I have a confession to make. One that will likely alienate me from much of the comic blogosphere...
I don't like Cassandra Cain/Batgirl.
I've tried. Believe me. I've read most of the issues, thanks to a friend who's a big fan. But I can't bring myself to like her.
It's just...she's so cliched in concept. And I know that now that I've said that, I'll probably get a few people going on about the "originality" of a fighter who can't speak and communicates through/perceives body language as an actual language.
And that is original, I suppose. But honestly my reaction to hearing that, even listening to the character being described was: "...Of course
Let me explain that. I've mentioned before that one of my biggest problems with Kitty Pryde as a character is how she seems to be more of a collection of traits that the writers thought were cool than an actual character. Of course
she's a ninja, ballerina, world-class chess player, et cetera.
I will give Cass a bit more credit. I think she's got a very distinct personality (um, barring recent OYL events), it's just...yet another "of course
" for me.
I have no problem with martial artists with unique abilities, I have no problem with children of pre-established characters, I have no problem with traumatizing pasts or moral decision or really any trait that Cass possesses individually. It's just...somehow together, they become eye-rolling to me.
Let's take the basic for a start. She's David Cain's daughter. Okay, cool. And she's Asian. Now I have no problem with Asian heroes. I love seeing more non-white heroes. But she's introduced as the daughter of an enemy/trainer of Batman, and that person is white. On one hand, I'm glad to see more evidence of mixed race relationships in comics. They're always good. But in this case, it doesn't seem like a genuine attempt at portraying someone mixed race. I've never seen a single instance where her mixed-race aspect comes up in the story or even out of the story. She's always described, even by the people that created her, as "the Asian Batgirl".
Honestly, it always seemed to me, like the decision to make her Asian was mostly because "everyone loves hot asian martial artist chicks" rather than any sincere desire to portray a mixed race character.
Now really, regardless of the reason for it, it's good to see more color in the DCU. Especially the almost chalk white Bat-family. This reason on its own is not enough to make me dislike her or even pause much. (For the record, I love when relatives of pre-established characters are introduced.) It is, however, the beginning of a trend.
Because she's also trained to be an uber-assassin. Possibly a better fighter than Batman. Which on it's own, I have no problem with also. I've liked, actually, how she's portrayed as a brilliant fighter but incapable/inexperienced in basically any other area. She's brilliant at fighting but then, really, that's all she can do.
Her past is tremendously angsty. Okay, I can dig that. She was trained as an uber-assassin by a villain. Makes sense. He was abusive and scary and raised her without the capacity for speech. It's a bit over the top for my taste, but it's original at least. And ties into a particularly neat ability to read people's body language like a book.
And naturally, she's not really
a killer! After all that, she only killed someone once! When she was too young to know what she was doing! And she ran away immediately afterwards! At the age of 8. And she lived alone, incapable of speech until she hooked up with the Batclan at age 16/17 or so. ...now we're getting to things that I start to find hard to swallow. It's such a cliche. Someone raised to be a killer, but somehow managing to be so pure that she only did it once. When she couldn't possibly be blamed? And then immediately left? Because she was so good at heart, she couldn't take it? Oh, brother.
And of course, she's pure of heart! She's genuine, and good, and completely without artifice. She is haunted by that one horrible incident for years and even has something of a death wish because of it. She's tragic! She's so pure that she rescues a man from the death penalty because she's so against killing! She's the one character with the deepest and most sincere idea about what Bruce's mission is all about! Because of what happened to her. She feels it. Of course
She's socially awkward and completely illiterate. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. In fact, it'd be pretty interesting. Except, oh, she's really not the first. And she might as well not be the second, for the amount of storyline focus her illiteracy has actually had. Not like Bruce or Barbara couldn't possibly have figured out a way or called specialists to help her learn. And for someone "socially awkward", she certainly seemed poised enough at any social event she's attended. She's well-mannered and polite. She's a good-hearted, kind person. She's physically attractive and knows how to wear clothes in a way that showcases that. She's really only isolated because of her inexperience. She's a debutante.
