Monday, January 28, 2013

The follow-up to Fight On, Cass

You can read all about it from the event's originator, Zechs, at the Outhousers.  It's a post full of nice art from various Cass-starring comics.  Fight On, Cass didn't come off exactly as planned, apparently, but a number of fans submitted their favorite moments with Cassandra Cain in a heartwarming outpouring of support, even if the major point of the event-- buying Batgirl #37 from Comixology on January 26th-- proved something of a bust.

Well, that's Cass all over.  Even a fan day involving her goes its own way and does its own little thing.  There's no real controlling of such things (unless you're some kind of industry big boss type with the PR resources to stoke the fandom flames like the boilers of a riverboat about to explode or some such simile) and no real controlling of a character like Cass.

We can hope at least a little message went to the powers-that-be at DC, that if only for five seconds someone in an office there thought, "Cass Cain."  Even if that person was in human resources or an intern.

What next?  Another fan day?  Not for this Cass fan, not for a while.  I'm just going to keep drawing Cass, analyzing her series and guest appearances, looking for other blog posts and essay about her to share with you and keep building my digital Batgirl collection.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cassandra Cain versus Captain America

I saw a short discussion of this fight the other day and I put almost as much time into thinking about it as I did reading that discussion.  Writing about fights Cass would lose gets old, but I'm afraid Captain America would beat Cass.

Captain America can dodge machine gun bullets, for crying out loud.  Cass can only fake that skill if she sees the person with the gun and reads his or her movements.  That alone makes it unlikely Cass could tag Cap.  Cass could dodge Captain America's shield because she'd know when and where he was about to throw it, but once they went hand-to-hand, Cap's greater speed, strength and stamina give him more than a slight edge.

More than likely, however, this fight would end shortly after it began because Cap would find a way to reason with Cass and convince her they're both on the same side and their little physical tete-a-tete is the result of one of those cliched comic book misunderstandings.  Recognizing Cass as a fighter par excellence, Cap would impart some of his All-American leadership type wisdom then take Cass under his wing for a quick adventure, possibly breaking up some kind of Hydra-Intergang confederation.  Then they'd go back to their respective comic book universes.

This would actually make a pretty neat story.  I see it happening during Cass's Black Bat phase rather than her Batgirl days.  Jim Steranko on art or at least Paul Gulacy doing his best Steranko impersonation.

Did you Fight On, Cass?

Thanks to super-correspondant Madeleine M. we have this link to a Twitter feed discussing the Fight On, Cass movement, that special event suggested by Zechs at the Outhousers where millions of Cass fans were supposed to buy Batgirl #37 on Comixology.  We don't seem to have gathered quite that many participants...

My favorite response has to be the person who took advantage of a "$75 longbox sale" at a local comic book store to fill it to the brim with Cass Cain Batgirl.  Because I'm a dimwit about how the comic book distribution system works, I don't know if those sales get reported back to DC, where we need to push up the Cass bottom line in order to inspire positive editorial action.  Whatever, I still like it.  I buy every paper-printed Cass book I find over here.  Which is why it's rare to find any.  I've got them all.

As for me, I've been using my poor, overtaxed credit card to slowly accumulate about 30 or so digital issues of Batgirl.  While I already own every print issue from the series' original run and all the trade collections, my ultimate goal is to own the entire series at Comixology, plus a few other books in which she's appeared.  I'm throwing new money after bad.  As Cass's number one fan in Japan, I feel I've gone above and beyond the Fight On, Cass brief.

Obviously, not everyone can be as fanatic as I am.  I won't rest until Tom Chaney's barking in he-- I mean, I won't rest until Cass comes back to DC's ongoing continuity!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Batgirl complains, Superman acts like a jerk

Old doodles from between classes at my last job. This is what I used to do in those 5 minutes-- sketch out these chaotic ideas that come into my mind from the ether. And I don't mean the chemical ether, although they do have a certain stream-of-consciousness druggy quality about them. One liners and things that seem to be taken out of context, or completely go against a character's actual personality.

Superman's wrong, though. He looks nothing like a Wayne Boring Superman. Towards the middle of the page, on the left, you can see a li'l Superman/Lois Lane face off. They look relatively happy with each other, don't they?

I don't know what the deal is with the smug kid in the sailor hat.

Poor Batgirl...  This was back when she was a villain, so that's what she's bummed about.

She Explodes Like a Fist, Part One*

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The original.
Cassandra Cain, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jordan Baker, was a “clean, hard, limited person.” Only unlike Baker, Cassandra didn’t deal in skepticism. She dealt in ass-whuppin’s.

Let's appreciate the undervalued Cassandra Cain Batgirl--


Way back in the year 2001, I was reading Thomas Pynchon and Flannery O'Connor, and comics Eightball and Hate, and openly sneering at the Batman making his way through crappy, murky stories where the writers seemed more intent on out-Frank Millering Frank Miller, making Batman more and more intolerant, inflexible.  In repeated clumsy efforts to make him the baddest ass in the world, writers had made Batman the least likable man in comics. Not a badass, just an asshole. Reading Batman and Detective Comics was like a death march of everything good about comics. And most other titles weren't much better.

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Total bad-ass!
One day I was on my lunch hour from work and needed some groceries.  I walked over to the supermarket, scanned the magazine rack on my way to some aisle or other.  Right then and there, on a whim, I picked up an issue of Batgirl, with a script by Kelley Puckett and art by Damion Scott and Robert Campanella. To this day, I don't know why.  Maybe it was just the novelty of buying a comic in a supermarket, something I hadn't done since I was a kid.  And anyway, I'd never understood the old Batgirl, running around in high heels with a makeup bag. She seemed unnecessary. Silly, interesting only in a camp way.

The Cassandra Cain Batgirl, on the other hand, was a rarity in mainstream comics in that she was a female hero who wasn't depicted as a sexual object. The point of her wasn't to look cute in her outfit. Mostly she was just there to put her foot up some thug's ass, not shake her own for the masturbatory pleasure of people too young or too timid to buy porn or download it for free off the Internet.

Puckett told her stories at lightning speed, Scott's manga-infused art was sometimes confusing to me (I've since gotten the hang of it). But at the center of it was this amazingly original character conceptualization... a Batgirl who finally made sense. I was hooked because I wanted to see if Puckett and Scott could take the premise and develop it to its fullest extent. I wanted to see if it would become something special.

They came pretty darned close!  Here's DC's official description of Cassandra Cain:

The newest member of the Batsquad is also the deadliest. But having killed once, she will never take a life again.

The girl who would be Batgirl was raised from birth by Cain, one of the world's deadliest assassins, to become his assistant and, eventually, his successor. Cain never taught the girl to speak, believing that violence was language enough for the life she would lead. On her "graduation day" Cain assigned her to perform a hit.
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The first drawing of Cassandra I did... not
very good. Terrible, in fact. Static and
boring and not in character.

The nine-year-old murdered like a professional, but she was hardly stone cold. Rather, Cassandra was so repulsed by her actions that she fled her Master.

Then, at a time in her life when other girls her age were feeling their first crushes and celebrating sweet sixteens, Cassandra was wandering the back streets of the world, eventually arriving in the best hiding place on Earth, Gotham City.

Oracle, the former Batgirl, recognized the enigmatic street urchin's abilities and recruited Cassandra to be one of her eyes and ears in No Man's Land. Oracle vouched for Cassandra when Batman needed to fill out the ranks of the Batsquad.

She already wears the Mantle of the Bat like a second skin, but her first skin, that of an innocent teenage girl, will long feel alien.


