Sunday, June 25, 2006
Seven Better Things For DC To Have Done With Batgirl Than What They Did in Robin
Cassandra Cain was raised by her father, the assassin David Cain to be the world’s greatest killer, at the expense of teaching her anything most human beings would find useful things to know how to do—like speak. Instead, Cassandra “spoke” the language of movement, being able to read body language to the point that she could flawlessly predict the moves her opponent would make.
But after her first kill as a little girl, Cassandra became revolted by her own actions and her father, and fled his care, resurfacing in her late teens in Gotham City. There she became an agent of Barbara Gordon, Batman’s information broker (and the original Batgirl), and, after saving Commissioner Gordon from Cain’s attempts to assassinate him, Oracle and Batman took Cassandra in, making her the new Batgirl.
This happened in 1999, in the midst of the big Batman crossover story dubbed “No Man’s Land,” one of the stronger such Bat events. Shortly afterwards, Batgirl would graduate to her own title, the first 25 issues of which were rather excellent, comprising a grand wuxia-style epic set in Batman’s universe, featuring a unique hero (female, Asian, illiterate, partially mute) and wonderful art by Damion Scott. (They’re collected in trades Silent Running, A Knight Alone, Death Wish and Fists of Fury ). After Scott, and original writers Kelley Puckett and Scott Peterson left the title, it’s quality plummeted, but usually had something recommending it, be it James Jean’s gorgeous covers, or, in it’s last months, Pop Mhan’s fantastic pencil art.
Anyway, back within the DC Universe itself, things were going to hell in a highly flammable hand basket, particularly in Batman’s world (see Identity Crisis, Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1, the five “Countdown” minis and Infinite Crisis). Batgirl was booted out of Gotham and briefly set up shop in Bludhaven (a miserable low point in the series collected in Kicking Assassins, but for God’s sake, don’t read it).
From there, she left the states all together, on a quest to find her mother real mother, who turned out to be the most likely suspect: The world’s greatest martial artist and killer, Lady Shiva (This story is to be collected in Destruction’s Daughter, due in September).
In a battle to the death between Batgirl and Shiva—their third—she snaps Shiva’s neck and impales her on a hook, seemingly killing her, and breaking her promise to herself and Batman never to kill again. But the hook she impaled her mom on is dangling over a Lazarus Pit, so named because it brings those who fall into it back to life.
On the last page of the last issue of her series, in narration, Cassandra Cain tells us that she’s deciding to reject the path of the assassin that is her blood parents’ way (Shiva had just made her the Darth Vader pitch prior to their battle) and the superhero path of her surrogate parents, Batman and Oracle.
Then a year passes, “off screen” as it were. This is the missing year that most of DC’s titles skipped ahead during the line-wide “One Year Later” event, with that missing year currently being told in real-time series 52.
She pops up in Robin, where she’s made a 180-degree turn and taken her mom up on her offer to become the leader of the League of Assassins after all…a year ago, she couldn’t read and was just learning to speak, but she had wrested control of a group of assassins. She now kills without compunction, despite the fact that her first kill changed her life completely and instilled in her a deep guilt that lead for her to wish for her own death. She seems to be wearing her mom’s old hand me downs, and is chatting like a Bond villain.
Basically, DC took one of Batman’s two current sidekicks, turned her evil for no apparent reason, and made her into an antagonist for Batman’s other sidekick, Robin.
What could they have done with her?
1). Left things where they were at the end of Batgirl Cassandra had already relinquished her role as Batgirl and was shown walking off into the sunset, with writer Andersen Gabrych tying up many of the character’s loose ends and bringing a sense of closure to her overall story. He had also, wisely, essentially assigned her to story limbo.
Where is Cassandra Cain? What’s she doing? Will she ever be Batgirl again? Will she grow up to be Batwoman? Will she be a hero? Will she retire and become a civilian, grow up and have a totally civilian life? Will it forever be a mystery? By having her simply disappear at the end of her series, claiming to quit/move on, DC left it so we would never really know. Unless they decided someday that they wanted us to.
