Sunday, September 30, 2012

You're not benched if you don't exist...

Toxic and benched are the buzzwords this year for characters like Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, Wally West and Donna Troy.  Well, toxic more for the first two.  Supposedly.  Poor Cass, poor Steph.  Every so often someone writes about the disappearance of these characters, someone asks Dan DiDio or whoever is writing a Bat-book that month about them at a convention.  The word is they'll be back when the new, much younger DC universe ages enough for its overall narrative to catch up to them.  That sounds okay, although it doesn't make much sense for characters whose debuts came chronologically after Cass's or Steph's to exist prior to their re-appearances, or to have 4 different Robins in 5 story-years.

From a story/continuity point, there's no logic to it.  Then you look at it from another angle.  When DC hit the reset button, they deliberately cherry picked the characters they felt would sell the best, and some of our faves didn't make the cut.  And when it suits them, they can backtrack to pick up ones they feel they have a direction for to take a little risk.  That is perfectly logical.  It hurts a vocal minority of fans-- this blogger included-- but it's good for the company as a whole.  It's too bad DC has handled it very poorly from a public relations standpoint, but I doubt anyone's losing any sleep over alienating the 20 odd people who bought Batgirl #1 last month from Comixology or the ten or so who mailed waffles to DiDio.

But even if they were, it's not that big a deal.  A lot of people who are mildly annoyed by the loss of Cass, who were irked when DC announced Steph as Batgirl in that Smallville comic then yanked her, the ones who pine for Wally and Donna are largely still buying DC books because they want to know what's happening.  They are comics consumers with pull lists, so comic books make up a part of their monthly entertainment budget and they enjoy what they're reading more so than they're upset by a few characters dropping out with vague promises of returns.  When an entire universe changes, they want to be in on it.

The pro-Cass people and the pro-Steph people?  We're a minor nuisance.  We generally just annoy the more mainstream reader who's perfectly happy overall with what DC's done, so much so they take to comment sections to tell those few of us to shut up-- like the one on the Facebook feed where I found that article, although the two comments at the site are more supportive (they seem to be just anti-52 in general, actually).

And if you're someone like me who starts a blog to champion one of these discarded characters and who does stop buying DC's monthlies-- to be honest, I largely stopped way before the 52 reboot, more so because I didn't care much for the tone, art or direction coming out of DC at the time than for any character-based loyalty-- you're just too small a fish for DC or the Time/Warner corporate entity to bother with.  I slipped through the net back into the sea and no one even knew I was almost in the boat in the first place.  Now if I happened to be Jaws, and Chief DiDio had to tell Quint Lee they needed a bigger boat...

Then we'd have something!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Batgirl... in color!

Here's another Batgirl sketch I did in lieu of informative content about Cassandra Cain. Of course, since I started this Cass blog I've been thinking a lot about the erstwhile Batgirl/Black Bat. And what I think is-- it probably would have been better if they'd created her with a definitive end in mind. I'll pontificate like the long-winded blowhard I am on this topc later, but as you no doubt already know, I'm highly influenced in my thinking by Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The way that film ended was inevitable given the choices Jen Yu made during the story and the options presented her. Another major influence is Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima's Lone Wolf and Cub (that duo is my impossible dream Cass Cain creative team, by the way), which is a masterpiece of long-form serialized storytelling.

I've never seen a happy ending in Cass's future.  I just didn't see this kind of tragic finish to her comic book career.  Death by apathy?

A Batgirlish sketchbook page...

I've never been able to get that belt right. Some artists give it huge pouches, some smaller ones. I give it crappy pouches.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

DC Women Kicking Ass is celebrating its 3rd Annual Kick Ass DC Woman Contest!

It's that time of year. Time for the greatest DC characters to rumble, spark lots of of fan arguments, inspire passionate screeds in support and generally kick ass. Last year Wonder Woman narrowly defeated Cassandra Cain. I put my three picks in for this year's-- Cass, even though as a top 4 finisher last year she's in automatically, Isis and Katana. Now, about Wonder Woman defeating Cass. That's not surprising at all. Wonder Woman is the original kick ass DC woman. What's surprising is Cass was runner-up. Can we make it two years in a row? Probably not. But it's worth a try. Get out there and drum up some support for our Cass and see if we can't make some noise. But remember-- NO VOTING FRAUD. Cass would have you play fair. Be honest and play fair.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In a related story...

