Tuesday, April 30, 2013

There really is no Cass to be had in Tokyo...

Well, I gave it a try.  As soon as I hit Tokyo, I went to Monster in Ebisu.  They had a very few new comics, some back issues that were all from this year and a small selection of graphic novels and trade collections.  Despite not finding a huge wall of comics, I still managed to spend 8,100 yen.  I bought as many Boom! Studios Peanuts as I could find-- Peppermint Patty in dress?-- plus the second and third issues of Marvel's Fearless Defenders and two issues of Dark Horse's new Star Wars ongoing, along with some other books I probably never would have bought save for desperation.  Monster has some 200 yen issues, but most comics will cost you between 420-480 yen or so.  That's nothing unusual for Japan.

Monster was a very cool shop to hang out in even if the comic book selection was pretty slender.  It's easy to find, only a minute or so from Ebisu station-- right on the Yamanote Line, so there's no chance of getting lost-- and the store is absolutely jam-packed with superhero and movie toys.  They seem to specialize in Star Wars but they had a lot of DC and Marvel action figures and statues, plus all kinds of other neat little items.  This stuff isn't cheap, but Monster is worth a stop if you're jonesing for little Luke Skywalkers (or that mega-expensive two-figure 1/6th scale Bespin Luke from Hot Toys; he was in stock), die cast metal Batmobiles or plastic figures of Wonder Woman in her new costume.  Or if you just like looking at such things.  They had some Batgirl toys, but nothing featuring Cass.  Probably because there are so few of them and most of those were made years ago.

The customers were nice, a mixed crowd of young men and women, some parents and their little kids browsing and having pop culture fun.  I also found the staff very pleasant.  Big smiles and arigato gozaimashitas to seal the deal.  I had a great time there, and I can't say I was disappointed not to find an overlooked stash of Batgirls and Outsiders with Cass.  That was always a longshot.  I'll be making regular visits to Monster when I go to Tokyo.  It beats hauling my butt all the way to Akihabara to see the same things, plus there are a lot of intriguing restaurants on the same street.

With Blister closed for the weekend, my only other choice was to find Manga No Mori in Ikebukuro.  This proved an exercise in frustration.  I finally located its former location, which is now a K-Books Men's.  They sell those plastic statues and artwork of cutie-pie nearly-nekkid anime/manga girls.  Kind of ironic, when one of the draws of Manga No Mori was its reputation for catering to female customers.  I didn't expect to find any Cass there-- another shot in the dark-- but I had hoped to find the store at least.  Since I'm not into the kind of stuff they sell, I didn't linger at K-Books Men's.

So, once again, if you're a Cassandra Cain fan and you're in Japan, don't expect to find her hanging around.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A couple of quick Cass sketches...

The main one is a bloopy version of Cass from the cover of a trade paperback (the artist's name escapes me right now and I just don't feel like looking him up) and the one behind her is an original.  Those belt pouches give me fits.  But hey, I drew both of these in about 5 minutes each.  Maybe one day I'll do a serious rendering of Cass.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Da Cass: Cass in the NFL!

Mixed martial arts would be her thing, no doubt, but what about Cassandra Cain in the NFL?  Or Cass in the NBA?  Or Cass playing major league baseball?  Soccer?  Lacrosse?

This isn't what I planned on writing about this morning.  The other day I found something on Good Reads where a fan asked Gail Simone-- it's on Simone's Tumblr as well-- who she'd rather have back in the DC universe, Cass or Stephanie Brown.  Simone wants both, but Cass edges Steph out in the either-or choice.  We'll discuss this at a later time.  While looking for it again this morning I found a Comic Book Resources discussion from way back in 2008 where a football fan asks how Cass would fare with the Cleveland Browns.  Or the Detroit Lions.

I can never resist these Bill Swerski's Superfans-type discussions or any other kind of Cass-related nonsense challenge.  After all, I've already pit Cass against M*A*S*H 4077 and Delta House.  Even though it's currently baseball season, let's keep to the NFL theme and explore the possibilities for a moment.

The first person to replies nails it.  With her move-predictive ability, speed and agility, Cass would score a touchdown every single time she touched the ball.  You'd definitely want her running back kicks; that's a guaranteed six every touch.  As far as other positions go, we have to think a little.  She'd make an unstoppable running back and a flawless receiver whether she's zipping down the sideline or going over the middle.  But putting her at either position would needlessly complicate your offensive scheme.

The obvious choice would be to insert Cass at quarterback so she can take snaps directly and run the ball with a minimum of baroque flourishes.  Good ol' fashioned smashmouth football.  Cass-mouth football.  The team would need but a single play, Cass-Up-the-Middle.  The offensive line wouldn't even have to open any holes.  She'd just go over the top.  Audibles and snap counts aren't much of an obstacle, either.  Cass could learn to audible even if there's never going to be a change of play.  All she has to do is practice a couple of numbers or colors to bark.  Even if all she can do is say "no" or "yes," the coaches could come up with a simple code.  Then the team would rely on a silent snap count.  I'd suggest just setting it to "snap on one."

The quality of the offensive squad around her would hardly matter.  She'd need a decent defense, but if she plays both ways she's going to be stuffing plays in the backfield all day long.  Cass would predict every play and adjust accordingly.  She definitely lacks the traditional middle linebacker physique, but she more than makes up for that with aggressiveness and speed.  Her technique would be perfection after just a little instruction.  Show her some tapes of some of the all-time greats.

Well, that's just Cass playing football at the NFL level.  No other sport offers her much of a challenge, unless it's battling boredom with all the pitcher changes she'd cause in baseball.

