Let's Talk About that Batwoman casting change

Let’s discuss the change in cape and cowl in a bit more detail.

Special thanks to journalist and YouTuber Grace Randolph, whose videos on the subject have been an inspiration. 

Batwoman's second season is going to be quite a bit different from the first. Why you might ask? Well, if you're a fan of the show or just keep close tabs on the happenings in superhero land you'll have heard already. The cape and cowl are switching owner. How did this come about and how might this affect the greater Batman mythos? Well, that's what I'm here to discuss.

Let's dive in.

The begining; Elseworlds & Ruby Rose

Let's go back to the beginning: Batwoman's first appearance within the Arrowverse, to before she even had her own show. The Arrowverse, the term fans and producers alike use to describe the interconnected web of DC Superhero shows on the CW, is known for having a big crossover between (almost) all of its shows every year. After the massive 4-part crossover Crisis on Earth-X the year before turned out to be more exhausting for the cast and crew then everyone had thought, it was decided that the next crossover would be scaled down a notch. The crossover of the 2018-2019 television season excluded Legends of Tomorrow and was smaller in scope and more of a self-contained story than the year previously.

The producers used this smaller crossover to their advantage, to shine a light on a new corner of the Arrowverse and introduce a new character that could potentially lead their own show. They settled on Batwoman. They already had Superman characters, it would only be logical that they would finally introduce Batman characters as well. So at that year's comic-con not only the crossover was announced but also that Batwoman would be a part of the event. The casting got announced a few months later with former John Wick and Orange is the new Black star Ruby Rose cast in the role of Kate Kane AKA Batwoman. The CW made a big deal out of this casting. Having cast an LGBTQ actress as lesbian Kate Kane was something they, quite literally, couldn't shut up about.

Batwoman made her first appearance at the end of the first part of the Elseworlds crossover, standing on a rooftop in Gotham invoking an iconic Batman image. She had a full role in the following episode, in which The Flash, Arrow and Supergirl travel to Gotham to find the source of whatever had caused Barry and Oliver to switch lives. Her role wasn't that big all things considered but it was enough to get a feel for the character. Personally, I wasn't all that impressed by Batwoman during Elseworlds. I didn't think that she was bad or anything, I just felt that this live-action version of the character wasn't all that interesting nor did Ruby Rose feel like leading woman material. When you had asked me back then if I thought Batwoman would get her own show I would have given you a solid 'No'. Batwoman defied my expectations for the first (and not the last) time when it was announced, not that long after Elsewords if memory serves right, Batwoman would indeed get her own show slated for the 2019-2020 season. The CW no doubt meant for the show to take the place of Arrow, which was announced to come to an end after a last 10 episode season around the same time.

The debut of the show itself

Batwoman debuted to a good viewership, but only middling reviews. There was potential here, reviewers agreed, but the execution left a lot to be desired. The reception got somewhat better the more the show went on, but the ratings were slipping away. Having to cut its season short due to the pandemic, ending on an episode that was in no way meant to be the end, didn't do the show any favours as well. Because of that, I thought Batwoman would not get renewed for a season 2 but it defied my expectations yet again when it did.

This is the point at which I have a confession to make: I've never watched a single episode of Batwoman.

It's not that I'm not interested in the show, I watch the rest of the Arrowverse for a reason after all, but it's just that there's no way for me to watch the show. I live in the Netherlands, in case you didn't know, and I thus don't have access to the CW. This wasn't a problem for me for many years thanks to Netflix. The CW and Netflix had struck a deal and the entire slate of CW shows (that were airing at the time the deal was struck) would come to Netflix EU 2 to 7 days after their initial US broadcast. It's through this deal that I've managed to watch the Arrowverse ever since The Flash season 3. But, as you might have heard, the CW/Netflix deal expired last year and the CW decided to lobby their shows individually to different streaming services. Nancy Drew, for example, got picked up by Dutch-only streaming service Videoland. Batwoman though? Never seen a release in the Netherlands in any way, shape or form. I've had to do with recaps, sneak peeks and the occasional clip that found its way on YouTube. Far from ideal, but enough to at least keep tabs on the show.

The recast

OK, now we've arrived at the heart of the matter: the recast. Only 2 days after the renewal announcement Ruby Rose quit as Batwoman. The reasons for this were, at the time, unknown. Many people, I included, thought that the onset spinal injury Ruby Rose suffered early on in the season (which was far from the only on-set incident) would at least have played a role in her decision. This wasn't the case however as journalists and industry insiders learnt that Rose and the producers had frequent on-set arguments and the long hours of shooting that comes with a TV show didn't sit well with Rose.

Update (14-08-2020)

Since writing this post, Ruby Rose has held an interview in which she finally explained her reasons for leaving the show. In short: it was the emotional strain of shooting the show, the impact of the coronavirus lockdown and her rushed recovery to return to set that after her spinal injury that caused her to quit.