...researchers found showing comic book fans pictures of Cassandra Cain caused them to feel as though they no longer exist.

What does identifying with Cassandra Cain do for your self-image?

What do you think of this report?  Apparently, some men who identify with Batman or Spider-Man feel better about their bodies when they look at pictures of their heroes, but if they're indifferent, the pictures make them feel worse.  A previous study found a similar effect in women who viewed celebrity photos.

I love this stuff.  I'm a psychology buff, and I know just enough about it to use its jargon to make bizarre, counter-factual claims and asinine pronouncements that can't withstand close scrutiny with facts.  To me, this report actually raises more questions than provides answers.  Here are a few.

1) What if you identify with Dani Moonstar or Cassandra Cain?  What effect does looking at drawings of Spider-Man and Batman have on your self-confidence?

2) What if you identify with Buddy Bradley?

3) Or the Crypt-Keeper?

4) Have they done this study specifically with female comic book fans?

5) Would doing the above study produce similar results?  Or, given the sexualized or fetishistic nature of how many female characters are presented, would they be opposite?  I'd be very interested in seeing how this plays out, because while their numbers aren't as great as with male fans, female comic fans are incredibly passionate about their favorite characters.

6) What is the nature of identification with characters involving female comic book fans?  Is it the same or different than with male fans?

7) What about fans with other gender identities?

8) Related to number one, how much cross-gender identification is there?  Is this common, or isolated?

9) In the study of women and celebrities, what kind of photos were used?  Were they candid shots, photos from public events or sexualized photo-spreads from men's magazines?  And would any of those affect the results?

10) Is identification with characters-- in effect, the reader "masking" himself or herself with certain characters-- important to creating a fan base or readership?

BONUS 11) What about fans who identify with villains?

I'm seriously interested in someone doing a study on these, and some in-depth surveying of women who read superhero comics.  Isn't it a fairly common belief male characters are idealized and more inviting of identification while female characters are objectified and more involving the reader in the male gazed based on an assumption that the readership is almost exclusively male?  And yet women who are into superhero comics really latch onto these characters and they're extremely vocal with their opinions.  Well, maybe that's just part of being a superhero comic fan.  But you know... Stephanie Brown.  Oracle.  Huntress.  Lois Lane. You dismiss or degrade these characters at your peril.

I'm also keenly interested in the gender dynamics.  As someone who easily identifies with female characters-- I have my entire life and probably pretended to be Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman or any one of Charlie's Angels and even Cindy Lee from The Secrets of Isis as often as I portrayed Superman, the Incredible Hulk, Sgt. Rock, Batman or Spider-Man as a child, and Dani Moonstar quickly became my masking character of choice in New Mutants-- and responds strongly to their positive and negative portrayals, I'm guessing I fall somewhere outside the control group or whatever the heck they used here.  So I also want to know how other fans who view gender and sexuality in ways that aren't traditionally accepted.

And, strangely enough, I also identify quite a bit with characters with ambiguous morality-- in fictional, comic book dichotomous terms, not real life.  I find we have to go outside the mainstream to find these kinds of richly drawn, troublesome characters.  When I read Nexus, I tend to mask myself with Horatio Hellpop, but I find myself drawn to Ursula X.X. Imada whenever she appears on the scene.  Outside of genre fiction, I find Hopey Glass and Terry Downe from Love and Rockets have always fascinated me more than Maggie, the star.  And I have much more in common with Buddy Bradley from Peter Bagge's Hate than I'm comfortable admitting.

When I see drawings of them, how do I feel about myself?  Pretty good, I guess.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Strange Google search term of the day...

And it's "batgirl's ass."  Stay classy, Internet!

Cass: Too Successful?

In an essay entitled "The All-Too-Successful Career of Cassandra Cain" on his blog Oz and Ends, J.L. Bell makes a strong case for our Cass having been too successful at conflict resolution.  Bell accurately assesses and neatly sums up everything there is to know about Cass and her comic book career.

What went wrong was it went so right.

