DC has a Batwoman problem – and not just that the very first version of the character, back in 1956, was more interested in seducing Batman than fighting crime, and was introduced primarily to make Batman and Robin look less gay.
Rather, the problem is that the most visible version of the character – actor Javicia Leslie’s Ryan Wilder on the TV series Batwoman, who took over the lead role and the heroic mantle in the currently airing second season of the show – is nowhere to be found in the comics. Unfortunately, neither is Kate Kane, the out and proud lesbian who redefined the identity when she was introduced in 2006.
Flashback: TV’s take on Batwoman first appeared in 2018, as part of the Elseworlds crossover of the ‘Arrowverse’ shows – at the time, Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl – before being spun off into her own series. Played by actor Ruby Rose, this version of Batwoman hewed pretty close to the version from the comics: the cousin of Bruce Wayne and a former military cadet ousted during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” years, who built her own Bat identity to protect Gotham in her own way. After the first season (and amidst production delays due to COVID), Rose stepped away from the Batwoman show, leading the producers to either recast the role or replace the character.
Showrunner Caroline Dries ultimately chose the latter, and the second season introduce Leslie as Ryan Wilder, an original character with no roots in the comics. While there was some concern amongst fans that the move would mean the loss of a visible queer character, Wilder would be also be established as a lesbian. Like Rose, Leslie also identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in real life, bringing a continuing authenticity to the role. Since the debut of Wilder, the show has also explored the impact of a Black woman serving as Gotham’s resident hero, and reflected real-world discussions over the role of policing in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.
As a result, Wilder has fast become one of the most fascinating superheroes in DC’s canon, but despite this has yet to translate back to the comics. This is disappointing, as it means any viewers who come to love TV’s Batwoman as a powerful, Black, openly gay hero will find barely any trace of her in print. It is, at best, a missed opportunity for DC.
To the publisher’s credit, it has sown the seeds for Ryan Wilder to take up the mantle of Batwoman in the comics. Back in October 2020 – after Javicia Leslie had been announced as the new lead of the show but before the second season aired – Batgirl #50 saw Batgirl in her non-costumed identity of Barbara Gordon meet a civilian Ryan Wilder. As the TV version would later establish, this comic book take on Ryan was initially living out of her van, but here had an existing (if never previously established) connection to Barbara. However, this was the final issue of that run of Batgirl, and – aside from a bespoke portrait drawn by DC publisher Jim Lee for charity, an appearance in promotional art for 2020’s DC Fandome event Wilder, and a few scattered sightings on other promotional material – Ryan has yet to become Batwoman in print.
Admittedly, part of the problem that DC faces as a comics publisher is that the change of who wears the Batwoman cowl has been forced on it by Rose’s decision to leave the TV show. Had she remained on the show in the role of Kate Kane, then there’s a fair chance the character would remain a prominent figure in the comics. Kate’s last solo series only ended a couple of years ago, and she has regularly appeared in other Bat-family titles since. However, since the second season of Batwoman debuted, Kate has largely been missing from the comics too, robbing readers of any version of comics’ most prominent lesbian superhero.
There’s also the fact that a superhero passing their mantle in mainstream comics rarely sticks, be it Marvel or DC. Dick Grayson/Nightwing and Jean-Paul Valley/Azrael have both stepped in as Batman, and both made way for Bruce Wayne’s return in relatively short succession, for instance. DC may feel nervous at the prospect of formally replacing Kate Kane with Ryan Wilder in the comics, only to revert to Kate in a few years.
There’s still a chance to bring Ryan Wilder into comics’ bat-fold – indeed, this week’s Comics Corner may be jumping the gun a little, as the upcoming DC Pride anthology features Kate Kane front and centre; who knows if her story could also involve Ryan Wilder? – but seven months on from her only notable comics appearance, and the Batwoman people can watch weekly on television can’t be read about in the comics at all. Kate Kane was an inspiration to queer readers when she appeared in 2006 – in 2021, Ryan Wilder deserves a chance to be the same to a new generation.