Monday, December 23, 2013

Cass Cain holding at #3!

Here's Kelly Thompson's latest "25 Favorite Fictional Females" list, with our own fave-- none other than Cassandra "Best Batgirl/Black Bat" Cain holding down the #3 spot.  Thompson has a nice take on Cass and I have to agree with it 100%.  What's great about making lists like this is-- well, they're one person's opinion, aren't they?  That means you're free to agree, disagree, discuss, argue or make your own list.  Or all of the above.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Batgirl kicks someone's grandfather...

Here's a rough pencil sketch I just knocked out where Cass Cain kicks someone's grandfather in the head for reasons known but to herself.  He looks a little like Lew Ayres.  Anatomy needs some work (to say the very least)!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cass Cain redesign marker sketch...

More Black Bat than Batgirl.  The mask isn't working, but you can't tell these things until you try them.  Back to the drawing board!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Unfinished Cass Cain Batgirl

This was a style experiment I started a while back, grew tired of, then forgot.  I found it just now and here it is.

A nice Cass appreciation piece by a Stephanie Brown fan...

It's short and to the point.  But there have been at least two "bring back Cass" campaigns I'm aware of the writer doesn't seem to be.  That's cool.  After all, I couldn't tell you how many "bring back Steph" campaigns there have been.  Probably more than two. 

My gut feeling is Steph fandom is much more active and vocal lately than Cass fandom for various reasons.  For one, I think the character is simply more popular.  To list a few others, Steph's stint as Batgirl is more recent; the character headlined a book wiped out in 2011 by the New 52 while Cass' last book was that abysmal Redemption Road miniseries way back in 2008 (which with all the reboots and retcons is the comic book fan equivalent of about fifty years of regular human time); the character has a longer history than Cass does (Steph debuted in 1992-- about 1000 years ago in fan-time-- while Cass didn't make the scene until 1999); Steph was a Robin until they tortured and killed her (as a controversial story point, this tends to trump a simple drug-induced heel turn), and so on and so forth.  I'm tired of typing comparisons now. 

It might also be Steph is more accessible a character than Cass for a lot of readers.  She can verbalize her feelings, she's usually written as witty or smart, the kind of character you instantly identify with and root for.  Or, at the very least, find fun to spend time with or read about.  Even as a staunch Cass fan I can see how a silent, former killer who seems untouchable at times could be off-putting or even alienating to some readers (although I can't see anything about her that's particularly clichéd).

Anyway, we see which character DC has picked to debut first in the New 52.  That's also fitting for a lot of the reasons I've already written about here.  But like the Steph fan we started this little rumination with, I can't see a single reason why Cass should remain on the shelf gathering dust for much longer.

Pensive Cass Cain Batgirl ink experiment...

I don't know what she's thinking about.  Probably her foot going up against someone's head.  I inked this in a loose, fat brush style in about a minute and a half and I don't think it's that bad.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A quick Cass Cain inking experiment

Messing around with inking.  Here are some fast sketches of Cassandra Cain as Batgirl kicking Batman in the head.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Coming up with an attractive and functional helmet/mask for Cass is a fun process...

I wish I had time to scan the sketches I'm doing, or at least snap some photos with my iPhone.  I think I've got a new-look Batgirl/Black Bat costume for Cass I'm fairly happy with, but her headgear is another matter.  I've experimented with full-head helmets, anime Batgirl-inspired regular helmets with goggles, flared cowls with an open area up top and around her nose and mouth and even a strange mask that's reminiscent of the cat/butterfly mask worn by the character Noodle from the animated band Gorillaz during their most recent phase.

The suit is a sleek, one-piece affair with a larger and more stylized bat-symbol on the chest.  The color scheme is a very dark gray that you can either read as something close to charcoal or else a matte black, with the bat outlined in yellow and completely blacked in.  The belt is yellow but thinner and features rounded pouches in the back, out of the way.  Cass was never one to use a lot of tools-- all she really needs is that grappling gun and some batarangs and she's good to go.  None of that requires giant flopping pouches, but she can add any that become necessary depending on her mission.  The boots have a kind of flapped or hinged ankle arrangement.  No cape.

The first helmet I came up with for her really clashed with the suit's sleekness.  It made her look clumsy and top-heavy.  So I decided that wasn't the way to go, unless I wanted to bulk up her boots or add some visible padding at her elbows or knees, but then we're cutting down on her mobility, which was the basis for the entire design.  Another issue was I wanted her to have a little mouth opening and a simple rectangular one is too Iron Man and expressionless, but when I went for an inverted delta or crescent, the design looked too Star Wars stormtrooper for my taste.  Eventually I took a design cue from the fangs real bats have, with some triangular openings suggesting a vampire bat in the abstract.

After that I played around with the flared mask, which looked menacing but a little too alien.  I 've always admired Jamie Hewlett's Gorillaz designs, but just as I wanted to avoid duplicating Annie Wu's work on Batman Beyond, I also wanted to do something more me.  So I modified that into an open-topped cowl but I haven't worked out the way it wraps around Cass's neck and the back of her head, or a functional hairstyle to go with it.

This probably sounds like a lot of work for a fan drawing project, especially one for a character who doesn't officially exist.  But I do this during big group meetings here-- they're all in Japanese and I haven't the foggiest idea what I'm hearing anyway-- and it keeps me entertained.  Rethinking character costumes is fun stuff.  I've got a couple of ideas for both Superman and Wonder Woman, too!

This weekend I'll post some of my efforts here and we can all have a good laugh.

Monday, November 25, 2013

I'm redesigning Cass... again!

Back when Cass first found herself undergoing a heel-turn (as they say in professional wrestling and podiatry, I believe), I took it upon myself to invent my own version of Cass who was quiet and deadly and all those things we liked about her in the first place.  Only I put her in a retro-style outfit with a very short cape which would be more visually symbolic, I suppose.  Both the graphic novel Watchmen and the Pixar film The Incredibles show the drawbacks of having a cape, and with Batgirl's hyper-active fighting style, I just figured a cape would be more of a hindrance to her than its supposed intimidation/distraction/confusing factor (or whatever reason the Bat-family relies on capes) could offset.

I also gave her a mouth-less mask with no stitching because 1) it offers more anonymity, 2) she doesn't particularly feel the need to blab about with either friends or foes and 3) even if she should decide to make a speech, a mouth-less mask never stopped Spider-Man so why should it stop her?  And then I promptly discarded the mask in almost every drawing because I like drawing her facial expressions and Cass wasn't concerned with protecting her civilian identity anyway.

Her Batgirl uniform is pretty dramatic, in all black with those big stitches around the mouth (you'd think Batman would have bought her a new mask at some point with a detachable mouth-covering using Velcro or something less obvious, though) and a simple contour line bat-symbol.  Whether it's some kind of stretchable "ballistics cloth," leather or PVC is up to artistic interpretation, but however we have it, it looks might cool.  The cape, though, I felt was a bit much.  Looks cool, but-- once again-- impractical.

Working out the curve and perspective on those comically exaggerated belt pouches drives me up the wall, though!  And other than a batarang or that grappling gun, has Cass ever really pulled a lot of equipment from out of them for use?  I mean, maybe she has fingerprint or DNA swabbing kits in one of them, but I can't think of any stories where Cass scoured a location for those kinds of clues.  She usually just goes for the obvious stuff like a note for Spoiler to read to her, then grabs a punk and beats the necessary info out of him.  But I digress.  It's still a great costume.

But I also like Cass' Black Bat outfit.  Mostly, I like the pointy domino mask which reveals most of her face.  It helps reader identification and even though artists like Damion Scott would give the faceless mask some wild expressions that more or less accomplished the same thing, I like seeing an actual see a face there, or most of one, so we can see how artists draw Cass' "acting."  That's an important part of storytelling.  The elements I'm not so keen on are the long, loose hair, the scarf-like wrap-around cape (ask Isadora Duncan why that's a worse choice than even a traditional superhero cape) and the occasional addition of pointy claws.  I've never really understood the white, bandage-looking arm wraps, either, but that's just me.  Pull back her hair so it's out of her face and eyes, ditch the scarf and the arm wraps and you'd have something super-slick.

