Saturday, May 20, 2006

Erasing Cain

Okay, let's do this thing, even though I know it's gonna get ugly...!

This post is only for those of you who've read the latest issue of Robin. If you haven't, before you continue, please leave the house, get into your car, drive to one of Big Monkey Comics' convenient locations, buy it, read it, then come back.

Back now? Good.

Kalinara thinks the whole thing is a ploy so boldly hackneyed that no one can imagine it. She may very well be right. She probably is right.

But I hope she isn't right and I'll tell you why: I've never liked the new Batgirl.

Oh, I warmed up to her a little toward the end, when she got her own title, her own "Batgirl cave", and such. Her character filled out some. But on the whole, I didn't like her. Many of the reasons aren't "her fault", if you know what I mean; I don't blame her for my not liking her. But neither do I blame me for not liking her.

For one thing, her backstory is too eye-rollifying for me, especially since it so obviously smacks of editorial desperation. Perry White walks into the DC bullpen and shouts,

"Listen up! I need a new Batgirl by 5 o'clock today! She's gotta be a kick@$$ Asian ninja because they're the new gorillas. Give her some connection to part of Batman's history, a name that invokes the original Batwoman, and she needs to be immediately ready to kick criminal butt in her first panel without any tedious training sequences like we wasted on Sasha Bordeaux! Get to work, people!"

Or something like that. That brown, by the way? That's what your voice sounds like when you smoke cigars every day. So 4:58 = Cassie Cain.

Another strike against is her connection to David Cain, who's part of the needless filling in of Batman's "path to Batmanhood". Yawn. Maybe I'm just too "Golden Age" for all that stuff. As far as I'm concerned, Bruce Wayne mastered all the skills he need to become Batman in two panels of his origin, then sat down in his study to smoke a pipe and rest a bit. It's just a three-part process, people:

Lift barbell; examine test tube; smoke pipe.Don't listen to the narrator, Bruce; I think those panties are darling.

That's Who He Is and How He Came To Be. Anything more than that, for me, is just the modern equivalent of those Silver Age stories where we discover Thomas Wayne once wore a bat outfit at a costume party or that "Man-Of-Bats" used to fight injustice among american native tribes.

And David Cain. Ugh. See, he's named "Cain"; like the first murderer; and he's an assassin! Isn't that CLEVER? No; no, that's not clever. Naming Kite-Man "Charles Brown"; that's clever.

Oh, and the whole "trained in body language to be a killing machine" schtick? I'm just going to be nice and leave that entirely alone, pretending it doesn't violate linguistics, anthropology, psychology, physiology, and probably some ologies I've never even heard of.

Another strike against poor Cassie was the "turning a criminal into Batman's partner" trope.

It was a bad idea with Jason;
it was a bad idea with Kirk Langstrom;

it was a bad idea with Cassandra;

it was a bad idea with Azrael;
it was a bad idea with Bane;
it was a bad idea with Onyx;
it was a bad idea with Selina Kyle;
it was a bad idea with Harvey Dent.
As a general rule, it's a bad idea to do that.

It's a nice personality bit that "hardcase" Batman is the one hero who actually seems interested in and focused on helping criminals turn over a new leaf. But making them into a partner is not the way to go, Bruce; just pay for their therapy bills and go fight somebody on a giant typewriter.

Oh, and all those mean things Cassandra says to Tim at the end? They are completely true -- just not about Robin. They're true about her. On the whole, Batman just used her as a convenient chess piece; Batman did that because that's the same way the writers were using her.

I'll admit another thing I had against Cassie that's not her fault: I really liked Sasha Bordeaux. I did not want to like Sasha; but I could not stop myself from liking her. Like many Sashaphiles, it seemed "clear" to me that the editors were having her groomed to become the new Batgirl/woman. That may have been "clear" to us, but it sure wasn't clear to the editors, who did something, er, slightly different with her. So when this, this snip of a girl pops up out of nowhere and basically takes Sasha place... !