Cass is in there with a lot of other people...

Can you find her? She's wearing the retro-style costume I designed for her back when DC had her running around killing people in a corset instead.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Enjoy one of Cass's all-time best brawls-- the Lady Shiva battle from Batgirl #25

While I think it's a little problematic Scott Peterson and Kelley Puckett made the decision to give Cass language so early in her solo series, there's no denying this led to some of its hardest-hitting moments, both figuratively and literally.

The change came with a price.  Because her upbringing altered her brain's architecture in unexpected ways, in order for Cass to learn language a psychic had to reconfigure her mind.  This cost her a large part of her fighting abilities.  She could no longer read body movement as if it were language, which mean she couldn't predict her opponents' moves.  If I'm reading Cass's background correctly, because she had this almost pre-cognitive ability her father-trainer Cain didn't see fit to instruct her in practical defense.  He thought it best just to shoot her occasionally to "keep her on her toes."

The point is, gaining language complicated Cass's life and made her vulnerable in ways she hadn't been before.  To fix things, she turned to Lady Shiva.  Lady Shiva wasn't about to give her secrets away for free, so she and Cass made a deal.  One year of perfection, then a death duel.  This played into Cass's death wish and also created a lot of suspense for twelve or so issues, until the two finally tangled.

That took place in Batgirl #25 (April 2002), one of the high points of the entire series.  The fight displays Damion Scott's action sequence storytelling prowess.  It's six pages of kung fu madness with the two characters trading vicious blows.  Cass shatters a sword with her hand, Lady Shiva elbows Cass in the belly, Cass returns the favor, Lady Shiva punches Cass squarely in the face.  Scott draws it with just about every technique you can imagine-- silhouettes, stacked panels, a collage-like page, insert panels.  It's some bravura stuff.

But you don't have to take my word(s) for it.  Check out Friday Night Fights over at Hero Sandwich.  All six pages!  Let's count them!  One beautiful page of Cass fighting Lady Shiva!  Two beautiful pages of Cass fighting Lady Shiva!  THREE beautiful pages of Cass fighting Lady Shiva!  FOUR BEAUTIFUL PAGES of Cass fighting Lady Shiva!  FIVE!  FIVE BEAUTIFUL PAGES OF CASS FIGHTING LADY SHIVA!  SIX!  SIX!  SIX BEAUTIFUL PAGES OF CASS FIGHTING LADY SHIVA!  AH HAHAHAHAHA!

(Cue thunder and lightning)


I don't think it's spoiling things to mention Cass survives the fight.  After all, her title ran for about forty-eight more issues and she went on to that whole heel-turn controversy, redemption and a new identity before being written out of continuity for however long DC sees fit.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Looking for Cass in Ebisu...

Okay, for the longest time I've been claiming Blister in Nihonbashi was the only place to get American comics in Tokyo.  By comics I mean the newest monthly issues, not the trades; tons of those can be had at Tower Records (Shibuya) and Kinokuniya (various, but Shinjuku is probably the one you want).  I'm happy to say I was (more than likely) wrong about that.  I have to go to Tokyo for some official business this weekend and since Blister is closed the days I'll be there, I started doing some Internet searches for other possible sources for four-color amusements of the Cassandra Cain kind.  Or possibly the Hellboy-ish.

To get to the point, I found a nice blog by someone named Filipo who apparently lives in Japan and collects comics.  Filipo missed a chance at Blister (the dreaded orange wall of closure gives me the willies), but found a place called Monster, located in Ebisu.  Monster is mostly a toy shop but they have a small selection of American comics.  Actually, from Filipo's description, Monster seems pretty much like Blister.  Maybe not as ambitious as the original Blister, which was freakin' geek paradise and a must-stop for those tripping through Japan with comic book print running in their veins instead of blood.  But still Blister-esque as far as the current incarnation of Blister goes.

I'd been planning to keep things simple-- I would have been satisfied with finding Manga no Mori in Ikebukuro-- because this is really a business trip, but now I'm going to have to stop at Ebisu and find Monster just to see if it's worth making it a regular destination.

Also, if they happen to have any Cass Cain Batgirl back issues, I'll be buying every single one of them.

Batgirl #8 (November 2000)

Writer:  Kelley Puckett
Pencils:  Damion Scott
Inks:  Robert Campanella
Colors:  Jason Wright
Letters:  John Constanza

Batgirl needs help with a few personal issues.  Her biological dad is a scumbag, her substitute father is an intolerant bastard, she can't do the thing she loves most anymore and her guilt at having murdered a guy when she was a child has given her a death wish.  Enter Lady Shiva, the permanent solution to all of life's temporary problems.  Noting their resemblance and Lady Shiva's seeming ability to predict an opponent's next move-- just as she used to do-- Cass finds herself strongly drawn to the deadliest woman in the DC universe, a matchless martial artist worshipped as death incarnate by a bunch of boneheads who have managed to infiltrate Gotham City and set up a Lady Shiva worship center (and lending library) right under Batman's nose.  You won't see it this issue (try #25), but it's there.  It means Lady Shiva, a confirmed killer, can come and go as she pleases in Gotham City.  Guess all that stuff about being perfect and infallible the Caped Jackass tried to push on Cass a few months ago only applies when Batman says it does, i.e., whenever a writer requires him to stir up a little drama.

This is about the time I began associating Cass with Jen Yu from Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  These are two characters who will risk anything-- even self-destruction-- if it gives them their heart's desire.  For Jen Yu, it's the freedom from restrictive gender and class roles that limited her choices.  For Cass, it's to be Batgirl again, but even more so to regain the sense of self she lost when she could no longer fight at her former breath-takingly absurb level of competence.  Plus, at their best, both Jen Yu and Cass are complete bad-asses.  Few of us reach such rarefied heights, but I think we can easily imagine the crushing despair that results when someone loses something that essential.

