Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cassandra Cain as Batgirl Beyond?

Before we get too excited, remember this is DC we're talking about.  And Cass.  Two tastes that no longer seem to go together, as if peanut butter and chocolate suddenly became as incompatible as minty toothpaste and orange juice.  But there's a new Batgirl coming in Batman Beyond.

Her identity is unknown, but she "going to have a healthy working relationship with Commissioner Barbara Gordon," according to plus a Cass-ian bat-logo.  Considering the involvement of Scott Peterson, that it's a relatively low-risk digital title, the completely bad-ass first-look image by artist Annie Wu, the book's setting in a future DC universe, Lady Shiva's de-aging in the New 52 and the pro-Cass moment at a recent comic book convention, there's at least the shadow of a chance this future Batgirl might be Cass.

Let's be realistic, however.   That having Batgirl Beyond reveal herself as Cass would work perfectly within the current continuity plus make me incredibly happy renders it even less likely she will be my favorite benched DC character, though.  My best guess is she will be a totally new character, and-- even though I desperately hope DC will make the genius move of making her Cass Cain-- in the interest of conciliatory gestures, I'm willing to give her a shot even on the basis of the creative team (that image compels!) and digital format.  Yeah, I might even do something once seemed more unlikely than even the idea of Cass back in action in the DC universe-- I might buy an issue of Batman Beyond.

Oh, but of course... there's always a chance she's Stephanie Brown.  Right?  Right?

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.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Cass Cain's Early Years: Batgirl communicated pretty well with gestures

When we first met her, Cassandra Cain could not express herself through spoken language.  She had no vocabulary in the traditional sense of knowing words and their meanings.  She did have an extensive non-verbal vocabulary, however.  She could understand gestures and even developed a form of empathy because of her intense understanding of body language (her famous ability to "read" a person's intentions, making her almost invulnerable on defense in a fight) and facial expressions.  This proved the undoing of her father David Cain's plan to raise her as the ultimate assassin.

Far from being incommunicado, Cass could be extremely communicative.  One early example of Cass expressing a fairly complicated idea non-verbally is in Batgirl #1 (April 2000).  Using a single word ("Me.") and blowing a handful of dandelion fluff into the wind, Cass is able to tell Barbara Gordon how she "simply 'drifted'" before turning up in Gotham City.

Scott Peterson, Kelley Pucket, writers; Damion Scott, Robert Campanella, artists (Batgirl #1, April 2000)

This indicates understanding symbolic meaning at a very high degree.  She can associate the action of the plant seeds, relate this to her former situation, link the two with one of the few English words (we have no idea if she picked up any others from the languages she no doubt heard during her "drifting" years) she knows, and use this with a mind towards Barbara's understanding.

Cass, however, spent the better part of her young life virtually culture-free as she wandered the earth alone.  She existed within the margins of society, learning by observation but with the context language and language-based social interaction provide.  At some point, she must have made the connection between the noises coming from people's mouths and the understanding of those noises by the listeners.  She must have become aware of language.  She must also have become aware of various gestures as she travelled the world.

In Batgirl #2 (May 2000), Batgirl has a particularly good night as a crime-fighter, then uses a shrug to dodge Barbara's line of questioning about why she seems so chipper.

Scott Peterson, Kelley Pucket, writers; Damion Scott, Robert Campanella, artists (Batgirl #2, May 2000)

Barbara has no trouble understanding Cass's meaning.  She's not "talking" about why she feels so cheerful.  A page later, Cass uses a flapping hand to indicate her belief that talking isn't all that important and that some people do it way too much.

Cass knows the concept of "blah blah blah," without knowing the verbal expression for it.  Where did she learn this gesture?  At this point in the story, Cass has spent the better part of her young life living virtually culture-free on the margins of society, and not exclusively in Western nations where there's more of an overlap of media.  This may be something she's developed on her own, much like the demonstration with the dandelion.  To those of us who are verbal and well-versed in pop culture-- a la puppets and Muppets-- such a gesture comes quite naturally.  The flapping hand is a rough visual approximation of flapping lips, and the single hand nature of this gesture renders it even more dismissive.  Cass might have also made the visual connection, especially given her native intellience level which appears to be pretty high.

