Sunday, March 21, 2010

Batgirl's Ever Changing Motivation...

I'm still having a little trouble reconciling this characterization of the Cassandra Cain Batgirl from Batgirl (volume one) 7...

...and this one from Batgirl (v. 2) 50...

...with this one from Batgirl (volume two) 1:

Actually, I'm just being melodramatic. It's not that difficult. These scenes are the work of three different writers several years apart, with Kelley Puckett and Dylan Horrocks dealing with a purer characterization and Bryan Q. Miller taking over after the character had been warped and "developed" and pretty much ruined by editorial fiat in the interim. Writers bring their own ideas about a character to their stories; in Cassandra Cain's case, some of these writers have been less than competent and some have been the victims of terrible decisions beyond their control and did the best they could with damaged goods.

Miller also had the responsibility of getting Cass out of the new Batgirl book as quickly as possible without accidentally setting up gaping plot holes for other writers to have to fix; we've already seen what happens when lazy writers do that to Cass.

As a fan, it's disheartening to see such a driven character get beaten down to such a lowly, dispirited state. I hesitate to call this character development, but you get to the point where you have to accept this is who Cassandra Cain is, for now. A depressed namby-pamby.

She was bound to get watered down eventually. Cass had to learn to talk and once she learned that, her language skills were bound to improve, which meant writers had to make her motivations more overt; unfortunately they seemed invariably to choose the "I want a boyfriend/to be a normal girl" schema. She began her series with plenty of psychological issues relating to her abusive father and a serious death wish due to guilt; eventually she worked through all of this by repeatedly beating Daddy up and killing Mommy. Finally, Bruce Wayne literally took over the parental role he'd been symbolically filling by adopting her. At that point, writers had to find other raisons d'etre for Cass.

And that's how Cassandra Cain became a mopey quitter after Puckett set her up as a fierce little badass in her earliest stories, unconcerned with her own wellbeing to the point of frightening those around her, including Batman.

So all of that, I completely understand. I don't like it, but I understand it. But what I truly can't wrap my head around is how this character could just vanish from the Bat-family narrative as if she never existed. Not a single castmember makes any effort to locate her or see if she's all right; no one as much as thinks her name. And now there's this new "Return of Bruce Wayne" storyline brewing and here we have a young woman who apparently shifted her personally loyalties from whatever it is Batman stands for to the man himself... and yet she's nowhere to be found now that his closest friends, allies and family members seem actively to be looking for him.

Hmm... Does this mean we're not going to get Grant Morrison's take on Cass? And we're not going to see her drawn by the likes of Chris Sprouse and Ryan Sook? I call that a missed opportunity, at least for Cass-fans.

Still, I suppose there's a slim chance the next writer who takes a crack at Cass might do something that excites her few remaining fans and reminds everyone of what a cool character she used to be.


Anonymous said...
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Nathaniel said...

I know this is a pretty old entry, but I figured I'd weigh in: apparently Fabian Nicieza, who will be taking over Red Robin, has some interest in using her in the future. The "big plans" that we were promised last year are apparently perpetually stuck in the future, at least according to Ian Sattler at Wondercon. I'm guessing they probably never existed in the first place.

I've written two letters to DC now expressing my disappointment with how they've handled the character. I guess I'll keep doing so until they actually read one. Her disappearance from comics wouldn't be so bad if they didn't treat her like she'd never existed in the first place. I can hardly stomach the Batgirl book, even though it's gotten better, because the writer goes out of his way to justify why the characters aren't concerned about her, even including a single-panel flashback recently where she tells Steph "not to look for her."

It's pretty depressing to be a fan of a character that the editors and writers seem to want to get as far away from the DC universe as possible.

Joel Bryan said...

Hmm... not surprised. I'm glad you're writing letters, too. I should fire one off.

What I'm thinking now is how Marvel seems to shepherd their characters, but DC doesn't seem to have a clue. Their idea of development is to totally unravel a character, then discard it. Especially if it's a person of color.

And I'm also wondering if you're on to something and the "big plans" announcement complete with the "and she won't be a villain" part was just something to placate the Cass-fans in order to give the new Batgirl title a smooth launch. That kind of "marketing" seems par for the course for DC these days.

One reason why this blog was initially intended to be a nostalgia trip was so I could find nice things to say about DC. Post-Identity Crisis, there really doesn't seem much positive going on there, although they're probably taking some comfort that 2009 saw a 4% rise in their market share.

"Contempt for our own characters, contempt for our fans-- the new DC! There's no stopping us now!"

Nathaniel said...

It almost seems like some higher-up at DC is out to get her. And maybe they are. Everyone in their right mind knew that the Beechen miniseries wouldn't sell well, yet it's used as an excuse for why Cass can never support her own book again. It seems like the plan for the new Batgirl book was "write Cass out as quickly and sloppily as possible so we can move on to a different character that editorial actually likes."

The only consolation to this is that one of the reasons Steph is in the batsuit is because fans complained so often and so loudly for years. So I definitely encourage writing letters, and getting anyone you know who likes the character to write letters. People still consistently ask about her at conventions, so maybe DC will eventually get the message that there is interest in the character.

I agree, DC sends a poor message by constantly writing out their minority characters (I don't know if you're aware of their recent Cry for Justice miniseries, which killed off Speedy/Arsenal/Red Arrow's half-Asian daughter as a plot twist, or the constant mismanaging of McDuffie's Milestone characters). And it especially rubs me the wrong way when they create a character like the new Blue Beetle and pat themselves on the back over it, and then horrible kill or mangle ten other non-white superheroes.

Man, if you want good DC stuff, the past is the place to go, because there ain't much worth reading nowadays. I hardly read superhero comics anymore because I'm so tired of the "newer, brighter direction!" both companies are always trying to go with, that ultimately devolves back into mindless violence and character assassination in a few weeks. There is something hilarious about DC's new "Brightest Day" flagship title running concurrently with a big JLA event about Arsenal losing his arm and his child daughter and doing drugs again while Green Arrow murders villains. Sure is a bright new day, right?

Joel Bryan said...

You summed it up perfectly. I completely agree. And I didn't know about the Cry for Justice miniseries... I didn't even know it existed. Great job of marketing by DC, huh?

Obviously, characters need to be run through the wringer in terms of conflict, but DC seems to specialize in a certain kind that actually undermines or destroys the character in question. It's as if they don't want to make money off certain characters. It would cost nothing to fix Cass up and use her here and there and it would engender fan loyalty as a result.

But no.

And the Beechen miniseries is such a sore point with me. Of course if you release something that's as poorly written as that, there's a good chance it won't sell. But why does that reflect on the character rather than the writer in so many people's minds? Beechen produces something so horrific it sheds readers like crazy-- and the first issue sold fairly well before the next ones took a dumper so, to my mind, people were interested in the character, just not in a poorly-written story featuring the character-- and he gets rewarded with more work.

Meanwhile, the fictional character gets blamed for the book's failure and gets written out of the DC Universe in as perfunctory a manner possible. I don't see the logic in that.

It's not that the characters are crap. It's that the creative teams are putting out crappy work. But then again, they increased their market share and have all these shiny new movies coming out, so who really cares?

You know what would rock my socks? If the Batman movie team chooses to introduce a version of Batgirl and uses the Cass version. She'd fit the film universe much better than either Barbara Gordon or Stephanie Brown.

Then DC would have to choke on Cass.

Won't happen, but that's my dream scenario.