Actually, it's Lady Shiva who first draws parallels between herself and Batgirl.  The first is their coloring, which is similar.  It's a nice use of doubling or the doppelganger motif by Puckett.  The other is the killer instinct Lady Shiva detects.  She instinctively (we assume at this point, without our later knowledge of their true relationship) knows Cass is meant to be a killer.  The pearl bracelet, which Lady Shiva points out as just as becoming on Cass as it is on herself, symbolizes this similarity.  Cass can wear the pearl bracelet and become Lady Shiva if she so chooses.  Although what she really wants at this point is to be Batman.

Lady Shiva is one path open to Cass and the assassin does her best to convince Cass to follow her.  It's interesting to note while Lady Shiva is perfectly willing to fight Cass and possibly kill her, she prefers to talk to her and try to get her to achieve her utmost.  This contrasts with Batman's fist-in-the-face-and-stern-lecture mentoring method, where he always breaks Cass down and she's never quite up to his impossible standards.  Killer Shiva would build Cass up, her words almost gentle.  Probably so she can kill her for kicks-- that's her thing-- but perhaps she's simply seeking a replacement.  Or she just can't stand to see someone so talented operating under so many inhibitions.  Lady Shiva is like a master artist looking for an apprentice whose skills and world she can expand.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Here's a Cass Cain cosplay that gets extra credit because she kicks Robin in the stomach

I've probably written (too much) about this before, but one of my favorite sketch scenarios when I'm fooling around in the scant minutes I have for such things is to draw Cass beating up either Robin or Batman.  Screw my story-based rationale.  All that matters is it's just a thing I do.  So when I came across this neat spread of cosplay photos featuring a very slick Cass-Batgirl costume with a single photo of Cass putting her foot in Robin's belly, of course I had to link it here.  This one has a fun treatment of Cass's eyewear and the finned gauntlets in plastic give it a slight "movie-verse" look.  Plus, they look razor-sharp.  The last thing you want as a Bat-cosplayer is a floppy finned gauntlet.

Cosplay is pretty cool stuff.  I'm a huge admirer of people who put time and effort into this hobby.  A Cass-Batgirl is an extremely dramatic yet difficult costume to pull off because of the full-head mask-- those eyes again-- and the clingy bodysuit.  I'm not talking about the engineering, just the visual results.  It's probably not the most comfortable outfit to wear, either.  And while we can quibble with details like gloves and boots, I think it's best for a cosplayer to interpret the character in a way that makes sense to her or him.  Going "comic book accurate" is fine, but different artists interpret Cass's costume in various ways.  Some make it shiny like PVC or patent leather, others give it more of a Neoprene look.  I've seen cosplayers do the same.  Shiny or spandex, it's up to you.

I hope more people cosplay as Batgirl-Cass or Blackbat-Cass.  Seeing their real world interpretations of our 2D fave makes me smile.  I see them as yet more proof of the endless creativity you can find in fandom.  And I get bored with stormtroopers, stormtroopers, stormtroopers all the time.

Great job!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Potential Cass hunt denied! Or... is it?

I have to go to Tokyo in a couple of weeks so I can get something notarized at the US embassy.  I thought about dropping by Blister in Nihonbashi to see if maybe they'd restocked any back issues of Cass Cain's Batgirl series-- remember, I bought every single one of them a few years ago-- or if some of those out-of-print trade collections had miraculously shown up.  They had Fists of Fury and Destruction's Daughter last time I was there.  Maybe someone in a distributor's warehouse somewhere in Japan found a box of DC trades with Silent Running, Death Wish Or A Knight Alone and sent it along.  That was my fantasy, and stranger things have happened.

Like the family that found they'd inherited 44 of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide's top 100 Golden Age comics.

But it's not to be.  Blister isn't open on any of the days I'm there.  There's still a chance I can locate Manga no Mori in Ikebukuro, where I've heard there are a few American comics available.  My information is a bit outdated, plus the last time I was there the selection was limited.  A couple of dozen, if I'm remembering correctly, which I doubt.  But even if I'm wrong, there aren't many more than that.  I also don't remember if there were any Batgirl issues in the mix.  I don't think there were, but it may be that I'd already bought the ones I saw there so my brain just blotted them out or filed the memory away in some inaccessible neuron.

The trick is finding this place.  It's small and not on a main street.  I wandered around for about half and hour looking for it and that was probably six or even seven years ago.  What makes it easier on me this time is I'm staying in Ikebukuro and it should only be a twenty-minute walk at most.

I feel I owe it to you dedicated Cass fans out there to at least try.  Plus, it's something to write about here while we're waiting for any real news from DC about Cassandra Cain.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Carrie Kelley debuts in Batman and Red Robin #19 (and maybe someone else)

Because there's so little Cass news these days-- it's not as if she's doing much-- I've been checking out the latest developments in the Bat-world.  We've discussed Alysia Yeoh and Carrie Kelley and it turns out there's more to say about Carrie.  Mainly because I bought Batman and Red Robin #19 specifically so I could talk about her in a semi-informed way.

But first--

I came away from this comic with a my dislike for current-day Batman re-affirmed, and I include all Batman portrayals for the past couple of decades since the New 52 doesn't seem to have erased those.  What an ass he is.  His actions have crossed into the outright villainous and while the book promises repercussions, it ends this sequence with a little joke that really rubbed me the wrong way given what we'd seen up to that point.