And it was with that thought-- and the impending return of Stephanie Brown to the New 52 DC universe, which means a costume change for her-- I set to work coming up with a plausible Batgirl costume for a New 52 Cass.  Minus the cowl stitching, the cape and the big pouches, the original Cass Batgirl costume would look an awful lot like a female version of the Batman Beyond suit.  That's fine but too easy.  Doesn't require much thought or creativity.  Annie Wu's recent futuristic Batgirl design is perfect for that character, and I love the bat-symbol shoulder pad effect, but I don't want to copy her.

My idea is Cass as a razor-sharp fighter who is willing to trade a certain level of protection for mobility.  After all, she "reads" her opponents' moves and goes into pre-emptive defensive postures and moves before they can even attack.  So I thought she's going to need a sleek yet amply-protected look that ditches the cape but replaces the cowl with a stylized but very light helmet that covers her entire head.  Yeah, kind of a fanciful notion, but no more so than the idea Superman needs a high collar and gladiator boots.  The ears are larger and more accurate to a real bat, there are menacing lensed eyes and there's a small mouth opening so she can breath.  Plus, she can take it off and kick it to the side when she's in the mood not to hide her face.  I really don't think she cares about that kind of thing.

I've modified the fins on the gloves for use as offensive weapons and defensively as shown in the recent Christian Bale Batman flicks.  The suit will have visible seams so you can see it's made of some kind of imaginary flexible protective material-- not PVC, not leather, not movie-style armor.  Her boots are martial arts inspired-- I think heavy treads look cool but take away her climbing ability and some of her "feel" for whatever terrain she's fighting on, but old school superhero type thin boots are kind of silly for this "realistic" style Cass.

This consists so far of exactly two sketches, both executed on the fly at work.  The rest has been largely a thought exercise.  And I haven't figured out the damned belt yet!  When I do, I'll start drawing some colored sketches and put a few of them here even if they look like crap.  That's what I do!

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Earlier today I got into an Internet scuffle with someone who became very angry with me because I couldn't bring myself to admit Frank Miller and his version of Batman is the greatest.  I just don't think so, but I don't think that's something to get all huffy about either.  So I drew this horrible drawing in about 6 minutes flat, which has nothing to do with Frank Miller's Batman and a whole lot to do with fun.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Adios, Fearless Defenders!

Much like with Katana, Fearless Defenders was a lone offering from one of the Big Two superhero publishers that I bought with any regularity.  And now it's cancelled.  To be honest, I didn't like it quite as much as I did Katana, but Fearless Defenders featured a character for whom my dedication is true.  Dani Moonstar.  I usually follow creators or series rather than single characters, but Dani Moonstar was my Marvel Cass Cain.  She's one of those characters I will buy stories in which she appears even if they stink.  She and I just kind of hit it off when I read Marvel Graphic Novel #4 The New Mutants the year it came out and in The New Mutants regular series.  She was my "in," the character I identified the most with and one I tend to write a lot about when I'm doing the comic book fan blog thing. 

And Fearless Defenders certainly did not stink.  While I could never match the love its hardcore fans hold for  it (I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who loved Katana; a fandom of one!), it does bum me out we won't have new issues.

I need new Dani Moonstar adventures, but I'm not too worried about her future.  Unlike DC, Marvel tends to keep its characters around.  They may not appear in a book for a while-- they may even be killed at some point-- but you can rest assured they will come back at some point and if you ask about them at conventions, editors won't treat you as if you'd just murdered a puppy in front of them.  Dani Moonstar is, if anything, a survivor.  She's survived all kinds of crazy codename and power changes, lost her powers, gone from one team to another, emerged unscathed from the bitter ending of multiple titles and even has her own (albeit hideous) plastic action figure now.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

5 minute marker Cass!

Look, Ma, no hands!  I did this today trying to warm up a little.  I haven't drawn in a while and it shows!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The penultimate issue of Katana

I bought Katana #9 last night on Comixology and it made me feel a little wistful.  I haven't had time to read it because I also bought The Walking Dead #116-- the series title of which is also kind of apt for Katana, huh?-- and that one is an absolute must-read-immediately for me with this big jerk Negan about to get his comeuppance.  We hope.  Wistful is not an emotion I'd associate with The Walking Dead.  But I will give Katana its reading this weekend.  Just one more issue to go and the coolest looking redesigned character in the New 52 DC universe will go back to being a supporting player in everyone else's comics rather than a star of her own.

That's a shame, but it's not as if there aren't other comics out there to read.  Boom!, IDW and my beloved Dark Horse put out comics that appeal more to my sensibilities than DC's New 52 books-- and Dark Horse's especially feel like better value for the money even at $3.99.  Even so, at that price, I still don't buy new comics like I used to. $2.99 seems to be the uppermost limit of my comfort level and a book has to be something really special to make me pay more.  I've spent more than I care to disclose on $1.99 back issues and .99 sales issues, but I'm down from buying 10 or so new comics a month to two or three.

One of those just happened to have been Katana.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jesus, Dan DiDio, I was just speculatin' about a hypothesis. I know I don't know nothin'.

Apparently, there's this All Access video that shows a whiteboard in an office over at DC (NYC or beautiful downtown Burbank?) with the names of some prominently MIA fan fave characters on it-- Donna Troy and Wally West.  While I like both those characters-- the 1960s-era Teen Titans Wonder Girl (the "clean" version with the upbeat, hedonistic outlook, before they turned her character history into so much narrative spaghetti) is number three on my list of beloved DC characters after Cassandra Cain and Superman and one spot above Big Barda-- the reason we're here talking about this isn't that Stephanie Brown's name is there alongside them.  We already know she's coming back.  Our reason is Russ Burlingame at floats a possibility for a certain "blank space."

Cassandra Cain.

Well, absent any clues-- is this for a comic, something they're going to present to the TV side of things, are they characters returning or characters they're thinking about banning any mention of at an upcoming convention because they're sick of answering the same questions the same way?--  a blank space could represent any character whose name isn't already on the board, whether or not that character has made a New 52 appearance yet.  So Cass seems like a reach. 

On the other hand, that still leaves the possibility it's Cass.  And while some of you reading this may or may not be rolling your eyes (don't deny it; I can actually hear them and they sound like balls rolling around on a pool table) at how dumb I must be, it's still vastly more entertaining to think they're doing this deliberately to stoke this very kind of speculation as a way to hype what will be one of-- if not THE-- most talked-about reappearance of a former character.

And that talk will mostly consist of, "I don't see what's the big deal," "She's way over-rated," "I never really cared that much for the character," "They're just going to wreck her again," and "Her fans are completely insane."

Well, until we get more information, just call me Chief O'Doole.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The future of this blog...

Approximately six people a year read this blog.  I don't think the problem is lack of interest in Cassandra Cain.  It's been a while since she appeared in a comic but you can still find people talking about here online here and there and most of the time their comments are positive.  And with Stephanie Brown coming back to comics, it's only a matter of time before Cass does as well.  That will generate an upswelling in Cass conversation.

No, the problem is this blog is pretty boring and I don't update it regularly enough.  I could add interest by generating controversy (easiest way) or by writing better posts (most difficult way), or I could just quit altogether (I doubt anyone would care). 

The problem with generating controversy is it cheapens the dialogue.  We comic book fans are already touchy enough without someone deliberately trying to irritate everyone just to get some blog traffic.  Occasionally we will accidentally do this, but that's okay.  That's bound to happen if you have an opinion on anything.  I'm just not the kind of person who particularly enjoys making people angry, especially not on purpose. 

And while I'm very lax in updating here (and in generating detailed, interesting posts), I'm not really much for simply quitting.  Plus, I'm too much of a Cass fan simply to take off the Bat-suit, hand it to my friend and then slink away in the rain wearing only my underwear.

Anyway, the point is, I've been writing these crazy Cass match-ups, which I get a big kick out of doing (even if no one particularly enjoys reading them).  I think adding some original artwork would improve them.  Or, almost as fun, make them even stupider.  I don't have much time for drawing these days (I work 12 hours a day, six days a week and there's this whole being married thing that also takes up a lot of time I used to spend reading, thinking and writing about Cass) so I don't know how often I'll be able to produce posts with original illustrations.

