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.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It's time for more Cassandra Cain cosplay!

And here it is, have a look for yourself!

I think it's great.  It seems a little familiar, so maybe I've linked to another set of photos of this particular cosplayer's version of Cass, but with Cass news so hard to come by we have to go with what we find.  Check out those boots.  They're not what Cass wears in any comic I've seen, but they're a nice touch and give this costume a uniqueness.  Different artists tend to detail Cass according to their whims or whatever they feel works best, so cosplayers should feel free to create their own Cass looks.

Even though I'm unfortunately disqualified from Cassplaying myself, as a fan of the character and cosplay in general, I spend a lot of time thinking about what goes into a successful Cass costume.  I'm sure the dedicated cosplayers could set me straight on a lot of technical aspects, but I've formulated a few loose ideas just from studying different examples.  I want to encourage more Cassplay, so here are a few of them...


Material is an important style decision a potential Cassplayer must make.  In some comics, Cass looks leather-clad, in others head-to-toe in fabric.  How to choose?  Full head and face masks seem problematic.  The fit is tricky.  This one has wrinkles.  The fabric masks fit closer to the face with their stretching quality, but don't have the leather-esque look of vinyl.  This is true of the bodysuits I've seen as well, but they tend to cling and resist wrinkles.  If excess wrinkling bothers you because comic book artists rarely illustrate them when drawing costumes, then you're going to have to really work at it to get the proper smoothness.

I wonder if some Cassplayers attempt to duplicate a specific artist's take on the character.  You're never going to inflate your head to Damion Scott proportions, but his Cass has a shiny suit with huge belt pouches that flop around when she moves.  Brian Bolland's Cass is more naturally proportioned and has a duller finish to her costume, with smaller, firmer pouches.  Tim Sale's features a more silhouetted approach that could be either.  Another idea is to think of your Cass costume as the movie version and design accordingly.  What would Cass wear in a Christopher Nolan film?  How about a Tim Burton-style Cass?  Or just do something of your own imagining.  You could do practical Cass or fanciful Cass.

Black Bat/Blackbat Cass seems the most forgiving of all her looks, other than civilian Cass (just wear a black sports bra and some baggy martial arts pants!).  So while any Cassplayer earns my undying admiration and respect, I have to accord a little extra to the Batgirl Cassplayers.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cassandra Cain kicking someone...

Here's a marker sketch I just finished of our gal Cass making someone wish they'd never gotten out of bed.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tiny tumbling Cass

I call this one "Back in the Hobbit."  There's an inverted Cass somewhere in this mess.  See if you can spot her.  She's doing a one-handed hand-spring or a cartwheel or something.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Another Cass from my sketchbook

It's Cass giving Robin the business while wearing the silly retro costume I designed for her.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Batgirl #13 (April 2001)

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

With the “Officer Down” crossover disposed of, the regular Batgirl team jumps back into the game and comes up with a single-issue winner.  A group of nasty secret operatives—wearing those standard-issue sunglasses and black suits and ties—led by a particularly sinister older agent interrogate a sniper with Cass locked away in a cell.  She proves too difficult to handle even for these government-sanctioned killers.  Towards the end we learn a whole lot about her personal philosophy as she explains exactly why she risked so much to help a stranger, and one who isn’t sure he deserves her help in the first place.  Good lord, people, this is how you write a Cassandra Cain comic!

Action and characterization go hand-in-hand this time out.  Even though she’s off-screen for a good portion of the story’s middle, Cass gets to let her more rebellious personality traits show during the final confrontation.  We also get to see Cass through another person's eyes-- a person she has thoroughly freaked out because she is so at home in violence and mayhem yet remains a good person.  Chuck Dixon’s Cass characterization was gritty but restrained and somewhat introverted, while Kelley Puckett’s is explosive, self-assured to the point of cockiness, even playful at times.  Both work, but coming on the heels of such a limp issue, this version of Cass is like a flashbulb going off in a dark room.  The effect is dazzling, and suddenly you remember just why you love this book so much in the first place.

