Javicia Leslie Did The Impossible On Batwoman

When Javicia Leslie stepped into the titular role on Batwoman she did the impossible and possibly saved the series. Now that the CW has officially canceled Batwoman, the woman who became Ryan Wilder deserves her propers for shouldering the load on the most troubled of the Arrowverse series.

Originally, Batwoman starred Ruby Rose as Kate Kane, the popular cousin of Bruce Wayne from the comics. Yet, after the first season ended—on a cliffhanger no less—Ruby Rose was out as TV’s Dark Knight with red hair. The producers made the inexplicable decision to not immediately recast the role, instead opting to pass the mantle on to an original character. Yet, by the most recent Batwoman finale, Ryan Wilder had become, for many fans, the Batwoman.

From “Whatever Happened to Kate Kane?” -- her debut episode in season 2, Leslie made the boldest choice a “Bat” actor has made since Adam West. Unlike all the Bruces Wayne or Rose’s Kate Kane, Ryan Wilder emoted. She laughed, cried, and even made jokes. Some of her first words in the Batsuit were a taunting “Boo!” and an excited “whoo” (after she deployed the grappling gun). Ryan had fun fighting crime. In a later scene, before she was “good” with the Batarangs, she threw three at some hood. When the last one landed, she pumped her first and said, “Worth it.” Instead of brooding on rooftops and in the Batcave, she enjoyed life.

One of the most exciting things about Ryan as a character was that she, unlike the Waynes and the Kanes, was not rich. In fact, before finding the Batwoman suit in the wreckage of a plane crash, she’d been homeless and living out of a van. There has long been a disconnect between the Bat vigilantes and the run-of-the-mill thugs they beat up, namely social status. To a rich man or woman, crime is crime. To someone like Ryan, criminal was a term that carried nuance with it. Sure, she still whooped on mask-wearing goons like nobody’s business. In her first episode, the ferocity with which she attacked (a fake) Bruce Wayne after he destroyed a cheap vase her mother gave her literally took the villain’s face off.

Yet, she wasn’t driven by anger or a need for vengeance. Rather upon discovering her “power,” she used it to help others by doing more than merely maiming crooks. Her background and experiences also gave much more weight to the superhero speeches she often made. Leslie delivered these monologues with superheroic gravitas, yet Ryan never felt “above” everyone else the way other heroes like Green Arrow were.

When she eventually gave Rachel Skarsten’s Alice a “you can be better” speech in jail, that Alice listened to her felt earned rather than just what was supposed to happen. Like all the best Arrowverse performers, Leslie elevated the pre-teen soap opera stories they told into morality tales that any fan of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being could enjoy.

It’s not an overstatement to say that Javicia Leslie is responsible for saving the Batwoman series after Ruby Rose’s exit. This show was a big deal for the Arrowverse. Losing the marquee star after an embattled first season could have meant it flopped hard. Even more so, the decision to create a brand-new character was also a gamble, risking the Kate Kane loyalists’ defection from the series. Through sheer charisma, Leslie’s Ryan Wilder quickly became an indispensable character and the heart of the show. By the end of her first season, fans didn’t just accept Ryan as Batwoman, they wanted more and more of her.

While we may not see Leslie don the Batsuit again, hopefully she gets her time to shine in another big-name franchise. Her work on Batwoman did the impossible by making fans believe in a brand-new character, saving the show for two more seasons of superheroic adventure.

Batwoman is currently streaming all seasons on HBO Max.

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