I don't seem to have the ability to knock out "cartoony" stuff that looks anything other than rushed or slapdash.  That's fine occasionally, but when I see some of those people who can produce art that looks deceptively simple posting away on semi-regular schedules, it makes me feel artistically inadequate!  So that's largely out unless I'm just in a mood.  And drawing something more detailed, which I am actually fairly competent at doing, takes a massive investment of time.  Which I have little of (see above).

There may be some reviews of things I think appropriate, too, but if I'm not reading a whole lot, I'm not going to be reviewing that much, either.

Anyway, that's the scoop.  If there's a big Cass announcement, though, all bets are off!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Cass mention in a cosplay article!

You know I'm a fan of cosplay.  The Star Phoenix has a short and sweet article on cosplayer Kristin Spearey where she and her son dress as a female Joker and Arkham Asylum Robin, complete with "recipes" for both costumes at the end.  Nice costumes!  The female Joker is fantastic idea and she carries it off very well.  I mean, why not adapt a character and make him or her your own?  But the main reason I'm telling you this is because of this bit:

Kristin's favourites are a Cassandra Cain bat girl, a Harley Quinn she made herself and a Hello Kitty mascot costume.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Annie Wu is pretty darned good, isn't she?

I just saw these preview pages from Annie Wu's issue (or issues) of Marvel's Hawkeye over at DC Women Kicking Ass and felt I had to share them with you.  Why?  Well, if a blog about DC women kicking ass can post an item about a Marvel book, then I feel I can on this Cassandra Cain blog as well, especially since I first became aware of Wu's work through the story arc she did with writer Scott Peterson (of Cass Cain Batgirl fame) on Batman Beyond featuring a new Batgirl.

Wu did an outstanding job on Batman Beyond, but I'm liking these Hawkeye pages even more.  I think I'm biased towards real-world locations as opposed to sci-fi settings.  It takes a lot of imagination to envision what a city will look like in a future time, but creating a believable present requires some other illustrative chops and we have our own personal space to judge it by.  Real cars as opposed to flying wedges and whatnot.  Asphalt streets, concrete sidewalks.  Contemporary clothes and recognizable architecture.  Still imaginative, but lots of details to get right!  I'd say she nailed it.

While I've dabbled in some Hawkeye strictly for its excellent art, I haven't really been able to find my "in" with that book.  I know a lot of people are really high on Hawkeye, so I'll give it another shot just to look at what Annie Wu is doing with it on a full issue.

And might I suggest to DC when they bow to the inevitable and re-boot Cassandra Cain, they do so with Annie Wu handling the art duties?

DC decides Californy is the place they oughta be!

So DC has sold the old homestead, packed Granny and her rocker in the back of their battered old flivver and they're taking their oil billions and moving to Beverly Hills (Burbank, actually), where they will no doubt have several years worth of comical misadventures with a greedy banker, his intellectual and put-upon personal assistant and the banker's snobbish wife.  Plus plenty of critters running about, swimming in the cement pond and even a visit or two from Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs as themselves.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My choice for best blog post title about Stephanie Brown's return...

It has to be this one by J. Caleb Mozzocco.  That he illustrated it with some sweet Dean Trippe artwork only adds to its appeal.  Mozzocco makes some solid points about Stephanie's potential costume, too.  All the costumes, really.  I also wish DC had gone to Darwyn Cooke to re-design everyone-- except Katana; that one is a visual home run-- and I also think Mozzocco's right on with the idea to have Trippe handle the costumes for the younger heroes.  In fact, it would be pretty cool if they at least used some variation on Trippe's Spoiler design for New 52 Steph.  The skirt isn't a necessity, although the black breaks up the purple monochromatic monotony.  Maybe they would do something else.  Or just keep the skirt.

What do you think the chances of that are?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  High collar, pouches, lots of grooves and lines and general awkwardness await, I'm afraid.  On the other hand, even if the costume looks as lousy as most of the others, it's still Stephanie Brown wearing it, which is a damn sight better than no Steph and no costume at all.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Katana... cancelled...

Not that it comes as a surprise.  Sales were abysmal and the critical response mixed.  Still, Katana is one of the few New 52 characters I like more than the original universe version.  Especially visually.  Whoever redesigned Katana into a sleek, all-armored killing machine did her a huge favor.  The old ketchup-and-mustard outfit was fine in its day, but not particularly memorable and too bright to be intimidating.  Now she looks like a human stealth fighter jet, every bit as lethal as the stories make her out to be.

When Katana ends, that will also end my regular purchase of any DC ongoing.  I spot-buy when something specific about a book interests me-- a particular story development or a fill-in by an artist whose work I find a "must-buy."  I bought the debut arc of the Batman Beyond Batgirl for both those reasons and because the writer has some positive vibes for me due to his sterling work on the Cass Cain Batgirl.  I bought the Gail Simone Batgirl because I wanted to see how she handled a character reveal (nicely done).  I bought the recent The Witching Hour anthology because it's Halloween time and I'm a huge fan of the original series.  I'll buy the first issue of Batman: Eternal because I want to show some support for Stephanie Brown and out of curiosity.

But Katana, while not perfect, was still a fun book I looked forward to buying each month.  Too bad there just weren't enough of us out there.  Nice try, Ann Nocenti.  I appreciated what you were doing!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cassandra Cain versus Jubilee

This fight was long in coming, but I just read one of those Internet question thingies where some interested person asked who would win if Jubilee and Cassandra Cain/Batgirl/Black Bat fought.  The consensus was Cass would win, although one person commented, "Jubilee, hands down."  That person must be huffing ground-up Marvel comics for an expensive high because that answer is hallucinatory at best.

As a fan of both characters, I'd hope Cass and Jubilee would simply team up and fight some other person for some desperate, comic book-y reason.  But one of the things we do here (the royal "we," since this is a one idiot operation) is pit Cass against various characters from comics and other pop culture media entities.  We can imagine their initial encounter as one of those clichéd comic book mix-ups where two heroes meet for the first time, fight, then unite against a common foe, or two (one from each's standard rogue's gallery), but the fight is the thing here, not the overall story. 

So here's how things would go down if these two tangled.

It wouldn't last very long.  While Jubilee has Danger Room combat training and real world experience, there's no version of the character who can match Cass in hand-to-hand fighting.  Cass is simply one of the top two or three unarmed combatants in the world, and possibly at the same level with weapons.  Jubilee is, charitably put, not.  Unless a psychic teammate alerted Jubilee to Cass' presence, Cass would strike from the shadows and knock Jubilee out before the poor girl could ever use her mutant fireworks power.  Over before it even begins.

And even if Cass should miss with her first attack (she wouldn't unless Jubilee has some major help), it wouldn't take her long to figure out Jubilee's X-training patterns and dodge the little plasma balls tossed her way. Jubilee would be faced with the choice of grappling hand-to-hand with Cass (certain failure) or using her powers in much more violent and destructive way (really her only chance, but one she would find unappealing).  Operating under her ordinary moral constraints, Jubilee might dazzle Cass' eyes or even stun her for a moment's respite, but even so, this fight would last at most a minute or two.

That's classic Jubilee.  Vampire Jubilee would be another story.  I'm not certain just how many of the traditional vampire powers and weaknesses Marvel uses in its continuity, but if they use the familiar ones, vampire Jubilee would be largely impervious to most of Cass' martial arts attacks-- save those involving wooden stake strikes directly to the heart.  As vampires possess speed and strength in excess of most mortals (Superman-types excluded), Cass would have to be well-prepared in advance with vampire-specific weaponry.  It's doubtful Cass would carry holy water, garlic, stakes or religious symbols on her person under ordinary circumstances.  Vampires also possess various transformative abilities, one of which renders them as insubstantial as a mist or fog.  Kind of hard to fight mists and fogs. 