From DC’s standpoint, this would have cleared her off the board, making room for a smaller supporting cast in Batman’s life, as well as a new female version of him that is about to debut to much fanfare (You may have heard of a certain lesbian Batwoman by now). But at the same time, this move doesn’t remove her from the board completely—if anyone ever has a great idea with what to do with Cassandra Cain in the future, the character will still exist and the potential to tell that story will be there, waiting to be tapped.
In a big company with a long history and cohesive fictional universe like DC’s, it makes very little sense to ever un-create or de-create a character, as they did by turning Batgirl evil seemingly at random.
2.) Killed her in Identity Crisis This was an epic miniseries in which it seemed, for a while at least, just about any character could actually die. By series end, writer Brad Meltzer had bumped off Elongated Man’s wife and a longtime Justice League supporting cast member Sue Dibney, Robin’s father, Firestorm and Captain Boomerang. Big events? Sure, among certain circles, but none of those characters had a Bat- or a Super- or Wonder- in their name.
Now, imagine if Batgirl were a victim! Sure, Cassandra Cain hasn’t even been around a decade yet, but the name “Batgirl” has more recognition than the majority of comic book superheroes.
Of course, Meltzer and DC editorial in general had been (rightly, I think) criticized for the incredibly brutality to women that occurred in Identity Crisis, a brutality that didn’t always prove necessary and seemed out of place in a DCU comic book about the Justice League—it was revealed that Sue Dibney was raped, and allusions to the villain being raped and molested in prison are made at the end. In light of all that, maybe killing another woman in this series would have only sent more charges of misogyny hurling Meltzer’s way.
3). Killed her in “War Games” Bat-crossover story “War Games” was supposed to be a rather pivotal point in the Bat-cast’s lives, as it essentially split Batman from his sizable support staff, which had grown to include not only Robin, Batgirl and Alfred, but also Nightwing, Oracle, the Spoiler, Catwoman and Dr. Leslie Thompkins.
In another act of rampant Women In Refrigerator-ism, the Spoiler would be brutally killed. This teenaged heroine, former girlfriend of Robin and one-time fill-in Robin was really Stephanie Brown. During the course of the story, she is captured by the villain Black Mask, who tortures her within an inch of her life. She ultimately escapes and is taken to Bruce Wayne’s friend and longtime ally Dr. Thompkins, who allows her to die (I don’t know why, and no, it doesn’t make sense).
Spoiler had her fans, of course, like any comic book character. But she was a minor character at best, one of the most minor in Gotham City. Imagine if it were Batgirl, one of Batman’s closest allies and a widely recognized “name” hero, who had died in the story instead. Again, this would have allowed Cassandra to be removed from the table, and to leave the table essentially the same character she was, rather than simply becoming a villain.
4) Something similar to what happened to the last Batgirl And speaking of brutality to women in DC Comics, what ever happened to Barbara Gordon, that freed up the name “Batgirl” for Cassandra to fill? In Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke, the Joker shot her in the spine, stripped her naked, photographed her body and then used a slideshow presentation of her naked, paralyzed body to try and break the spirit of her kidnapped father, commissioner Gordon (also naked, and put in a cage…Ah, the comics of the 1980s! )
Barbara Gordon survived of course, though she retired as Batgirl and was stuck in a wheelchair for life. She essentially entered into story limbo, at least until John Ostrander resurrected her as Oracle in his series Suicide Squad(criminally, still uncollected into trades), one of the worlds most accomplished computer experts, hackers and information brokers. She would rejoin the Batman cast, graduate to her own ensemble book Birds of Prey, and later the JLA and become one of the most important (and interesting) characters in the DC Universe.
