WTF, DC? Batgirl (Cassandra Cain)

In the wake of 2005/2006’s Infinite Crisis event, DC introduced the “One Year Later” storyline, which saw the company’s titles jumping (you guessed it) twelve months into the canonical future. It was a nifty trick that allowed writers to throw readers into unfamiliar waters without offering any explanation as to how they’d gotten there: Bart Allen had aged considerably and taken on the mantle of the Flash, Supergirl had leapt 1000 years into the future to join the Legion of Super-Heroes while simultaneously existing in present-day as Flamebird to Power Girl’s Nightwing, Jason Todd was prowling the streets as a murderous Nightwing.

Prior to “One Year Later,” Cassandra Cain was the following: the only Batgirl to receive her own solo series (a feat Barbara Gordon couldn’t pull off in 22 years of adventuring); one of the most prominent Asian-American superheroes in comic book history; and someone who had spent six years (2000-2006) as one of the good guys.

Which made the following appearance in Robin #150 a bit perplexing:

But, hey, it was “One Year Later.” Crazy things were happening in the DCU! And yet this couldn’t have been what it seemed – Cassandra Cain had spent 73 issues of her own book fighting (rather successfully) to acquit herself as a hero after spending her childhood as her father’s personal guinea pig for the League of Assassins. She wouldn’t, on a dime and out of nowhere, become a crazed killer, assume leadership of the League, and try to turn her friends to the dark side. “There must be a good explanation for this,” said panicked Cassandra Cain fans everywhere.

Except this was the explanation:

Yep. Daddy issues. That’s it. Cassandra’s shift from superheroine to supervillian came as a result of lingering issues with her father. “I wanted a pony and he gave me a katana!” she screams while slaughtering a bus full of nuns.

But it couldn’t just be daddy issues…could it? There had to be something else. Cassandra was raised to be a perfect assassin, sacrificing verbal and written communication for the ability to read body language, and killed her first target when she was eight years old. She spent years overcoming her past, but maybe her childhood traumas were just too weighty to ignore, and maybe her tilt into full-on madness was a gradual process readers could have seen coming if they’d looked hard enough.

After much debate and speculation, Teen Titans #43 offered a definitive answer:

She was being pumped full of crazy juice by longtime Titans enemy Deathstroke! Of course! A completely rational explanation that certainly isn’t one of the cheapest and easiest ways out next to demon possession.

To be fair, Deathstroke did administer an ability-enhancing, psychosis-inducing serum to his daughter – and current Titan – Rose (a.k.a. Ravager) a couple of years prior to this. And the insane version of Ravager did fight Batgirl around that time. A connection is sort of there. But this turn of events seems like an awfully convenient way to dismiss Cassandra’s sudden homicidal urges, especially in light of the backstory provided several months later by the 52 offshoot World War III:

A single page in which Deathstroke comes across as a transparently manipulative high-school gossip and Cassandra’s weak protests are meant to convey she’s filled with inner turmoil instead of just humouring the guy.

Luckily Robin developed an antidote to Deathstroke’s serum (which he’d never told anyone about and had been sitting there for years). Here’s how the climactic reveal plays out:

Awkward, laboured exposition followed by Cassandra deciding to get back on the straight and narrow by…killing a man. Okay, great. She fails, spends a sullen, penitent year in Chuck Dixon’s resoundingly terrible Outsiders series, and then, in August of 2008, got her own six-issue mini, entitled Batgirl: Redemption Road, in which Cassandra attempts to redeem herself by…killing a man (in this case, her father). She fails.

The series is pretty unremarkable except for the final issue, which contains this notable exchange:

“As long as I’m around” is a pretty short time given that Batgirl: Redemption Road is followed by Batman R.I.P. (itself followed by Final Crisis). These pages seem like a desperate, insincere, last-ditch effort to placate angry fans because that’s exactly what they are. Bruce doesn’t adopt her. Why would he? At that point Cassandra was a mess of a character that was justly being swept under the rug since there was no easy way to fix the problems writers had spent the previous year creating for her. It should come as no surprise that the adoption thing was never touched upon again.

A year later, a second Batgirl series debuted, featuring a newer, whiter heroine under the cowl: Stephanie Brown, back from the dead. Cassandra passes the mantle to Stephanie in a scene that’s as abbreviated and simplistic as the one in which Deathstroke persuades her to become a bad guy:

See ya, 73-issue solo title and 10 years of adventuring! Cassandra’s so over you.

Grant Morrison would later put Cass in Batman: Incorporated wearing what appears to be her Batgirl costume with the cowl replaced by a mask and her cape torn to shreds. She goes by the name Blackbat and operates out of Hong Kong:

For one page. Even Morrison doesn’t know what to do with her, and Morrison’s one of the most kitchen-sink writers to ever grace the medium.

Cassandra Cain is a pretty fiercely-defended heroine (seriously – try disparaging her on one of the DC message boards and see what kind of reaction you get). She broke down racial barriers for not only the Batman books but for the company publishing them, and she had enough appeal to carry her own title for more than five years. She deserves better than this.

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4 Responses to WTF, DC? Batgirl (Cassandra Cain)

  1. Gerardo says:

    She deserves gates of gotham, but you know I liked redemtion road very much.
    Cassandra jus didnt work as aVillain, but at the end of the day in Redemtion Road she came back to basics

  2. Pingback: NEW 52: Red Lanterns | WTF, DC?

  3. Frits says:

    I may be posting this nearly 2 years late, but as far as this goes: “Cassandra Cain is a pretty fiercely-defended heroine” I’ve been on the old DC boards a lot from about 2006 until it was closed down last year, and all i can say is that it wasn’t so much defending their character as it was being bitter and fiercely against other characters, with one in particular: Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. I’ve rarely seen a fanbase more hateful, bitter, and disrespectful towards the fanbase of another character than the Cassandra Cain fanbase.

    Looking at how DC treated Cassandra Cain, i can sorta understand the bitterness here and there as far as actual comicbook storylines are concerned, but this hateful fanboy raging against anyone who showing up on DC’s Batgirl forum saying they liked either Babs or Stephanie more than Cassandra as Batgirl was just silly.

    • I was on the Batgirl forum once, in an attempt to entertain the idea that Cassandra turning to the dark side wasn’t as far-fetched as it seemed in light of her upbringing. I don’t remember the exact response that I got, but I remember it wasn’t pretty.

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