Let's not get into the male fantasy of a girlfriend that's completely inexperienced and socially innocent, but is also beautiful, poised, intelligent and kind. Leading to a combination that very likely dates "ordinary guys" like them.
She's got her flaws as a character. But they're, honestly, what I call "cheap flaws". As in they're personality flaws that really aren't. "Too kind" is not a character flaw. It's a shame because the world will take advantage of you. But it's not a flaw in you
. "Too driven" isn't either. Not unless you have people (like a spouse or children) that might genuinely suffer for your lack of presence in their lives. "Inexperienced" is considered by many people to be a plus, and if not...well, it's curable.
I'm not saying she should be Guy Gardner. But hell, everyone needs a few flaws. A few genuinely dislikable, mockable qualities in their personality. We all have them. I, for example, am stubborn, obnoxious, oblivious, lazy and quite convinced that I'm right, you're wrong, and we're only one good old fashioned verbal brawl away from you realizing that.
I think the fairest comparison to make to Cassandra would probably be Kyle Rayner. Kyle is, in a lot of ways, probably the purest character in the DCU. When given absolute power, he erred on the side of trying to help too much, and when this was brought to his attention, he gave it up in one big flashy bring-light-back-into-the-universe move. He was the one character selfless enough to try to save his enemy in Obsidian Age, proving to the Manitou wizard that he, and by extension the team, were on the side of good. He constantly forgave unfair treatment by the hands of everyone who resented him for Hal's fate. He's even forgiven and become friends with the man who literally ripped out his heart
But Kyle also has some very real flaws. He's extremely self-centered. He's occasionally whiny. He's incredibly vain
, (the first thing he did with absolute power, and the one moment that made the whole story work for me, was cut his hair), he can be catty. In the fights with Ollie, for example, he was equally as childish and petty. He's insecure and clingy. He's immature. Constantly fights with his mother, and at one point hadn't seen her for years. And sometimes he's a damned idiot.
But these flaws make what would otherwise be a far too saccharine character human and fun. When has the Batgirl comic ever really allowed you to laugh
at her? Even Batman's flaws have been poked at a little. Definitely Robin's tiny control freak tendencies. Barbara? Maniacal machiavelli behind the computer screen, you betcha.
And not to mention her complete reliance on a male role-model whose philosophy she adopts religiously. The one part of her admittedly-well-written comic that really struck me was that point with Shiva looking through all of Cassandra's bat toys and wondering which if any she herself invented. Because Cassandra doesn't use them and doesn't need them. (This in itself is an interesting story though, and why I was actually really happy and intrigued by the end of Batgirl and Cass going to find her own path.)
It's the combination that gets me. She's an Asian-because-Asians-are-cool daughter of a pre-established evil character with ties to Batman, trained as a killer-but-the-only-time-she's-actually-killed-it-wasn't-her-fault, pure hearted, virtual saint, with no real flaws...
That said, I'm not particularly happy with the direction OYL has taken her either. If only because, I was perfectly fine just staying away from her comic (though I have to admit, the first and ONLY time I ever found her interesting was in Shiva's coat at the very end of Batgirl, when she seemed to be finding her own path.) I found the character change inconsistent and cartoonish. Like there was no real way to turn her evil without completely shredding her character in the process. (Bullshit, there are dozens of ways to turn a character evil without resorting to that. OR to mind control. Even a saint has a breaking point.) Besides, I sympathize with Cass fans. It has to suck to see your favorite character completely unrecognizable.
I might actually find it interesting if she is undercover and working for Deathstroke as an agent of Bruce's. It'd be a nice way to get her hands just a teensy bit dirty and jade her purity just a teeny bit. I don't want her unrecognizable either, but a tiny bit of tarnish really does make the silver brighter in comparison. A bit more human as opposed to tragic romantic figure would go a long way.
(Edit from the future: I may have reconsidered my opinion of Cassandra here