Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Flash: Season 9, episode 4!
The Flash has kicked off its ninth and final season by giving Arrowverse fans what they’ve been waiting for a decade – Batman. The season 9 premiere introduced the Red Death, a twisted version of Bruce Wayne who stole the power of the Speed Force for himself. Except that’s actually not the case.
It’s now clear that Arrowverse’s Red Death is a very different character – literally – than the one seen in comics like Dark Nights: Metal. How exactly did The Flash reinvent this character and what role does she have to play in the rest of Season 9? Here’s what we know so far.
How the Lightning Changed the Red Death
You can check out our full The Red Death explainer to get the full story behind this villain, but the gist is that this is a version of Bruce Wayne from one of the nightmare worlds in the Dark Multiverse. In this world, Bruce Wayne is driven insane by the realization that he is not fast enough to save his loved ones, and he ends up merging with Barry Allen to become a new and very dangerous speedster.
The Arrowverse’s Red Death may look like its comic book counterpart, but very little of that backstory has been carried over. Episode 3 ended with the surprising twist that Red Death is not Bruce Wayne at all, but the current Batwoman, Ryan Wilder.
Episode 4 then fills in her origin story and reveals her motivations. This version of Ryan is from an alternate timeline where Bruce Wayne does not exist. Instead, she was adopted by the Waynes as a toddler and, like Bruce, vowed to fight the war on crime after her parents were murdered. But eventually, Ryan’s thirst for revenge got the better of her. She stole her enemies’ technology and eventually found a way to create her own artificial Speed Force.
Instead of stealing Barry’s body, we learn that Red Death is at war with their timeline’s Barry. That Barry was forced to form an alliance with the villains of Central City to bring down the Red Death. This war even claimed the life of Iris. Now Ryan has been banished to the Arrowverse’s timeline, leading them to kidnap Flash and force him to use a cosmic treadmill to open a wormhole back to their world.
In short, no Bruce Wayne and no Dark Multiverse makes for a very different villain. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing when the most important element is in place. Ryan Wilder craved the power to stop crime in his tracks, and it corrupted her completely.
Batman tributes from Red Death in The Flash
The Flash may not have anything to do with Bruce Wayne, but the series has released some fun homages to the various Batman movies and shows in recent episodes. So far, Ryan has repeated no fewer than three versions of Bruce Wayne since revealing their identities.
The first comes right after she unmasked in Episode 3. When Mark Blaine asks who she is, Ryan replies, “I’m Vengeance!” Ryan then becomes Kevin Conroy in Episode 4 when she delivers her version of the iconic Batman: The Animated Series monologue. “I am revenge. I am the night I…am…the Red Death!”
It could also be argued that Episode 3’s homage is intended to evoke Robert Pattinson’s Batman, given his habit of responding to “revenge.”
Finally, Episode 4 also offers a tongue-in-cheek homage to 1989’s Batman and Michael Keaton’s Batman when Ryan attacks Iris in her apartment. The image of a costumed villain attacking the hero’s lover in her house is already reminiscent of Joker breaking into Vicki Vale’s apartment. But just to seal the deal, Ryan ends up with Michael Keaton’s craziest Bruce Wayne moment — “You wanna go crazy?!? light up! Let’s go crazy.”
The only question now is whether Episode 5 can take Christian Bale and Ben Affleck’s Bventilator off the list.
Is Red Death the main villain of season 9?
As this is The Flash’s final season, it would be fitting to conclude the series with another speedster as the overriding villain. However, it doesn’t look like the Red Death will be the main villain for the entire season. For one thing, the series probably wouldn’t have tipped its hand so early if Red Death were to carry the conflict through to the finale. After four episodes, we already know her true identity and have a pretty clear understanding of her motivations.
On top of that, actress Javicia Leslie didn’t sign up for the entire season. Not to mention that Episodes 4 and 5 form a two-part storyline called The Mask of the Red Death. All indications are that Red Death’s storyline will conclude by the end of Episode 5.
As with the series since Season 7, The Flash is now divided into several story arcs or “graphic novels”. The graphic novel Red Death only takes us through the first half of Season 9, but that’s not to say it won’t directly impact where the series goes over the next two months.
It will be interesting to see the consequences of Barry forming his own team of Flash Rogues to fight Red Death’s squad. Will this alliance continue? Will Goldface, Hotness and Pied Piper break out and create their own criminal empire? This could even provide an opportunity to bring back Wentworth Miller’s Leonard Snart and give the original group of Flash Rogues some representation.
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