Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cassandra Cain’s Prominent New Role and My Smartass Speculation on Same!

Isn’t it sad—or funny, depending on your worldview—whenever DC announces a “prominent role” for a character many of us automatically cringe? Especially when the character in question is poor ol’ Cassandra Cain. She had her own fairly successful series, then DC decided to make her a villain, make her good, give her any number of new personalities and motivations. Batgirl used to be so simple and clean a concept—she went out and kicked ass and let her fists and feet do her talking. Now she’s a textbook example of how not to treat a character.

So when I heard Dan Didio made reference to DC's having some sort of storyline for her in 2010, as a Cass fan (that most wretched of character-based fandoms) my stomach dropped. Then I set aside my comic fan negativity and went into full-on Batman/Dark Knight Detective mode. Investigation. Research. Obsession. Plans within plans. Snarling at my butler and teenaged ward. Prominent role? That doesn’t sound too bad… does it?

Actually, I ran into a snag trying to verify Didio's exact quote on this subject. Newsarama says "prominent role," but I wanted to read those exact words for myself. Prominent. Role. I don't like to attribute words to people without first confirming them, unless I'm doing something silly and not to be taken too seriously; that's almost everything I write in this blog, by the way. A reply to a comment at Daily Scans held a link led me to Funnybook Babylon where they "liveblogged" the DC Nation presentation and all I found was this:

Final updates - Batgirl moving into the old Batcave with Babs Gordon, big Cass Cain storyline in 2010 where she will not be a villain.

She won't be a villain? Funny how they now have to qualify all Cass-related stories that way when announcing a Cassandra Cain storyline. No, this time she won't be a stock baddie so cliched, so horrifically stereotyped they briefly considered changing her codename to Girl Manchu. Cass, not a villain. It made my heart leap.

So there I was, with a dropped stomach and a leaped heart. I immediately made my way to the nearest hospital emergency room where doctors working around the clock saved my life with an experimental procedure and warned me to give up comics or risk death. I promptly came home and started researching the "prominent role" quote on Funnybook Babylon again. The closest thing to the "prominent role" remark I can find is in Didio's exchange with a Connor Hawke fan during the DC Editorial presentation:

Question: Is there any chance of him playing a prominent role in the DCU again?

Answer (I'm guessing Didio): ABSOLUTELY. That's something we have going on for next year. We have some dangling storylines, and we're going to be playing out on that, and we know where that goes.

So it's a question of semantics. Whether we term it a "prominent role" or simply a "big storyline," something's a-cookin' with our girl Cass. And because I can’t help but make fun of things, I started thinking. Speculating. Most of it came in the form of smart-assery. Then I realized, “Hey! I have a blog! Why just think stupid things when I can write them and share with my friends so all the world can see?”

Here goes—

1) Batgirl. Stephanie Brown gets herself killed again or otherwise incapacitated and Cass reluctantly takes up the mantle again in order to avenge her. Or, alternately, a second Batgirl in that “team o’ Batgirls” concept a few people floated on the message boards. Not likely, huh? Nah, I didn’t think so either… I think it’d be stupid to mess around with Steph so soon after giving her a book.

2) Batgirl’s Mentor. Stephanie Brown does an okay job as Batgirl, but Cass sees room for improvement and offers to train her in the weirding way. Or some such. You know what would be nice about this? If they also decide she once again prefers action over talk. She feels more comfortable expressing herself physically than verbally, so she goes back to being small-talk avoidant. They could get a lot of mileage out of contrasting Steph’s chatty nature with Cass’ taciturn one: “A picture—and my foot up your ass—is worth a thousand words.”

3) Villain. I just can't leave well enough alone. The wounds inflicted by the Dragon Lady Cass Era are just so delightfully painful, I must poke at them. So Cass, despondent over the apparent death of Bruce Wayne, decides genetics win out over willpower and years of good intent and gives into her darker urges once more, this time without even the story-crutch of having been drugged. She adopts a sultry costume (after all, she is half-Asian so she’s at least half-Dragon Lady, right? Maybe she can even own a chain of opium dens!), becomes increasingly verbose, raises hell from time to time in various books—mostly Red Robin (she has a sexual obsession with him) and Batgirl (pure jealousy and hissy catfight potential)—and gets her ass handed to her repeatedly in increasingly ludicrous ways by characters known to be inferior martial artists until she becomes the laughingstock of the DC message boards.

Some of this involves her teaming up with her mom, Lady Shiva, and possibly her dad, Cain (despite several storylines in the past having alienated her from him conclusively). The upside of this for DC is they can re-use the racial stereotype from Cass’ previous villain-stint, completely contradict all the painstaking work writers like Kelley Puckett and Chuck Dixon did on Cass in the past, render her entire back-catalog of magazines and trades completely worthless and cause Cass fans either to erupt in another Internet free-for-all of interest-generating publicity or… just quietly acquiesce because they just don’t care anymore and start reading manga exclusively. And DC would never have to worry about them or Cass again.