I can see this fight as having more than one possible outcome.  Under these circumstances, Cass would find herself outmatched and forced to use her smarts to out-think and therefore defeat Jubilee.  Jubilee, however, is a pretty smart cookie and doing so would prove easier said than done.  In this case, the fight goes to Jubilee barring some intervening circumstances-- nearness of dawn, for example, or whether or not Cass knew in advance her opponent was a vampire.  In either of those cases, Cass would win by exploiting Jubilee's vampiric weaknesses in much the same way people of lesser ability manage in multiple stories to destroy even the Lord of Vampires himself, Count Dracula.  And there's no way Jubilee is even close to being in Dracula's weight class.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

But how will Cassandra Cain return?

We're going to have a New 52 version of Stephanie Brown, and this is certainly cause for celebration not just for fans of that character, but also for Cass fans.  Because we now know it's only a matter of time before Stephanie Brown's pal also returns to DC's ongoing storyline.  But what we don't know is how.  It's safe to say the new Steph won't be exactly the same as the old Steph, but I hope she feels "right" enough there's a continuity and her fans will be happy.  While I'd argue there's not a single New 52 character that is exactly the same person he or she was before the reboot, Cass, unlike Steph, is a character completely mooted by the changes wrought by the New 52 in her mom Lady Shiva.  In the previous continuity, Cass is the teenage daughter of a Lady Shiva with years of experience.  The New 52 reduced Lady Shiva in age to a contemporary of Dick Grayson's, which means she's way too young to have a teenaged daughter.  As a result, it will be difficult for any writer to establish Cass as a contemporary of Steph's and, like her, having been out there all this time, living her own little life before the DC spotlight falls upon her.

So while I'm on this topic, let's float some ideas about Cass.  And to do so, I'm going to assume from the start any New 52 Cass will be re-set to a purer, primary state configuration, the way she was when we first met her all those years ago and before all those controversial changes.

One way to bring Cass back is...

Radically de-age the character.  That is, if DC decides to keep Lady Shiva as her mother (more on that later).  Unfortunately for Cass, we've already had Damian Wayne as the deadlier-than-you kid of the Bat-family and positioning Cass similarly would make her seem overly familiar and cover too much ground we've already been over.  The uniqueness of a character and its impact on the overall story should be respected, so anything along those lines should remain Damian's area of operations even posthumously.  Anything else would hardly be fair to fans of either character.  Plus, this could turn Cass into a Hit Girl knock-off and I doubt anyone would let that pass... shall we say... unremarked.

Another possibility is...

Reveal Cass as some kind of artificially-accelerated test tube baby.  This introduces some sci-fi elements to her backstory that could be explored, but tend to take the character in a direction apart from the parent-child issues that were so crucial to her conceptualization and development.  I think Damian Wayne and all the Star Wars clone troopers have been there before, and comics are already replete with super soldiers of similar origin.

One more is...

Give her a different mom.  This either means making her mother rather ordinary or creating yet another super bad-ass martial artist comparable to Lady Shiva.  The latter seems like unnecessary character duplication, the same way a child Cass might come off as Damian Wayne redux.  So they could always go with the former and make mom just some ordinary person who otherwise has the right qualities for producing someone like Cass.  Whatever those may be. 

I'd argue eliminating Lady Shiva from Cass' backstory is a possibility because father Cain and his relationship with Cass was essential to her character development in the early going, with Lady Shiva largely adding depth as the series progressed.  While the writers hinted at it, we readers weren't exactly sure Lady Shiva was her mother, after all, until fairly late in the monthly's run.  It was a cool reveal, nicely foreshadowed and set up, but all of those little clues could easily have been red herrings depending on how things played out.

Even so, the Cass versus Lady Shiva storyline was a major plot point in her series and their relationship tended to dominate the later issues.  I think one of the few serious missteps the initial creative team on Batgirl made was giving Cass language skills too early in the run, but even so, this move did lead to the most spectacular confrontation in the entire series and the partial resolution of her death wish.  The Cass-Lady Shiva pact and then fight-to-the-death wove a lot of the series' themes into what could have served as the overall story's climax.  If the writers had killed her off at that point with Lady Shiva responsible, it would have been a perfect conclusion to a short but spectacular career. 

Losing her Lady Shiva parentage would necessitate eliminating a lot of this good stuff and moving Cass along a different path.  Which could also be a positive thing depending on the story quality, and largely what would happen anyway since it's New 52 Cass and not Classic Cass.  While I'm obviously ambivalent about this aspect, one point in its favor is giving Cass a different mom means whoever writes her could spin out the mystery of her identity a long, long time and still maintain the essentialist approach I think is necessary to bringing back some version of Cass in a major way.

One thing they'll more than likely have to lose...

Cass' relationship with Barbara Gordon.  While they'd interact, I don't see Barbara Batgirl as having a whole lot of free time these days to spend mentoring Cass.  This was a major part of the Batgirl comic, but Barbara seems to have her hands full as it is and throwing Cass into the mix-- unless Gail Simone specifically requests it because it fits with her long-term storytelling plans-- just seems problematic at best.  It might be better to slip Cass into a supporting role in one of the other Bat-books (especially since having her debut as the star of her own title seems about as likely as Marvel publishing it).

And about Cass' costumed identity...

As far as her identity as Batgirl goes, I'm fine with Cass coming back with no costume.  She didn't jump into the black suit right away the first time around, either.  With Barbara Gordon comfortably ensconced in that role and continuity kind of warped anyway, Cass could come back and have to prove herself all over again before earning her own code name, which could just as easily be Black Bat as anything.  Or there could be a storyline where Barbara has to step back for whatever reason and Cass and Steph trade off the identity for short stints and we can all just pretend this reconciles past continuity with present.  Black Bat gives her a reason to exist beside Barbara-Batgirl, and so I would be fine with that.

All I really expect from New 52 Cass is she be a silent and potentially deadly martial artist out to redeem her past.  Give her a boldness that scares the bejeezus out of everyone around her so much so they worry she has a death wish.  Keep her mysterious and shadowy for as long as possible and unpredictable, like a knife Batman tries to use that turns in his hand unexpectedly, cutting deep.

Oh, and don't try to "cute her up."  Avoid the cutesy stuff altogether.  I've harped on this a million times, it seems, but go after some of that Koike Kazuo feel, like with his amazing Lady Snowblood series.  I think anyone writing a new version of Cass needs to read that until they have it practically memorized.  Something a little tragic in there, the seasoning for a Cass version that attacks the palate like a deliciously strong spice, using just the right ingredients from her previous incarnation without resorting to re-heating leftovers.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Welcome back to the land of the living, Stephanie Brown!

Batgirl #26 (May 2002) Script: Scott Peterson/Pencils: Vince Giarrano/Inks: Jesse Delperdang

I'm sure everyone knows the news by now.  DC finally relented and, as Scott Snyder recently revealed, Stephanie Brown will return-- most likely as Spoiler again-- in Batman Eternal #3.  If you don't want to follow that link, here ya go:

Before the Q&A session officially started, Cunningham asked a fan waiting at the mic for a question, which was the frequent query, "When are Stephanie Brown or Cassandra Cain coming back?

"We know that they're characters that you guys have been really vocal about," Snyder replied. 

"Your guys' love of Stephanie Brown have been so inspiring to us. We're really proud to announce that she'll be coming back in [new weekly series 'Batman: Eternal'], in a big way. Dan DiDio is in the audience to yell at us for telling you that." 

"No one was trying to shelve her," Snyder continued. "It was more about finding the right time to reintroduce her."

Snyder said that Tynion came up with the idea to reintroduce her, and suggested it'll be as Spoiler. Tynion said Stephanie Brown will be in issue #3.  

[Comic Book Resources, "NYCC: Batman Panel - Stephanie Brown's Return Revealed," October 11, 2013]

I'm hoping Steph fans will greet this news with some happy enthusiasm.  It's been too long in coming.  I ate waffles for breakfast this morning as my way of celebrating.

EDIT:  Big apologies to Scott Peterson for leaving out his writing credit.  I wish he'd written more issues of the Batgirl series, especially since he was there at the very beginning!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

IDW's The Powerpuff Girls #1 (of 5): a review!