What would be the point of having Batgirl II suffer a similar fate to Batgirl I? Well, the attack on the original Batgirl went a long way toward making the Joker seem like the most savage, evil motherfucker in comics, and explain why Batman was such a gloomy, brooding, pissed off son of a bitch compared to the rest of superherodom.
And, of course, it put Barbara Gordon into limbo until someone came up with a great idea of how to use her—one that turned out to make both creative and business sense.
5). Killed her in Infinite Crisis Okay, so “killed her” her or there is coming up a lot, huh? Well, a memorable death can go a long way toward establishing a real sense of suspense and danger in a fictional universe, and certainly beats a random character development like “So I woke up today and decided, ‘Hey, I’m evil now!’”
A lot happened in this series. No less than three (fictional) cities disappeared, continuity was rejiggered and heroes and villains died by the boatload, but the only “big” death was that of Superboy, a-decade-and-change-old character who surfaced in the wake of 1993’s “Death of Superman” story.
He carried his own title for about 100 issues, but it was finally cancelled. He was the second character to use that name (Superman used to go by “Superboy”), and he was a clone of Superman, meaning he was easily brought back to life.
His death wasn’t quite as big a deal as the deaths in the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, which Infinite Crisis was a sequel to—Supergirl and the Flash.
But imagine if Cassandra Cain had died in the Crisis. This would have been a nice parallel to the original, where Superman’s young, female protégé lost her life, and would have allowed DC to do a parallel of the most classic image of the original Crisis, that of Superman holding the dead body of Supergirl and howling in anguish, while saddened heroes looked on. Just switch the “Super’s” to “Bat’s” and voila! Instant Crisis homage.
Where, when and how would the death of Batgirl have fit into Infinite Crisis? In the penultimate chapters, writer Geoff Johns sent Nightwing and Superboy on a suicide mission; the former lived because he’s too popular to die, the latter died. Now, while Nightwing and Superboy are both younger versions of Batman and Superman, they’re not exactly equivalent (Nightwing is a grown-up, former sidekick, while Superboy is still a teenager and very much in the sidekick stage of his development).
Batgirl and Superboy, however, are both teenagers with roughly the same amount of experience. Plus, they once had a minor romantic relationship—very minor, three team-ups, one date and one kiss—which might have given their last battle a sort of Bonnie and Clyde/Romeo and Juliet intensity
6). Killed her at the end of her own title Actually Batgirl did get killed at the end of her own title. She took a knife to save someone else, and she died…but was put in a Lazarus Pit and was brought back to life by her mother, Lady Shiva. So Shiva could fight her to the death. We’ve already discussed how that turned out, but imagine if Cassandra would have died from that knife wound, or was killed by Shiva? That would have been a major shock—after all, how many heroes actually die in their own series? Hell, it was the last issue anyway, they might as well have offed her. A death in any of the aforementioned crossovers or event stories would have been more spectacular, but a death in her own series would have certainly been the bigger surprise.
7). Made her into the “Jade Canary” One of the (admittedly many) strange things about Cassandra Cain’s resurfacing as a villain one year later to menace Robin is that she was missing for a year at all. Given Batman’s rep as “the world’s greatest detective” and Oracle’s ability to find anyone anywhere at any time, it seems odd that they never found her—or apparently ever even looked.
But during that “missing year” in the life of the DC Universe, Lady Shiva struck a deal with Black Canary in the title Birds of Prey. She would send Canary to her former teacher, allowing her the benefit of the experience that made her the world’s greatest fighter. Canary agrees, but only if Shiva fills in for her, working alongside Oracle’s team of female vigilantes. Shiva does so, taking the name “the Jade Canary.”
At the end of the story arc, Black Canary abandons her lessons when she sees they’re making her too cruel, and Shiva leaves the Birds. Why not have Shiva’s daughter, and Oracle’s former surrogate daughter, join the team, using her mom’s now unused name? This would have cleared Cassandra out of the Bat-universe a bit, but allowed her to still be a hero.