Unfortunately, most of what I liked about it was what could've been, rather than what it was. During its 73-issue run, Batgirl hit some heights but never fully evolved into a classic.  As good as it was during the Puckett-Scott run, I knew it could be better. I kept waiting for the moment when the creative team turned it into one for the ages, a match for its vibrant starring character, getting excited with each new development.  For example, in one scene (Batgirl #2, June 2000), Batgirl impulsively kisses the cheek of a man she just saved. No explanation, no thought balloon. Just a peck on the cheek and gone. What did it mean?

What was in her, deep in her soul? This violent girl, born not from love but from a twisted eugenics experiment by her ultra-mercenary father Cain, kissing this random doofus, as if to say, “It’s okay, everything is okay now."

What I especially liked about Cassandra Cain was that she was a pure fighter, perfect at physicality but imperfect at nearly everything else. Emotions were alien to her, and while she tried, she had little or no concept of normal human interaction. You couldn't beat her with your fists, but you might have a chance getting to her heart. And to top it off, she had this death wish.

Her father had abused her, raised her without spoken language or even thought so that movement became her mode of expression and understanding, to the point of a near-prescient ability to know what a person was going to do in a fight before they were even completely aware of it themselves. And he made her a killer.  She killed when she was just a small child and suddenly, in a moment of clarity, saw what she was and fled from it. With a death wish. A desire for self-immolation that made her breathtakingly fearless. She possessed a total disregard for self, so much so that she eventually abandoned her civilian identity to merge with the concept of Batgirl.  To live it completely.

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Cassandra's cinematic avatar... (art by me!)
With this mindset, you could see how she would become frightening even to an extremist like Batman. Reading her stories, I wanted Batman to watch her in action and think, "Oh shit, I'm scared for her. So very scared!" And at the same time, like the rest of us, he’d be unable to turn away, and she'd be exhilarated by it all.

For example… Lone Wolf and Cub manages this much better. But that’s probably because Koike Kazuo is a genius. Which is no knock on Puckett-- few writers are.  In Koike's Ogami Ito stories, there's a fine balance between scenes of pastoral peacefulness, that when contrasted with the katana-slicin' action, a mad beauty emerges. For the action scenes to work, there must be scenes of repose. Muscles tense, then relax.

Ang Lee's classic film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, explores a similar character with nearly superhuman abilities (but with an inner rage Cass lacks). Jen Yu, brilliantly portrayed by Zhang Ziyi with equal parts fury, grace and pathos, is a princess who’s mastered martial arts at an incomprehensible level, but since she was taught the actions but not the controls, she's in danger of burning out in a frightening, exalted way.

As quickly paced as the film is, and despite its origins as a genre film, it never stints on character moments.  Consequently, it grows beyond mere wire-fu martial artistry to become art.

Another film character Cassandra calls to mind is Beatrix “The Bride” Kiddo, from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill flicks. Tarantino’s masterful pastiche of kung fu clich├ęs and stylized ultra-violence never loses sight of The Bride’s motivations and internal conflicts.

Like Jen Yu. Like Ogami Ito. Like Beatrix Kiddo. With her death wish and a deeper exploration of the forces acting on the inner Cassandra, Batgirl could've reached similar, delirious heights, with added depth and contrast, not just bubblegum-- or comic book-- kung fu.  Her stories could've been elegiac, Lone Wolf and Cub-style introspection and action blended with Crouching Tiger emotional depth and romance with a helping of Kill Bill hyper-kinetic violence, a balancing of tensions, giving the characters room to breathe. Moments of beauty, moments of terror.

As the series stands, at its best it's pure fun with a killer character at its center but a bit shallow.  Under Puckett (and partner Scott Peterson on the first few issues) and with Scott and Campanella, the series comes closest to fulfilling its promise.

I can't help but wonder if she'd died at the hands of Lady Shiva in Batgirl #25 (April 2002) if it wouldn't have at last.  Such a death could have been magnificently tragic, with her character arc completely resolved.  But we're talking about a monthly comic where stories have to keep coming no matter how bent out of shape the results.

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To answer the cover's question... I thought so.
Father Figures... and a Mom

One of the major themes of the series is the war for Cassandra's heart between two fathers and a sister/mother surrogate. Or the war within Cassandra's heart as she responds to their machinations or attempts to analyze and help her, to save her when that's the last thing she wants.

Barbara Gordon is the one character who evinces concern for Cassandra as opposed to Batgirl. She argues constantly with both Cassandra and Batman that the girl needs at least a semblance of a normal life.

But is this even possible?

Jen Yu, once she’s tasted the power of self, cannot submit to being a mere princess in a loveless arranged marriage. But, because it’s received from a severely flawed source, like Cassandra she’s a cracked vessel for this power. Like Ogami Ito and the Bride, Cassandra’s ultimate gift is to destroy, not to create.

But despite this, should Cassandra or any of the others accept a diminishment of self, to live as ordinary mortals when they have these abilities?

Even with her own Batgirl career behind her, Barbara could never equal Cassandra, and probably can’t fully appreciate Cassandra’s deadly artistry. As Barbara explains it at one point when Cassandra's briefly adopted the original high-heeled Batgirl costume, she was more about looking cute and running around in heels while bopping bad guys.

At some point, biological dad Cain comes to the realization that he loves her not just as his successful experiment, but as his daughter. By then it's too late and she's gone. In #22, he sings mournful versions of “Bicycle Built for Two” and "Darling Clementine" to her via a security video, sending her out the window onto a rooftop in tears.  This of the series' really heartfelt moments, one point where the series is hitting exactly the proper notes at the proper time.  Tellingly, it's from the Puckett/Scott era.

But even as Cain tries to reclaim her, neither we nor Batgirl could never be certain of his motivations… is there really a spark of fatherly love, of remorse? Or is he merely manipulating her in order to gain control over this weapon he’d created?  He's trying desperately to wrest her from the man who was rapidly becoming her figurative father. Batman. Batman gave her a costume, a name and a life. In return, she gives herself over to him completely. He eventually supplants Cain as the major driving force in her life, the one person capable of truly wounding her.
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She looks like her fans feel.

How? Well, he's so central to her being that not once but twice he fires her as Batgirl, devastating her... and twice she battles back to prove herself to him. In #50 (May 2004), the two of them work out their emotions with their fists, pounding each other.

And late in the fight, Batman finds himself fighting off her embraces. She wants him to hold her. To become her father. At this point, the thematic element of dueling fathers, of father-daughter relationships, is satisfactorily resolved. Thematically, at that point, Batman is for all intents and purposes her father.

All that remains is for Cass to come into her own as a fully realized, independent human being. That is, if this had been any medium other than a mainstream superhero comic. In mainstream superhero comics, story arcs can be finite but characters cannot. Therefore they exist in a strange stasis, where the only changes wrought on them are by writers and artists exercising a “different take.” But ultimately, these are only slightly modified versions of received material.

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Attempting to re-establish the superhero status quo...
After dealing with Daddy, a resolution with her mother seemed in order but it wasn't really to be. Sure, they fought, but there was no catharsis. And, as we found out later, none of this really mattered anyway. Cassandra was bound to backslide for illogical reasons.


But to be honest, once she learned to speak and read, what else could you do with her? In a sense, it becomes a race for mediocrity, to shed uniqueness. In my mind, I saw future Cass somewhere along issue #124 as a boringly competent detective with stupendous fighting abilities, dating Robin or Spoiler and none of her past playing much of a role at all. Changing creators but recycling plots from other comics in the comfortable, mind-lulling way of most mainstream titles.

And anyway, almost immediately after Puckett and Scott left the book, Batgirl showed an increasing propensity for silliness and repetition. As a highly abnormal human being, Cassandra struggled with ordinary emotions. Under writer Dylan Horrocks, whose run is marked with inconsistent quality (he did write the masterful #50 which is a series high point, after all), Cassandra grappled with one of her greatest foes:  a bikini.  And her second greatest:  bad art.