Story and Art:  Troy Little
IDW Publishing

Well, it took The Powerpuff Girls to make me break my rule of never paying 3.99 for a comic book.  So I guess the rule actually is, "I rarely pay 3.99 for a comic book."  And while I feel 3.99 is usually too much to pay for any comic, even more than a person with a hardline stance on comic book price points, I'm a person with a hardline stance in favor of anything to do with the Powerpuff Girls.  The show combined a kind of aggressive cuteness with a whole heap of aggressive violence, and the girls have always amused me with their primary color schemes and huge, oval heads.  And most especially with their digitless hands.  Strange how they're still able to grasp their toy phone hotline or crayons at their kindergarten with no fingers.

Their Cartoon Network series is long off the air-- except, possibly, for here in Japan, where the show still aired daily as recently as 2010-- and DC's monthly ended in March 2006, so it's been a while since Blossom, Bubbles and  Buttercup streaked from Professor Utonium's house like a supersonic rainbow just in time to save the day.  And yet here they come again, courtesy IDW and series writer-artist Troy Little.

Little is the creator/artist of something called Angora Napkin, an Eisner-nominated series.  I haven't read it, but I've looked at its covers on Comixology.  They're attractively retro, one parodying my beloved EC and the other my almost-as-beloved Claremont-era The Uncanny X-Men comics.  His art in The Powerpuff Girls #1 is absolutely outstanding, full of appeal and on-model accuracy.  The panels look almost like frame grabs from the TV show.  Little gives the girls thick holding lines around their outside contours and sprinkles some painterly texture on the backgrounds that makes the figures pop as if they were on traditional cells in front of painted backgrounds.  There's a richness to the color design that also matches the show's Mary Blair-goes-Saturday morning aesthetics.

Little absolutely nails the show's tone and comedic sensibilities, complete with intrusions by an off-panel narrator courtesy of captioned asides.  Gags that work on TV don't always translate directly to the comic book page because it's impossible to reproduce timing and vocal delivery.  The creator has to find ways to trick the reader into supplying those aspects.  In recreating everything from the Mayor's obliviousness to the girls' overweening self-confidence to Mojo Jojo's tendency to ramble, Little thoroughly succeeds.  When the girls defeat Mojo Jojo's latest robotic creation and humiliate the brainy chimp, he faces an existential crisis.  Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup accept the city of Townsville's accolades once again-- all the while continuing to mock Mojo Jojo, who languishes in jail before he hits upon a solution to all his troubles that's quite shocking and unexpected.  Despite the welcome familiarity of the preceding events, the last page promises a venture into new-ish territory, so it certainly left me wondering where Little is taking us.  There's an oddball golf-based subplot, but even that's... dare I write this... right up the PPG's alley.  Little takes the animated violence a bit over the top, just as the show used to on occasion-- remember Mojo Jojo's broken helmet with exposed brain and shattered teeth.  The girls were even known to chop off monster tails from time to time, if I'm remembering correctly.

Not having read DC's series-- which ran 70 issues, a mere three shy of Cass Cain's Batgirl total-- I can't really compare it to IDW's take.  But having watched almost every episode of the cartoon show, I can safely say Little's version feels like the real thing.  It's also charming enough on it own and really deserves to find a large audience.  We need more of these all-ages type books, especially ones like The Powerpuff Girls that provide ample fun and enjoyment while not condescending to anyone. 

It's just a fine comic.  I wish I had a printed copy to feel if it has the weightiness of a Bongo Comics product.  Those are a bit pricey, too, but they have heft and nice texture to them that make them seem deluxe compared to the flimsy offerings of larger publishers.  I'm hoping IDW has matched that with The Powerpuff Girls, but I have it digitally.  My computer is certainly heavy as heck.  As things go now, this comic makes me want to buy the show on Blu-Ray and watch it all over again.  And at the very least, give the second issue a go.  You should, too.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Batgirl #17 (August 2001)

Writer:  Kelley Puckett
Pencils:  Damion Scott
Inks:  Robert Campanella
Colors:  Jason Wright
Letters:  John Constanza

When a simple street thug manages to hit Batgirl in the face-- and it's such a feeble blow she barely reacts-- Batman and Oracle start arguing about what it means.  Batman thinks Batgirl needs vengeance against the CIA goon who killed a man she tried to protect, Oracle thinks she needs some time in the sunlight.

I'm going to have to go with Barbara Gordon on this one.  After all,  Batman is a one-idea man.  Batman thinks vengeance is the answer to any problem.  Lightbulb didn't last as long as advertised?  Vengeance.  And this is before writers made Barbara's concerns more about forcing Cass into a traditional gender role box, at least the comic book version of one.  As written by Puckett, Barbara comes off as genuinely concerned about Cass's well-being and not the shrill one-size-fits-all harangue-artist she'd appear to be later in the series.  This leads to an emotionally affecting sequence where Cass quite literally crawls out of a hole in the ground to commune in the daylight with ordinary people.  Drawn by Scott and Campanella, and colored by Wright in a yellow monochrome that captures the dazzle effect of harsh sunshine, it's a silent moment depicting just how apart from normal life Cass exists.  Fantastic job on her facial expressions as she shields her eyes because daylight is too bright for her-- it's really quite touching and sad.

We get the action, too.  Batman and Oracle send Batgirl out to erase her government files, restoring her anonymity.  Oracle offers radioed advice which Batgirl largely ignores, and then it's time for Batman's form of therapy.  We've seen Batgirl dodge bullets before, but this time Scott uses a simple two-panel cut-- bad guy shooting, angry Cass standing there with a lot of holes in the wall behind her.

Flower make yet another symbolic appearance as Cass adopts a single rose.  At story's end she and Barbara enjoy a day out together and Barbara demonstrates to Cass how to care for her little flower.  A cut flower is essentially dead, isn't it?  No matter how long you try to keep it in water the blossom will wither and the petals will fall off one by one.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

DC only publishes comics for 45-year olds?

Doing my morning Cass-search for things Cass Cain-related to discuss here and I found an amusing story on The Outhouse (practically the only site that name-drops Cass on a weekly basis these days) about Dan DiDio confusing Kate Kane, the current Batwoman, with Kathy Kane, the Golden Age Batwoman.  Kate-Kathy, Kathy-Kate.  That's kind of goofy, but what jumped out at me was this one sentence in particular.

The only characters DC seems to think about are Silver Age ones, which obviously fits with the forty-five year old fanbase DC claims to publish comics for.  --The Outhouse

"Claims" seems to suggest a healthy skepticism on the part of writer Zechs, but as a person who is 45 myself, I immediately thought, "Can this be true?  DC is aiming their comics at people my age?"  I also wondered if this was one of those The Outhouse jokes I sometimes find funny and sometimes don't.  I clicked the link embedded in the sentence and found another The Outhouse story, this time by Jude Terror with a massive pull-quote from a Paul Pope interview at Comic Book Resources.  I followed that quote to what I'm guessing is the original story and there it was.

I'm guessing, because by then my 45-year-old body was giving out on me.  Knee pain, shortness of breath, a tingling down my left arm.  The usual stuff.  I had to stop chasing this story in ever-tightening circles and deal with the images from my own life that came flooding back for some reason...

So Gene Yang and Paul Pope did a two-person panel at the San Diego Comic Convention over the summer and here's the quote in case you don't care to link-chase:

Asked by Yang if he had tried to do an all-ages book with a franchise character, Pope said he did test the waters, only to be knocked back. "Batman did pretty well, so I sat down with the head of DC Comics. I really wanted to do 'Kamandi [The Last Boy on Earth]', this Jack Kirby character. I had this great pitch… and he said 'You think this is gonna be for kids? Stop, stop. We don't publish comics for kids. We publish comics for 45-year olds. If you want to do comics for kids, you can do 'Scooby-Doo.' And I thought, 'I guess we just broke up.'"  --Comic Book Resources

As a 45-year old, I'd much rather read an all-ages Paul Pope Kamandi book than any of DC's New 52 continuity.  But as a Cass fan, I'd rather read a Pope Cass Batgirl book.  Pope would have done some eye-popping covers for her series, too.  Hey, just for fun imagine a Cass-Stephanie Brown book written and drawn by Paul Pope.  Wouldn't that be seven layers of heaven?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

At last... a Cassplay tutorial!

