After two full television seasons, Ryan Wilder – the current defender of Gotham City in TV’s Batwoman, played by Javicia Leslie – has finally made her first in-costume comic book appearance as Batwoman in Earth-Prime #1. As one of DC’s most prominent lesbian characters across all media, it’s been a long time coming – but does her debut on the printed page live up to expectations?
We’ve previously discussed the absence of Wilder as Batwoman in the actual comics. To briefly recap, it’s a somewhat complicated situation – Wilder only exists because the Batwoman showrunners needed to create a new character to take on the mantle on the small screen, after the series’ original lead actor, Ruby Rose, departed after the first season. In the comics, there was no need to replace Kate Kane, the original Batwoman, for story reasons, but the change on television left the version of the character most people are seeing on a regular basis with no reflection in the source material. As a result, all readers have seen of Ryan Wilder to date has been a couple of in-print teases of the character out of costume, still to take on the Batwoman identity.
Sadly, even with the release of Earth-Prime, that technically hasn’t changed – the comic is set firmly in the continuity of the TV series, and the wider “Arrowverse” of DC shows, rather than the “main” DC comic book continuity. Written by Natalie Abrams – executive story editor on the Batwoman TV show – and Kelly Larson, with art by Clayton Henry, the issue’s main story, “Flesh and Mud”, takes place smack in the middle of season three, and serves as essentially a missing episode.
Much of the TV season focused on Batwoman’s hunt for the iconic weapons of Batman’s greatest enemies, which have fallen into the hands of new owners and led to the rise of a new generation of threats to Gotham. “Flesh and Mud” sees a bullied teen, Tanner Freyr, come into contact with a sample of Clayface’s mud, mutating him into the latest incarnation of the shapeshifting, monstrous supervillain. It’s clear to see why the story was held for comics, given bringing Clayface to life on screen would likely have stretched the budget to breaking point. Here, Henry’s art can render Clayface authentically without breaking the bank.
As a superhero romp, it’s a fine story, and fans of the wider Arrowverse will delight in the crossover appearance of Supergirl’s Lena Luthor. However, for Ryan Wilder’s comic book premiere as Batwoman, it leaves a lot to be desired. The story is so rigidly placed within the series’ continuity that it necessitates readers not only know the TV show but remember where the character arcs were at the season mid-point where the issue is set. That leads to massive editor’s note boxes placing the story’s events; lengthy exposition and references to events not just in Batwoman but in the wider Arrowverse; and tearful character discussions that would work fantastically if this were an episode of the show, but are clunky and jarring for readers, especially newcomers who may have been drawn in by Kim Jacinto’s striking cover.
More disappointing for queer readers who may have been hoping for an out and proud Batwoman in the comics again – especially as the Kate Kane incarnation of the hero is also currently absent from most DC comics – is that there’s essentially no reference to Ryan’s lesbianism, bar some friction with her ally Sophie Moore. At the point in the season this issue is set, Ryan and Sophie were caught in a bit of a will-they-won’t-they dance, but here the pair merely have some pithy dialogue. Of course, Ryan being a lesbian shouldn’t be the sole focus of the character, but some establishment would be welcome. It is made clear that Sophie is pining for Ryan though, so that’s something.
The issue also features “A Night Out”, a back-up story written by Camrus Johnson with art by Michael Calero, following Luke Fox – Batwoman’s tech genius ally and occasional crimefighting partner as Batwing, played on the show itself by Johnson. This too is placed firmly in the timeline of the show, taking place parallel to season three, episode five, and follows Luke struggling to balance supporting the Bat-team with a rare moment of personal time, on a date with love interest Stephanie Brown. At only five pages, it’s a lot denser than “Flesh and Mud”, but also feels stronger for it. Johnson doesn’t get weighed down over-explaining background detail, and instead delivers a tight, sharp, character focus tinged with sadness and levity.
Ultimately, it’s hard to define who this issue is for though, especially the main Batwoman story. It’s unlikely to draw TV fans into a comic book store, and is broadly inaccessible to comics fans who’ve not seen the show. Its placement in the Arrowverse continuity may please any fans deeply invested in both DC’s comics and TV universes, but is that enough?
However, this is at least unlikely to be the last we see of the Arrowverse’s Ryan Wilder in comics. Earth-Prime is set to run as a six-issue mini-series, with each issue focusing on a different character or TV series – Superman & Lois, Legends of Tomorrow, Stargirl, and The Flash all follow – before wrapping up in a final Earth-Prime: Crossover issue. With a mysterious figure rounding up villains in the background, it’s a sure bet Batwoman will be back for the finale – but it also means we’re still no closer to seeing an “in-continuity” Ryan Wilder as Batwoman in the main DCU.