Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How Cass learned to talk: Batgirl #4 (July 2000)

Damion Scott, pencils/Robert Campanella, inks, Batgirl #4 (July 2000)

Kelley Puckett and Scott Peterson put Batgirl in harm's way.  Here's Damion Scott's interpretation of the moment where Cassandra Cain gains the ability to understand language. While this leads to some of the best issues in the Kelley Puckett run, I think they introduced this element way too soon in the series' run. I really would have liked it if they'd slowed down the pace a bit and spent more time establishing Cass's status quo before changing it, but change it they did and this cool double-page spread is the result.

I doubt Damion Scott means to imply an exact equivalence between the martial arts poses and either the graphemes or phonemes making up the word "talk."  The top figures may look like ideograms, but I don't think that's what they're meant to be.  After all, we never saw Cass use combat postures as a form of full-body sign language.  I think they're meant to be simply a visual representation of Cass's body-movement understanding, a kind of rough symbolism because they approximate the letter shapes.  This is a neat way to communicate to the reader what it's like to live inside Cass's head.

How else could you do this?  Well, there are probably a few other ways that might also get the point across, but Scott's version works well enough.  The thing that's odd to me is that the diagonal eye-movement is downward from right-to-left, which is a bit wonky.  If the Cass head in the upper left-hand space represents pre-verbal Cass and the lower right-hand one is post-transformation Cass, it would be more appropriate for the figures to become words going from left-to-right, the way we read.  But the way the heads frame the center diagonal, they're forced to run counter.  Changing the diagonal would require putting the left head at the bottom of the page, and that would be a complete mess because the eye would have to climb the pages to read them.  Scott's solution is more direct than elegant, but we understand what's happening.  And that's the main thing.

And while this is probably apropos of nothing, the inking by Robert Campanella gives this spread a vaguely Jack Kirby-ian look.  Probably due to the abstracted black shapes representing energy or Cass's brain being changed and the geometric shadows on her mask.  Also those little energy lines in the background.


  1. And we have a new Cass fan: my 6 year old sister. I'm buying Batgirl on Comixology as I read them to her, we read this one Monday. She hated Cass loosing her combat edge, and sees no reason for her to talk. I think she must be a lot easier to write when she talks, and that's probably why they did it in issue #4 instead of waiting. I also think this guy should have asked first.

    I think the TALK double pannel is really cool, but the guy and Cass need different colored caption boxes. Reading their thoughts gets confusing.

    1. Yeah, I absolutely agree about those caption boxes. It took me a couple of read-throughs to figure them out. And I have a feeling giving Cass language that early in the story had at least a little something to do with making the book more conventional and accessible. Although considering the sales at this point in the run I could be wrong. They spun a pretty cool arc out of it with a lot of character development-- the whole parallelism with Lady Shiva that sets up their relationship-- but I wish they'd slowed the language acquisition down or held off. I was worried early on they were going to turn Cass into a generic hero if they weren't more careful. Plus, Damion Scott is aces with dialogue-free sequences.

      Congratulations on introducing your sister to Cass! That's awesome!