Out of nowhere, a cosplayer and blogger named daggerpen hit me with a link to a Cass Cain Batgirl tutorial that really made my day.  One thing I want to do here is promote Cass visibility and Cassplayers at any comic convention or fan gathering do more for the character than a thousand blog posts here at the sad little Cass-blog nobody reads.  Daggerpen has put together a solid Cass look (the emblem is especially sharp and well-defined, which adds a lot to any "professional" presentation), and also provides solid information and links for any potential Cassplayer to follow suit (A pun!  I am so clever!).

One thing that interests me about this-- the color scheme.  Obviously, Cass Batgirl has a very basic scheme.  It's two colors, black with yellow highlights.  One thing you have to do-- and daggerpen nails it-- is match the yellow on the bat-symbol/emblem to the yellow on the utility belt.  This really ties the look together and breaks up the black in a uniform manner.  Some may choose to go with gold highlights, which is fine as well.  Comic book illustrations leave room for interpretation and even the comic book artists themselves provide variations of material and specific details.

Cass' Batgirl costume is a very dramatic and difficult one to pull off with that over-the-face cowl-mask arrangement.  It'd probably be easier to be Black Bat since you only have to worry about making a flared domino-style mask rather than something clinging to your facial contours.  While I love any kind of cosplay, people who can rock a Batgirl Cass get an extra dollop of respect. And people who share their ideas in a practical way get another on top of that.

Thanks, daggerpen!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I'd read a Marvel comic about Stephanie Brown

Or even just featuring Stephanie as a guest character.

I find The Outhousers to be very hit-or-miss with their attempts at humor, but the headline "Marvel to Bring Back Stephanie Brown" made me laugh.  It's exactly the kind of absurdist joke that tickles me.  I planned to write a little blog entry about it over a month ago but never got around to it, never had much time.  Today I found time so I did a quick Google news search and found...

It's actually Marvel's joke!  Well, no matter.  It's still funny.  It would be funnier still if Marvel follows through with it.  Now that would be the kind of absurdist joke that both tickles me and gets some of my money.  They could toss in Cass and make me a confirmed Marvelite.

I've often suggested Marvel do a buddy book starring Dani Moonstar and Xi'an Coy Manh as they travel the US (or even the world) in a Chevy Custom van and solve people's problems.  Hey, why not throw Steph and Cass in there, too?  Maybe they could be a band or something.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cass and her amazing changing boots!

Over the course of Cass' comic book career artists interpreted her costume differently, including her footwear. Damion Scott favored drawing Cass in sensible flats, for example.  Think about Cass and her hit-first-don't-ask-questions-later-or-ever approach to life and crime fighting.  More than likely she'd choose footwear that gives her a combat edge.  Some sort of specially-designed sole allowing her foot ample support and traction as she runs, jumps and kicks all over Gotham City. 

And still, we find Cass taking on a whole bar-full of muscle goons while wearing the chunky disco heels artists N. Steven Harris and John Nyberg give her in Birds of Prey #27 (March 2001).

Disco, or else she broke into Gene Simmons' dressing room.  Admittedly, chunky disco heels permit sweet post-fight interrogation moves like this:

But since Cass was never really one for interrogation, I can't see chunky disco heels as anything more than a male artist's idea of female fashion affectation or an attempt to introduce an element of BDSM into Cass' look, which, admittedly, tends to skew that way when an art team renders her costume as leather or shiny plastic.  They're more robust than traditional heels, though.  Your more traditional heels can cause embarrassing incidents like this, from Batgirl #45 (December 2003), as visualized by Rick Leonardi and Jesse Delperdang:

I think it's much more likely Cass would have snapped one of those more slender heels with her fighting moves than this "slipping on them" business.  That's just silly.  High heels or not, you have to imagine Cass always aware in some way of her center of gravity and subconsciously making adjustments.  With these comics coming roughly two years apart, we can assume the relatively more stable platform the chunky disco heel provide gave her over-confidence concerning Barbara Gordon's old boots.

But that still doesn't explain why she changes boots partway through that Birds of Prey issue.

Flats!  They're not even the same color!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Marcio Takara draws one fantastic Cass!

I just saw this Cassandra Cain as Black Bat drawing from Marcio Takara, and he knocks it out of the park.  This is one of those drawings that makes me want to draw.  His others are top notch as well, but looking at his Black Bat I can't imagine for the life of me why DC isn't using her in their stories even as Scott Snyder says he wants to but the decision to do so is "above [his] pay grade."  She's so visually striking drawn like this whatever that reason the upper echelon may have for keeping Cass out of the game* just got smacked down as far as I'm concerned.  If I were in charge, I'd be hiring Takara and on the phone to a writer for a Black Bat monthly right this second.

But of course I'd write that on a Cass fan blog.

*I can't imagine anyone in a position to say yea or nay at DC turning down a Cass proposal from Snyder or Gail Simone if either of them actually made one.  Then again, I don't know what the agenda there is.  I'm still only reading Katana and back issues of classic titles.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Albany, Georgia, is a hotbed of Cass Cain availability!

Yesterday I dragged my wife to the local comic book store here in this south Georgia town where we've apparently decided to honeymoon.  I didn't buy any of Cassandra Cain's comic book series, but I did find a huge stash of these four-color treasures there.  The store is called Comics and Cards, Inc., and if you're a Cass fan and find yourself in Albany, Georgia, you have to stop there.

Comics and Cards, Inc., doesn't have a complete run of Batgirl starring Cass, and they lack some key issues.  There's no first issue and no #24.  I think the earliest one they have is #4, then the run becomes spotty.  One reason for this is I bought books to fill gaps in my own print Batgirl collection a long time ago.  Still, if you're looking for Cass in Albany, you're in luck with one of the best selections I've come across in a long time.

Also, Comics and Cards, Inc., carries just about anything newly-printed you're looking for from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, IDW and Boom!.  Since it was Thursday the shelves were groaning with the strain from supporting new stock and they have the last few months of back issues on display there as well.  After the slim pickings of monthlies in Japan, this was like coming home hungry to a house full of favorite snacks and comfort foods.  And the people working there are super-nice.  I've always enjoyed a pleasant relationship with the management there, and the guy working the register made us feel welcome as well.

And yes-- Cassandra Cain lives there still.

On the other hand, while Books-A-Million at the Albany Mall has deepened their stock of new issues and graphic novels (and manga... tons of that), there is zero Cass to be had.  Sorry.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Oh, cool! I'm a "feminist extremist!"

Most people-- writers especially-- want to find an audience for their enthusiasms.  We write for reaction.  Ideally, acclaim and love and good things.  Occasionally, even those more negative emotions.  Not that I write to anger anyone (we leave that for people who like to start trouble in comment threads), but as far as I'm concerned, as a writer of a blog the only thing more disappointing than a negative reaction is no reaction at all.  Since nobody really cares what I have to say about a character who isn't even appearing in comic books anymore, I've gotten kind of used to low hit numbers, no comments, no links and all that.

The biggest reactions I've gotten to Cass-O-Rama have to do with the My Ten Favorite Cassandra Cain Moments post, which I first put on my When Comic Books Ruled the Earth blog and then posted here when I decided to separate my love for Cass Cain comics from my love for ancient comics from another age.  In the immediate aftermath of the original post, someone took offense to my feeble jokes about Stephanie Brown and Tim Drake and wrote a rebuttal on her blog.  Her readers-- who far outnumber mine-- had a lot of fun tearing me a new asshole over that.  Then, just this morning I got another reaction to that post and this time it was from someone who declared it a work of "feminist extremism" because of a single sentence.

It made me think this was 2006 all over again, but only for a moment.

Anyway, the main point of this blog is to celebrate a character I enjoy.  While I consider it pretty apolitical, because it's about a female character in a male-biased medium, every so often things will creep into it that reflect my personal views on gender and gender relations, on sexuality and sexual identity.  I try to be objective and back things up with facts when I'm making a real-- by "real," I mean historical or non-satirical-- point, but I'm no scholar of these particular topics, having done only a little bit of reading of any academic works about them.  Other than that, I've done a little listening to people's concerns about how they're treated.  That's about it.