I'd never experienced embarrassment for a comic book character before reading Batgirl #39 (June 2003). Even though the story eventually made some half-assed point about the "male gaze," it seemed the whole point was to get a few panels of Cassandra in skimpy swimwear at the urging of Barbara Gordon, of all people.  Quite a number of issues around this time feature Barbara's preoccupation with Cass's prospective sexual attractiveness to males as a theme.

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At the time I thought this was the
worst thing DC could do to Cass.
Evidently, there's one way to be a woman in the DC universe, and even the women there enforce strict gender regimentation. The cover to the infamous bikini issue itself seemed designed to humiliate and diminish her, but the story inside reinforces this with art that forcibly turns Cass into a cutesy-pie cartoon figure, diminutively referred to as "Little Bat" by another character.

Immediately, she's given a brief flirtation with Superboy that results in a completely weak marshmallow of a story in #41 (August 2003) where he flies her to some fairy castle in the clouds-- the kind of precious cloying “I’ve read Judy Blume therefore I understand teenage girls” stories Chris Claremont used to do in those godawful "Some Teeny Bopper Tells Another Teeny Bopper a Fairytale" issues of Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants.

That one issue almost almost soured me on the whole thing right there.  Horrocks redeemed his run with that amazing #50 and a scattering of issues around that time-- with the considerable help of Rick Leonardi's amazing artwork.

But after that Batman fight, the series became punch drunk. Staggering. It continued for 23 more issues but never regained momentum.

They seemed to lose the essence of the character, turning her into a mopey emo kid (Cass should never truck with self pity), sending her off to Bludhaven (not a bad idea, actually) and introducing a dull supporting cast, then doing nothing of note with them. Fully rejecting Cain with a final “You were a bad father” (Really?  You don't say!), she leaves him lying broken and battered on his prison cell floor, and set off to find her biological mother.  A search which should have been emotionally blistering.  Instead, writer Andersen Gabrych and the rest of the creative crew waste all of #66 (September 2005) on Cassandra's supposedly comical confrontation with a troll.  A troll? Absolute nonsense, and until her re-emergence as a talkative dragon lady in Robin #149-151, this was the nadir of Batgirl's career.  Furthering the disappointment, they water down the mother-daughter confrontation by tossing in a gratuitous Mister Freeze plot and rendering Cass merely a face in the assassin crowd.

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Butts and boobs.  I don't miss Wizard at all.
Flopping to the Finish Line

As the title petered out, someone at Wizard (Chris Ward, I think) wrote one of their typical fluff pieces about "Comics' Sexiest Women." It was illustrated with a group of superhero women washing a car, and featured an old school style Batgirl, with the note that said something along the lines of, "We want to see a red-head-- ANY red-head-- back in Batgirl's cape and cowl."

Evidently, Cassandra Cain and her non-sexualized image was not comic book enough for Wizard. As if it doesn't matter if Batgirl makes any sort of logical story-sense, doesn’t matter who the character is or what she can do, as long as she has red-hair and boobs and high heels.

End Pt. 1!

*a version of one of the earliest things I wrote about Cass Cain, re-edited to take out the embarrassing anger!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A slow Cass news day...

One of my favorite things to do as a blogger is check my "search keyword" traffic sources.  How do people find this blog?  Sometimes the results are amusing.  Sometimes they're saddening.  Today they're neither, but in the absence of any real Cass news here we are. Let's check 'em and see.

1) ann nocenti kurosawa
2) cassandra cain deadly viper assassination squad
3) cassandra cain escher girl
4) cassandra cain, 2013

The rest are just searches of my blog on my blog, which I don't understand and shall ignore.

Ann Nocenti has name-checked Akira Kurosawa in interviews leading up to the debut of her new Katana ongoing.  And I've reported on it.  Unless I've dreamed the whole thing, which is a possibility.  So the first one isn't a surprise.  One person did this search today.  That person is cool.  Unless that person was Akira Kurosawa himself, in which case he's a miracle because the master director passed away in 1998 and I still haven't fully recovered from the loss.

The second one is a surprise.  I thought I was the only person to link these two concepts, Cassandra Cain and Quentin Tarantino.  Obviously someone has either heard rumor of my silly blog post or else we've both tapped into the collective unconscious.  If there is such a thing, which I doubt.  This one is probaby just a nice coincidence.

Cassandra Cain as an Escher Girl.  Escher Girl is a concept created by a very smart blogger and turned into a very smart Tumblr.  Being that Cass is an acrobatic female superhero of the modern era it's more than likely she's been escherized a few times.  Shoot, she wouldn't even have to be acrobatic for that to happen.  All it would take is for some hack artist to draw her in the now-classic two-thirds standing figure pose showing both her butt and her boobs at the same time.  No feet.  Possibly no hands.  But butt and boobs, with a waist as thin as Batman's wrist and as twistable as a bath towel.  I've never posted an Escher Girl Cass, but I might do so sometime in the future.  In the meantime, Escher Girls is approximately more useful, popular and fun than this blog as the sun is more massive than the earth, so if you want to see Cass twisted and mal-proportioned by some highly-paid ass trying to draw "sexy," then I suggest you go there and have a blast.  I certainly do!

Cassandra Cain, 2013, huh?  That one was probably me!

Anyway, there's no way of knowing if any of these people actually navigated to my blog and read it, but if anyone recognizes his or her search term here and did take the time to read this crap, I thank you!  Keep Cass alive in...  well, unfortunately it doesn't rhyme... 2013!

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Essentials of Cass Cain...

Ok, let me offer some helpful advice to DC for bringing Cassandra Cain back into the New 52 fold.  I've boiled the character down to 10 simple points, the bare bones elements for a recognizable Cass Cain re-boot.

1)  Of multiracial heritage, born and bred to be the perfect assassin.
2) Raised with movement as her native language.  As a result, she has a limited vocabulary of words in any spoken language (to be precise, she knows a handful of English words), but can communicate through gestures and posture.
3) This training gifted her with the ability to read her opponents' intentions before even they're fully aware of them.  It has also made her perfectly empathetic in that she can read emotional states and even micro-expressions with an incredible degree of accuracy and understanding.
4) One of the finest (and deadliest) martial artists on the planet.  Top five ranking, maybe as high as number two depending on who's "on" that day.
5) David Cain, her biological father, abused her horribly during her initial training.  It could be said the training itself was abuse.  Cass has a love-hate relationship with him.
6) Killed a man at Cain's behest as a child, the event left her guilt-ridden and even suicidal as she experienced the man's terror personally because of her intense empathetic state.
7) Wandered the earth while she attempted to deal with the emotional fall-out of having murdered.
8) Death wish.
9)  Fearless.
10)  Endlessly tenacious.

See how easy that is, DC people?  And it would make so many people happy.

At the risk of complicating matters-- we could argue whether or not having Lady Shiva as her mother is essential as well.  I lean towards pro-Shiva maternity.  For one thing, change a parent, get a different person.  Plus, if we accept one of the character themes here is "nature versus nurture," having a killer like Shiva provides even more of an obstacle for Cass to overcome and establish herself as one of the "good guys."  Shiva's lineage might also supply some of the base talents on which Cain built his unstoppable engine of destruction.  Having issues with both parents adds some thematic bookending as well, plus generational conflict-- A Jack Kirby-esque element which provides a call-back to one of DC's most storied eras and something that could be played up for dramatic effect.

But since we can also argue that no one in the New 52 is exactly the same person as in the previous DC universe, this aspect could be negotiable.  Especially if changing it results in a stronger character (somehow) or a classic story.  I'm willing to trade almost any aspect of continuity if in return I get a superlative reading experience.