 It’s refreshing to see Cass so in command of a situation even when she’s ostensibly a prisoner, especially after all her troubled flailing about after losing her body-language skills and then chasing shadows the previous month.  While Kelley Puckett’s scripting of Cass shows a writer who knows his character and how to fit her into a plot, Damion Scott’s expressive artwork helps demonstrate just who Cass is at this moment in her development.  He gives her a strong physical presence and her facial expressions work with Puckett's minimal dialogue to put each moment across.  Any concern about Cass being a “silenced female character” go right out the window here as words and pictures make it completely clear what she’s thinking, feeling and talking about even when she’s not crowding panels with dialogue.

This is one of those issues writers tasked with scripting the character should have received from DC along with their contracts.  Have her speak when she feels it’s necessary while she lets her body do the rest of the talking, fit her into plots where her presence is integral even when she's not on-panel, throw in a few brutal action sequences.  Too bad not every writer has Puckett’s chops to write her this way, and few artists have Scott’s to successfully translate this into sequential artwork.  When the main action is over, they take us to that revelatory emotional climax that illuminates Cass and her motivations—and with the verve of a creative team confident with their mastery of a particular character and her inner self, what works and doesn't work when writing her, they bring it off without it becoming maudlin or awkwardly verbose.  Puckett and Scott hit us with a short flashback, a very few words from Cass and with just the right moments emphasized.  It’s exciting and cathartic, even a little touching.

Oh, and Cass doesn’t even wear the Batgirl suit this time out.  Instead she’s in some kind of black cropped top and baggy pants she seems to have stolen from M.C. Hammer.  This gives Scott plenty of opportunities to draw Cass’s ripped midsection.  Wow!  I should have abs like that!

Notice, however, in some panels she’s wearing black nail polish and in others nothing at all.  Or maybe punching guys in various parts of their anatomy shattered the paint right off her nails.  Fashion-forward superheroes in the DC universe need to choose their cosmetics with greater care.

Batgirl #12 (March 2001)

Writer:  Chuck Dixon
Pencils:  Dale Eaglesham

Inks:  Andrew Hennessy

Colors:  Jason Wright

Letters:  John Constanza
Veteran writer Chuck Dixon takes a shot at Cass with this issue, part of the “Officer Down” crossover that ran through all the Bat-books at the time.  Commissioner Gordon has been shot and everybody’s a little upset about it for some reason.  Dixon finds an interesting voice for Cass—different than Kelley Puckett’s in that it’s a bit angrier.  Unfortunately for Dixon, this issue has major problems thanks to a popular trend in multi-title synergistic storytelling.  Or, simply put, trying to make you buy a lot of extra books in any given month.  

And so Batgirl #12 takes us all along with David Byrne on an action-packed road to nowhere. 

 Actually, David Byrne isn't in this issue, but neither is practically anyone else it's ostensibly about.  I'm kind of surprised Cass is in it.  But she in it she is, and she decides to investigate Catwoman.  Which in itself is a pretty cool idea.

Seriously, think about it.  Cass versus Catwoman.  That's a story unto itself.  How they meet, their differing philosophies in conflict (Cass's martial arts asceticism versus Catwoman's materialism), their relationships with Batman, their similar fashion sense.  But thanks to its beginning and ending being contained elsewhere, what we actually get is a non-event in which Batgirl chases shadows along the outer edges of someone else's story and the confrontation the set-up actually demands—which would have been a classic moment for Cass, no doubt—never materializes.  Or, if it does, it's in some other book, leaving this one feeling half-told or less.  

Instead, Cass eavesdrops on conversations that remain opaque because they involve incidents occurring in other comics.  She's not even permitted to participate in these conversations.  Her most meaningful interaction is with a holograph because Oracle-- a major supporting character in this title-- is needed elsewhere for more important duties.  At the end she fights an empty apartment and then some masked jerk named Slyfox and his slug-brained employees in a case of mistaken identity, but it's too little to prevent the issue from feeling like something from another book's appendix or "bonus material" on a DVD which consists largely of out-takes and scenes cut for better pacing.

