Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How Chris Burnham sees Cassandra Cain

Here are a couple of panels from Batman Incorporated #6 (May 2011) with a script by Grant Morrison and art by Chris Burnham.  Yeah, I haven't spent much time talking about Black Bat Cass-- or Blackbat as Morrison writes here-- but here she is.  Burnham is the guy who designed Cass's Blackbat costume and look, so his take on her is a defining one-- the defining one so far, although she appears more in Gates of Gotham, illustrated by Trevor McCarthy and her biggest image is on the cover of Red Robin #25 by Marcus To.

But before we begin, two things.  First, I had no idea Cass knew how to fly a helicopter, which isn't an easy aircraft to master.  She flew some kind of flying contraption in Redemption Road, but the less said about that the better.  Quite the accomplished adventurer at this point is our Cass!

And second, her use of the "Elvis" idiom is kind of interesting, too.  That seems a little off, but I suppose she might have learned it without ever considering its pop culture source.  What would Elvis Presley leaving a building mean to her?  Strange to consider, but there are millions of people in this world for whom the King holds no significance.  Cass more than likely would be one of them.  Also, I think Cass works best when she's written using non-idiomatic English, or else mis-using it in some way.  But here she's as fluent with language as she is with piloting.

Anyway, getting back to Chris Burnham.  His take on Cass has a kind of Paul Pope quality about it with the fly-away hair, ragged lines of her shredded cape and the under-lighting.  Burnham gives her a no-nonsense expression, which is nice because some of his Bruce Wayne (or Bruce Wayne look-alikes) early in the book appear sort of deranged.  But at least Burnham has his characters "act."  There's a neat little disgusted Damian Wayne in the mix.  Touches like that give Burnham's work life artists working with slicker, more photo-realistic styles can't match.  Some of those crazed Bruce faces remind me of the work of Junji Ito, the horror master.  She's a little soft of musculature here.  As I've written before, most athletic wear-- especially the kind thick enough or padded enough to offer protection-- tends to hide cut musculature, but there could still be a little more definition to the arms' outlines.

He wisely resists the urge to glam her up.  There aren't many Black Bat art examples in print and we don't get to see his civilian Cass, but so far Burnham's is my favorite by far.

I do wish Burnham had been allowed to draw Cass more often (or anyone at all these days).  Her appearance in this book is little more than a glorified cameo.  Burnham might have done some fine work with her.  Like Ito again, Burnham doesn't shy away from gore and Morrison's Leviathan plot gives him ample chance to draw viscera.  A dark, violent Blackbat book with Burnham art might have been just the ticket if DC hadn't gone ahead and changed their whole universe and turned Cass into a non-entity.

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