Every so often, you just start thinking about Cass (or Steph)

As a fan of the medium, I read a lot of comics.  I read a lot in general, but obviously various comic books and reprint collections of comic books make up a huge portion of my reading diet.  Some-- most superhero books-- are sugary or salty junk food snacks and others-- the artsy stuff-- are heart-healthier choices (they also tend to soothe my high blood pressure more than the cape books).  Yes, I either eat or read a lot of comics.  Sometimes I'd be so caught up in another title or series and go for weeks or even months without remembering there even was such a character as Cassandra Cain.

Inevitably, she'd creep back into my consciousness like the black-clad stealth assassin she was born to be.  Persistence is her way.

That seems to have happened recently to Beta Magnus at his blog Beta is Dead.  Magnus is a hardcore Cass fan.  He puts a lot of thought into the character and isn't shy about expressing his opinions.  And he's got me thinking again about how DC could reboot Cass.

But as Bryan Q. Miller suggested the other day, a rebooted Cass might not be the same Cass we loved before.  In fact, I don't think of any of the current DC characters as the ones I used to read about, or the ones I still read about whenever a Showcase Presents comes out collecting a title I once enjoyed or featuring a lot of pages by artists I follow.  Sure, they have the familiar names and versions of the familiar costumes, but their personalities are different.  I'm not going to say it's a change for the worse because I've only read a scattering of books in the New 52.  It's just these versions by and large don't interest me (although the new Katana kicks all kinds of ass and I'm really looking forward to her book) because I'm not that wed to this idea of superhero narratives meaning much of anything.  There are other kinds of comics to read and all that jazz.  But dammit, people, I love me some Cass and would love to read something new with her in it.

Even a pseudo-Cass of the New 52 persuasion?  Or would she be a sort of comic book version of a "Ship of Theseus" fraud?  How many times can you change parts of Cass Cain before she's no longer Cass Cain?

With Lady Shiva de-aged, introducing Cass would more than likely involve giving her a new biological mother.  Which means a lot of her backstory would of necessity become vastly different.  The father issues with Cain-- central to her character arc-- would remain, so we'd have that much.  On the other hand, as ludicrous as the New 52 chronology is, Lady Shiva could have given birth a year ago and the baby could have aged instantly into a 17-year-old Cass.  Or a 52-year-old Cass for that matter.  While the Cass-David Cain relationship is arguably the more important of the two parental issues, losing the Lady Shiva connection would definitely mean she's not Classic Cass, but New Cass.  Sweeter, not the familiar taste.

Another aspect is the apparent cherry-picking of continuity involved in the New 52.  Some elements-- such as Barbara Gordon's having been Batgirl then shot and paralyzed, remain.  Dick Grayson and Jason Todd have both been Robins, as has Tim Drake.  What about some of the major storylines the Bat-family has been involved in-- how many of those have still happened in the narrative?  What I'm getting at is-- did "No Man's Land," the story arc introducing Cass, happen or not?  And if so, it's obviously changed thanks to her absence.  No courier service for Oracle.  That element of Cass's story would also be missing.

Fortunately, that's not all that crucial.  Cass could have any number of reasons for finding her way to Gotham City and coming to Barbara Gordon's attention, and then to Batman's.

So how would Cass re-enter the narrative?  They'd have to re-set her in some way, which would be fine by this Cass fan.  That would allow them to instantly undo a lot of damage done to the character and take her back to basics.  We could have the silent, guilt-ridden, death-wish possessing ass-kicker of yore.  And that would be pretty nice.  Slow down her character arc so she's not watered down as quickly as she was during her original series, keep the concept as pure as possible for as long as possible.

And one more thing-- to make it all the easier, she could just become Black Bat, with no stint as Batgirl.

But I doubt she'd be the same Cass after all of that.  We'd have to learn to love her all over again.  And a lot of that would depend on how well she's written and drawn.  The character concept is still incredibly strong and viable-- maybe more so with DC's new direction.  I'd be willing to give it a try.  I'm willing to meet DC halfway on this.  With money.  Money, money, money.

So how about it, DC?  Wanna give it a try?

Friday, January 18, 2013

How James Jean sees Cassandra Cain

I can see why James Jean abandoned comics for painting.  That probably sounds cruel.  I mean, I love Batgirl and would have been in heaven if Jean had done some interior work, but comics are just too small and insular a world for someone of Jean's talent.  He deserves the more sophisticated audience he's found.

But for a short time we were lucky to have his work gracing the cover of our favorite DC comic magazine.  If it's a toss-up between Damion Scott and Rick Leonardi as my favorite interior artists on this title, Jean is hands-down my favorite cover artist.  No, you know what?  I may have said otherwise just a post or two ago, but after rediscovering this, I'm going to have to declare Jean my new #1 Cass artist.  Not having him do a full fledged story was a huge mistake on DC's part.

Jean's Cass is another example of how none of DC's artists ever drew her costume the same way.  Jean gives the material a thickness similar to Brian Bolland's take, but with a shinier, more leather-like finish.  It's not as glossy as the BDSM-style wet look Scott gives her, though.  Jean also renders her boots as separate pieces, rather than part of the body suit as so many other artists do (although the gloves appear to be part of the sleeves).  She probably needs some kind of combat treads on those soles, but that's a minor quirk.  Notice, too, the subdued Bat-symbol and the little touches like the seams around her wrists and down her sides.  Jean definitely has her in a costume as opposed to the "painted nude person" look you sometimes find in superhero comics.

This is a strong image, representing the plot (I'd say it's symbolic, but Batgirl and Batman actually fight like this), with the inventor of the drug that sets them at odds floating behind as a ghostly, disembodied head.  It's a highly graphic design, with great silhouetting of the figures-- if they were totally blacked in, you'd still know what was happening and to whom-- and a feel for movement and impact.  Loads of appeal, dynamism, superior color sense all combine to make this my absolute favorite Cass Cain image, bar none, and the single best cover image of the entire series.

Also, I love when Cass puts some whup-ass on other members of the Bat-family.  Batman definitely deserves it.

DC's graphic designers mucked this up, though.  The text is way too heavy and too close to the figures.  Totally unnecessary and really busies things.  It crowds the top right of the composition and pulls the eyes there, makes you not stare enough at the nice line of action and complementary poses Jean worked out.  We can look at the painting and know Cass and Batman are fighting, we don't need some copy editor butting in like a hyper-ventilating pro wrestling announcer.  This would have been much better copy-less.

Cass is back as Black Bat (on a sketch trading card)

And you can read all about it (and see it) on this DC Women Kicking Ass post, "New Batman Trading Card Series Now Available."

As you can see, the card itself is pretty nifty work.  You don't have a lot of space on a card, so you have to make what little you have count.  This artist has.

The only sketch card I've ever owned came out of an Indiana Jones Masterpiece set a few years back when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out.  If I remember correctly, it depicted Indy's dad, Dr. Henry Jones, Sr.  I can't remember the artist's name, but the likeness was quite accurate and I admired it a lot.

I still own that card, so if you're an artist who drew Sean Connery for that set, one of your cards has made it all the way to Japan!

Probably won't get a Cass Cain Black Bat card, though.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ohhh... Batwing quits!

Okay.  Now I understand.  He'll be back.  This makes it even less likely to be Cass Cain in that identity.  Her Black Bat costume is cooler than Batwing's high tech flying suit anyway.  She doesn't need to fly, soar, glide or swoop and those wings would just hinder her fighting style.

Is Cassandra Cain the new Batwing?

Someone new is coming to hang out with Batman, new to the current continuity.  Grumpy Old Fan (I'm Cheerful Middle-Aged Fan, thanks for asking) at Comic Book Resources reports promise of a new Batwing in the DC solicits for April 2013: "'a new member of the Batman family' ready to be the new Batwing. I take it this last is not Stephanie Brown (because … well, you’ll see). Cassandra Cain, perhaps?"