4) Nightwing. As far as I know, this spot is still open. Sure, Cass seems Bat-averse now but who knows—Steph, Dick or even Alfred might have a heart-to-heart with her and renew her sense of purpose. Then DC could put her back in Batman and the Outsiders and even do a more adult-oriented Nightwing series with her using all those great influences and helpful hints I’ve been yammering about nonstop for years. I’m telling you—such a book would rock. And it would definitely bring a lot of unhappy Cass fans back into the warm embrace of the DC family. Awww

Of course, when Bruce Wayne returns, he’s going to want his suit back, which means Dick will need his.

5) Something Different? Cass may completely renounce her Bat-family affiliation in favor of something totally freelance. She could reclaim the League of Assassins and forge them into a fighting force on the side of good, become a costumeless martial artist just kind of wandering here and there righting wrongs like her semi-namesake from the old Kung Fu TV series (if it's good enough for Jules, it's good enough for Cass), or come up with some completely new costumed identity and go solo or work with the Outsiders in some capacity.

6) Bruce Wayne. No, I’m not suggesting she'll become Bruce Wayne (although I firmly believe she would’ve tried to take his mantle as Batman from Dick in some fashion... kind of bizarre she didn't play a major role in "Battle for the Cowl," but then that's corporate authorship for ya). But since Cass’ newly-established basic motivation seems to be Bruce-centric enough she’d give up her beloved Batgirl identity, a storyline where she goes on a long quest to bring him back would prove most interesting. At some point she’s going to learn he’s not dead, right? And if he’s so damned important to her, and given her compulsive, driven, action-first nature, she’s bound to try to do the impossible and somehow rescue him, right? Not only does his absence seem to be preying on her mind, she’s the most logical Bat-family member to try it. Everyone else has a job to do right now, and she’s the odd girl out.

7) Nothing. It just doesn’t pan out for whatever reason, kind of like what happened with the Milestone characters. Maybe they just don’t get around to it. Maybe various writers have other plans and no one can find a way to slot Cass into them. Maybe Grant Morrison wakes up in the middle of the night and sends a quick email to Dan Didio detailing the basics for his hottest idea yet—Crisis of the Multiple Infinite Blackest Night Lantern Identity Crises of Infinity Crisis—which grows to involve a weekly series and a monthly, plus tie-ins with every major DC book. The DC universe’s status quo changes yet again.

Characters change, books are cancelled and rebooted, and painstakingly developed plotlines are derailed and rerouted. During the overall storyline, Stephanie Brown is killed and resurrected twenty times, but Cass remains completely absent. In the end, Bruce Wayne is Batman once more, Dick Grayson has de-aged to become Robin again, the other two former Robins are infants, Stephanie Brown is a red-head and still Batgirl, Barbara Gordon has de-aged and can walk but is still Oracle for some reason—and Cass has yet to make an appearance, or even have her name referenced in dialogue.

A year later, she comes back as a Dragon Lady villain with no explanation of where she’s been or why she wasn’t affected in the least by anything that happened to her friends, just a major sexual attraction for Dick Grayson, whom she repeatedly attempts to seduce and/or kill.

Sorry. I had to poke it again just to make sure it's healed. We'll see in 2010, huh?

8) Batgirl. They hire me to write a self-contained-continuity series that’s equal parts Kill Bill, Battle Royale, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Lady Snowblood and Lone Wolf and Cub. Mostly silent Cass puts a hurting on all kinds of nasty suckers while battling her own death wish and increasingly scaring the bejeezus out of Batman and his pals with her intensity and risk-taking. It’d be both poignant and disgustingly ultra-violent by turns. Unfortunately, because she’s a tragic figure, after about 50 blistering, emotional issues or so, Batgirl would have to die fighting both Lady Shiva and David Cain. Because at her base, she's a tragic character and that’s how Koike Kazuo and the Greek dramatists would’ve done it. And it would hurt so good! Chances of this happening? Yeah, right. In my dreams!

9) None of the Above. I'm usually wrong whenever I make predictions about this funnybook stuff, so don't bet on any of my ideas happening.


Nathaniel said...

I've heard rumors that there's going to be a big storyline where Bruce Wayne returns next year, and if I were a betting man, I'd probably wager that that's when she'll return. If that storyline actually happens, that is.