That's when the Secret Society of Sashaphiles was formed, and our wheels grind slowly but exceeding fine, mwu-hu-ha-ha. Guess who's running DC now, baby? Forget fumbling FEMA; we are the shadow government. That's why Bordeaux is a central figure in the blood-drenched tapestry of Infinite Crisis, while Cassie's been reassigned to chewing scenery as a Robin foe (Big Trouble with Little Shiva!), joining such luminaries as the Clock, the Joker's Daughter, and Crazy Quilt. Revenge is sweet.

Cassie's also not to blame for the stitched-over, no pie-hole mask. The problems with that have been hashed out enough on-line. Suffice it to say I think Cassie should partner with the Scarecrow. Only villains cover their mouths when they chew scenery. Yes, I'm looking at you.

The original Batwoman (and Bat-Girl and Batgirl) were daring, sassy, spunky, and independent. They were like brightly plumed jungle birds that poop on your tropical shirt then fly away mocking you to do anything about it. Cassie-Batgirl was just creepy, more like some skinny one-eyed alley cat that slices your jugular just to steal an anchovy off your pizza.

With a new more fiery/less psychotic Batwoman on the way, I'm betting Kalinara is wrong and that they really are clearing the decks for her. Because, gods forgive me, Cassie interested me more in two pages of psychofreakout screech party than she did in years and years and years of silent soldiering. So, so long "Batgirl", hello "Little Shiva!"

Of course, if Kalinara is right, well ... then forget I said anything!


Jeff R. said...

So does the Question get some kind of variance or easment on the whole 'hiding your mouth' issue?

Steven said...

You do know that the second half of your argument, that Cassandra took Sasha's place as Batgirl, is complete bunk, because Cassandra pre-dates Sasha by a good year.

It's true!

Cassandra was introduced and became Batgirl during No Man's Land (1999).

Sasha was introduced just before the Officer Down arc in 2000.

And Cassandra's had her own book for about that long. (73 issues is good long run for any title, nowadays.)

Also, does the former killers with no visible mouth can't be heroes also apply to your beloved Todd?


Anonymous said...

Since I've also never been fond of Cassandra, let me make a suggeston: have her die killing Jason Todd. The two of them deserve each other. Jason was handed the mantle of a hero on a silver platter and threw it away over a simple thing like being murdered as a result of a phone poll and then punched back to life by Superboy (Walk it off, you sissy! Show me one big-time superhero who hasn't died and come back, and they all get through the day!). Now he has this warped view of himself as an anti-hero. Cassie was raised to be a killer and fought with all her warrior's heart to be a hero, and now its crumbled around her for some reason. Naturally, she would resent Jason.

Scipio said...

You can see Todd's teeth, even when he's in shadowformas Obsidian.

It's his nose that disappears.

Which is a pretty good trick, considering its size.

Anonymous said...

Ah, it's a Sasha thing! I was reading the post and scratching my head and wondering where you were going with this and then it all fell into place.

I'm not a fan of Batgirls of any stripe, but then again I don't think Batman should be jumping around with brightly plumed jungle birds, period. More dark! More gloom! More spooky! And more alone. Robin can go play with the Titans, and Nightwing can do... whatever it is Nightwing does. My Batman skulks around alone on gargoyle-covered rooftops.

Anonymous said...

I never grokked Cassie-Batgirl much either, but I do feel bad for her fans if this plotline does play out like it looks on the surface.

Having heroes with decent sized fan-bases go insane and start killing people may be interesting character development, but when it comes to DC I've noticed it does tend to alienate some folks.

Scipio said...

No Bat-Hound, Moose? Ace skulks, too! Every boy should skulk with his dog.

Marc Burkhardt said...

As I've blathered all over the Net for some reason or another, I don't necessarily mind Cassandra turning into an anti-hero who uses the League to dispense justice in a manner the Bat family would disapprove of.