I realize this comic would make more sense in context if I got off my high horse and spent the money to get the complete "Officer Down" crossover.  But I believed then and still believe you shouldn't be required to buy a lot of titles you're not interested in just to get a full story.  And I'm certainly not going to invest in it now when time has proven the stakes for this once oh-so-important story to be so slight as to be non-existent.

I don't really know who my beef is with here-- company or writer-- because I wasn't party to the planning sessions for "Officer Down," but as far as I'm concerned, if a company does a crossover, they owe it to readers of individual titles to have the chapters stand alone to a much greater extent than this one does.  Either make the crossover the subplot or if you must have it be the main thrust, provide a solid subplot that furthers the main character's unique narrative arc.  

Batgirl works on her own personal case that's of prime importance to her and her alone with news reports in the background that distract her a little.  She interacts with her own cast of characters-- this would have been a great spot for another Lady Shiva meet-up or something to do with Daddy Cain or even one of those Eisnerian one-offs where Cass learns some kind of melancholy lesson about humanity Puckett excels at-- and then in the end, when she's wrapped up her business, Batman calls her to come fight with him in Detective or Batman.  Or, even better, while she's wrapping it up, which could create further friction between the two of them when she doesn't come running like a pet dog.  Another idea would have been to have present-day Cass's actions book-end an extended flashback to her childhood that mirrors and informs her "Officer Down" choices and actions.  This would have allowed Batgirl readers to learn more about her backstory, enriching the character in the process while avoiding the feeling she's inconsequential or ineffectual.

I imagine I'm something of a statistical outlier and DC found and will continue to find plenty of suck-- er-- readers to pick up my slack.

On the positive side, the first few scenes of this book have a moody noir-ish feel and while she's not exactly the Puckett Batgirl we're used to, Dixon scripts a terse, driven Cass.  She seems tightly-wound, with a lot of personal pain internalized, and Dixon gives her a stern, taciturn voice in his no-nonsense narrative captions.  In fact, she seems almost as grumpy as I am with the state of Batgirl this particular month.  Dixon has Cass trying her best to be a detective, but she keeps running into the need for literacy.  We've seen her gain an interest in reading before, but apparently it was short-lived.  For now she’s in such a big hurry written words are nothing but frustration.

And it's very pretty to look at.  While my Batgirl-hero Damion Scott tends to caricature the cast, Dale Eaglesham is more in the Michael Golden/Rags Morales detailed anatomy and double-lighting tradition.  Other influences are pretty obvious; at time it looks as though Alan Davis ghosted a few panels.  Eaglesham draws a spindly but muscular Cass who lurks outside windows as if she’s coalescing from the shadows themselves.  The more frenetic pace of a typical Kelley Puckett issue lends itself to Scott’s style and mastery of creating the illusion of movement on the page. the do nothing/affect nothing plotting here means plenty of lurking on fire escapes, waiting, even a genre-friendly rain storm, all of which Eaglesham and and his well-matched inker Andrew Hennessy capture in pulpy imagery made up of what must have been oceans of black ink.  Some art supply stores cleaned up that month, believe me.

And one more thing to keep the positive vibes going here as we close out the first year of Batgirl.  There's a really amusing bit towards the end where Dixon has Slyfox bring up something we really should talk about sometime after I do some real-world research.  See, Slyfox thinks he needs to hire help a girl can't beat up.  Apparently he believes there are some guys who are just chromosome-proof.  Dixon has Cass demonstrate on Slyfox why this just isn't so.

