Another Batwoman Begins

The Beeboverse is back, baby! The CW’s new TV season is only a quarter later than usual. By now you should know Ruby Rose isn’t returning to star in Batwoman’s second season. Rather than recasting Kate Kane, Javicia Leslie has been cast Rose Wilder. She’s a brand new character created to be the brand new Batwoman. Ryan Wilder debuted in the wilds of Batgirl #50 (after she’d been announced to be headlining a TV show) so she’s technically a canon DC Comics character. I don’t think she’s shown up in since, so any future comics appearances will take their lead from the show fleshing her out. Meanwhile DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow will add as many characters as possible so long as they’re not from DC comics.

I wrote up a lengthy blog about my initial thoughts on the matter. Lets see how the series confirms or denies my suspicions as the season progresses. If you don’t want to go back & reread that, here are the highlights of my misgivings: The first season’s arcs heavily involving Kate hadn’t been concluded. The inaugural season’s writing was quite ropy, & we don’t know whether they would’ve stuck the landing. The entire show’s character dynamics are constructed to revolve around Kate. We barely established Kate Kane as Batwoman last season, & now we have to halt the narrative momentum to do another origin story for a whole new Batwoman. Now Kate is missing when it still hasn’t solved the mystery of what happened to Bruce Wayne. It’s not so much that the rookie has big shoes to fill as she has big shortfalls to overcome.

They’ve abandoned doing Lewis Carrol quotes for titles this season. “Whatever Happened To Kate Kane?” is very direct & possibly misleading.  Here are SPOILERS of the non-Stephanie Brown variety!

Ryan_Wilder

“I’ve got the mayor breathing down my neck, & he’s ready to call in the penguin commandos!”

The sophomore season kicks off with Ryan Wilder living in a van down by the river just like Chris Farley warned. Then a plane that Kate Kane supposedly was on explodes into fiery chunks above her! Ryan salvages the Batwoman suit from the wreckage. Remember when showrunner Caroline Dries assured angry fans they weren’t killing off Kate Kane? They have an out since her body wasn’t found, but usually there’s a hint at the end of these fakeouts. They just lampshade that it’s a repeat of when Jacob Kane’s other daughter disappeared. Kate was ostensibly fridged by Safiyah Sohail (to be played by Shivaani Ghai) to send Alice a message.

If they’re not recasting & Ruby Rose isn’t returning, I can’t think of a satisfactory way to reveal that Kate is really alive. If they later find she did survive but is permanently comatose, she’ll only be figuratively dead. Dries now says she’s not opposed to recasting so long as there’s an in-story reason, forgetting that Alice already makes people new visages. So there’s the possibility she might’ve miraculously escaped the explosion, only requiring major reconstructive surgery to her face & vocal cords. It wouldn’t be the biggest suspension of disbelief for the series, but it’d be a big ask. Then there’s the question of whether the show is equipped to juggle two Batwomen. The simpler solution is that Safiyah kidnapped Kate before the plane departed as extra insurance. Why would she then give Kate an overhaul (to excuse the recasting) since her sister needs to recognize she’s the genuine article for the leverage to work?

Season one was cut short by two episodes. I wonder how much of the existing scripts weren’t thrown out the window. Alice’s plan to have Jacob shoot his own daughter with the Kryptonite bullet probably would’ve been the intended first season finale. Watching that unfold could’ve been a more satisfying albeit darker conclusion to the Kane family drama than the ignominious Poochie ending Kate received. Alice devastatingly spills her sister’s posthumous secret to their dad. (Sophie finds out by letter.) Rachel Skarsten’s Alice has big Hudson Leick as Callisto energy. She continues to be MVP since she gets to grieve in dynamic ways unlike runners-up Mary Kang & Camrus Johnson.

Kane’s persona as Batwoman was in the mold of The CW’s (Green) Arrow albeit sarcastic. (Green Arrow & The Canaries is kaput.) Wilder’s Batwoman feels oddly cheerier despite being far less privileged to offset her tragedy. Rather than make an entirely new character, Kane’s successor could’ve been Stephanie “Spoiler” Brown (also a former Robin & Batgirl). The second Batwoman having a supervillain dad, Cluemaster the cut-rate Riddler, could’ve been an interesting parallel to the original’s supervillain sister. While I don’t want constant grimdarkness, I worry that the lighthearted leads of the Beeboverse may be getting a bit too homogeneous. Considering how she’d been screwed over by the system, wouldn’t it make for a better arc to to have Wilder become less embittered the more good she does as Batwoman? The writers do acknowledge how frustrating it is to be a disadvantaged African American woman, yet Wilder having memorized statistics to extemporaneously repeat to strangers is very unnatural. Wilder’s normal voice sounds sunny yet her Batwoman voice is unfortunately flat much like Kate’s. Why must Batwoman’s voice always be dull regardless of who wears the cowl?

