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Bats About The Girl, Not Crazy About The Comic

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Before you ask, yes, this is the last column before Christmas. As ever, I’ll be avoiding festive themes for as long as I can – besides I can feel a rant coming on.

Those of you with long memories will remember that the first ever edition of this occasionally fine column was dedicated to musings on the (then) new incarnation of Batgirl. At the time I was rather positive about her because much as I love Barbara Gordon, Cassandra showed a good deal of promise.

This was far from a universal opinion of course. SBC’s own Park Cooper told me at the time that he didn’t have much faith in the character, and he was far from being a lone voice. But I saw something in Cassandra Cain – something I still see in her as a character. Almost alone in the Batverse she has undergone a huge amount of complex character development in what seems like a logical way, and her desire to participate in the Batman’s quest seems to make sense, as does Batman’s decision to take her onto the team. (I for one don’t feel that I can say the same thing about Tim Drake, The Spoiler or even Dick Grayson. Maybe it’s no coincidence that possibly the only other member of the Batfamily I feel this way about is Babs herself.)

Now, two and a half years later, I find myself reflecting on the way Cassandra’s story has developed. I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last couple of days in fact. You see, impossible as it may seem I find that I love Cassandra almost as much as I love Babs. Think about that for a second. I’ve loved Barbara Gordon for as long as I’ve known her, both as Batgirl and as Oracle. She stands for just about everything I think of as important and manages to be a fully rounded human being to boot.

Besides, she’s a librarian and a redhead. Seriously – could she be more perfect?

So logically, I ought to be wary of Cassandra as a usurper and an upstart, but I’m not.

For a start, as we’ve learned more about her origins we have discovered that she’s not any kind of pale imitation of the original. Indeed, her origin couldn’t be more different. While Babs is the adopted daughter of the man who embodies all that is good about law enforcement in Gotham, Cassandra is the (probably) adopted daughter of the world’s most ruthless assassin. Babs is a librarian, written information is her domain. Cassandra is not only scarcely literate, she was almost entirely mute until relatively recently. Even now it’s clear that words don’t come easily to her.

But most of all, she’s easy to understand. Like her pointy eared mentor she has a finely tuned sense of right and wrong, of justice. Cassandra keeps her word – to the point that she was prepared to die in fulfilment of her vow to Lady Shiva. She is loyal, and she is relentless.

So, what’s my problem?

You might well ask.

You see, while I have come to love Cassandra Cain, there is a problem with her monthly book. In many ways it has all the hallmarks of greatness. There are flashes of brilliance in this book, and though there are also the odd flashes of mediocrity the greatness really should be the thing that shines out.

But it isn’t. I may be missing something, but it seems to me that this book is consistent only in it’s inconsistency. Take the current issue, #34.

This has what is possibly the most powerful beginning to any comic I have ever read. Seriously. We open on a page from a child’s colouring book showing a gaudy hero catching a gang of bank robbers. We see that the book belongs to a contented little boy. We hear a knock on the door of the apartment he shares with his young looking father. We see the father peer through the peep hole, and we see the look of horror pass over his face.

The young man goes over to his son and begs for forgiveness.

The next thing we see is the blood spattered outlines of a man and a small child taped onto the wooden floor of the apartment. Quite simply the most powerful image I’ve seen in a comic in a long time. Right up there in the same league as the image of the young Bruce Wayne kneeling in his parent’s blood from Year One. That powerful.

I literally couldn’t wait to turn the page.

What happened next was a huge disappointment.

Massive.

What happened next was nothing more than a basic sub-standard detective yarn about a gang trying to make an impact on Gotham. Sure Batgirl’s reaction to the killing of the boy gives her a reason to pursue the crooks to the bitter end, but at no time as I read the comic did I ever understand how the new gang in Gotham related to that doomed young boy and his dad.

How the hell did they miss that? All it would have taken was a simple throw away line – “Like that cretin and his brat could get away with double crossing us!” Something like that. A moment as powerful as those pathetic tape outlines could have carried even the most mediocre of tales, if only the writer had bothered to tie all the ends together.

What really irritates me about this is the sloppiness of approach this suggests. To waste such a powerful image in a story with such little quality is little less than a crime. That this lack o consistency has become the norm in a book occupied by a character of such potentially fascinating complexity makes the whole lamentable mess even more depressing.

So, thirty or so months on from my debut, Batgirl has grown into a character worth reading. It is a matter of much regret that the book she occupies has so often failed to follow suit. For myself, I’ll be sticking with it but I don’t blame you if you can’t be bothered.

If things improve, I’ll let you know.

Right, I’m off to deck the halls with boughs of holly. See you next week, when there’ll be a special festive edition for Christmas day. (With not a humbug in sight…)

Bring your own mince pies though, I’ll have guests over Christmas and so might be running short…



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