Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Pain of Being A Fan of Cassandra Cain

In one of my recent posts on a message board that I frequently visit (the BtO thread on the Spider-Man Crawl Space message board) I mentioned that I had a lengthy rant in the works. Well, I decided to split that lengthy rant and I'm now trying to edit it into a series of mini articles. I just finished "Part 1", which I'd like to call:
The Pain of Being A Fan of Cassandra Cain
[*I'm not very good at naming things. Let me know if you think of a better one!]
This has been a long time coming. In recent years, it seems like there are certain professionals working in the comic book industry who think that by instituting massive and sometimes controversial changes to a character, fans would happily dive into the idea and empty their wallets; that after years of great stories and deep character developments, bringing about new dramatic changes will equal to increased revenue. One of the characters that changed dramatically was Cassandra Cain.

I’m a pretty big, loyal fan of Cassandra Cain. I’ve been one for over 10 years now. I’m not ashamed to say that although she is a fictional character in a comic book, I’ve grown attached to Cass. Over the years, I’ve developed a relationship with the character and feel passionate about what happens to her. And before you think, “This guy is an obsessed freak for thinking he has a relationship with a comic book character!” Well, I think Bryan Q. Miller, the current writer of “Batgirl”, provided an excellent answer to this in a response letter he wrote to a fan:
It’s funny - when I was down at the Long Beach Con last weekend at the DC Nation panel, I mentioned something about stepping on board with Steph, and how it takes a little getting used to, writing a character that some readers have had a relationship with for quite a long time. A guy in the audience snickered when I said “relationship.” I think he just didn’t get it. You do. So do tons of other fans of Steph, Cassandra, Babs, etc. We spend a lot of time and money and time and time and time with these characters. And as a result, people can get very passionate about things.
Miller is absolutely right. Fans can dedicate a lot of time and money and can and will get very passionate about what happens to their favorite characters. So seeing their favorite character do a sudden 360* flip in personality can be extremely shocking and even painful to see. Fans of Cassandra Cain are especially familiar with this feeling.

I remember the first time I read about Cass in Greg Rucka’s “Batman: No Man’s Land” novel. I was very intrigued with this functionally mute and illiterate girl who was considered by Barbara Gordon to be her best runner on the earthquake-ravaged streets of Gotham City and later became the new Batgirl. After I was done with the novel, I needed more. You can’t imagine how ecstatic I felt when I started reading the “No Man’s Land” comic books and then later the on-going “Batgirl” series and saw Cass in action. I was hooked!

Everything about Cassandra Cain fascinated me: her history, her unparalleled fighting ability, her reasons for fighting, her uncanny ability to read body language and predict her opponents’ next moves or see if they’re lying, her constant need to train hard and get better and better, her willingness to sacrifice anything and everything, including her mind, body, and even her own life, to save a total stranger, her headstrong dedication and undying devotion to Batman’s never-ending mission against crime—all this plus the fact that she was one of the very few ethnic minorities that was a main character in the history of comic books. My attachment only grew as I watched Cass grow and mature as a character; think of it like an over-protective older brother watching over his younger teenaged sister or a proud muse watching over an artist or writer.

Then in the summer of 2006, DC unleashed their brand new crossover pet-project called ‘One Year Later’. And everything went to hell! All of a sudden, the girl fans has been reading and watching for nearly a decade was changed so much that she was unrecognizable. She was no longer Batgirl. She was a bloodthirsty villain who led the League of Assassins. She was everything she fought against for so many years. Many fans were outraged! According to Wizard Magazine #182, the storyline was "one of the most controversial changes to come out of DC's 'One Year Later' event", and "fans rose up in arms, organizing websites and letter-writing campaigns to protest the change." Fans everywhere protested and angrily demanded answers for this despicable change in Cassandra Cain’s character. The DC Comics editorial leadership knew that many fans were extremely dissatisfied.