Maybe I'm excited by it because he echoes points I tried to make years ago in an review I wrote for the trade paperback collection Batgirl Vol. 1:  Silent Running.  This was back in 2001 when she still had her monthly, and I boldly predicted the rate of character development would result in Cass becoming "another black-suited Bat-ninja."  I wanted the writers to explore her psyche more and stretch the narrative before they reached a logical stopping point or turned her into something generic.

After reading Bell's take, I feel validated.  Somewhat.  Partially.  Bell explains what happened in terms of "Foundational Conflicts."  Simply put, Cass had several personal issues that largely defined her character arc-- inability to communicate through words, father/daughter relationship, guilt, death wish, self-identity and Batgirl resolved all of these-- some of them repeatedly-- within its first 25 issues, or up until original creative team Kelley Puckett and Damion Scott left the book.  Bell doesn't hang a number on the exact issue that was one too many, so I'll be super generous and say until #50, which established Batman as Cassandra's new father figure.  There were some real stinkers in the mix before then, though, that showed the directionless tendency that caused the book to start shedding readers.  As the series went on, it increasingly became less about Batgirl running silently and more about her running in circles.  Sales dropped, a half-hearted attempt to change settings and give the title a regular supporting cast came to nothing, DC cancelled the book.

Then things got weird.  As they had done successfully with Batman and Superman before her, DC attempted to reset the character, to give her what Bell calls an "Unresolvable Foundational Conflict," but the people responsible-- whoever they were-- handled it poorly.  Which is putting it mildly.

Any good story is at its heart about the transformative journey of the protagonist.  Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima or Lady Snowblood by Koike and Kazuo Kamimura are the ideal models for what Batgirl's journey should have been.  Or the Ang Lee film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, mostly due to some similarities Cass shares with the Zhang Ziyi character Jen Yu.  These end satisfyingly.  No more story to tell.  Batgirl, on the other hand, was intended as an open-ended series in the American sense.  She has to have some kind of unique, personal motivation to keep doing her thing, and keep readers involved.  I'm sure if DC had found one for her, she'd still be in print somewhere, somehow.  It's easy to see in hindsight how badly they botched what was once a popular, top-selling character, but at the time those terrible ideas must have seemed like just the thing to cure Cass.

Or reverse-cure her and give her more of those Foundational Conflicts.  Instead, they just resulted in conflicts with the fans and oblivion for Cass.  Kind of ironic, I suppose.  Cass was so good at kicking ass, she kicked her own ass.

I want to end this on a hopeful note.  Perhaps in a few years we'll see a "re-boot" version.  After all, if the movie studios can give us another Spider-Man origin film barely 10 years after the first, there's no reason DC can't re-introduce Cass in all her silent, death-wishin' glory in one of the many Batman-starring books, Birds of Prey, or the Barbara Gordon Batgirl.  After all, it doesn't cost as much to add a supporting character to a comic book as it does to make a huge summer blockbuster film.  Perhaps Cass can come back not as Batgirl, but as Black Bat.  Then do it all over again, but slowly.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

My Ten Favorite Cassandra Cain Moments...

Cassandra Cain is one crazy kid and she's so damned hard on people. I've lost count of how many times she's beaten up her biological father and her best friend, and the fights she's had with both her mentors plus their various proteges. Well, I suppose being raised as an engine of violence tends to do that to a young woman. Or anyone, for that matter. Here are my 10 favorite Cass Cain moments from the first 50 issues of Batgirl (there have been precious few since).  Oh, and I altered a couple of "controversial" jokes from my original posting of this.  No point in antagonizing people this early in the game:

1) The Impulsive Kiss (Batgirl #2). This is the moment that hooked me. Batgirl puts a major ass-whuppin' on some stereotypical comic book tough guys to save this bald guy and his pet paper bag, then plants a kiss on his cheek. It startles him the same way it startled me; here's Little Miss Kung Fu, silent and damaged, showing tenderness. Something soft and human resides in her, despite the abuse she's suffered.

2) Take That, Spoiler (Batgirl #27). Early Cassandra Cain had little use for social niceties like-- you know-- greetings, farewells, the stuff in between. It made it difficult for her to make friends, and she barely seemed interested. Somehow, she ends up making friends with the largely incompetent Spoiler. Cass starts training her, but rarely takes her seriously as a partner, an attitude she makes quite clear when she simply cold-cocks poor Spoiler to keep her out of a fight rather than take the time to explain to her she's only going to get herself killed. It's easier this way, plus it illustrates on how much higher a plane Cass operates.