The CW initially announced that the role would simply be recast, but they changed their stance on this fairly quickly. A casting bill for the 2nd season 'leaked' online revealing the CW's intention to have a brand new character take over the mantle of Batwoman from Kate Kane: 'Ryan Wilder'. A few weeks later, actress Javicia Leslie (God Friended Me, The Family Business) was cast in the role. An African-American and openly Bisexual woman, she will bring some fresh blood to Batwoman and the show will continue to represent the LGBTQ community both in front and behind the camera. The casting has been generally well-received but I have seen some concerns popup. People from the African-American community have pointed out that the given character description for Javicia Leslie's new Batwoman 'Ryan Wilder' reads a lot like a bad African-American stereotype. Let's hope the cast and crew realize this as well and bring enough nuance to the character to avoid stereotyping her.

Fan-art of Javicia Leslie as Batwoman. Credit: ScaryKrystal

The history of Kate Kane

When the casting bill leaked and the CW officially announced that they were looking for a new Batwoman I wasn't all that happy about it. One of the reasons that I did like that there was a Batwoman show, even if it wasn't doing so well, was that it gave more exposure to Kate Kane a character who deserves more attention. To quickly recap, the very first Batwoman was 'Kathy Kane' a character created in the '50s to off-set the then rumours that Batman and Robin were a gay couple. Kathy Kane was basically just there to be a love interest and nothing more. The character would be retired around a decade later and replaced by the Barbara Gordon Batgirl, but a small group of people still remembered her and wanted the character to return.

Enter the 2006 maxi-series 52. Chronicling the one-year gap after the Infinite Crisis event, Batwoman was reintroduced in this series as 'Kate' Kane, Bruce Wayne's maternal cousin and an out and proud lesbian (ironic, right?). It was originally planned by Alex Ross and Paul Dini that 52 would see the reintroduction of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl after the character had been confined to a wheelchair and had been the Oracle ever since The Killing Joke. They (allegedly) planned to give Barbara the use of her legs back through a dip in the Lazarus Pit and designed her a new red-accented costume to go along with it. They decided against it, however, as Oracle was one of the few disabled superheroes in the comic industry (which didn't hinder them from doing it a few years later with the New 52, but I digress). They mixed in some elements from the original Kathy Kane Batwoman and voila: the new Batwoman was born.

A few years later, she got her own solo-title and became the first LGBTQ DC superhero to do so. It was this run, done by J.H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman, that has had the biggest impact on the character, both good and bad. Good in the sense that it defied who Kate Kane was and cemented her as a worthy addition to the bat-mythos, in the bad as it also had the biggest controversy surrounding the character. During the run, Kate proposed to her girlfriend Maggie Sawyer but DC editorial refused to let the two characters marry and the writers left the book as a result. I wasn't into comics at the time that this went down but even I knew about the backlash this decision created. It got covered by on program my mom used to watch were one of the guests used it as an example of what he called 'ingenuine representation', that DC was willing to shout to the heavens that they had a high-profile LGBTQ character but when push came to shove they backed out (if memory serves correct, that is).

The book got handed over to a new creative team but ended up getting cancelled not long after. She appeared in other solo-titles and books but nothing has really come close to this original run. DC is using the character, they promote here decently well (unlike some bat characters "cough", Stephanie Brown AKA Spoiler, "cough") but the characters deserves better than how DC has and is handling her. The TV was a good opportunity to expose Kate Kane to a wider audience and built the character out further. Arrow introduced elements that have since been added to the Green Arrow comics and gave him a boost in popularity and it could have so easily done the same for Kate Kane. Not recasting the role causes Kate Kane to, once again, draw the short end of the stick, being robbed off all the potential and exposure the show would have given her.

Doesn't mean it's all bad though! In fact, handing the mantle over to 'Ryan Wilder' comes with its own set of opportunities. As pointed out to me by the very talented yet criminally underappreciated journalist/YouTuber Grace Randolph, representation is something that the Bat-family sorely lacks. Just type in 'Bat-family' in your search engine and see what comes up. Notice anything? Almost all of them are white and/or male. In terms of women, the bat-family has become a lot more diverse in recent years but when it comes to other forms of representation (race, orientation) they're still quite a few steps behind. Ryan Wilder could help diversify the Bat-family if she ends up popular enough. Legacy characters are a bit tricky, but if done well they can transcend their predecessors in terms of popularity and leave a permanent mark on the mantle. If you want an example of this, look no further then Wally West taking over the mantle of The Flash from his mentor Barry Allen after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Wally ended up serving as the main Flash for almost 30 years and was the Flash to an entire generation of readers. He got adapted into other media as well, like the Justice League cartoon, and many elements introduced with Wally became Flash staples. 'Ryan Wilder' could very well do the same for Batwoman.

Recent official artwork of the Bat-Family. See what I mean?

So that's been the story so far. Ruby Rose quite as Batwoman and instead of simply recasting the character to bring in an entirely new character instead. 'Ryan Wilder' to be played by Javicia will bring even more diversity to the character While I'm sad to see Kate Kane once more not getting what she deserves, 'Ryan Wilder' opens up a door of opportunities for Batwoman and I'm very intrigued to see where it will all end up leading to.