In an interview, Dan Didio commented "I'm glad to see there was a reaction created, it shows that people care about the character and want to see something happen with her". Later, in many other interviews and press conferences Dan DiDio and others also stated that Cass will "be going back to basics," like in her early adventures before she was able to talk. Months passed by and still no change, no solid answer to why she was changed in the first place. Instead, things just kept getting worse and worse. Fans didn’t who to blame. Upon being asked if Cassandra's characterization was editorially mandated, writer Adam Beechen stated that
"When I came to the book, I was told that the first arc would deal with presenting Cassandra as a major new enemy for Robin. From there, I worked out the details of just how that would come about with our initial editor, Eddie Berganza, and then his successor, Peter Tomasi." In a follow-up interview, he clarified further, stating "They didn't present me with a rationale as to why Cassandra was going to change, or a motivating factor. That was left for me to come up with and them to approve. And we did that. But as far as to why the editors and writers and whoever else made the decision decided that was a good direction, I honestly couldn't answer." Later, Geoff Johns was quoted saying "We will be addressing in Teen Titans exactly what the deal is with her. Is she a bad guy? How? Why? She was a completely different character before “One Year Later,” so let’s find out what happened."

So in the last Teen Titans arc written by Johns, we got an answer: Cass changed because she was being mind-controlled and acted against her will. It was a ridiculous explanation and royally sucked. Then in October 2007, DC announced that Cassandra would be taking up the Batgirl identity as a member of the Outsiders in the upcoming Batman and the Outsiders ongoing series to be written by Chuck Dixon, which was hoped to begin resolving the controversy. Soon, fans began to reluctantly accept that no matter how much they protested what happened happened and just wanted to move on to better days. But this bitter reprieve would be very short-lived.

In February 2008, Dan DiDio revealed during a convention panel that writer Adam Beechen would be writing a new Batgirl mini-series. Beechen himself stated that the story would answer all the questions from the past years, and would address all of the questions of why Batgirl has been acting the way she's been acting, and set the stage for new Batgirl adventures to come. Though there were a few “less than noteworthy but not horrible” moments, many fans, including myself, finished reading Beechen’s miniseries feeling even more dissatisfied and disappointed than before. In late September at the DC Nation Panel at the 2008 Baltimore Comic Con, DiDio, showing a slide with a cover from the current Batgirl miniseries, remarked that at many conventions since the cancellation of her own series, fans had asked for the character’s return. Hinting that the miniseries’ sales were not very high at all, DiDio pointed that the requests for the character’s return at conventions combined with the low sales of said return are something that they have to struggle with, and makes them look with requests for a character’s return with more skepticism.

Ester Inglis-Arkell from 4thLetter.net wrote a short blog post that reflected how I, and many other fans, felt at the time:
How Long Do You Keep Hope Alive?
October 17th, 2008 by Esther Inglis-Arkell 
I can’t stand Cassandra Cain. 
This is especially painful for me, because I adore Batgirl in general, and enjoyed Cass in particular for quite some time. I loved her incredible skills, her competence, her strong morality and her unquestioning look at life. In a world full of characters who dissect every part of their lives her devotion, body and soul, to the mission of saving lives was refreshing and touching. I also liked her for her weaknesses. Unable to read, hardly able to speak, Cass was constantly trying to make others understand her situation, but was unable to communicate it. Because of this, it was surprisingly easy to identify with her. Don’t we all get tongue-tied at the most inappropriate times? Don’t we all find ourselves frustrated when we try to convey the entirety of an experience to someone who doesn’t understand our enthusiasm? 
The current Cassandra Cain speaks fluent English, as well as at least one other language. She can read, she can write. Unfortunately, her ability to read body language has been lost, as well as a great deal of competence. Her morality has completely changed. This was a girl who walked away from everything she knew the night she understood that she was being trained to kill. Now she wants to kill her own father, as well as a few ex-accomplices. It feels, to me, as if this is an entirely new character, who happens to have the same name. 
This kind of change is not rare for comic book characters. Different story arcs, different creators and, in the case of long-running stories, different eras, all change a character’s personality. I understand this. Still, nothing quite soothes the sting of having one of your favorite characters turn unrecognizable. Ah, how fans suffer. 
My question is – when do you give up? At what point do you accept that the character you loved is no more, will never return, and it’s time to curl up with a stack of your favorite back issues and never glance at continuity again? Share your stories of the characters you loved and lost, and when you knew it was time to throw in the towel.
I’ll be in the corner, waiting for the end of the Crisis and hoping for a retcon.