A grim and determined Batman is a far cry from a flat-out crazy Batman and I'm beyond sick of writers trying to top each other with their extreme Batman characterizations.  Are there any adult characters in the New 52?  I haven't read Wonder Woman, but Superman is a punk from a CW show now and Batman has been a stunted, selfish little boy pitching hissy fits for years.  His enduring popularity is a testament to the strength of the concept but damned if I can stand reading him anymore.

Okay, that rant aside--

If you read this book expecting a riff-- extended or otherwise-- on Miller, you're going to come away disappointed by everyone except Batman.  This Carrie Kelley has the hair and glasses that subtly recall the ones the Miller version wore, but that's about the only resemblance.  Not a criticism; just an observation.  Carrie is a theater or drama major and we first see her exuberantly reciting Shakespeare (cool-- Shakespeare is one of my things) and eating pizza while driving (not so cool-- both hands on the wheel, please).  Her more upbeat, reality-grounded scenes provide a pleasant contrast to the Grand Guignol of Batman's insanity and I'm pretty sure I'd rather read a book about her and her travails while trying to get her Kickstarter project going.  We'll see if Peter Tomasi develops her more, or if this is just a one-off.  He left some mystery about her I hope he explores further, preferably in her own book minus Batman, or with his participation minimized.

We all know from the promo art she wears the old school Underoos-style Robin costume for a party-- which I'm guessing confirms its canonicity in a New 52 where everyone-- including the indestructible boy from Krypton-- seems to have a fetish for wearing armor of some kind.  The little news/hype story thing at the back of the book (KILL THIS CLUMSY FEATURE YESTERDAY) plumps a female Robin, but I'm not sure yet if they're just teasing about Carrie's party costume or if we really will see Harper Row taking on the role in the next couple of months.  I don't see anything in the Carrie Kelley characterization here to suggest she's got the fighting chops to do it, although she plays a mean Wii.  We also know she was teaching Damian acting.  I'm sure I missed something since I've largely avoided this new Cass-less DC where the main heroes do little to inspire me or my interest, much less newer additions like Damian.  So why was he learning acting?  And why Carrie's choice of Playhouse 90 kinescopes, beyond the method acting referenced in her note?

And finally, while I seriously doubt this theory, Zechs over at The Outhouse suggests, possibly with tongue in cheek, Carrie's friend in the Wii scene might be a popular benched character known for wearing purple.  If true, that would certainly be cute.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

On Alysia Yeoh

As we all no doubt know by now, in Batgirl #19-- which I bought and read on Comixology last night-- Barbara Gordon and her roommate Alysia Yeoh have a heart-to-heart and readers learn a lot about both of them.  Well, Barbara doesn't tell readers anything we didn't already know, and she doesn't tell Alysia exactly everything.  Alysia tells just enough.  You don't have to convince me LGBTQ characters have always been under-represented and dealt with in tawdry, tacky ways or simply for humorous purposes.  So this a welcome move by Gail Simone and DC Comics.

But when you're an avid comic book reader and you encounter lazy-ass headlines like "DC Introduces First Transgender Character in Mainstream Comics," and you happen to remember a number of previous transgender characters, you have to wonder if it's so.  It took me a few minutes to parse through all the shape-shifters, gender-changers and body-jumpers running around my brain thanks to a lifetime of comic book reading to figure this all out.  Now I get it.  There's a better article on Autostraddle that breaks it all down-- why Simone has been careful to add certain qualifiers to this event and why Alysia is a cool character.  From what I can gather given how late I've come to this party, Simone created Alysia to be a lot of things and this isn't one of those, "PS-- Dumbledore was gay" moments.  Just in the brief scene I read Simone gives Alysia a lot of soul.

The coming out scene is a nice moment in an issue that desperately needs one.  Simone doesn't spare Barbara Gordon emotional or physical pain.  From some of the narration in this book, I gather that's been the case from the start.  Getting out of her wheelchair and back into costume-- even one with an armored cowl, apparently-- hasn't brought back the happy-go-lucky Batgirl of yore.  Her life sucks.  I have to say even though this is only the second New 52 Batgirl I've read, I didn't have any trouble figuring out where we are in the story.  And unlike a lot of newer books, it didn't leave me feeling ripped off.  You know, the five-minute read that leaves you saying, "I paid three bucks for THIS flimsy thing?"

It reads heavier than its page count, and that's a huge plus.  I don't think I'm going to keep reading it, though. My heart belongs to Cass and until she makes her return, my DC purchases-- at least of the new stuff-- are going to be sporadic at best.  If Katana ends up cancelled, it'll be just this upcoming Batgirl Beyond story and nothing else.

I might reconsider, too, if they give Alysia her own title without any fantasy trappings at all.  One day there might be a truly mainstream American comic that features a diverse cast of well-rounded characters without having to sweeten it by having fight scenes and magic powers.  One of my favorite comics (sans qualifiers of any kind) is Takako Shimura's Wandering Son (Horo Musuko in Japanese).  It stars two young trans people and while it's probably a bit more dramatic than your life or mine-- I mean, I never went through training to be a junior model when I was a kid; the fashion world's loss-- and it needs to be making headlines just for being a well-told poignant coming of age story.  You're really missing out on something special if you're not reading it.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How does the introduction of Carrie Kelley into DC continuity affect Cassandra Cain?

Little or not at all.