Unfortunately, there is currently another Nightwing (in the Superman books, though), and Red Robin has the job of finding out that Bruce Wayne isn't dead, so I don't think either of those paths are for Cass. Plus, DC has been trying its hardest to build up enmity between Cass and Dick (which is funny, since I was scanning through an old miniseries called Batman: Family where Dick and Cass are actually very friendly, and Dick is very supportive of her), so I can't see her taking his Nightwing mantle.

I think I would like a storyline unrelated to the Batman characters. I'm getting sort of tired of the Bat-people only caring about Cassandra when she's the title character of a book, and then forgetting her the rest of the time. I mean, by this point, these people are about as bad to her as her real family, though maybe not as overtly violent toward her. They sure didn't try to help her when she was suffering from Beechen characterization, and I imagine that no one is even going to ask where she's vanished to in her current storyline.

I'd like to see a book in the style of a classic kung fu series, sort of like Marvel's excellent Immortal Iron Fist series, where she has crazy adventures with the other big martial arts characters in the DCU that don't have their own titles.

Joel Bryan said...

Yeah, it would make sense for the character to dump the Bat-folk. It's so weird how whenever DC does a big Bat-storyline they generally leave her out of the mix. My mind still boggles she wasn't at least referenced in dialogue in the run-up to the new Batgirl.

And I find it kind of strange Bryan Q. Miller would go to the trouble of giving her this "Bruce is dead" motivation for quitting the one identity she seemed to love most in all the world and then there are no plans for her to be involved in searching for the guy. So hopefully they'll do something about that; otherwise they end up with yet another bizarre personality change appended to a character who's already over-weighted with poor writing choices as it is!

In the meantime, I also hope Miller does something cool with her in Batgirl, but with a little more care towards characterizing her.

You know, if DC really wants to up the friction-factor between Cass and Dick, having her snag that Nightwing costume away from whoever's wearing it now would be the perfect way. Especially if Dick needs it back himself in a year or so.

I don't know anything about the new Nightwing. It's tough enough getting monthlies here in Japan and paying almost 6 bucks for what really shouldn't cost more than about 99 cents as far as I'm concerned. So when I do go to Tokyo and buy monthlies, I have to be extremely picky. Which means a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I tend to stick to books from Dark Horse, where stories are more self-contained. To know what's up with Conan or Hellboy, you don't have to buy so many books!

Also the writing and art are generally better. If DC did more stuff like Wednesday Comics in terms of basic versions of the characters coupled with killer creative teams and no universe-wide crossovers or massive multi-title storylines, I'd be more likely to buy. But then again, I doubt they have the picky Japan-based consumer in mind when they're making these plans.

I like the kung fu-based title idea. Cass could travel around kicking ass and meeting new people. I'd definitely give that book a try. As it is, there's not a single DC on-going that tempts me in the least beyond Batgirl, and that's only because Cass may or may not show up in it, depending on the editorial needs there.

Fictionally, she really should think about kicking the Bat-people to the curb. Ankle those suckers. They haven't done anything for her but give her grief-- or mock her when she turned evil-- except when it suits them. It's kind of sad she puts so much stock in Bruce Wayne when all he's done is use her and discard her as dictated by convenience. One day she's his adopted daughter, the next she's gone and no one even mentions that fact. And don't you think with their problematic relationship, anytime she went missing for any length of time they'd start to get a little worried? I mean she is the premiere martial arts fighter around other than Batman himself, right?

She's still that, isn't she?

Nathaniel said...

I think the fault in your logic is assuming that DC writers care about what logically should be done with Cass. Yeah, Cass searching for Bruce would make sense and probably be a good direction for the character. But that would involve her actually showing up in other books, and we can't have that.

Cass taking the Nightwing costume would up the friction between the two I suppose (though that's a plot thread I don't care to see continued), but when it comes time for Nightwing to get his tights back, there's no question who'd win the battle for the... tights between those two. Poor Cass would have to find another new identity.

And if my martial arts book idea didn't pan out, I'd sort of like to see Cass go back to the Outsiders. I don't really know why she's not on the team right now anyway. One minute she was an Outsider, and the next... she wasn't.

The new Nightwing is... Superman's kid who got aged through a trip to the future or something bizarre like that. I don't keep up with the Superman books, so I don't really know.

And yeah, you don't really have to convince me of the superiority of non-DC and Marvel books. I do rather like some of the off-the-beaten-trail stuff that DC and Marvel puts out, though, like the aforementioned Iron Fist-related books, and Secret Six is pretty good if you dig Gail Simone's writing style.

Interestingly enough, Gail Simone was originally approached to write the Batgirl series. I wonder how things would be different if she'd taken the gig, and if Cassandra would have gotten a different deal? Especially since she once pitched an idea for a Cassandra book (that I'm sort of glad didn't happen, though).