Three Minute Cassandra Cain

Here's another very quick color sketch I did of Cass Cain the other night.  I wish I had time to do a real drawing but I work for a living and working takes up all my time these days.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Unlike Joss Whedon, I'm not pissed off about it

But I do think with the popularity of the genre the time is more than ripe for a film with a female superhero as the central character.  When you further consider the various levels of critical acclaim accompanying well-made female-starring actioners Run, Lola, Run, two versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Hanna-- we've got a pretty good case for broadening the source material to include superheroes who are women. 

The only reason it could fail is if they make a stinky movie.  That's happened before.  To name the most obvious one, Catwoman.  Halle Berry earned my undying admiration for actually showing up in person to accept her Golden Raspberry for Catwoman.  That gutsy act alone justified the movie's making.

But Catwoman didn't fail because of Halle Berry's gender.  That movie failed because it was a terrible movie with a lot of lousy ideas that just happened to involve Halle Berry as its lead.  If anything, the movie failed her.  And we've had any number of stinkers with male main characters.  Batman and Robin had two male leads, double your misery.  Daredevil, Green Lantern, the noble failure that was Ang Lee's Hulk, the wheezing, boring Superman Returns.  We could just as easily blame the main characters for those turkeys, but the true fault lies in concept and execution.  In fact, when asked about their execution, most people are in favor of it.  Yet the genre marches right over their dishonored graves, obscuring them to history, on its way towards making billions of dollars for movie studios.  Three Iron Man flicks, two Captain Americas, Avengers, Batman Begins, a Spider-Man reboot so soon after the Sam Raimi series ended I didn't bother to see it because I felt I already had.  So why get stuck on Catwoman, Elektra or even-- choke-- Barbed Wire?

So pissed I am not. 

So here let me reveal my ideal formula.  You take a little bit of Run, Lola, Run, some Let the Right One In, a tad of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a twist of Hanna and then you shovel in great mounds of Lady Snowblood and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Bake it in a Bat-shaped pan for about 35 minutes at 350-375 degrees and call it Batgirl.

The Cass Cain Batgirl in the Nolan Batman style, but on a smaller, more intimate scale.  They may not have Christian Bale but Christopher Nolan could produce just the same way he’s doing for Man of Steel.  They’ve already matched the look and feel at times with the Batman movies, too.  With a little planning, they could have shot one on the side at the same time they made Batman Rises.  You don’t need to make it a bloated, special effects-heavy epic.  Keep it street-level and give it a kind of indie-film vibe and grubby verisimilitude and you have the potential for a game-changing sensation without massive risk.  I do believe you have to get that Batman Does Something connection in there to avoid anything resembling the Catwoman scenario, but with everything else in place you're well ahead of the game.

I can see a Ms. Marvel movie happening.  This is a good choice for a test balloon.  She's a natural fit for the Marvel movie universe Joss Whedon's shaping.  Solo movie, put her in the third Avengers.  Also, put Katee Sackhoff in it yesterday.  She's got the chops, she's got the experience.  From what I remember about Ms. Marvel, Ms. Sackhoff has already played her.  And while we're on the subject-- Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in Black Widow.  How stupid is it this hasn't happened already?  It's as if studios hate money and we know that's not the case.  At this point, this one only has to be mediocre to make bank.

I also believe we'll have a Wonder Woman within the next five years.  She's the biggest name at DC, with a lot of recognition even outside comic book fan circles.  I'd be down for Wonder Woman Begins.  You know, a serious one without a lot of camp baggage and tongue-in-cheek nonsense.  Just don’t take Wonder Woman too far in the opposite, heavy-heavy direction and make some leaden bore-fest with muted colors and dark shadows and a lot of snarling people in armor smashing into each other in slow-fast-slow-motion while CGI mud flies into the camera.  Flush of the Titans.

I think Wonder Woman has a real chance, especially if Man of Steel succeeds.  They could set up the inevitable Justice League movie that will inevitably follow the Avengers template a little too closely but still make a lot of money for a lot of people who already have a lot of money they should be using to make Wonder Woman.