By now everyone who reads DC comics knows Carrie Kelley, Robin-of-the-future in Frank Miller's famous The Dark Knight Returns (hyperbole!  Rolling Stone magazine!), will make her in-continuity debut in Batman and Red Robin #19.  The cover is a Miller homage complete with lightning bolt, but the interior pages DC's shown are more of a clever goof on his version of Carrie.  And maybe Dan Clowes as well-- she looks like a cosplaying Enid Coleslaw.  This Carrie is older than Miller's and kind of out of her timeframe, plus it doesn't seem she'll be an actual Robin.

While the continuity-minded might balk at introducing a character from the future when so many perfectly good characters from the current day don't seem to exist as yet-- for example, Lady Shiva hasn't given birth to Cass Cain-- but I've always liked Carrie.  And the New 52 continuity doesn't have to proceed in the same way chronologically as the classic DC continuity.  In fact, it's pretty obvious it hasn't.

The original Carrie Kelley was a fun Robin, the daughter of two neglectful parents who goes a-heroin' with a grizzled, middle-aged lunatic who's about as warm as a penguin's ass.  Miller's teen girl dialogue is frequently groan-inducing-- probably from hanging out with Chris Claremont too much-- and Carrie's survival strains suspension of disbelief in a story that's at its breaking point almost from page one.  But she won me over in the end as a bright contrast to the gloom and doom.  But for a number of reasons that should be obvious, this Carrie isn't that Carrie.  She may have some of the original's likability, but I find it unlikely she's going to be a true Robin.

She'd need lots of training, unless she just happens to be a highly-skilled martial artist.  Which I doubt.  Sure, they might be hinting at that by giving her a Damian connection of some sort, but Batman coming across a fully qualified rookie Robin isn't exactly what series writer Peter Tomasi calls "organic and heartfelt."  More like serendipitous and shoe-horned.  Unless he's making some kind of wicked joke on some already very sensitive fans.  I refuse to believe in conspiracies and take the man at his word.  DC has made some boneheaded decisions lately but I doubt anyone there is that cruel and/or dumb.

And making Carrie a true Robin would be cutting in line, right?  If it's to be a female Robin, there's already a likely candidate in Harper Row who logically should have a shot.  From what I've gleaned online, I've come to think they're positioning Harper for that role anyway.

While we're on that topic, I favor there being a female Robin.  While it's already been done at least twice, it's worth going there again.  Having a female Robin makes for a different kind of mentor-protege relationship between the two heroes and that deserves further exploration because it offers new story possibilities.  And, after all, how many short, black-haired boys with acrobatic skills can there be in Gotham City?

Anyway, getting back to Carrie's affect on the continued non-existence of Cassandra Cain.  I don't really see how the two relate.

Over at the Mary Sue, a few commenters have registered some unhappiness with Carrie's appearance.  Mostly having to do with DC's continued refusal to use Steph and Cass in stories:

"And for HER, we get cheated out of Steph and Cassandra?  AGAIN???"

"Cassandra Cain would slide nicely into Damian's role."

One person totally disagrees with me and rejects the idea of a female Robin (fair enough).  Another writes he's more annoyed with Cass and Steph not being Batgirl again than with the possibility either of them have been replaced as potential Robins.

The last I tend to agree with a bit more than any of the others I read there.  Cass has never been identified with the Robin role in the way Steph has.  She was always Batgirl, the first to have her own solo title.  Plus, I think of Robin as a lower ranking title.  Batgirl has more autonomy (like the fully adult Nightwing before her, Cass received an entire city of her own to patrol and clean), whereas Robin is always a kid or teen apprentice of some kind.  Why would Cass settle for being a Robin when there's no one short of Batman himself she can't beat in a fair fight?  Also consider that Cass another well-established super identities of her own-- Blackbat/Black Bat.  If we must have the original Batgirl in the costume, and given the plethora of Robins, there's really no reason we couldn't have had Cass as Black Bat-- at least until they de-aged Lady Shiva and gave us the in-story reason for it.  But as Robin?  No thanks.  Even Red Robin would be more appropriate, and even that costume doesn't carry the status of Batgirl's, or offer the potential for creating her own legacy as does Blackbat's.

So introducing some college kid and having her wear a Robin costume at a party in no way impinges on Cassandra.

The "but Steph" arguments carry more weight with me.  Still since there's no indication Carrie will be a ROBIN-Robin, and given that Harper Row fulfills a lot more of Steph's functions in the Bat-family, and considering Steph's promotion to Batgirl, it seems unlikely Carrie is an either-or substitute for Steph.  I really doubt anyone at DC ever made the connection.  Now if she were wearing a Spoiler costume, then I could definitely see cause for major alarm.

Batgirl #7 (October 2000)

Writers:  Kelley Puckett, Scott Peterson
Pencils:  Damion Scott
Inks:  Robert Campanella
Colors:  Jason Wright
Letters:  John Constanza

Batman is also upset at Cass.  Yeah, yeah, when is he not?  In this case, it's because Cass has let him down.  She's lost her edge as a fighter and she's no longer the sharpest knife in his kitchen drawer.  For now Cass (still bandaged from the multiple gunshot wounds she suffered in the last issue but otherwise showing no ill effects!) has been sidelined, forbidden by Batman from putting on her beloved costume and swinging through the night on her bat-rope or whatever it is heroes without drivers licenses do in Gotham City.  The book gets off to a slam-bang start with Batman literally punching Cass right in the face.

"This sucks," she thinks.  Which isn't very eloquent but is a major improvement over the previous issue's Frank Miller-style Cass narration.  She demands Batman try to hit her again.  And he does.  "This really sucks," she concludes after he gives her some kind of magical computer disk full of fighting lessons.  Even Oracle's joke about the disk being "Batman's Greatest Hits" doesn't cheer Cass up.  Yeah, that's just what you need when your mentor beats you up then tells you to study stuff you should already know-- dumb jokes.