In fact, I consider myself pretty much a neophyte in this kind of thought.  There are other blogs and other voices way more advanced in theory than I'll ever be, and much more passionate and involved.  And I've touched on LGBTQ issues even fewer times than I've addressed so-called feminist topics.  I only occasionally and very briefly write on those subjects and only call out the most obvious examples of dumb things I come across in comics.  This is all I feel competent to do, although I have very strong feelings of my own on all of these issues as well.

So I don't feel qualified enough to call myself a feminist or a militant.  Thanks for the compliment if you consider me either.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Batgirl #16 (July 2001)

Writer:  Kelley Puckett
Pencils:  Damion Scott
Inks:  Robert Campanella
Colors:  Jason Wright
Letters:  John Constanza

One thing about this Batgirl series—writer Kelley Puckett frequently makes Gotham City itself a supporting character.  Like Will Eisner with his The Spirit stories, Puckett has a similar knack for involving Cass with downtrodden people, usually in moody one-off stories that show the human cost of crime and just how lonely and uncaring a vast, dirty metropolis can be.  Puckett pulls these guest losers from Gotham City's lower levels, just adjacent to its sewers, then examines them sympathetically.  The people Cass meets live desperate lives, come to tragic ends and leave our naïve hero bemused. 

Well, any city where kids are reduced to tossing rats in the air for fun is no place to bring up a family.  Especially if you’re a single dad who can’t stay out of trouble.  After Cass breaks up the rat-game, one of its little spectators—Damion Scott exaggerates this kid’s pathetic nature by depicting him as a short, stunted thing, his pants pooled around his shoes as if he’s literally been squashed by the hardships of his life—begs her to help his father, who’s involved in a bank robbery.

Puckett pulls a smart misdirection ploy and even though he spends most of his time with the robbers, the final twist further develops the nurture versus nature theme running through Batgirl.  We know Batgirl’s father to be a horrible person, and he created Cass to be just as horrible, if not worse—you know, the “perfect killing machine.”  At this point in her development, Cass has to believe she can change, that she can overcome biology and even early conditioning to become a force for good.  So it’s important she also reassure the kid of his own basic goodness no matter what his father is really like.  She’s not just bucking up his spirit, she’s also shoring up her own.  Through Batgirl’s story, Puckett explores the influence of parents—are we truly destined (or doomed, in Cass’s case) to become our own parents in the end?  Is violence and dysfunction cyclical and, if so, what does it take to overcome it for good?

I love these short stories, these stand-alone issues.  The best ones pay off in emotional riches, as in this issue’s coda.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Finally Batgirl Beyond...

It seems like we've been waiting forever for this new Batgirl in Batman Beyond #27, and she's finally hit.  And kicked.  Making her first appearance in the future DC universe-- which I'm not sure is a part of the current DC universe or some other related continuity, not that it really matters-- Batgirl hits and kicks a large number of miscreants while giving Commissioner Barbara Gordon (who now bears more than a passing resemblance to her dad) a helping hand and foot.

At ten pages, the story, written by Scott Peterson, one of the original writers and co-creators of our beloved Cass Cain, is kind of slim-reading, heavy on action and set-up for what's to come.  We'll have to see how it plays out over the remaining twenty pages, right?  On the plus side right away, however, his grizzled Barbara is a fresh take on a familiar character (for me, at least) and he gives Batgirl a nice line concerning her detective skills or lack thereof.

But for me, the major draw now is the edgy sequential art of Annie Wu.  Her work has a slashing, gestural look reminiscent of pre-production sketches for animation (I think she actually does those, too, or something in animation-- her blog talks about working on The Venture Bros. but I'm not sure in what capacity)-- usually those have scads of energy which is then lost through the production process and the need for everything to be "on-model."  Other than that, Wu 's art looks like no one else's.  That is almost always a good thing.  I like to be able to recognize an artist's hand immediately.  And I like her thought process, too.  No "girl version" of the future Batman suit, no ridiculous heels.

Well, is this new Batgirl Cass or not?  Signs point to not.  I don't know anything about this Beyond series, but I have this feeling fans of it who are pointing out her physical similarities to a certain current timeline DC character or her possible identity as someone already appearing in the title are probably right on.  There's another major reason she's not future-Cass you have to read the story to find out, but it's hugely obvious almost from the moment she appears.  One or two panels into it, anyway.

While I'm really hoping DC gets its act together and reintroduces Cass into continuity, it's nice to have another strictly ass-kicking Batgirl.  Barbara's introspection makes for some good reading, but every so often you just want your Batgirl to tear through wave after wave of thugs without a lot of reflection or angst.  A Batgirl who is simply all about being Batgirl.  That was one aspect that attracted me to Cass in the first place.

Anyway, they're off to a good start, a punchy story with the sort of character and art I enjoy.  I knew I was going to buy this as soon as DC announced it-- those factors overcame my reluctance to buy new DC material, especially the Batman Beyond stuff.  I never watched the Batman Beyond cartoon.  I never did Marvel 2099, either.  I have just never cared anything about future versions of today's characters.  So that's giving Peterson and Wu a lot of credit.  And at .99 it's hard to refuse the new Batgirl, especially when she's drawn by Wu.

Still want Cass, though.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

This article makes a valid point and then someone makes another with Cassandra Cain in the comments

Check this out.  It's win-win.  I don't have time today to read the Linda Holmes piece that inspired all this discussion-- maybe this weekend-- but I do have time to thank QueerJock2 for mentioning Cass along with a number of other characters who should be appearing in movies while making a point about how under-represented women of color have been as heroes in comic book movies and TV shows.  You can cast characters like Nick Fury and Perry White color-blind-- and you should-- but why ignore Cass, Misty Knight, Katana, The Question, Dani Moonstar, Xi'an Coy Manh, Armor, Captain Marvel/Photon/Pulsar, Jolt, Jubilee (minor background appearances don't count) and so many others?

Cass, Katana, Knight and The Question could easily headline kick-ass solo movies.  And as we all know, Cass should also be appearing in comics right now, but that hasn't happened yet.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Batgirl #15 (June 2001)

Writer:  Kelley Puckett
Pencils:  Damion Scott
Inks:  Robert Campanella
Colors:  Jason Wright
Letters:  John Constanza

Writer:  Kelley Puckett
Pencils:  Damion Scott
Inks:  Robert Campanella
Colors:  Jason Wright
Letters:  John Constanza

A priest freaks out and starts shooting people in an apartment building and a war veteran goes full-on Rambo (wearing his striped tie as a headband) right on the streets of Gotham City.  Batgirl is on the scene and she tracks the real culprit to a nearby rooftop where she ends up subjected to some kind of hypnotic laser beam device.  Moments later she's chasing the Joker because he killed Batman and when she gets her hands on him, she's mad enough to...

Well, that would be telling.  This is one of the fastest reads so far in the series.  The plot isn't the thing (we never find out what happens to the scientist who invented the story's killing device, although certainly he's in for some major punishment as a result).  What matters is the exploration of Cass' psyche.  We've known all along she was born and raised to be an assassin, a killer.  But has she completely escaped this programming, and just how thin is the veneer of hero?  Is it as thick as her belt pouches, or as thin as the bodysuit she wears?

Instinct and the ability to change and make decisions counter to that instinct is a major theme running through Batgirl.  The character even addresses instinct directly in Batgirl #13.  How much killing instinct is Cass tamping down as she struggles to redeem her one kill by wearing Batman's symbol?  Batgirl #15 suggests it's quite a lot.  Even Cass is shocked by this revelation.  We'll find out more as the series goes along.

Oh, and if you ever wanted to read a comic book featuring scene where the Joker sings Britney Spears, this is that comic.  Although considering what's really happening this is more the product of Cass's subconscious than anything to do with the Clown Prince of Crime and his musical tastes.  Just what kind of music has Barbara been exposing Cass to?  No, pop hits are inescapable.  Even if Cass tried to avoid them by sticking to college radio-- Cass as a hipster?-- she'd still overhear this song in stores or while watching TV.