But I'd rather have a Cass movie.*

*I will win the Power Ball ten times before this happens.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Batgirl #10 (January 2001)

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

Batgirl's got her amazing abilities back and all is right with the world.  Unless you're big galoot Kenny or his boss Karen, who recently fired Kenny for being such a big galoot.  Okay, we really never learn why Karen had to fire Kenny, but he seems to have some sort of mental problem, or an entire spectrum of them.  He barges into Karen's office to get his job back, ends up escorted out of the building.  When we see him again it's been long enough for his jowls to sprout a scrubby beard and he's slicing away at his hands with a razor blade.  Batgirl just happens to be right overhead whipping up on some generic bad guys-- criminals in Gotham City are sometimes convenient that way-- and she swoops down to stop Kenny from making the worst mistake of his life.

This is another one of those Eisnerian Batgirl tales (complete with background elements commenting on the story), a tragic one-off about the crappy, downbeat lives of your average ordinary losers and how the intersect with whatever Batgirl has cooking.  Kenny turns out not to be so ordinary, but his tale and its unhappy ending serves to amplify Batgirl's determination to be Batgirl despite catching flak from an ever-nagging Oracle.  And Batman must be preoccupied with other matters, because if Cass's failure to stop something she didn't even know about angered him, then the way she screws this one up would probably give the guy a heart attack.

While I get tired of her "You should try to be a regular person" blather, I think Oracle has a point this time-- Batgirl would be fantastic in acting classes.  Or as a mime.  With her ability to learn almost any physical action to perfection just be watching it, she could easily master "walking into the wind" or "the invisible box."  So imagine what she could do after watching a late-period Al Pacino performance.  Which makes me wonder about something.  

Cass shows little interest in anything outside fighting beyond plucking petals off the occasional flower or blowing dandelion fluff, but what if you could introduce her to movies?  Would she appreciate modern films or would old slapstick movies be more to her liking?  

I have a feeling she'd find the physical comedy of Jackie Chan's oeuvre in line with her sensibilities, but beyond that I'd expect her to show more of an affinity for Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd than for Tina Fey, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler or anything produced or directed by Judd Apatow.  And Woody Allen?  Forget it, kid!  Yeah, Cass would definitely be a Keaton-Lloyd fanatic.  Unless her move predictive abilities and understanding of all kinds of body language takes her out of the story whenever she detects a set-up's artificiality, the way I am whenever someone in a movie listens to a song I know damn well wasn't released until after the story's timeframe!  

Anyway, it's too bad they didn't throw in a scene were Oracle takes Cass to a film festival celebrating the age of silent comedy.  Then again, the way Cass bucks all of Oracle's attempts at bonding with her or at least making a stab at a semblance of normalcy-- in the final panel she looks positively feral-- I doubt they'd even make it to the theater.

Which reminds me of another point where Oracle is way off base and should know better.  If Cass's abilities approach perfection, why does she train?  As smart as she is, Oracle can't figure it out.  She seems to think it's a pointless exercise, or overkill.  But it's simple.  First, Cass trains because she loves what she can do, the way an artist must constantly draw or paint.  You don't ask Picasso not to paint, you don't ask birds not to fly (unless they're emus or ostriches, I guess) and you don't ask fish not to swim or not to taste delicious when made into sashimi.  Second, because no matter how perfect you are, your skills erode without practice.  This should be obvious to a former superhero.  And third, as this story proves, Cass isn't perfect.

No wonder Batgirl gets so annoyed.

Batgirl #11 (February 2001)

Writer:  Kelley Puckett
Pencils:  Damion Scott, Coy Turnbull
Inks:  Dan Davis
Colors:  Jason Wright
Letters:  John Constanza

It's like Cass's own special episode of My Two Dads.  Imagine the poignant scenario of Paul Reiser putting Greg Evigan in the hospital, then Evigan killing some cops, pulling out his own catheter, going to a bar and climbing into a bottle while wearing a purloined suit and badge.  I swear, if My Two Dads featured plots like that, it'd still be on the air.  Staci Keanan-- I mean, Batgirl is a relatively minor character in this issue.  The largest portion of the plot stars Cass's bio-dad Cain in a sitcom guest-directed by either Luc Besson or John Woo.