In the following couple months, Cass made several guest appearances in “Batman and the Outsiders” and in other Batman and DC titles. And then, Cassandra Cain suddenly disappeared from the DC Universe and went into editorial limbo. This went on for more than a year. Fans were lost, confused—utterly fed up and tired of the constant disappointments and letdowns.

In late 2010, Cass began to emerge out of the ashes again. In the first issue of the new ongoing “Batgirl” series by writer Bryan Q. Miller, Cass was shown giving up the Batgirl mantle to her best friend, Stephanie Brown, who was masquerading as the vigilante Spoiler at the time. It was later revealed that Bruce had ordered Cass to relinquish the mantle in the event of his disappearance or death. She was later shown in Red Robin #17 to be crime-fighting in the streets of Hong Kong as an unnamed, costumed vigilante. Red Robin writer Fabian Nicieza stated that Cass will be making another appearance in his book again as a guest in an upcoming arc.  In addition, Gail Simone, the writer of the “Birds of Prey” series, has also hinted that she has plans of using Cass in a future storyline.

Hopefully, DC is still aware of the frustration and pain that I as well as many Cassandra Cain fans have been suffering for these past years. All I want is for DC to give Cass the fairer treatment, dedication, and respect that she deserves. Doing so will show that DC actually acknowledges and cares their fans. We’ve held on this long, so please don’t let us down again.

6 comments:

  1. Glad to see this. Fellow HUGE Cass Cain fan... Hope there's more to update about soon. I'm following now. :)

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  2. Considering that Cassandra is still a member of the Batman Family as Black Bat, I fail to see your pain or appreciable anger about this.

    Obviously, when Batman, Inc. is revived, she will be seen as Black Bat fighting crime, but in a place of her own (just like Dick Grayson had done so) where she can flourish aside from being just one of the Batman Family in the overcrowded field that is Gotham City (how many Bat-people should there be in Gotham City anyway?) As well, keeping her the way you liked her reeks of stagnation, and people want to see growth in a character, not stagnation (without any change, she'd just be like the characters on Star Trek: Voyager & Star Trek: Enterprise that mega-fans like yourself hated for 'not changing' according to what you wanted to see happen on both shows.)

    I think that she will arise again, and that somebody will be using her quite well in the future. But what the creators/staff need is to be able to do their jobs without armchair quarterbacking and backseat directing from fans like yourself.

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    1. Wow, way to be completely off-mark. There was in fact, character growth and change, before DC did an editorial jumping-of-the-shark by completely abandoning the entire foundation of the character without rhyme or reason... DC then tried to erase the mistake with a laughable deus ex machina and a middling mini-series.

      She's likely only going to show up for a few panels in all the issues of Batman, Inc.'s second volume, but for those of us who have a stake in the character, I certainly hope she gets a new home. ("Batgirls", anyone?)

      Loyal fans, btw, make up the majority of book sales, and input is wanted and expected by DC's bean-counters AND writers. Disparaging constructive criticism like the above blog entry serves no purpose, but you only seem to have venom to offer the discussion anyway with your empty, sophomoric rhetoric. I say to you Good Day, sir!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5QGkOGZubQ&feature=related

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  3. Wow, it's been more than a year since this post. Is this blog now dead?

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  4. It seems to be, and in sincerely hope not! I've just come across it from BtO....

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