The Flash has kicked off its ninth and final season by giving Arrowverse fans what they’ve been waiting a decade to see – Batman. The Season 9 premiere introduced the Red Death, a twisted version of Bruce Wayne who has stolen the power of the Speed Force for himself. Except that’s not actually the case at all.
By now it’s clear the Arrowverse’s Red Death is a very different character – literally – from the one seen in comics like Dark Nights: Metal. How exactly has The Flash reinvented this character, and what part does she have to play in the rest of Season 9? Here’s what we know so far.
How The Flash Changed Red Death
You can check out our full explainer on The Red Death for 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 mad by the realization that he isn’t fast enough to save those he loves, and he winds up fusing with Barry Allen to become a new and very dangerous speedster. The Arrow verse’s Red Death may look like her comic book counterpart, but very little of that backstory has carried over. Episode 3 ended with the surprise twist that Red Death isn’t Bruce Wayne at all, but rather the current Batwoman, Ryan Wilder.
Episode 4 then fills in her origin story and reveals her motivations. This version of Ryan hails from an alternate timeline where Bruce Wayne doesn’t exist. She was instead adopted by the Waynes as an infant and, like Bruce, swore to wage war on crime after her parents were murdered. But at some point along the way, Ryan’s thirst for vengeance got the better of her. She stole the tech of her enemies and eventually found a way to create an artificial Speed Force of her own.Rather than stealing Barry’s body, we learn Red Death is at war with the Barry of her timeline.
That Barry was forced to form an alliance with Central City’s rogues to bring down the Red Death. That war even claimed the life of Iris. Now Ryan has been banished to the Arrowverse’s timeline, leading her to kidnap Flash and force him to use a Cosmic Treadmill to open a wormhole back to her world. In short, no Bruce Wayne and no Dark Multiverse make for a very different villain. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing when the most important element is there. Ryan Wilder craved the power to stop crime in its tracks, and it corrupted her completely.
Red Death’s Batman Homages in The Flash
The Flash may not be dealing with Bruce Wayne, but the series has been dropping some fun homages to the various Batman movies and shows in recent episodes. So far, Ryan has echoed no fewer than three versions of Bruce Wayne since revealing her identity. The first comes immediately after she unmasks in Episode 3. When Mark Blaine asks who she is, Ryan answers, “I’m vengeance!” Ryan then goes full Kevin Conroy in Episode 4 when she delivers her version of that iconic Batman: The Animated Series monologue. “I am vengeance. I am the night. I… am… the Red Death!” You could also argue Episode 3’s homage is meant to evoke Robert Patterson’s Batman, since he has a habit of answering to “Vengeance.”
Finally, Episode 4 also features a tongue-in-cheek tribute 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 home already brings to mind Joker invading Vicki Vale’s apartment. But just to seal the deal, Ryan ends with Michael Keaton’s craziest Bruce Wayne moment – “You wanna get nuts?!? Come on! Let’s get nuts.”