Which makes me wonder-- what kind of music does Cass like?  It may be a taste signifier that to Cass this particular hit becomes part of a hallucinated Joker's repertoire.  If you dislike something, assigning love for it to an enemy can one way of expressing your feelings about the song and that person.  Or maybe Cass spent the last week or two happily bopping around Barbara's place listening to the song on headphones and it came to her through familiarity, and the association with evil or wrongness is just an accident of the subconscious, as it might be in a dream.  After all, pop usually has a strong, danceable beat and would probably appeal to Cass and her love of movement.  Considering how quickly she learns martial arts moves she could probably pick up dance choreography just as fast.  Would she be able to predict a dancer's next move?  If she watched enough dance she could.

Robert Campanella returns as inker in this issue.  I still have no idea why he took a break.  Maybe he just had too many other jobs at the time, or DC pulled him to put him on something else.  It's not as if the book took a visual downturn in his absence, because John Lowe did a fine job.  I just like to see the varsity team on this book.

Whoever inks, Batgirl during this era has a distinct look.  You could ask for a creative team more in sync than Puckett and Damion Scott, but I doubt you'd find one.  At this point Puckett thoroughly understands Scott's strengths-- action and over-the-top "acting" by his characters-- and provides plenty of opportunities for Scott to work it out while maintaining Batgirl's ever so tragic tone and filling in the sides with character work.  I have a feeling Damion Scott's pencils are pretty tight.  I've seen old style pencils from the 70s and 80s and they tended to be a lot looser, with more room for an inker's interpretation.  Inkers were more responsible for keeping a book's look consistent, especially if the turnover on pencils was pretty high.  These days the penciller carries more of this load.  This doesn't reduce an inker to a mere "tracer," but Scott has such an idiosyncratic approach to anatomy and storytelling you're going to recognize his contribution before you recognize any particular inker's.

Campanella provides all the jagged-edged black spotting and speed lines you could want and while panels sometimes become a bit too busy, that was state-of-the-art stuff for the early 2000s.  A little Michael Golden, a little manga flavor.  When it comes to comic book art, I prefer to see the artist's hand, and I get that a lot from Scott and Campanella on Batgirl.  It's funky and energetic and still fresh after all these years.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Batgirl #14 (May 2001)

Writer:  Kelley Puckett
Pencils:  Damion Scott
Inks:  John Lowe
Colors:  Jason Wright
Letters:  John Constanza

Cass’s imprudent actions from the previous issue have consequences this month as the CIA analyzes her via video and blood tests.  Writer Kelley Puckett has these black-suited government agents drop a lot of intriguing info on our hero Batgirl—she’s not meta-human (DC’s house jargon for super-people) but her aggregate abilities certainly make her seem that way.  We find out she has "off the chart[s]" serotonin levels, by which I guess Puckett is suggesting she has more neurotransmitters in her brain or something along those lines.  I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure this is supposed to indicate she has a different brain chemistry than most of us, which accounts for the unusual way in which she processes information, a reasonable pseudo-scientific basis for all the wonders Cass can do.

There’s also a human cost to both Cass and the man she saved, and we learn Barbara is a tattletale.  Which is probably a good thing because if Batman is to have Cass as one of his tools or weapons, it’s a good idea for him to learn as much about her as possible.

This is a melancholy issue.  Cass can act as comedic relief in her own title due to her single-mindedness at times, but her naivete-- especially in this story-- can be heartbreaking.  Despite (or because of?) her abusive upbringing, she must be largely an optimist, with a belief in the light side of human nature even as she explores its darker places.  Witness her cheerful “Bye!” to the ex-agent she rescued in #13, without a thought given to his frailties and conflicting desires.  He tries to tell her in an oblique way, but it simply doesn’t register with Cass.  She doesn’t have the experience yet to understand these subtleties.  And when her heart breaks as a result, she deals with it physically.  Luckily, Batman is available to help her to catharsis this time out.  Damion Scott then drops her into the midst of a seedy group of “ex-Special Forces” for a quick workout in a bravura sequence where Cass moves so fast we don’t even get to see it—Scott illustrates only the results in a quick sequence of panels that still manage to leave no room for misunderstanding.  Guest inker John Lowe fills in admirably for Robert Campanella this issue.  I'm not sure what Campanella was up to, but Lowe helps keep the book looking consistent.

But the most important thing happening this month is the exploration of how Cass functions both physically and mentally.  Along with their seratonin discovery, the analysts studying her compare her to world-class athletes, and Puckett has them reveal Cass’s fighting techniques as "all over the place" and with "no dominant school" (recalled later in the same conversation with a name-check of Bruce Lee, who hoped to "free [his] followers from clinging to styles, patterns or molds"), which is probably all of them since she can learn one in its entirety within a few hours.  These guys can’t believe what they’re seeing, or what their measurements tell them.  The athlete analogy invokes a human operating at her highest capacity.  As the man says, "Humans can throw a 100-miles-per-hour fastball, smash concrete blocks with their heads, and run 4.2 forties.  What they can't do is can't do is all of that at once."  Guess who can.

No, besides me.

And this issue doesn't just explore Cass's weird brain chemistry or her fighting skills.  Puckett explores another facet of Cass's functioning-- her sense of self.  Secret identity?  It just never occurs to Cass she might one day go to school or learn to drive a car, which really bothers Barbara.  Barbara has long been portrayed as an advocate for what she considers a “normal life,” dating and friends and all that.  As written here, Cass wants nothing more than to be Batgirl.  Being Cass—or at least the one Barbara wants her to be-- just isn’t important to her at all.  It shows just how relentless Cass is, but you have to wonder if some of the reason for this detachment of identity is residual guilt.  After all, this is Cass of the famous death wish, who has often seemed simply reckless or full of herself when actually she's been courting oblivion.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

This is good news...

According to an article at The Mary Sue, Stephanie Brown appears in an upcoming video game.  Something to do with Scribblenauts, I think.  I have no idea what that is (astronauts who can't draw very well?), but I do know who Stephanie Brown is.  She's the former Spoiler/ex-Batgirl who, along with Cassandra Cain, DC unceremoniously dumped from their ongoing continuity.  The comments attached to the story are a litany of fan joy, which is a wonder to behold.  When fans are happy, all the world is filled with song.  Fans are happy so rarely, after all.

One of the comments attempts to pre-empt and "boo Steph, yay Cass" kind of responses.  Yeah, don't do that, people.  Doing that is a terrible idea.

This kind of thing makes me sad.  While I think it's fine to poke fun at various characters-- I do this all the time because if we're not having fun with our comics then why are we reading them?-- as we've seen, it's not necessary to express your love for one character by expressing your hate for another.  I've been accused of this myself because I once wrote a little piece about Cass with a few jokes aimed at Steph and Tim Drake.  Someone read it, didn't like it, blogged about it and her friends played soccer with my severed head in the comments.  I changed it in a moment of weakness and yet every time someone does a Google search for Cass and Steph this will be among the results.

I mention this because, coincidentally, one of the search term hits for one of my other blogs is a link to that response.  I now believe I should have just shrugged and let my original stand, but the last thing in the world I would ever support is the idea you have to hate one character to love another, that it's either Cass or Steph.  Certainly there's room for both.  I have no stomach for Cass-Steph wars.  Partially because I can't fathom truly hating a comic book character and partially because while I'm very into Cass, I don't take any of this that seriously.

What makes me sad we even have a fandom where people have to think about these things.  Where we're hyper-sensitive on behalf of imaginary superpeople and pixies from other dimensions and you can't just enjoy an announcement without anticipating backlash.

So I'm glad about even this reemergence of Stephanie Brown.  I hope her fans do more than just happy-blog about it.  It's probably more effective in terms of bringing Steph back into the DC universe to spend a little money on this game.  The people who own Steph's trademark or copyright will get some of that cash and that's what they live on, not love or good intentions or packages of waffles.  Support Steph financially and you just may get Steph's triumphant return in the pages of Batman or Detective Comics.

Now.  If they'd just do the same for Cass.