Luckily for Cass Batman leaves town.  That frees Cass to don basic black, paint her face (Scott and Campanella make it look like scales) and start roaming around beating up low-level bad guys using surprise as a substitute for defense.  Oracle figures it out in about two seconds and tells her to stop before she gets into some serious trouble.  Then Lady Shiva shows up and Cass is immediately smitten.

Batgirl can be a funny book at times and there's a lot of comedic potential in Cass.  There's her taciturnity, her lack of basic social skills (although she seems to have a thing for lipstick here), her occasional impulsiveness.  The point isn't to make her a clown, but to allow for some lighter moments growing organically out of her all-business attitude and naivete.  It balances out the hyper-kinetic violence and also plays to a couple of Damion Scott's artistic strengths:  coming up with goofy facial expressions and giving the characters vivid, easy-to-read body language.  Peterson and Puckett work this angle when they have Cass interact with a server in an upscale restaurant (she waltzes right in and gets a table without a reservation!) while she consumes three whole bread baskets by herself under the pretense she's a regular customer.  It's a lot funnier than Oracle's groaning attempt at comedy.

Cass is really there to spy on Lady Shiva and I love the attraction here between the two.  The writers strongly tease their deeper relationship, but beyond that, the danger of Cass is we can't be sure at this point how far into the light she's come, or how long she'll stay there.  She's still under a lot of pressure and Batman isn't much more supportive or non-abusive a father-figure than Cain.  His methods of training-- even though Cass demands it-- mirrors her treatment by Cain.

Batgirl also works well when Cass is frightening.  Even Batman is more than a little disturbed by her insistence on being punched by him.  Oracle references her attraction to danger, too.  You could see this tendency leading her to seek tutelage under some greater teacher, to Cass risking her body and soul so she can perfect her skills on a higher plane than the uptight, hypocritical Batman can provide, falling under the spell of someone so similar to herself.  Then giving into the temptation to accept a darker destiny.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Batgirl #6 (September 2000)

Writers:  Kelley Puckett, Scott Peterson
Pencils:  Damion Scott
Inks:  Robert Campanella
Colors:  Jason Wright
Letters:  John Constanza
The pressure of language. I think Paul Simon coined that phrase in a song on his 1990 album Rhythm of the Saints and Damion Scott perfectly depicts it on the highly symbolic cover to this issue.  Poor Cass has at last met her first real nemesis-- that sometimes merciless foe we call language and it is thoroughly kicking her ass.  Along with a lot of other people, including those she loves.  Not just physically, but emotionally as well.  Now Cass knows the words and their meanings, but she can't defend herself and the thing she enjoys most-- her nonpareil fighting skill-- has become problematic.  Yes, words can hurt but never so literally as here, where Cass checks out her reflection in some broken glass and finds herself battered and bruised.  She's such a little hardcase it leaves her smirking.  The kid knows physical pain.  It's like a visit from an old friend who hasn't stopped by in a while.

This issue features one of my favorite Cass moments.  She's infuriated at a gunman who shoots one of his own gang members and decides to each him a lesson by stopping his heart for three seconds while a horrified Batman watches.  She even gives Batman a raised palm as if to say, "Hold on, cornbread, until I ring the school bell."  Batman's peeved until Cass takes some bullets later while rushing another gunman head-on so she can save Jeffers (the guy who reorganized her brain so she could understand language) and the dirty scientist who drugged him until he became a mind-reader.  All you have to do to make Batman love you is commit suicide.

The shooting is one of my least-favorite Cass moments.  Any of the times Cass has been shot, actually.  I've known two people who've been shot.  The first was a classmate of mine in high school.  In the shoulder.  TV detectives traditionally get shot in the shoulder all the time.  You know, nothing all that vital in the shoulder,  no problem.  Except it is a problem.  A big one.  Getting shot anywhere is a huge deal.  My high school acquaintance had to rehabilitate her arm and wore a sling and then a plastic wrist brace the rest of the semester.

The second person is a very close friend of mine.  A mugger shot him in the leg because he tried to reason with the guy instead of just handing over his wallet or running away (like his brother did).  The bullet broke the bone.  Which broke again six weeks later when he took off the cast to go on a camping trip.  A few years later he served in Iraq and earned his Combat Infantryman Badge without so much as a nick.  I find this ironic.

Anyway, Batgirl gets hit four times, some of them almost point-blank, but you know she'll do the comic book version of walking it off with no lingering after-effects.  Okay, in a world where people can fly and magic is real I should probably just just assume Cass's costume has some kind of super-thin ballistic material in it that keeps those bullets from going too deep or that DC universe biology operates under Magnum, P.I. rules.

Oh-- Cass shows a lot of personality when she's losing her temper at the gunman.  That sets up her teaching moment perfectly.  It's kind of extreme, but she's extremely angry at the time.  But later in the comic, when she starts narrating in a clipped Frank Miller-style narrative, I wondered why she sounded so much like a generic comic book tough guy.  There's nothing uniquely Cass in the voice Puckett gives her.  That's disappointing.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Unbenched" characters in Gail Simone's The Movement

At least two of them, if this report at Craveonline is accurate.  Which characters are coming off the bench, how and why?  Of course, the first two anyone who's been following the DC universe closely for the past couple of years has to think of is Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown.  I wasn't particularly interested in The Movement, but now I'm intrigued.