But I think it's degrading to turn her into a raving lunatic, ala Jean Loring, or a cheap plot device to "evolve" Robin, ala Jade.

That to me is depressing, and I would rather see Kalinara's evil twin scenario play out than Eclipso pt. 2.

Marc Burkhardt said...

By the way, is Kite-Man really named Charles Brown? If so, he's my new favorite villain...

Scipio said...

is Kite-Man really named Charles Brown?

He is.

Anonymous said...

No Bat-Hound, Moose? Ace skulks, too! Every boy should skulk with his dog.

See, here's where I'm handicapped by my natural aversion to dogs. The biggest, cuddliest pet I ever owned was a tarantula; is it any wonder I spent so much of my youth reading X-titles?

I'm willing to make a compromise with all lovers of Ace, Robin, and Batgirl, though: replace one of the lesser, extraneous Bat-titles with an out-of-continuity Bat-book done entirely in a sort of neo-Silver Age style, complete with dayglo Gotham, ridiculously expanded Bat-family and giant typewriters. Someone like Mike Allred or Darwyn Cooke would be fantastic on a book like that.

is Kite-Man really named Charles Brown?

Y'know, I knew that, and I didn't make the connection until right now. So sad.

Marionette said...

Batgirl #1 - 25 was an excellent piece of comics storytelling which you are a fool to miss out on.

Admittedly the introduction of Cassie in No Man's Land sucks donkeys, but that's hardly out of place in that particular storyline. And I stopped reading the comic around #39 because the incoming creative team seemed entirely clue-free, but for a while there it was something special.

Scipio said...

"Batgirl #1 - 25 was an excellent piece of comics storytelling which you are a fool to miss out on."

I didn't "miss out on it", Marionette; I do own a comic store, you know. And good storytelling doesn't necessarily make a character likeable.

Neither does calling ones host a "fool", I might add.

CalvinPitt said...

So you Sasha-philes are to blame for this? You've made a powerful enemy, my panda warriors are LEGION.

*shakes fist, then notices panda legions are sleeping*

Seriously though, at least your reason for not liking her is better than the guy I buy comics from. "Oh she's not Barbara Gordon, so I don't like her." Expletive deleted.

I've got my own theory, basically that she's just testing Tim to see how he weathered the past year, but I don't actually believe it's true. Which I guess makes it more a prayer than a theory, but still.

I've just gotten to the point where I expect DC to ruin the few characters of theirs I actually like.

Chris Sims said...

To be perfectly fair, most things involving Kirk Langstrom are a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

I was so-so about Cassie. Her Batgirl design was perfect for her character, and I was intrigued by the "How do you become a hero if you were bred as the perfect killer?" thing (especially as a teenage metaphor for the bad-kid-turning-her-life-around archetype). But her personality was so distant that I didn't endear to her like Dick, Tim, or Barbara. Also, I don't think her backstory was a good idea in the long run: despite the abnormalities in their origins, most of DC's iconic characters are essentially "normal joes/janes" that you could run into on the streets every day (newspaper reporter, rich guy, orphan, scientist, test pilot, police commissioner's daughter, etc.); body-language-reading, trained-from-birth, sometimes-mute 16 year old ex-super-assassin is a bit too much for an enduring A-lister.

Two things bug me about Beechen's direction, however. First, I don't like that a character fully in the "hero" category just months ago, starring in her own title as the female version of one of the world's most marketable icons (not even a year after said icon's box-office blockbusting), is now a maniacal arch-villain. It's too much of the same "pull the rug out from under the readers" strategy that DC has become addicted to. Everywhere you turn in the DCU these days, you pretty much expect one or all of the heroes to either betray each other or be a villain-dressed-as-hero or have something ugly done to them by a friend/family member/pet or simply go insane. At least with IC, there was (supposedly) a point to all that; here, I'm not sure there's a point beyond "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if Batgirl turned evil?"