A black (or any non-white) Batwoman is a great idea that’s undermined by awkward execution. The CW could’ve easily committed to a WOC Kate Kane prior to introducing her in the Elseworlds crossover. There’s no reason Bruce Wayne couldn’t have an interracial cousin. I wouldn’t have minded them dropping Kate’s direct relation to Bruce anyway since she doesn’t need a familial relation to be Batwoman. Stuntcasting Ruby Rose ended up backfiring. (I’m more positive on Rose than many viewers, but her performance wasn’t strong enough to overcome the lackluster material she was given.) At least introducing a new character is less problematic than Kate going full Lois Lane #106. Ironically Dries got called out for not casting a biracial Julia Pennyworth (like the current iteration the show is most directly inspired by) because she had to decoy for Kate for a minute. It could’ve had three black women in season one!

The reports that Scarecrow killed Ryan’s mom were unfounded. It turns out the Wonderland Gang did. So that’s a good reason to bring this ex-karate instructor into conflict with Alice. Maybe WB changed its mind about letting them use Scarecrow? Or is he still showing up later? Will Ryan Wilder turn out to be Jacob Kane’s secret daughter too?

Ryan Wilder’s modified Batwoman costume will look less like making the mantle her own than what Kate Kane’s suit should’ve been. Granted she might not have much wiggle room since the suit won’t convey Batwoman if she changes too many elements. (Why is Red Hood allowed to wear a nearly identical red bat-logo?) Why weren’t the gauntlets & belt crimson to begin with? Too bad they didn’t ditch the superfluous forehead ridge. Dries emphasized the original suit literally doesn’t fit Ryan. While it’s nice they acknowledge women’s bodies aren’t interchangeable, Leslie’s physique isn’t dramatically different from Rose’s. It’d be more impactful if Kate hadn’t already demanded Batman’s suit be altered to fit her in the series premiere. The original suit looks like it fits Ryan perfectly in her debut anyway.

Tommy Elliot knew the Batmobile was hidden behind a wall in the Batcave but Luke Fox didn’t? The Batmobile is just a black sportscar (soon to bear Batwoman’s logo on its bonnet)? Underwhelming, but at least it’s not another ugly tank. Luke is able to take control of the Batmobile, which is typically Penguin’s shtick.

Wilder punches off Hush’s Bruce Wayne face much like Jim Gordon punched off Jeremiah Valeska’s Joker face. I’m glad they at least wrapped up Hush’s story quickly instead of stretching it painfully thin. Only Julia Pennyworth was able to swiftly deduce he wasn’t the real Bruce Wayne, which doesn’t say much for Batman’s family & friends. (If her dad’s been residing in London, Wayne Manor should’ve been filled with four years’ worth of dust & cobwebs.) Hush manages to shoot the new Batwoman in the shoulder with the Kryptonite bullet, which leaves a bizarre wound. Are they implying this will give Ryan metahuman powers? Because Kryptonite doesn’t work that way! Or is she merely going to need serious medical treatment for the alien radiation poisoning? Everybody popping the shard into their pockets without lead lining made me wince. The crossover with Superman & Lois has been scrappedso experts will probably not be weighing in on her condition.

Mary & Luke tell Ryan that the Batsuit isn’t finders keepers. She astutely retorts that its previous owner just raided Batman’s closet. (This wouldn’t have been the case if they’d been more comics accurate.) After vanquishing her first supervillain, she abruptly feels like a fraud & returns the punctured suit at episode’s end. Since we know she’ll be the new Batwoman going forward, this moment doesn’t mean much. Wilder runs a gamut of emotions but they haven’t gelled into a believable character yet. It feels like she’s a different character from one scene to another.

While she’s the eponymous character & her actress gets top billing, Ryan Wilder feels like a supporting character in her own series. The episode is mostly framed through the lens of Kate’s mourning supporting cast. Wilder doesn’t have any of her own save for the plant she personifies as her late adoptive mother. This may get ironed out as things progress, but it currently feels like Alice should be the main character since she’s going to war with Safiyah. The Many Arms Of Death sound like a worthier foe for Thea’s & Talia’s rebranded League Of Justice than the Wonderland Gang though.

Leah Gibson is playing Tatiana a.k.a. The Whisper. Is this character supposed to be Whisper A’Daire? I’d been hoping for someone more like Rose Leslie. I take it this adaptation won’t transform into a serpent because Batwoman insists on being boring. It won’t even let a character have Whisper as their real name. There is also speculation that this could be a whitewashed version of Tahani the Knife.

Daredevil & Gotham alum Alex Morf will morph into the fourth live action Victor Zsasz. At one point Mr. Zsasz was thought to be too “mature” to adapt. That changed when they realized he’s very cost effective. This show slices off more faces than Harley Quinn’s R-rated movie anyway. Black Mask will also be ported over, this time with his False Face Society in tow.

Batwoman had an uphill battle retooling everything since its star departed. This does a commendable job of damage control. Unfortunately it still has the hallmarks of substandard season one writing. Killing off the lead in the opening scene starts it off on a sour note even if they could walk back the “bury your your gays” later. Much like the Thirteenth Doctor era, I worry that Javicia Leslie is going to shoulder blame that should go to the writers instead. Maybe the sophomore season will make a drastic upswing in quality once the initial chaos settles? So far Black Lightning is a much better show with an African American lesbian superheroine.

~

WandaVision has premiered by now as well, but I’ll wait to do a full review of the whole series. (Last installment had Marvel content if you’re desperate.) Next up will most likely be the return of Riverdale!

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