That would make this comic book fan very happy indeed, but I seriously doubt it will be Cass.  After all, her mother, Lady Shiva, is hardly old enough these days to have a teenaged daughter.  A lot about the New 52 continuity makes little or no sense, so we can't discount this possibility entirely (they could give her a new mom, I suppose, or just fudge the timeline the way they've done with Barbara Gordon and all those Robins). It just doesn't seem very likely to me.  Too much of a goodwill gesture from a company that hasn't been long on them regarding this character.

And what happened to the old Batwing?  Must we always eliminate one character to make room for another?  That just seems weird to me.

Grumpy goes on to theorize why the mysterious yellow-caped Robin could be Stephanie Brown, and that's slightly more convincing: "The solicit asks, 'On the darkest of nights, who is the one person Batman meets that could change his life forever?' Well, if Batman needs a new Robin, that flutter of yellow cape on Issue 19′s cover could reveal her. That’s right: The April solicitations could feature the triumphant return of Stephanie 'Robin' Brown!"

Cass and Steph bouncing back into the pages of DC comics in April?  Grumpy breathes a little too closely to the flickering flame of hope with a joke that's all the funnier because it's so bitterly accurate about the kind of thing that happens these days at the once and (possibly) future home of Cass Cain.  But I will make a solemn vow to start following the Bat books again if either of these characters makes her return in April.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reading Batgirl on an iPhone is a better reading experience than I'd expected

One of the fun aspects of going digital with Comixology (and possibly Dark Horse as well, although I have yet to experiment) is having the ability to download your comics to your iPhone and read them through Comixology's app.  Yes, this traditionalist finds reading comics on an iPhone fun.  I downloaded all my Cass Cain Batgirl issues to my phone (plus my Nexus, New Mutants and old school Valiant titles) over the weekend and they really came in handy yesterday as I ran errands and spent a lot of down time just waiting for others to handle their end of my very important business.

My initial objection to doing this involved not being able to scan the entire page.

I believe page layout to be a dying art in this age of "widescreen" storytelling, where artists generally just stack a lot of horizontal panels on top of each other, then break it up with a vertical close-up inset shot of someone screaming.  There aren't that many Will Eisners or Bernie Krigsteins or even Jim Sterankos walking around.  It's gotten to where I prefer someone just doing the ancient "three tier" format because you don't have to figure out panel order and sometimes the panels come closer to that pleasant "golden ratio" centuries of Western art has taught us to recognize and love.  For example, Jamie Hernandez with his beautiful drawings and simple, clean, fun page layouts.

Page layout is just as important as the panel-to-panel stuff in leading your eyes around and through the action.  A good storyteller remembers all that plane of action stuff and where the characters are relative to each other within each panel, but also helps the reader understand what's happening by doing the visual equivalent of expert tour guiding.  Plus all those tricks Will Eisner talks about in his books, varying panel sizes and shapes to create the illusion of time passing at various speeds.  It all goes back to layout.  As a reader, you approach the page as a whole, then delve into the little squares and rectangles within which your favorite characters strut their stuff.  I didn't want to lose that.

Anyway, to my surprise, I discovered Damion Scott's Batgirl actually reads better on the iPhone, which takes you through with the rest of the page cropped out, than it does when you have the actual comic in front of you.  While he's an excellent action-based storyteller in panel-to-panel terms, sometimes his pages are a bit busy.  On the iPhone, some of Scott's panel-to-panel transitions almost animate themselves as you click through.  It's a neat effect.

Some of the other books I looked at didn't fare as well.  Panels had to be awkwardly snipped to fit on the screen and then "slide" so you could get the entire scene.  Sometimes it would give a nice cinematic pan instead, which was often a revelation.  Usually, though, this would have a "pan-and-scan" effect like watching a movie cropped to fit one of those TVs like the ones I grew up with, the heavy, wood-framed beauties that were as much furniture as they were entertainment centers.  It creates reading pauses that run counter to the artists' intentions.

The small size of the iPhone reduces the figures, which simplifies them slightly so you're losing a bit of the rendering the artists worked so hard on.  That's a bit of a disappointment.  Again, it serves Scott well because he specializes in broad acting, big, bold expressions and stylized faces that show up quite clearly on the iPhone screen.  Some of the artists who use a lot of subtle, fine-lined work tend to soften.  I wouldn't suggest any artist change his or her drawing style to fit this medium, but I think artists with simpler looks with fewer lines and lots of black spotting like Mike Mignola and Bruce Timm won't lose a whole lot on iPhone.

On the other hand, the text remains surprisingly clear and readable.  So there are trade-offs to the convenience of being able to carry with you at all times as many comics as your iPhone's storage capacity allows.  I see it this device more as an adjunct to your reading experience than a replacement for larger formats. It's a matter of convenience reading.

Now my main qualm about Comixology and Dark Horse digital comics is you're paying the same amount as you would for the print issue, but you don't actually own the comic itself, just a license to read it on your computer or phone.  At home, I can't download the comics I've paid for and read them offline.  I have to visit the websites.  I can understand this from a standpoint of preventing piracy, but to be frank, that Black Pearl has already sailed.  For now, this kind of like buying comics but keeping them at your friend's house and reading them through a window while she holds them up and turns the pages when you ask.

Even so, here in Japan where American funny books are difficult to come by, digital comics are your best bet for immediate gratification.  Walking Dead has been making me kind of sick lately, but at the same time, I can't look away. When #107 comes out, I'm going to be there on the first day rather than having to wait for a collected edition or make a trip to Tokyo in hopes it hasn't sold out at Blister.  And it's nice to know I have access to every issue of the Cass Cain Batgirl no matter where I am or what time it is.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Well, do you think we'll have a female Robin come April?

Here's a link to a highly speculative article on discussing some possible changes in the Bat-family this spring.  What do you think?  Will Harper Row become the new Robin after... yuck... Damian Wayne finally gets his well-deserved death?  Or is this a flashback to a gentler time when Dick Grayson wore the costume?  Or will the new female Robin be...

Stephanie Brown?

Okay, sorry about that last one.  Actually, I'd be very happy if DC did reintroduce Steph into continuity this way.  Unfortunately, I can foresee a coming storm if DC does go the Harper Row route, because that means Steph's place as the first female Robin is no more.  Another boot in the bum for that character and her long-suffering fans.

I don't read these New 52 books, so I'm not entirely sure how the Batman continuity works these days.  Simple answer from my online searches seems to be, "It doesn't."  I mean, no Steph, no Cass, car-loads of Robins and ex-Robins running around despite Batman's having been in action about 5 years or so.  There are only two things I know for certain.

One, here comes something to do with Robin.  And two, if this is a new female Robin, she won't be Cass Cain.

Cassandra Cain's strangest ability

We all know Cass can read an opponent's body language and use that info effectively to predict his or her next move in a fight.  That's pretty strange.  But that's nothing compared to her ability to street ski while being towed by a moving car, as she does in Batgirl #48 (March 2004).

In her boots.

With no wheels of any kind on her feet.

She also appears to violate several laws of physics before she does that, but it's drawn a bit obscurely.  We'll discuss this in a little more detail later.

Monday, January 14, 2013

iBatgirl: Cassandra Cain lives on my iPhone-- I bought more Batgirl from Comixology

It's a three-day weekend here in Japan (Coming of Age Day was today, Monday, January 14) so with some free time on my hands, I decided to go ahead and buy Batgirl all the way through issue #25 (because I want to review and discuss the whole deathmatch with Lady Shiva storyline on this blog at some point) and then a few more from the Rick Leonardi run.  The writing around that time is spotty-- sometimes great, sometimes kind of wonky-- but there's no denying the attractiveness of Leonard's visuals, especially inked by Jesse Delperdang.  The James Jean covers are gorgeous, as a set my choice for best Cass one-off illustrations.