Secondly, what in the world has happened to the League of Assassins? The secret organization that would change the course of humanity? That could cause Superman pause? It's now being led by...a 17 year old insane girl who despite being able to kick serious ass, has never shown any above-normal amount of management, strategic, or planning skills? WHA--? NO! The Demon's Goddamn Head led this thing! His successor should be Vandal Savage or Luthor or Doctor Doom, not a girl named Cassie! Is Robin leading the JLA these days? Ra's must be turning over in his empty Lazarus Pit.

Scipio said...

"body-language-reading, trained-from-birth, sometimes-mute 16 year old ex-super-assassin is a bit too much for an enduring A-lister."


That may be the real reason. One of DC's stated goals of IC/OYL is to heighten the distinctions between its heroes and villains. Cassie's a killer; she's murdered repeatedly. You can excuse it, but the fact remains that DC doesn't want a Batgirl who's a trained and successful killer; neither do I.

I mean, marketing does count, you know. "Mommy, I want the action figure of the girl in black who killed her mother!" doesn't make the gang in Marketing happy; not the mother.

Marionette said...

Sorry Scipio, I appologise for calling you a fool. I was irritated by the dismissive attitude toward a comic which for part of its run, at least, I rate very highly and find refreshingly original.

I agree good storytelling does not neccesarily make a character likeable, and even if everyone else likes a character you are entirely free to dislike them purely on personal taste. You don't need to trash them to justify your preference.

Anonymous said...

Having heroes with decent sized fan-bases go insane and start killing people may be interesting character development, ...

I disagree. That's the opposite of character development, it's throwing the character away for cheap shocks. What happened to Batgirl didn't follow from any aspect of her character or history - it was shoehorned in very clumsily, just like what happened to Max Lord or Jean Loring when they turned into raving villains in two panels, except worse in that neither Max nor Jean led a solo book for, what, seven years? Like her or not, this Batgirl was one of DC's most successful female characters and had fans.

Granted, Cassandra had some problems. Her backstory was confusing, her ethnicity even moreso, but isn't that sort of thing what "iconization", this "back to basics" process DC touted is about? Just shave off the extraneous bits and focus on the core concept: an alienated born-and-bred killer looking for redemption and a place to belong in.

Speaking of redemption, I really dislike the way DCU seems to be shaping up to be a place where people are born with either white or black hats on, and you can't ever change them no matter what you do. They're not even going about it consistently: why do Ravager and Capt. Boomerang Junior deserve a chance if Cassandra doesn't? Those two have killed more people than Cassandra ever even knew!

And even if it was truly necessary to make her stop being Batgirl (though I could argue that her potential in that role wasn't yet tapped - she never seemed to take a part in the bigger picture in a way that would allow other characters to reflect off her and vice versa), that's no reason to turn her into a damn Robin villain!

(Just stop for a moment and consider how LAME that sounds. "A Robin villain".)

There were a dozen other, better directions they could have gone with her. Have her kick ass in her street clothes, with the rationale that "Batman held her back" (this was practically offered on a platter in her last arc). Have her take over the LoA for altruistic reasons and shape it into a violent force of good. But have her BE her - there is no justification for just randomly changing her personality like this. Not when the end product is just another lame, ranting villain who doesn't even resemble her in anything other than looks.

I absolutely detest this turn of events.

Anonymous said...

Having heroes with decent sized fan-bases go insane and start killing people may be interesting character development, ...

I disagree. That's the opposite of character development, it's throwing the character away for cheap shocks.

I was speaking mostly tounge-in-cheek. I agree with you about sudden reversals of moral standing.

With Max Lord or Jean Loring though... they had been such marginal characters for so long, having them turn "bad" may have been the best thing for them. They served a story, which is more then that had been doing.

With CassieBatgirl or Hal Jordan, it would be nice that if they want to go in the "turning bad" category, they try to move them into that direction more organically.

But of course, the story isn't over yet.