3) Up Yours, Barbara (Batgirl #45). Cass also takes on Barbara Gordon's legacy as the first Batgirl by putting on her clothes and fighting crime. She has to endure a lot of sexist "compliments" from Tim Drake.  Nice going, fella. High heeled boots prove Cass's undoing, but she redeems herself by once again beating the snot out of every sucker she meets.

4) Celebrating Her Birthday on the Wrong Day With Batman (Batgirl #33). I forget how many times writers had Cass work through her father issues with both her biological father Cain and her father-figure Batman. This is one of the sweeter moments, coming just after Cass has visited Cain in prison and knocked him out for being a jerk. The kind of jerk who thinks shooting his daughter is a good way to train her to be tough. After learning her true birthdate, she immediately rejects it in favor of Batman's choice. Choose your father, choose your birthday, Cass.

5) Lying to Batman (Batgirl #36). But while she may have substituted Batman for Cain as her dad-of-record, both men have to deal with the force of nature that is Cassandra Cain. And it's about as easy as taming a taifun. She constantly disobeys DC's scariest asshole: from putting her Batgirl identity ahead of her relationship with her caped mentor to going against his wishes and letting a criminal go free, then blatantly lying to his face about it (and do you think Batman doesn't know? Who's being naive, Kay?), Cass shows everyone she's going to do things her way or no way.

6) She's Also a Teacher (Batgirl #6). I always imagine Batman's relationship to Cass has been something of a hand's relationship to a handle-less knife-- one wrong move and you will get cut. Cass is dangerous and she has her own ideas about how to do things. Never is this more apparent than when she horrifies the uptight Batman with this literally heart-stopping lesson in empathy for a bad guy.

7) Normal Life? Who Needs It? (Batgirl #14). Especially when you can be Batgirl full-time. Here Cass freaks out the traditionalist Barbara Gordon by beating up a team of government agents without bothering to wear a mask. Cass couldn't care less about living a "normal" life. And when your family consists of imprisoned murderers or overly rigid assholes who hide behind masks, who are you trying to protect by doing the whole "secret identity/double life" gag? No one, according to our little iconoclast.

8) Not a Quitter (Batgirl #7). Batgirl's greatest skill is her ability to read her opponent's body language, which enables her to predict any move or counter. But it comes at the cost of language. When a psychic rewrites her brain, Cass gains words and their meanings but loses her fighting edge. While she's still deadly on offense, she completely lacks defense-- but she will stop at nothing to learn, as Batman finds out here. Wow, how many times did she manage to freak out the ever-intense Dark Knight Detective with her own ultra-high levels of intensity? Like Arnold as the Terminator, this girl never gives up, DC. Never.

9) Beating the World's Deadliest Martial Artist (Batgirl #25). To regain her body language reading abilities, Cass makes a heavy bargain with Lady Shiva, the deadliest fighter alive (next to Cass). Lady Shiva grants Batgirl one year of perfection, but they must fight to the death. This plays into Cass's guilt at having killed a man when she was a child. It also feeds her death wish. On the chosen day, Cass accepts her fate, then manages to do the nearly impossible, further cementing her spot as one of the DC universe's most dangerous martial artists.

10) This is Your Batgirl. This is Your Batgirl on Drugs (Batgirl #50). Being a child of abuse and generally unable to express her more torturous emotions, Batgirl frequently acts out. The whole death wish/Lady Shiva/lying/disobeying Batman thing gets her fired as Batgirl but she keeps on keepin' on. One more time, DC: she will not quit. Because he knows she's so damaged, Batman shrewdly decides the best way for the two of them to settle their father-daughter differences is with a fun shopping trip to the Gotham Mall and a long talk over a shared sundae... Actually, they get drugged up on some crazy anger concoction and throw down. The result is an epic fight during which they bond while beating up Nightwing. Batgirl doesn't always know the difference between a hug and a roundhouse kick to the face. And with her, they both sometimes have the same meaning: "I love you, Daddy."