We have to watch out for our expectations, however.  These might be just unofficial cameos, not full-blown appearances by Cass and Steph.  Or whatever two benched characters they're talking about.  While I don't see any reason for Steph not to exist in the current continuity, Cass's mom, Lady Shiva, has been de-aged to her early twenties.  This makes Cass as we've known her very unlikely.  What we're probably looking at is another Li'l Gotham scenario.

On the other hand, it's Gail Simone, and as far as I'm concerned, DC owes her big time for her relentless cheerleading of the new status quo.  Oh yeah, and for the crappy way they fired her not too long ago.  She really came through in a big way for them during that uninfinite crisis.  So if she asked to use Steph and Cass, the top brass there should instantly say, "Of course.  Whatever you say!  And once again, sorry for the recent unpleasantness."

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Scott Peterson is playing it cagey about Batgirl Beyond

Because who wants to ruin people's anticipation?  Scott Peterson is amazing.  He's known about this for half a year and he hasn't spilled.  And he's still not spilling.  I think if I'd been in his position and Annie Wu started turning in pages that look like the promotional piece of the first cover DC's been showing around-- Peterson gives you yet another chance to absorb its cool into your system, thereby enriching your own, personal cool-- I would have wet my pants.

Seriously.  I would have done it.  I'm one of the all-time best secret-keepers ever invented, but I would have at least wet my pants like an over-excited kid hitting Disney World for the first time.

Now I honestly don't think Batgirl Beyond will be Cass Cain's triumphant return to the DC universe.  There may be elements of her in the mix, but I have a feeling this will be a totally new character.  And Batgirl Beyond won't make me forget Cass, who is my once and future Batgirl/Black Bat of choice and always will be.  Still I'm more than a little enthused about a serious ass-kicking Batgirl.  With art that looks like this.

What I can't figure out is if Batgirl Beyond is a stand-alone title or if it's just an issue or two or three of Batman Beyond.  A lot of the news I've seen has been contradictory on that point.  One report suggested it's a new title, another said it's a miniseries within Batman Beyond, DC officially calls it an "arc."  Or has my reading comprehension regressed that much over the past few years?

Batgirl #5 (August 2000)

Writers:  Kelley Puckett, Scott Peterson
Pencils:  Damion Scott
Inks:  Robert Campanella
Colors:  Jason Wright
Letters:  John Constanza

While Batgirl balances the joy of knowing the English word for practically everything-- including "cellulite" for some reason-- with the terror of having lost her combat edge, Batman confronts her biological father in Macau over the snuff film he made of his daughter performing her first kill.  You know you're in trouble when you style yourself as the "world's greatest detective" and you come off looking like a doofus compared to a mercenary killer who abused a small girl as some kind of sicko science experiment.  Batman manages to do that very thing.  He also manages to sandwich that confrontation with a couple of flights halfway around the world in the space of a day.  Fast jet, huh?

It's refreshing to see Batgirl having difficulties and she's at her most engaging this issue.  Most especially when she desperately tries to communicate with Barbara Gordon but gets so caught up in the joy of being able to understand words she almost forgets she's in a hurry to save Mr. Jeffers, the psychic guy (Peterson and Puckett finally get around to naming him and he never gets a first name, the poor doofus).  Then it devolves into a dumb joke. But that's okay because the rest of the issue is gripping action movie stuff where Cass has to protect Mr. Jeffers (the psychic) from all the thugs who want to claim him.  Which isn't easy for her anymore.

Do you remember learning to read?  When words began to make sense and the entire world and universe opened up to you through books?  That's roughly analogous to what Cass experiences here.  Some of us learn from our teachers, others are like Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird and seemingly born reading.

The anti-Cass, I was self-taught and have distinct memories of puzzling out the words (Mr. Natural advising me to "Stay Cool, Baby.  Stay Cool.") on a sticker one of my big brothers put on his closet door.  It took weeks of intense effort.  I was about four, maybe five.  Kind of precocious, but not spectacularly so.  Some of these genius kids are already learning multiple languages at that point.  But somehow I made the connection between what we said and heard and those shapes I kept seeing on that sticker, and on signs or in magazines or my picture books.

"I know what that says," I told my parents one night when we were driving around looking at Christmas decorations.  We had just passed under some words spelled out in white light bulbs and garlands strung over the street.  "It says, 'Seasons Greetings' backwards."

The first day of elementary school, I went around the room and read all the signs on the wall out loud because I was a smarmy little show-off.  "I won't have him for long," the teacher told my mom.  And sure enough, they sorted me into the "already reading" class, which split me from my best friend up to that point.  I cried.  When Cass finds out she can do the same-- but can barely speak-- she's practically giddy.  For her, anyway.  Probably because it comes all at once, a thunderclap of comprehension.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lillian Chan's Batgirl Project and memories of my own

And over at Empty Bamboo Girl, Lillian Chan-- an ace cartoonist in her own right-- details her ongoing quest to collect all the Cassandra Cain comic book appearances.  She's even set up a page to catalog all her finds.  It's her Batgirl Project.  She's such a fan, she's even going after Batgirl:  Redemption Road.  That, my friends, is dedication.

This takes me back.  I've done the same thing so many times.  Love and Rockets, HateNexusXenozoic Tales, Gen13, Micronauts.  For each of those, I got so caught up in the stories I couldn't stop thinking about them and about my next purchase.  Where would it come from?  When would it be?  On my way to the store, I'd be so pumped on adrenaline I walked twice as fast as my usual pace in my hurry to get there and see what I could find.  Along came Cass.  Oh man, it was exciting combing the back-issue bins at various comic book shops-- okay, just four comic book shops-- to find a Batgirl here or there.  Like a treasure hunt.  The rush wasn't quite as intense because, unlike Nexus or Xenozoic TalesBatgirl was still an ongoing title.  Back issues weren't too difficult to come by then.  The money to buy them all in one go was.  That's a major part of what sustained the quest-like feel:  knowing I had to budget myself.

