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 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 Arrowverse’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 Pattinson’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.”
The only question now is whether Episode 5 can check Christian Bale and Ben Affleck’s Batmen off the list.
Is Red Death Season 9’s Main Villain?
With this being the final season of The Flash, it would be fitting to wrap the series with another speedster as the overarching villain. However, it doesn’t appear as though the Red Death is intended to 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 meant to carry the conflict all the way to the finale. After four episodes, we already know her true identity and have a pretty clear grasp of her motivations.
There’s also the fact that actress Javicia Leslie hasn’t signed on to appear for the entire season. Not to mention that Episodes 4 and 5 form a two-part storyline dubbed “The Mask of the Red Death.” All signs point to the Red Death storyline being wrapped up by the end of Episode 5.
As has been the case with the series since Season 7, The Flash is now broken down into multiple story arcs or “graphic novels.” The Red Death graphic novel only carries us through the first half of Season 9. But that’s not to say it won’t directly influence where the series is headed over the next two months.
It’ll be interesting to see what consequences arise from Barry forming his own team of Flash Rogues to battle Red Death’s squad. Will that alliance continue? Will Goldface, Hotness and Pied Piper break free and launch their own criminal empire? This could even offer an opportunity to bring back Wentworth Miller’s Leonard Snart and give the original batch of Flash Rogues some representation.
Could there be an ongoing war between these two groups of Rogues? “Rogue War” is the name of a Flash storyline in the comics, and the series may be tackling its own version of that conflict.
There’s also the uncertain fate of Mark Blaine in Episode 4. Though he certainly seemed on the verge of death when Barry was torn away from Red Death’s base, we don’t actually see him die. Assuming Blaine is still alive, has he truly reformed, or is he due to butt heads with Team Flash again?
We also know that Leslie is just one of many Arrowverse actors returning for the final season. John Wesley Shipp will appear as both Henry Allen and Jay Garrick. Nicole Maines is back as Dreamer, as is David Ramsey as John Diggle. Even Teddy Sears is reprising the role of Zoom one final time. If Red Death isn’t meant to be the final villain of the series, then maybe Zoom is looking to fill that role instead.
For more on DC’s movie and TV future, brush up on what to expect from DC in 2023 and everything revealed during James Gunn’s DCU presentation.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for . Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.