rumours hit that the network was casting an all-new character to replace Kate Kane, the only Batwoman of note since before the Silver Age. Instead of having established Batwoman character Julia Pennyworth take the mantle, instead of simply recasting Kate Kane… and there was a significant fan cry to just give the part to Krypton’s Wallis Day, who looked similar to Ruby and had been the best part of Krypton and needed a new gig, make a note of that… they just came up with Ryan Wilder, an original character with no connection to any comic book.
(At the time. She briefly appeared in Batgirl some months later. But still.)
So I was not into this. First off, nearly every character’s story was intrinsically tied to Kate Kane. Her stepsister, Mary, was only on Team Batwoman out of a need to be close with Kate. Kate’s father Jacob, the head of the often corrupt for-profit police force the Crows, was out to destroy Batwoman without realizing that was his daughter. Kate’s ex, Sophie, had a complicated relationship with both Kate and Batwoman, further complicated by getting closer to Kate’s other ex, Julia Pennyworth, a relationship that only had stakes because of Kate. And the show’s best character, villainous Alice, aka Beth Kane, had a deadly vendetta against her twin sister. Only Luke Fox, Kate’s IT guy, had an arc that was his and his alone, solving his father’s murder, and even that arc became entangled with Alice’s schemes. Kate was the center of everything, which makes sense, she’s the title character. (That said, several Supergirl characters have arcs that don’t center on Supergirl.)
And secondly… Kate Kane is an icon. Ryan Wilder was nothing.
And it stings a little extra because their sister show, Legends of Tomorrow, has spent years writing out characters from DC comics and replacing them with new characters who very much aren’t. They call themselves “DC’s” Legends of Tomorrow, but that label becomes less true every season. Between that and replacement Batwoman, it felt like the Arrowverse was becoming some sort of President’s Choice Generic Brand superhero franchise, because Corporate Daddy kept hoarding all the cool characters for movies and HBO Max projects*, so the Greg Berlanti Cape-Based Adventure Fun Factory said “Fine, we’ll just make our OWN super folk.”
(*Many believe this is why Legends is writing out John Constantine and recasting Matt Ryan as a 1900s Welsh scientist, because HBO Max has a Justice League Dark project in development and wouldn’t share Constantine. Stupid Corporate Daddy.)
So I decided I was out. I felt that a perk of being in your second season was not needing to spend three episodes on an origin story. Again. I did not spend months bitching and moaning on Twitter, because I am not about that life, but I deleted the series recording from my PVR and moved on.
Then I heard things. Stephanie Brown, aka Spoiler, aka the most underrated Batgirl, aka the only canonical female Robin (sorry, Carrie Kelley fans, but The Dark Knight Returns is an Elseworlds, and you know what she decided to be Catwoman instead), was going to turn up. Luke Fox would finally get his own suit and become Batwing. Alice was up to all manner of shenanigans. And Wallis Day would be taking over the role of Kate Kane like she could have in the first place.
And maybe Ryan Wilder deserved a shot.
So in late July of 2021, months after the season had started… and ended… I decided to give season two of Batwoman a try.
And you know what I was hasty to drop it.
The thing about Ryan Wilder, right, is that she brings Batwoman’s crusade of justice to a whole new marginalized community. The show had always been about that, with a lesbian lead, but a black lesbian ex-con (having been railroaded into a plea deal for a crime she hadn’t committed) turns out to be exactly the hero we needed in the ACAB era. While Jupiter’s Legacy was doing Blue Lives Matter with superheroes (Jesus Christ read the room, Jupiter’s Legacy), Ryan Wilder was calling out white supremacy in law enforcement (especially the for-profit Crows), abuse of power by police officers, how innocent people can be pressured into plea deals to avoid longer sentences, and how the system is rigged against parolees.
And sure she learns to trust and work with Sophie, and it might seem like Sophie didn’t have to do much examining of how she and her organization treated Ryan up to now, but soon enough the Crows are showing how deeply, irredeemably corrupt they are, the GCPD doesn’t come across any better even before gangster Black Mask buys half the force, and we’re digging deep into how aggressive policing and for-profit prisons don’t curb crime rates, they just keep the prison pipeline running. The answers come from community support keeping at-risk youth on better paths… and, um, a woman in a bat-suit doing freelance crime-stopping.
It is, in several ways, a better, more heartfelt, and more meaningful show with Ryan Wilder as the lead than it was with a wealthy white woman in charge.
Now this came at a cost. While Ryan’s crusade against white supremacist policing came in hot in episode one, we did still basically have to re-origin our main character, having Ryan find the suit, learn to use the gadgets, grow into the role, reveal a personal connection to the first season’s main villain… you know, origin stuff. The stuff we’d already done with Kate a year earlier. And for the first third of the season, she repeatedly had to plead with Mary and/or Luke, and via them we the viewers, to give her a chance to be Batwoman. And each time we had this sort of meta-statement, in a brief resurgence of pettiness I felt “Well you did this to yourselves.” We also had Alice complaining to guest villain Hush, explaining what the season finale cliffhanger was going to be before Kate was written off/seemingly killed.
Oh and that’s another thing. There was an uproar from fans when it looked like they were killing Kate off to pave the way for Ryan, because the first LGBTQ+ led superhero show doing a Bury Your Gays moment on their original lead was a very bad look. The producers assured us not to leap to conclusions, that Kate’s true fate was a big mystery for the season, and indeed she wasn’t dead. And eventually we learned she was alive… just kidnapped, horribly burned, tortured, and brainwashed by new villain Black Mask. Which… I guess that’s technically better? But not great. Not good. Don’t like it. I guess I just feel, and call me a dreamer if you must, having your entire life stolen and being subjected to months of physical, mental, and emotional torment is a poor reward for helping save literally all of reality earlier that year.
So the writing out of Kate Kane is a bit of a pall over the season… but it opened doors. Ryan’s new perspective on the Crows and law enforcement in general is perfect for the current zeitgeist. Alice’s quest to find her sister let Alice remain the best part of the show. And without Kate at the center, Sophie, Mary, and Luke could grow and develop their own arcs without needing Kate to drive them. It allowed a pretty solid show to start growing, and next season with no Kate drama it might be back to full stride. And that would be worth seeing.
So yeah… I guess I’m back. And probably shouldn’t have jumped ship so fast.