Instead of sleeping Saturday night, I downloaded the Comixology app for my iPhone and now Cass lives there, too.  I can take her everywhere I go, and whenever I'm bored or have nothing in particular to do, I can call up an issue of Batgirl and read it.  At home, at work, on the train, at the doctor's office, you name it.

It's actually pretty nice and I've noticed that as you flip through some of the panels of the Damion Scott issues, they almost animate themselves.  A little tribute to his storytelling abilities.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

How Brian Bolland sees Cassandra Cain


This is the cover to Batman: Gotham Knights #2 (April, 2000), which hit the stands the same month as Cass's monthly series.  It's ol' Batman and his then-newest partner.  I just bought this from Comixology because if an artist of Brian Bolland's stature takes a crack at drawing Cass for a comic book cover, I have to own said comic book.  Unfortunately, while it's lovingly drawn, it's not one of Bolland's most exciting covers.
Very static, bland poses, 2/3 body portrait, no action, nothing really design-y about it compared to some of his other covers in this series, many of which feature the same finely-detailed rendering as this one-- a Bolland given-- but also loads more dynamism to go with the typically well-observed anatomy beautifully modeled with that almost machine-like Bolland hatching and crosshatching (I used to try so hard to emulate it and failed because I'm naturally shaky and lack his precision and control).  Lots more fun than this, although I do admire Batman's slouchy insouciance.  I would have preferred an action shot of Batman and Batgirl leaping right out at me.

Also, Cass is largely blocked by Batman.  Let's take a closer look at her, shall we?

Ah, that's better!

No two artists ever seem to draw Cass the same way, and it's up to you to choose your favorite.  I'm split between Damion Scott and Rick Leonardi, probably leaning a little more Leonardi due to my own traditionalism.  But Scott was the artist of record when this book came out (how I miss the title's spectacular early days) and did more to establish the character visually than anyone.  So let's compare Bolland to Scott.

Scott gives Cass a great big head, a wiry body, huge belt pouches and an overall shiny patent leather (or PVC) costume.  Bolland gives her a smallish head.  I'm a little troubled by that one neck vein that seems to run right over Cass's jawline and onto her cheek.  For it to poke through the material like that it must be thick.  Cass on steroids?  I hope not!  The head size makes her seem taller than the Scott's Batgirl, and Bolland also draws her in a more subdued costume with textural differences between the body stocking and the mask, cape and gloves.  Very similar to his Batman costume's cowl, cape and gloves and their almost satiny, TV-show appearance.  Her mask has a zig zag stitch closure, unlike Scott's large shoelace stitching.  Little Bat-symbol on her belt buckle, small pouches.  Bolland's Bat-symbol is more angular yet less ostentatious than Scott's and rides higher on Cass's chest.  The Scott version tends to wrap around and emphasize Cass's bosom.  Not so here.  Two distinct takes, resulting in what appear to be almost two different characters.

Well, I have to love it because it's Bolland drawing Cass.  I'd be over the moon if this comic art legend ever produced another take.  An action shot!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Batgirl #3 (June 2000)

Batgirl #3 (June 2000)
Script: Scott Peterson, Kelley Puckett
Pencils: Damion Scott
Inks: Robert Campanella
Colors:  Jason Wright

Synopsis:  Batman takes Batgirl along to rescue a kidnapped child and his protege fights her first "metahuman" opponent, a brute with facial piercings.  Battered and exhausted, Batman heads back to his lair only to find himself shaken to his very core after he watches a snuff film starring a very familiar little girl.

This is one of those issues where Batman comes close to being an intolerable jerk.  I'm wrong.  Not close so much as dead smack in the center of it.  Let's face it-- the Batman not only touches being a jerk, he smashes his head into jerkdom repeatedly, cracking it and spoiling its value for other arch-jerks like Guy Gardner.  Fortunately, Oracle calls him on it.  Batman shows up babbling nonsense about Batgirl having failed the poor guy from the previous issue, the guy she did everything humanly possible to save and Oracle sensibly tells the Caped Crusader if he tells Cass any of that he's no longer welcome to hang out and play Marvel vs. Capcom 2 with her anymore.  There's a difference between being the consummate bad-ass, driven by your obsession and being both a moron and a prick who demands your apprentices become somehow omniscient and omnipresent.  Batman seems not to realize this.

The plot is framed by a bleeding and emotionally devastated Batman remembering the events that unfold in this story and then the moment where he took the hit that laid him so low-- that little video showing a pony-tailed child at play, a game that involves tearing out a full-grown man's throat.  Then doing other stuff to him that's apparently so horrifying we're not even allowed to see it on-panel, just Batman's open-mouthed reaction along with some sound effects.

Once again Peterson and Puckett script a quick-paced story with a bare-bones plot but maximum impact.  The fight with the metahuman-- the Comixology blurb names him as Meta (which is perhaps the lamest on-the-nose codename since Hiroko Ichiki took the name Armor during the Joss Whedon run on Astonishing X-Men) but I don't think he's called anything in the story itself-- is appropriately frenetic with a neat physical contrast between the combatants as lithe, small Cass clambers all over this man-mountain in an attempt to stop him.  It's an apparent mis-match, but shows Cass as determined, almost suicidally so.  This will become more apparent over the next few issues.  The fight could be more brutal and frightening.  A little more alarm from Batman would have set up further character developments, but it's an easy sequence to scan.  Scott excels at showing bodies in motion and Campanella's inks keep things clean and readable.

I'm guessing in the DC universe being "meta" is similar to being a mutant in the Marvel universe-- just a catch-all term for what amounts to magical abilities.  The guy Cass fights isn't explained and his abilities seem to consist of unusual size, strength and constitution.  On planet Marvel, being a mutant means you can have pink hair and pixie wings if that's what the kids are into that year, or you can have a plastic cash register for a head and "Money" as your code-name if the writer is some kind of whimsical dimwit.  Calling it a mutation just gives it a pseudo-scientific gloss.  Similarly, in Gotham City, if you're meta, you're just pierced and tough if that's what the story calls for this month.

Despite taking up the most story pages, the fight isn't even the most interesting thing that happens in this issue.  We get more Cass backstory as she flashes back to a fun day she had with daddy Cain (assembling an automatic pistol while he playfully covers her eyes, her expression one of pure joy at completing it in record time; that it isn't more horrifying is more the result of the slick, cartoony art working against the mood rather than supporting it than the idea of this man essentially warping a child's mind and betraying her innocence and trust in the father-daughter dynamic) and then the Bat-poop starts to hit the Bat-fan thanks to the video.  Here the main thrust of Cass's narrative really begins, where she will battle with her own guilt and resulting death wish and Batman's unrealistic expectations and whether or not he feels she's worthy as a successor to his Bat-franchise.

Cass's continued terse-ness is fun, too.  She's developing a small vocabulary of simple words she deploys like weapons.  Batman lectures her on expecting the impossible before he realizes she doesn't understand anything he's saying.  He asks her if she does and she simply replies, "No."  You get the feeling she probably picked up on more of his meaning than she lets on and rejected it as just as stupid as Oracle did.  She does use at least Batman's body language as inspiration during her big fight scene.  Batman's right about one thing-- if you are actually present and wearing the costume, you can't allow yourself to fail (but all that noise about not allowing yourself to fail when you're not present is, again, idiotic, like something Joseph Heller would come up and have some satirical fun with).