The American stage of my Cass-quest took place in Athens and Albany, Georgia.

The Athens store always made me feel kind of weird about buying superhero comics.  I love them, of course, and my Cass addiction drove me to dare crazy things, but this store is up some gray concrete steps, in an old building with worn hardwood floors and intimidatingly stocked with art books, self-published titles and highbrow comics.  More of a Comics Journal than a Wizard type place; obviously, I'm being hyper-sensitive and projecting my own silly insecurities.  I mean, when I think about it, the owner was always super kind to me.  He taught me how to pronounce Kamandi, sometimes slipped cool freebies into my bag, was the source of my first Xenozoic Tales and Love and Rockets comics.

If you bought a Cass Batgirl, he'd ask you if you knew anything about Alex Toth's Black Canary stories and point to the latest issue of Comic Book Collector magazine.  I love that kind of thing.

The Albany store, way down in the deep, deep south, is more of a sports card/NASCAR collectibles place that happens to carry each month's mainstream books.  A shopping center retailer.  Which, for me, took a lot of pressure off to maintain the pose of the sophisticated, urbane graphic novel reader.  I didn't feel the need to add a copy of Eightball to my purchases.  The two women who ran it back then-- they still do, as far as I know-- were chatty about baseball and softball and what cards were moving that month.

If you came to the register with a handful of Batgirl issues, they'd offer to call their other store and see if they could have more shipped, just for you.  I love that, too.

Then I moved to Japan, where American comics are difficult to find.  Not impossible, just rare and expensive.  The first city I lived in carried Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and one or two of the X-Men titles and they ran about six bucks each after they factored in the exchange rate and import fees.  The second city had the same comics.  So I did a little Internet research and found better sources.  After a few trips to Blister in Tokyo (Manga no Mori Presents American Comix died abruptly and I still mourn; the Manga no Mori in Ikebukuro carries very few English-language titles), I'd manage to corner the market on Cass here.

I bought every single issue of Batgirl available in Japan.  You cannot find any because I own them.  If James Bond's greatest foe was Goldfinger, then I became Batgirlfinger.  The only thing I wouldn't do is irradiate someone else's collection to make mine more valuable.  The value is in the reading and sharing, involving others in Cass.  But that's the only difference.  I even cheat at golf.  Miniature golf.

Soon after, DC cancelled Cass's book and that was that.  I held onto the comics and started buying the paperback collections.  These I could get from Amazon.jp and from Tower Records in Shibuya.  Eventually, those fell out of print.  Blister-- now in a more isolated, difficult to reach, location-- continued to stock Batgirl:  Fists of Fury, but since I owned that and the issues it contains, for me the hunt seemed over.

Until I discovered Comixology.  Then the obsession started all over again.  And this blog.  I started buying Cass again from the beginning.  I even expanded my collection by buying some other comics in which she appears, ones I'd overlooked.

Anyway, that's the story of my own Batgirl Project.  I'm going to keep up with Lillian Chan's and hope she keeps going with it.  The excitement is infectious and really brings back a lot of fun memories.  Maybe someone at DC will notice, too, and put Cass in a new story.  I'm pretty sure there are at least two people who would buy it.

Oh, and if anyone's interested in getting his or her geek on in Tokyo, here's a link to a nice list of comic book and hobby stores.  You can see for yourself how few carry American titles.  Finding Cass in the wild seems as likely as shaking hands with Sasquatch.  Also, I've been there before you.  But warning-- I'm not sure when this was compiled so it may be VERY outdated by now.  Your best bet for mainstream American stuff is still Blister.  Which has very limited hours and where you'll only find Fists of Fury and maybe Destruction's Daughter.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Cass is gone but not (so) forgotten...

Corrina Lawson, senior editor of the GeekMom blog at Wired.com, recently write a tribute to Cass at CriminalElement.com.  It's a short and sweet overview of Cass's comic book career and hits all the high points-- first Batgirl to have her own series, her unlikely friendship with Stephanie Brown, the unfortunate heel turn, her stint as Black Bat and, of course, her disappearance from the DC universe narrative.  Lawson refers to Cass as the "forgotten Batgirl."  I mean, it's right there in the essay's title!

Yeah.  Preach on, Ms. Lawson!  We could make a case for Steph Brown also being a forgotten Batgirl.  Arguably, Steph received a rawer deal from DC.  As much as various writers twisted poor Cass all around at least she had a 73-issue run on her own title, plus various appearances in other books.  Even a co-starring role with Dark Horse's Ghost in a mini-series.  Steph's Batgirl book had barely gotten off the ground when DC destroyed... er... altered its continuity into what we call the "New 52," a continuity in which neither Steph nor Cass seem to exist.

Well, that still leaves Cass as a forgotten Batgirl.  There's not a DC character who remembers her.  Not even that one guy who was left at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths screaming from his padded cell about worlds dying!  Worlds living!

Or whatever it was he was on about.  You'd think in all the crises since then whoever that guy was-- Calendar Man?  Grant Morrison?-- would still remember the way things were.  And Cass.

To Ms. Lawson I say, "Thanks for writing about Cass!"  And, "Don't worry!  I won't forget her!"  After all, I have this blog devoted to keeping Cass alive.  And there are a few others, too.  We'll keep banging away on our keyboards until someone puts Cass in a story again.  And then we'll bang away about that, too.