While Batman and Batgirl both frequently use Cain as their own personal punching bag/whipping boy (and for good reason; he's a sleaze), it turns out the old guy is actually pretty damn tough.  Even with his arms bandaged and under the influence of a major dose of hospital-grade painkillers, he's able to turn the tables on a vengeful Basque policeman, make it all the way from the hospital to his house, then hit Gotham City (the light speed local transitions in this book can be confusing-- I thought Cain was in Macau at one point, but apparently he's just in a swamp not far from Gotham) to infiltrate the FBI.  Along the way he kills or beats up all sorts of sunglasses-wearing cannon fodder.  While Batgirl frequently trades in generic muggers and thugs, it also features their (mostly) law-abiding counterparts-- dudes in sunglasses with wires sticking out of their ears because that's how special agents and police look in action films.  There must be a factory or clone shop somewhere in the DC universe turning out all these people just so they can crowd fight scenes and smash through walls and windows as needed.

Now about those bandaged arms.  Puckett and Scott show us some flashbacks to Cain's beating at Batman's hands.  But what did Batman do to Cain's arms that require complete wraps?  Short of breaking them, that is.  His hands could certainly be bandaged from cutting up his knuckles on Batman, but why his entire arms?  The arms can't be broken, however, because Cain has no problem using them. So I suppose Batman... peeled them?  Even Cain's fingers?  Maybe they're covered with bruises and that indicates wrapping.  I'm neither a doctor nor a martial artist but I can't help but feel something screwy is happening here.

Otherwise, Puckett's script is pretty witty.  Cain may be a complete bastard, but he's got a mouth on him and out of it comes some clever-- if nasty-- lines.  And Scott once again shows he has few equals when it comes to action sequences.  In issues like this, what Puckett and Scott do they do so well it's thrilling-- the comic book equivalent of one of those cool action movies with Jean Reno wiping out everyone Gary Oldman tosses at him, or Chow Yun-fat working his way through a Hong Kong triad.  Nice work by Coy Turnbull and guest inker Dan Davis here, too.  Maybe in a future entry we'll talk about this a little more.

Ultimately, this issue made me really miss My Two Dads.  I still love that show.

Batgirl #9 (December 2000)

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

About halfway through this issue, Batman accuses Cain of abusing Cass rather than teaching her, which is funny since he spent a great deal of issue #7 punching Cass repeatedly in the face and generally treating her like crap.  The Caped Hypocrite.  And we learn Cass wasn't the first child Cain attempted this experiment on; she's just the first success.  That she's not the first will come back to haunt the book and trip up later writers as if it's some huge secret, but here it is, spelled out very early in the story with no real reason for Batman to have kept it from his protege.  In fact, telling her might have helped him squeeze Cain out of her life earlier.

The main thrust of this issue is Cass's confrontation with Lady Shiva, where she has to take a beating just to gain an audience.  She recently knocked Shiva out with a sneak attack-- using a broken arm that seems to have healed itself in a matter of days-- which was a pretty gutsy move and characteristic of Cass's lack of self-regard.  When she has to accomplish something, accomplish it she does no matter what the cost to herself.  So you can never convince me she would quit anything short of complete incapacity or death.  And now she needs Lady Shiva's help.

This is another issue where I can't help but compare Cass to Jen Yu.  There's a moment towards the end of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where Li Mu Bai tries to teach Jen a lesson by tossing the Green Destiny sword off a waterfall.  But even the wise older warrior isn't prepared for Jen's immediate, desperate plunge after the sword into the raging waters below.  Jen wants the sword and what it represents more than she wants to live.  Cass's quest for the perfection of her skills leads her to make a deadly bargain.  She doesn't exactly jump off a waterfall, but she certainly jumps in a similarly suicidal way after something she regards as more valuable than living in some diminished capacity.  This is Cass at her tragic best:  bursting with desire, pushing herself beyond limits, risking everything-- and haunted by her past.

