We’re only two months into the new year, and it’s already clear that 2021 is not going to be an ordinary one for Gotham. Two new faces have stepped into some iconic roles, and nothing turns Gotham on its head quite like a new vigilante. Over in Future State: The Next Batman, Tim Fox is filling in for an absent Bruce Wayne as Gotham’s Dark Knight, while Ryan Wilder has adopted the role of Batwoman on The CW’s critically acclaimed series. We just wrapped Black History Month and in light of that, it’s interesting to take a look at Ryan and Tim with an eye to how each of them has approached their new role. Both characters are African-American, both are struggling with bringing their own identity to a role they inherited and they’re both operating in a police state.
Ryan and Tim’s backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Tim grew up as a Fox, one of the most powerful families in Gotham. In contrast, Ryan Wilder is an orphan who spent most of her life in group homes and when we first meet her, she’s living in a van. As children, Ryan and Tim would not have gone to the same school or run in the same circles, but now they both share the Bat-legacy and all the challenges that entails.
While their backgrounds are miles apart, however, they both share similar ideas about justice and rehabilitation. For example, take a look at Future State: The Next Batman #1 and the Batwoman episode “Fair Skin, Blue Eyes.” In each story Batman and Batwoman come across a young runaway that has been reluctantly initiated into a violent gang. Both heroes take a similar approach, choosing to help the youths rehabilitate instead of turning them over to the police.
Tim and Ryan both have to walk a fine line, making their roles their own while staying true to the legacy of their predecessors. Fighting burglars and serial killers is hard enough, but how are you supposed to fight imposter syndrome? During the opening sequence in Future State: The Next Batman #1, Tim has to remind himself that he’s Batman now: “I don’t know how the real Batman ever—nah, check that. I am the real Batman. This is my city now. And I will protect it.”
By Future State: The Next Batman #4, Tim has begun referring to his predecessor as “the other Batman” instead of “the real Batman,” showing that he’s started feeling more comfortable in the role.
Ryan’s road to acceptance was filled with more doubt. The first time someone calls her Batwoman (in the episode “Prior Criminal History”), Ryan is taken aback and replies that she isn’t Batwoman. When she’s confronted by Victor Zsasz in the episode “Bat Girl Magic,” the killer remarks that she doesn’t seem comfortable in her own skin: “I don’t see the Batwoman in you, and maybe that’s because I don’t see the you in Batwoman.”
Ryan takes these comments to heart, redesigning the Batwoman suit and switching out Kate’s red wig for one that suits her. “If I’m going to be Batwoman, I’m going to do it my way,” she confidently proclaims.
While Tim is comfortable in his skin as Batman, he doesn’t feel the same way out of costume. He struggles with accepting the mistakes of his past and insists that his family call him “Jace,” almost as if he’s rejecting his own identity. He may have things figured out as Batman, but as Tim Fox it’s a work in progress. Perhaps Tim’s self-acceptance as Batman was faster because he has largely worked alone, while Ryan has surrounded herself with a support staff of Kate Kane’s former allies. In Future State: Nightwing #2, Tim encounters Nightwing, who has no problems acknowledging the hero as Batman, while over on Batwoman, Ryan is constantly dealing with people comparing her to Kate.
Living in the shadows of Bruce Wayne and Kate Kane is hard. How do you acknowledge and respect what has come before, while embracing your own identity? During an interview, Future State: The Next Batman writer John Ridley said, “I think the great thing about The Next Batman is it's not being opposite Bruce Wayne, or different from Bruce Wayne, or denying Bruce Wayne, it's embracing all those things that has made Bruce and Batman one of the most enduring characters in literature and saying what's next for that lineage.”
Javicia Leslie, who portrays Ryan Wilder on Batwoman, recently shared her thoughts about bringing her own identity to the role. “I love the fact that Ryan is becoming her own Batwoman—it’s her style, her swag and her moment,” Leslie enthusiastically shared.
There are many versions of Gotham across the multiverse, but it’s interesting to note that both Ryan and Tim are working in versions of the city that have become somewhat of a police state. Both the Crows and the Magistrate have been described as a security firm, but both groups seem to act as an alternative police force to the city. During the first season of Batwoman, the Crows were presented as a more-or-less well-intentioned police force, but the introduction of Ryan has given us a unique perspective. Although people at the top like Jacob Kane and Sophie Moore strive to run a legitimate operation (well, Sophie does—it’s no longer so clear with Jacob), Ryan has had a firsthand look at the type of corruption that exists in their lower ranks.
In the episode “Gore on Canvas,” two members of the Crows commit a hit and run, leaving a villain for dead. Future State’s Magistrate has been more overtly corrupt, forgoing traditional due process and shooting anyone they deem guilty. Batman and Batwoman have had to figure out how to operate in a city run by authoritarian forces and it hasn’t always been easy. Ryan has struggled to look past her bias towards the Crows and work with them, but ultimately, she decides she can’t and cuts ties.
Another interesting parallel between Ryan and Tim is their relationship to Luke Fox. When Tim reunites with his brother in Future State: The Next Batman #1, Luke calls him the Fox family screw up and it only gets worse from there. Luke’s TV counterpart might be from another universe, but he’s just as disapproving as his comic iteration. Camrus Johnson’s Luke has been very critical of Ryan and even now, seems to be struggling to accept her.
While Bruce Wayne and Kate Kane still exist in DC’s vast multiverse of multimedia stories, Tim and Ryan have made the roles of Batman and Batwoman their own. They aren’t substitutes for the originals—they are Batman and Batwoman. And it’s clear they’ll be an important part of the mythos for years to come.
All four issues of Future State: The Next Batman are now available in print and digital. Look for more Tim Fox in the digital first miniseries, The Next Batman: Second Son. Batwoman airs Sundays at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.