Anonymous said...

Scipio said: "One of DC's stated goals of IC/OYL is to heighten the distinctions between its heroes and villains."

And Marcus said: "I really dislike the way DCU seems to be shaping up to be a place where people are born with either white or black hats on"

Is this really happening? Because I don't see it at all. There's been this assumption for the better part of a year that IC was meant to "lighten the tone" of the DCU, and from what I can tell, this assumption stems from one interview Mark Waid did last year that was quickly rebitted by Johns and/or Rucka. There's been a lot of talk about "changing the tone" from Dan Didio, but from what I can tell "changing the tone" just means making Batman less grumpy and initiating a line-wide revamp that mostly amounts to putting better creative teams on the books.

The perfect counterexample to the Cassie Cain business is Kate Spencer's Manhunter. She's also a "trained and successful killer." She's also killed her evil parent (although as far as I can tell, he's staying dead). If anything she's a darker figure than Cassie's Batgirl, since Cassie was all about moving beyond her killing past, while Kate became a superhero precisely for the sake of killing people. Now, Manhunter's comic has been cancelled, but because of low sales, not editorial dictum. I've been reading the Robin story and I think they've genuinely turned Cassie into a villain, but not because her character is too gray. They just saw a disposable, relatively new character who wasn't making money anymore and burned her for a quick buck. Again, I was never a fan of Cassie Cain and don't personally mourn her bevillaining (new word!) but I sympathize with those that do (as a brokenhearted Max Lord fan).

Anonymous said...

With Max Lord or Jean Loring though... they had been such marginal characters for so long, having them turn "bad" may have been the best thing for them. They served a story, which is more then that had been doing.

Get thee behind me, non-Superbuddies reader!

Anonymous said...

My big problem with accepting Cassie as Batgirl was that we were initially presented with a new character who had no voice, no name, no face, and apparently, no thoughts of her own, and she was thus the first female Bat-character that Bruce welcomed into the fold with open arms! Is that sick, or what?


Anonymous said...

Yeah, that was pretty screwed up. The "welcome aboard, Batgirl" thing was explicitly framed within the context of snubbing the too-mouthy Huntress, which I still don't get. Batman doesn't like her "methods," but she's never actually killed anyone, right? The writers seemed to be really grasping at straws to find a source for that friction.

Anonymous said...

Would this be a good place to point out how little Cassie's supposed motivation for all this makes sense? She learned that David had a whole pile of other, failed (and mostly dead) students just a couple months ago, and didn't care at all. So why is this retconned-in Annalea character supposed to drive her over the edge? Didn't the writer bother to read even that one arc for research?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm pretty sure Huntress has killed at least a couple people. And she was kicked out of JLA for attempting to execute the helpless Prometheus - didn't this happen before NML started?

But yeah, Cassandra's introduction in NML was botched VERY badly on all accounts. They spent most of the event "building up " Huntress as the mysterious Batgirl, and then effectively replace her with a new character in a single issue - I can't think of a worse way to make your entré.

One shouldn't hold it against the character herself, though. I thought she was really likable and only ever really needed better creators to really make it big.

Brett said...

Scipio Said: She's gotta be a kick@$$ Asian ninja because they're the new gorillas.

Truer words have never been posted on a blog. Scales fell of my eyes when I read that and I became enlightened. That is soooooooo right. I am off to meditate now...

Scipio said...

"why do Ravager and Capt. Boomerang Junior deserve a chance if Cassandra doesn't? Those two have killed more people than Cassandra ever even knew!"

That's been bothering me, too; a lot.

Jeremy Rizza said...

I can't help but think that Cassie's Batgirl would have been more popular if she'd carried a "crime compact" and a big, gimmick-filled purse, like the original Batwoman did. I know I would have like her better, anyway.

I'm glad they're trying to give Ravager an "out" for her criminal past by saying, "Oh, no, her evil dad just had her hopped up on goofballs the whole time." I'm not sure it totally works for me but I give them points for trying.