And she's also going behind Batman's back on this, making a bargain with a killer.  This is something she knows Batman will find unforgiveable yet she's willing to risk it to be perfect.  Even though later writers establish Cass as loyal to the Bat-symbol above all else, I believe this is equally if not more indicative of Cass's being loyal to herself and her skills.  Her motivation is to atone for having killed, but she's filled with the need to do those things from which she once derived such perverse joy and which have been taken from her.  Sure she wants to be Batgirl (or Batman), but primarily she wants to be Cass.  Cass without her skills isn't Cass and she feels at a loss, alienated from her essential self and diminished.  It's worth risking war with Batman and death at the merciless Lady Shiva's hands to have those things back.

Puckett spins a fantastically hardcore moment at the issue's end where Cass challenges Batman and proves she can once again dodge his best attacks.  When he asks her how she regained her abilities so quickly, she walks away while telling him, "I gave it... all I had,"  mocking Batman's expectations by throwing Lady Shiva's words back at him.  Little does Batman know how literally she means this.  Scott's facial expressions-- fiercely satisfied Cass and baffled Batman-- enhance a scene where Batgirl attains its full potential, if only for a few panels.  These are the moments that kept me reading this book back in the day.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

How Tim Sale sees Cass

Tim Sale did the last five covers of Batgirl, issues 69-73.  They're stark illustrations, but like the stories inside, sometimes they slip the spotlight from the title character in ways that make me admire them less than James Jean's colorful covers.  Which are stronger designs as well.  Strangely enough, I'm really not as keen on Sale's work as you might expect.  Sale is one of those artist's artists whose stuff I usually drool over, but also one of those comic book people who polarize opinions.  Some people appreciate his gestural, impressionistic approach, others do not.  He's of the Frank Miller school.  Not afraid to ugly it up if the story mood calls for it.

Cass here is fine.  She's a bit spindly, but look at those muscular shoulders.  This is in keeping with her appearance from earlier issues.  The gray bat emblem isn't "comic accurate," but it's an interesting take on her superheroic iconography.  Batman used to have that yellow oval around his bat, which I believe someone once explained as a form of distraction-- his suit has more padding or bulletproof armor there, otherwise it makes no sense a stealthy creature of the night would put on such a bright display.

That's nice and smart, but we know the real reason he had a colorful symbol is it looks like comic book fun.

Now he just has a black bat.

Cass always had that yellow bat in outline, but Sale ditches it for something her mentor more likely would approve of.  "You're a ninja," Batman kept telling Cass.  "Well, you're not a ninja, per se, but you have ninja-like qualities.  Wear something... I dunno... ninja-esque.  All right?"  Cass would just stare at him intently, listening to the meaningless sounds, watching his lips move and thinking of hitting him.

Sale makes the traditional scallop-edge to the bat-cape just some flowing pointed things because that better fits his design sense, I suppose.  The rest of the costume is true to the story-- Cass has had her eye-pieces and stitched over-the-mouth area torn away.  They should have adopted Sale's costume after this story.

Out of all the Sale covers, this is my favorite because it's got the best Cass drawing.  It's still not completely successful, though.  The characters on the left, especially the largest one (who is also awkwardly constructed), strike me as unformed.  I see they're supposed to recede a bit so the focus is largely on Cass, but they look more rushed than stylized and their poses are lifeless; they don't relate much to Cass's dynamic tree-grasp.  Are they meant to be following her?  Are they symbolic figures?  They project a less urgent mood than does Sale's Cass.  The two in the back are just hanging out like they're bored with the whole thing, but as a group, they're making an interesting silhouette or doing much of anything to help get the cover's point across.  A stark snowscape with just this Cass figure would have been preferable as a stronger design, but the story is about how she learns to lead a team so that was right out.

Cass has gray eyes?  I think not!