I bought more Cassandra Cain Batgirl on Comixology last night. I now have up to issue #60. While there are some concepts I like during this era, it's probably my least favorite run of issues. Cass becomes something of a mope, the stories are pretty generic, the supporting cast dull and under-developed (although that might be more due to the creative team having to end things rather abruptly before fully fleshing out everyone) and the art kind of dull.
Here's a quick rundown of things I like about these issues, but with a little commentary on why they just don't work for me:
1. Bludhaven. The name sounds like something out of Thimble Theatre, where Popeye and pals might meet some kind of sea witch, but giving Cass her own city was a smart move. She inherits the setting from Nightwing, but it's a place of greater possibilities for original storytelling than Gotham City, which is pretty much Batman's turf. Not having read Nightwing, I don't really know who lives in Bludhaven, or all that much about its geography, history or social structure, which I'm going to suggest was true of a lot of this book's fans at the time who weren't all that into DC as a whole. The creative team could have approached the setting as largely a blank slate and invented a Bludhaven that plays to Cass's strengths as a character, or to her weaknesses as well.
2. Penguin. Pitting Cass against a formidable foe gave her a purpose she'd been lacking for a while after resolving her death wish and father issues. This could have been Cass's version of Batman's Year One story, featuring her taking down a lot of street-level thugs and disrupting the Penguin's crime empire so much he turns to-- well, anyone other than who he actually turned to. I make this comparison a lot, but at this point, the creatives should have been taking cues from Koike Kazuo, whose Lone Wolf and Cub and Lady Snowblood really showed how to tell long-form stories (with enough room for stand-alone plots) pitting protagonists against seemingly overwhelming odds and finding the humanity with all the bloodshed. Rather than simply capes against talking apes.
3. Romance. While the one she got is pretty paltry and features a complete dishrag of a potential boyfriend, the idea of Cass finding herself exploring the alien territory of love could have made for some compelling stories. I mean, what happens when a girl whose first language is movement and isn't particularly fond of ordinary social interaction finds herself falling for someone? Dylan Horrocks gave it a half-hearted try and came up with a spun-sugar confection that curdled and sickened, but that doesn't mean Anderson Gabrych couldn't have eventually taken Cass in this direction and found something poignant. Or thrilling.
4. Deathstroke. Another grandly dangerous enemy for Cass, and one with his own daughter issues. Thematic resonance. Gabrych came pretty close to making this count, and DC later tossed us a bastardized form after turning Cass into a villain, but there's no reason Batgirl couldn't have gotten a lot of story mileage out of an extended Cass-Deathstroke war. Or rather than the drugged-to-evil aspect, a more organic mentoring relationship challenging the one she had with Batman. Cass could have found herself drawn to someone who could possibly increase her own capabilities-- a father of a similarly capable fighter no less- only to find this path taking her perilously close to the edge and alienating her from the people who truly care for her. Then the inevitable fight between the two and a return to the fold.
5. Lady Shiva. With her father issues largely behind her, Cass turns her thoughts to her biological mother. This leads to an identity quest of sorts. This could have echoed the troubled relationship she had with David Cain and provided a much-needed shot of deeper emotions and exploration of just who Cass really is to the book. Instead, we get a lot of nonsense with a troll and then with Mr. Freeze, who has no thematic connection to Cass whatsoever and only distracts from the Batgirl-Lady Shiva dynamic. When they told us Cain had trained a lot of others before Cass, it cheapened her as a character as well. Some seriously muddled storytelling here.
6. Birds of Prey. It would have been nice to see Cass interact with a few more of the other DC universe characters, and the Birds were a natural fit because of the Barbara Gordon connection. As it is, we get a single issue.
With so many possibilities, it's even more a shame the series' energy flagged around this time. Wealth squandered. There's also a very good chance I'm not remembering these very well at all because it's been several years since I last read these books.
Still, you have to have them to complete the set and there's Comixology right there and very convenient. What are you waiting for? Cass is in limbo and desperately needs your (financial) support to escape! After all, Spoiler did it for her and she's was actually dead at the time.