Scipio said...

more popular if she'd carried a "crime compact" and a big, gimmick-filled purse

Well, all I know is, I've certainly become more popular since I started doing so...

Anonymous said...

If I had any say in how DC did the "Cassie turns evil" thing, I would have let her go into limbo for a year or two. At least then, you let the CassBat fans move on a little, to allow them to get over the recency of her character and heroism; it may be "One Year Later" in-story, but it's just a month later for us.

About Cassie in NML, I would add that I think she was basically a plot point at the time, to make the statement that Batman could trust a hyper-violent vigilante as long as she was trying to make amends for her previous immorality, further setting up Huntress's redeeming stand against the Joker at story's end. Except that despite the awesomeness of Huntress's arc throughout the storyline, once NML was over, DC basically ignored her and went with Cassie anyway. Which not only relegated Helena back to the directionless black-sheep role she had pre-NML until Gail brought her into the BoPs, it also made Spoiler a redundant flotsam, leading to "War Games." Hell, put Stephanie's daughter-of-a-villain-trying-to-make-up-for-daddy's-mistakes origin together with Helena's more violent background and methods and redemption arc, and Cassie is the redundant one. I would even go so far as to say that putting Cassie in the A-list led directly to most of the problems the Bat-world has had these days, from the collapse of the Dixon mythos to the further ass-hatting of Batman to the mess of "War Games" and IC; Cassie was an element that the carefully balanced Bat-world of the 80s and 90s couldn't easily sustain.

Scipio said...

An interesting analysis, Cove.

Anonymous said...

Hasn't she effectively been turned into a character donation to Marvel Comics given the success of X-23? She and Cassie share a similar origin story -- even if X's is even more ludicrously over the top. Even if she couldn't sell enough to satisfy DC, her character type brings in the bucks for Marvel. Maybe one day DC will have a use again for Cassandra Cain (though, I do like the idea of a verbally challenged "Cassandra" who stutters out her warnings, yet can't get them out in time to avert disaster), but in the meantime her fans can still get a dose of her over at Marvel. If she does one day return, it would be nice to see Paul Pope draw her.

Anonymous said...

"...the further ass-hatting of Batman..." Ass-hatting? One the things I enjoy about reading comics and a general interest in US culture is learning new and evocative words and phrases. If it's something better understood in context please direct me to an all ass-hat issue of Batman.

Scipio said...

Perhaps Frank Miller's "All Ass-Hat Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder" would do.

Anonymous said...

I disliked Batgirl #1. Word of mouth got me to try #2, and I bought the series for a couple years. Yes, Cassie stretched my suspension of disbelief past the breaking point, but I enjoyed the stories and art (and I usually dislike pseudo-manga). It's disappointing that DC has nothing better to do with her than turn her evil.

I loved Sasha in Detective, but she just kind of disappeared in the OMAC Special & Checkmate #1. I felt I could be reading about any kick-butt woman, not necessarily Sasha.

I presume Rene Montoya is the new Batwoman. She's another character I like, and I hope she doesn't get swallowed up by her new role.

Anonymous said...

"Naming Kite-Man "Charles Brown"; that's clever."

What about naming Deadshot "Floyd Lawton", one letter away from being the same name as Floyd The Barber's (LawSon) in "Andy Griffith"?

Best movie quote of 2006: "Do you know who you're dealing with? I'm the JUGGERNAUT, BITCH!!"

Anonymous said...

I pause briefly to shake my head and sigh at people that say Cassandra should never have been Batgirl because she'd killed people.

*Pauses briefly and sighs.*

Before she became Batgirl she killed all of one person, by accident, not knowing what she was doing, and was traumatized by it.

It's true that Batman shouldn't hand the costume away to assassins. Cassandra was never an assassin.

Unfortunately Adam Beechen seems to have done as little research as the people that make that argument.