The art team does even more to help her communicative skills by drawing her (and every character, for that matter) with scene-specific facial expressions.  They stick with the broader strokes, though.  Peterson seems to love the low-angle distorted face, as if seen through a fish-eye lens, all chin and gigantic noses with startled eyes and gaping mouths.  He can't seem to decide on a musculature for Cass at times, but this is probably a product of his energetic pencil stylings.  His art is much more expressive than realistic and occupies a continuity with Bruce Timm and early-career Bernie Wrightson, but without their ability to work darker moods.  What he and Campanella have together is oodles of appeal.  The panels ripple with movement and energy and they're just pleasing to look at.  Still, Cass has massively muscular thighs in her first appearance, then turns wiry and thin-limbed for the rest of the book.  Yet little Cass looks pretty much like teen Cass, just smaller.  I have to wonder when those ponytails sprouted, since she seems to have worn the same hairstyle as a child she does as Batgirl.

Once again, a vivid story that takes all of about five minutes to read but providing just enough depth to keep you curious, to make you want more.  Slowing down a little and focusing more on the subtle emotions instead of the broader strokes might have elevated this issue to a true classic.  I remember reading this a year or two after it came out and feeling they were in danger of using up all the A-material.  But the potential for Cass as a character seems limitless and we're only three months into the series.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Here's a short interview with Cass's grandfather, Ric Estrada!

I love all the TwoMorrows publications.  Here's an interview with Ric Estrada by Roy Thomas that ran in Alter Ego (volume 3) #14.  Estrada co-created Lady Shiva (Cass's mom) with Denny O'Neil, a fact that isn't mentioned at all in this interview, but it does feature an early design sketch for Power Girl by Estrada.  Estrada's Power Girl sports a low-cut top but not the infamous chest "window" cut-out.  He had a neat, angular style, a cartoony look I've come to appreciate over the years, especially with the influx of photorealists into the field and all the computer coloring that's sucking the imagination out of superhero comics and replacing it with a boring literalism.  He would have done a cracker-jack job on a Batgirl fill-in issue.  A natural fit considering the book's look and his relation to Cass's eventual creation.

A missed opportunity, DC.

Unfortunately, Estrada passed away in 2009.

Crude, leaping Bat-Cass!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I've been studying up on Lady Shiva today

Here's how it started.  I suddenly got a hankering to learn about comic book artist Ric Estrada because he drew some war comics I read as a kid and his name just floats into my stream of consciousness from time to time.  And do to some kind of weird Jungian synchronicity thing, it turns out Estrada co-created Lady Shiva along with Denny O'Neil for the fifth issue of that ancient DC title Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter.

Yeah, I know.  How strange that a comic book creator I've heard of might have had something to do with a comic book character I've also heard of.  The universe is a mysterious place.  But I don't assign any meaning to coincidences, even real ones as opposed to semi-spurious ones like this.

The problem is, I don't know a lot about Lady Shiva other than what I've read about her in Batgirl.  I don't read that many superhero comics and I'm not all that interested in company-wide continuity.  But after finding out my old pal Ric Estrada had a hand in creating Lady Shiva, which makes him Cassandra Cain's grandfather-- or one of them-- after a fashion, I decided the cosmos was telling me something.

And that something was, "Learn a little bit about Lady Shiva, you dummy."

I'd tell you what I've learned today, but I'd rather just link you to it because it's a joy to read.  Jason Levine has written a marvelous essay about Cass's epic initial confrontation and battle with Lady Shiva.  It's illustrated with lots of art from the Batgirl comic, it's funny and it's informative.  Plus, it's very Cass-positive.  

I especially like this line:  "It’s like you waking up one day and you’re suddenly illiterate (which Batgirl also is)."  Levine's talking about the storyline which saw Cass lose her defensive abilities thanks to the mental meddling of a psychic who thought he was helping her by giving her a more conventional means of communication-- spoken language, rather than the body kind she was used to.  It's very much like someone waking up and having no ability to read.  A massive subtraction.  A major source of information... gone.  It really screwed Cass up and sent her to Lady Shiva for help, something which would cause major conflict with her mentor Batman if he found out about it, and he was already having doubts about her.  Neat stuff, storywise.

Few things please me more than following a thread of information, finding a fun coincidence and then coming across someone's funny and smart analysis of our girl Cass.

Now I have to learn more about Ric Estrada, Lady Shiva and Richard Dragon.  If you'll excuse me.

Cass and Steph surface... in an art commission!

DC can consign their least-favored characters to oblivion, but they can't stop fans from asking for artwork featuring said characters.  Well, actually, DC probably could demand people stop commissioning art of benched characters like Cass, but I'm afraid Pandora's already opened that box and Cass has flown out.  Now she belongs to the ages (until DC's legal department informs me otherwise).  Of course, Steph scores not one but two appearances because she's been both a Robin and a Batgirl.

What am I babbling about with mixed metaphors and meandering digressions?  Cass as Batgirl in some brand new artwork.  Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool posted this piece by Nate Snareser just the other day, but I've been back at my job (dressed in Cass-appropriate black, I might add) and too busy to comment until now.  And as one of the only Cass blogs still active on the net, it's my job to have an opinion on everything Cass that comes down the line!

I wish I could post the actual artwork here because illustrated posts provide more "pop" and I like them, but you'll just have to follow the link to look at this snazzy artwork yourself.  It's appropriately epic, with just about everyone who's ever been a Batman, Batwoman, Batgirl or Robin coming at you bolder than love and nearly as bad-ass.  I have no idea who a lot of these people are.  I'm not up on all the alternate reality/timeline versions of all these characters and intense continuity is just not my forte.  But I do know a thing or two about art, and this is some solid work.  Well, I'm not going to critique it or anything.  I'm just going to admire the effort and dedication it took for Snareser to produce this amazing piece.

The comments at Bleeding Cool are a fun read, too.  Nate makes an appearance.  He seems like a truly nice guy and I hope he's getting more of these commissions.  True to Internet form, however, the bulk of the comments are taken up by two posters arguing over whether or not a third party should have posted a negative comment about the art.

Meet Cass Cain, the lovely show goat!

Madeleine M., one of the truest Cass-fans there is, named a show goat after our favorite Batgirl/Black Bat.  Now what I don't know about show goats-- or goats in general-- could fill several Earth-1s and Earth-2s out there in the DC multiverse, but I think that's one adorable goat.  She's even an appropriate color, with what looks almost like half a Bat-symbol in white on the left side of her chest!

Which leads me to wonder if anyone else has named an animal or even a child after Cass.  I mean, Nicholas Cage named his kid Kal-El and there must be a few Anakins running around out there.  So, any Casses?  Any Cassandra Cains?

Anyway, a big thank you to Madeleine M. for all the support!

Running Cass meets Puny Parker and Kamandi!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Batgirl #2 (May 2000)

Batgirl #2 (May 2000)
Script: Scott Peterson, Kelley Puckett
Pencils: Damion Scott
Inks: Robert Campanella
Colors:  Jason Wright

Synopsis:  After playing the good samaritan and intervening in some kind of mob-related romantic altercation, Gotham citizen John Robinson needs a helping hand himself.  Of course it's Batgirl who leaps into action.  When she finds out Robinson's been kidnapped by the mobsters, her protective nature kicks into overdrive. Oracle helps her locate the guy, but if only Cass had better verbal and written communication skills-- or any at all-- she might have avoided a harsh lesson in love and loss.

This is a taut stand-alone tale of the kind I wish comic book publishers did more of these days.  With nary a wasted moment-- and despite an emphasis on action and fights-- Scott Peterson and Kelley Puckett introduce a minor character, develop him just enough so you have real concern for his plight, rather than just have him exist as a inciting element.  Certainly, he's that, but a little more than that, too.