She may also have seen someone use it in her travels, or on television following her settling in with Barbara Gordon.  At any rate, I can't vouch for this gesture's universality.  I was raised in the United States where most people understand it, but I live now in Japan and haven't really encountered anyone flapping their hand like this.  Or, if I have, I've forgotten about it because it wasn't particularly memorable.  You know, I should probably do a survey at some point to see if this gesture has the same meaning here in Japan.

In the US, for example, if I want you to come, I draw you closer by curling my hand back toward myself over the top of my elbow.  In Japan, I'd simply hold my hand out front, palm-down, and kind of wave it.  If I want to pass between someone, I make a hand-chopping motion and kind of lower my head a little.  If I say something that's incorrect, I wave it away with a hand in front of my face.  In the US, if I refer to myself, I gesture towards my chest.  Here in Japan, I do the same thing by pointing to my nose.

For Cass to be multi-lingual in this way, without speaking, she'd have to master the gestures of several different groups.  It would be possible under these circumstances for Cass and Barbara Gordon to have a gestural conversation in several different non-verbal languages.

On the other hand, ass-whuppin's are a universal language.  We all understand the meaning of the beat-down.  Cass has also been known to send a message by stopping a person's heart for a moment before restarting it.  Communication through combat.  Cass is one of the most fluent in this language found in comic books.  Unlike most of the others, however, this is her native language.  The others are all AWFL or AWSL learners.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Well, the last thing I want to do is make this blog a simple link aggregator

I really want to give you more content for your money here at Cass-O-Rama!, Japan's leading Cass Cain fan blog, but it's Monday and I'm at work and suffering from severe seasonal allergies.  But there are a few cool Cassandra Cain-related thing happening right now on different places around the web.  Too bad I can't say they're happening in comic books or at DC's official site.  So I'm going to link to them here and hope you go check them out.

Comic Vine has some terrific art on their "Awesome Art Picks" feature.  If you scroll down a ways, you'll find Dustin "Li'l Gotham" Nguyen's sweet drawing of Cass as Black Bat.  Nguyen attempted to slip Stephanie Brown and Cass into the Li'l Gotham comic itself, but we see how that worked out.  This drawing makes me long for Nguyen's art on a straight-up Cass/Steph book, whether it's in-continuity or out-of-continuity.  And not in the stubby-cute Li'l Gotham style.  This.  The man has chops.

Over at Scans Daily, "espanolbot" breaks out a Cass tribute with some artwork from the Batgirl series.  Yeah, it's not really the Joker, but it's still a col sequence of Cass at her ass-whuppin' best.  At some point we'll talk about this issue in depth here.

And finally, someone at the One Sixth Warrior forum for fans/collectors of 1/6th scale figures is asking for help in making a Cass Cain Black Bat figure.  Which is certainly a worthy project and one I've considered doing myself.  I love custom action figures and the 1/6th scale is my favorite because of the wicked detail you can put into the figure and its costume.

It's a rare day indeed when there's this much Cass-based chatter online.  It makes me feel like celebrating!

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.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Another DC panel, another request for Cass!

I suppose you know about this already, right?  DC Women Kicking Ass reports on a little pro-Cass incident that happened at the Emerald City Comicon.  Unfortunately, Stephanie Brown was a taboo question topic, but DC allowed Cass for some reason.  The crowd apparently responded very positively when asked if they wanted to see Cass back in the DC universe and panel member Larry Ganem said he'd make a note of it.

Of course, both the Steph ban and the Cass note might have been little jokes, but it's heartening to learn Cass still has some convention support out there.  Beyond buying issues of her series on Comixology, occasionally mentioning her online to pros who maintain an active social media presence and writing respectful letters to DC about her, one of the best ways of keeping Cass alive to DC is to ask nicely about her at convention panels.  Nicely.  Again-- nicely.

At least until they ban all mentions of her.

It's a little glint of hope, anyway.  Perhaps we can read into this signs of a Cass thaw at the DC headquarters the way Kremlin-watchers used to analyze every speech, Pravda article and news broadcast to find out who was in and who was out and what policies might come into effect back during the Cold War.  I have confidence Cass will re-appear in comics sometime in the near future.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Catch me if you can, Cass fans!

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.