The writers also use a point of view change near the end to enable readers to see Cass from the outside, but as the melancholy ending shows, they don't neglect her inner being either.  Actually, this is the first issue where we see signs of some of her signal personality traits-- there's the impulsivity which gets her involved with the good samaritan in the first place (and leads her to plant a quick kiss on his cheek as a reward for his being such a nice guy) and the irresistible way she draws support from Oracle without using words.  This issue introduces Cass's implacable, on-task nature.  Once she sets off to rescue the kidnapped man it's all Oracle can do to keep up with this whirlwind in black.  Oh yeah, and there are a number of violent action sequences, starting with the initial fight that sets up the plot and ending with Cass taking on a whole bunch of suited Mafia types all by her lonesome.  It's not on the level of the Bride versus the Crazy 88s, but I have a feeling if it had been Cass in the House of Blue Leaves, there would have been no fatalities but the fight would have lasted only half as long.

Cass begins to show signs of understanding at least a minimum of English.  Her ability to read body language means she's not completely incommunicado, but while she seems unconcerned and even mocking about learning at the outset-- much to Oracle's understandable frustration-- she comes to realize by story's end not only is she cutting herself off from human interactions, she's hurting herself as far as the Batgirl identity goes.  Knowing more than a word or two may come in handy when fighting crime.

This story reminds me of one of Will Eisner's The Spirit, which sometimes featured a simple plot rounded out with humanism or a particular mood somewhat deeper than your usual pulp actioner.  "The Story of Gerhard Shnobble," about a schmoe who could fly, for example.  It's a bit of downbeat fantasy, more a vignette than full-fledged narrative, with the Spirit relegated almost to the background.  Eisner shows the Spirit's adventures sometimes have unintended consequences and they're not the only thing happening in this particular world.  John Robinson is Cass's Shnobble, the major difference being she actually interacts with him and has an emotional epiphany as a result, which is the purview of the readers and denied the Spirit in Eisner's tale.  But in the same way Shnobble deepens the Spirit's world, Robinson reminds us Gotham City as a story setting is packed with people living fully dimensional lives and the impact they might have on Batgirl and vice versa.  It's Eisnerian to see Cass through Robinson's eyes and provides the feeling of what it must be like to live in a city lousy with black-costumed heroes and their vicious enemies.  Simply by trying to do the right thing, this ordinary man is caught between the two extremes and pays a heavy price, but it's the emotional impact on Cass and on Robinson's wife we're concerned with rather than just the mechanics of a typical Cass ass-kicking.

The final panel is particularly reminiscent of Eisnerian storytelling as well.  Because Eisner was a genius, it's not as heartbreaking as anything in "Gerhard Shnobble" (which ends with a note it's humanity we should pity, not Shnobble), but it's affecting.  There's a potential here for some truly ground-breaking storytelling, with Batgirl experiencing the superheroic world as an outsider, almost an alien observer of these human mysteries, her interactions sometimes confusing and as painful for her as it is for the people she beats up so thoroughly.  With its whip-snap narrative speed, the series doesn't do a whole lot with this theme from here on out, but it's evidence of the basic richness of Cass the character there are so many different directions a smart writer could take her, from traditional adventure to stories with more emotional resonance, or-- my preferred route-- doing both a la Koike Kazuo's Lady Snowblood and Lone Wolf and Cub.

I have to admit the first time reading these I found Damion Scott's layouts and panel-to-panel flow difficult to follow.  Now I think I have a handle on them.  There are a lot of nice moment-to-moment-- or what Scott McCloud would call action-to-action-- progressions here.  Robinson picks up a board (which, frankly, Scott renders haphazardly), wades into the fight.  Towards the end, Batgirl becomes a veritable whirling dervish of destructive energy.  Scott doesn't neglect the acting-- the facial expressions and body language here are broad and cartoonish but far superior to some of the crap I've seen names with larger fanbases pull off.  And it beats the stiff "I use Poser models to plan my pages" or overly photo-referenced stuff some of the realists do.  Sequential storytelling is a complex art unto itself and Scott nails it here.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cassandra Cain's 2012: A Look Back at a Year in Review!

January:  Cass begins the year missing from the overall DC narrative in the wake of the re-boot that we dare not call a re-boot.  Fans still anticipate her return; after all, they largely approved of her debut the previous year as Black Bat.  With a supporting role in the continuation of Batman Incorporated, this seems all but assured.

February:  The future continues to look bright for Cass as The Beat reports "Static and Cassandra Cain are Coming Back."  No details are forthcoming.

April:  DC writer Scott Snyder gives Cass fans a reason to hope when he tells attendees of C2E2, "We talk about where in the stories they're going to show up," referring also to similarly missing character Stephanie Brown.

May:  Batman Incorporated returns from hiatus with a second volume retro-fitted to the New 52 continuity.  Despite having an important supporting role in the first volume, this time out Cass is nowhere to be found.  Organizers of the Save Cass Campaign ask fans to buy digital copies of her first issue from Comixology in hopes enough will participate to make the title a bestseller for the month and give DC motivation to bring her back into the narrative flow.  Sales don't explode as the effort fails to hit the company's retail exhaust port and just impacts on the surface.

July:  Word goes around the Internet insiders at DC Comics have labeled both Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain (among other characters) "toxic."

August:  Cass's biological mother Lady Shiva shows up in the New 52 as a contemporary of Nightwing, who is in his early 20s.  This pretty much slams the door on Cass's reappearance in the DC universe for the foreseeable future.  A trailer for a fan-produced Stephanie Brown video series causes at least one person to ponder a future appearance for Cass as Black Bat.

September:  I start this blog.  It immediately sinks to the bottom of the Google search results/popularity rankings.  A blogger writes a think-piece sharply analyzing Cass's narrative arc.

October:  Batgirl: Spoiled debuts to mixed reaction.  No Cass.  Cass probably doesn't appear in Li'l Gotham, but her inclusion (or lack thereof) barely registers in the uproar at DC changing a tiny background character so she doesn't resemble Stephanie Brown.

November:  Eaglemoss announces a Cass Cain Black Bat chess piece (arriving March, 2013) is available for pre-order.

December:  Cass makes's list of "Most Divisive Characters."  DC fires Gail Simone from Batgirl, which causes no little controversy; soon after, Bleeding Cool teases she's set to "break the Internet again;" Jude Terror at The Outhouse uses this announcement to joke Simone's set to write a Stephanie Brown book, or possibly one starring Cass.  Instead, DC re-hires Simone to write Batgirl.  Another writer at The Outhouse proposes a special day for buying Batgirl #37.  Another blogger writes a wonderfully thoughtful pro-Cass essay.  I find Batgirl: Fists of Fury and Batgirl: Destruction's Daughter for sale at Blister in Tokyo.  Cass ends the year in limbo, not doing the limbo (as some might have expected).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I had to "Fight On, Cass" a little early!

Okay, the big deal about Fight On, Cass (or whatever you want to call it) is we Cass fans are supposed to wait until January 26th to buy Batgirl #37.  Well, I was all set to take part but then I suddenly realized there's a very good chance I won't have an Internet connection at that time.  I'm moving to a new place and setting up housekeeping with a very special person and part of that involves cancelling my current Internet service.

So what I did was get on Comixology yesterday and buy the heck out of a BUNCH of Cassandra Cain Batgirl issues.  I bought the first twelve because I wanted the first year (and because I couldn't buy #1 during the Save Cass campaign and needed to make it up to the nice people who came up with that idea), then #37 like a good little Cass fan and a smattering of other issues I simply enjoy for my own reasons.  Of course, I own all of these issues in print form and many of them in trade collections, but the point is to show a little financial love for Cass so maybe-- just maybe-- DC will decide she's not so toxic after all.  And it's better to do than just to complain.

Here's what part of my Batgirl digital library looks like:

I'd have posted the entire thing, but it's pretty long.