On Ninja Girls, Dames, and War Games

August 1st, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“What people often forget, of course, is that Magneto, unlike the lovely Sir Ian McKellen, is a mad old terrorist twat. No matter how he justifies his stupid, brutal behaviour, or how anyone else tries to justify it, in the end he’s just an old bastard with daft, old ideas based on violence and coercion. I really wanted to make that clear at this time.”
–Grant Morrison

I’m not usually one to complain about comics companies “destroying” characters. In fact, I think it’s kind the kind of stupid invective that gives comic fans such a negative fanboy image. “Destroying” is a loaded term, and there’s much, much better ways to express your feelings on the matter. This may be my attempt at that, or my attempt at putting my foot in my mouth. U DECIDE.

I do think, however, that comics companies can make/allow some fairly terrible narrative choices. Turning Xorn into some kind of Jerry Springer-esque twin brother was one. Actually, every time Xorn has been mentioned outside of Morrison’s New X-Men has been a mistake, I think. Identity Crisis left a bad taste in my mouth, despite Rags Morales’s excellent art. I liked the scene where Batman and Robin are trying to get to Tim Drake’s house before his dad dies. That was powerful, but the death of Jack Drake? Bleh. He was a cool dude. Mark Millar turning the New Warriors into patsies? Bah, Doom says.

So basically what I’m saying is, not everything comics companies do is great. Big surprise, huh? I once read a comment Keith Giffen made about the death of Blue Beetle. He said he wasn’t mad about it, and that his only feelings on the matter were “I would’ve done it differently.” I think that’s all any fan can really say. “I would’ve done it differently.” Mark Waid once said something like “Comics is the only industry where 90% of your audience thinks that they can do it better than you.” It’s true.

Long, rambling introductions aside, DC screwed the pooch on the Batbooks when they made the main man overly angry, right? Well, what about the satellite titles? Catwoman went from a must-read book to “Peace out, homey!” all in the space of one issue for me. Batgirl has renounced her title and is pretty much a villain now.

I am okay with one of these things, but I do not like the other. Let us begin, then.

I was never a Catwoman fan. Sure, she was okay in the TV show (whattup Eartha Kitt) and in the movie, but she looked like an idiot in the comics. I’m supposed to be that purple bodysuit? How does she put it on? Does she just step into the neck? I thought it was a stupid costume, a stupid character, and a stupid gimmick. I mean, if I wanted to read about sexy thieves drawn by Jim Balent, I’d read, uh, well I’d read Catwoman, so I guess I don’t want to read about sexy thieves by Balent after all!

Selina's Big ScoreEnter Darwyn Cooke’s Selina’s Big Score. Selina’s Big Score is the beginning of a new era for Catwoman and the first time I ever read a Catbook regularly. It’s like this: some accident or something (I don’t know, as it probably happened during the Jim Balent-era) made Selina quit the Catsuit. She later realizes that she has to get back to Gotham, because this new life just isn’t right. She returns and retires both Selina and Catwoman. Then, she gets roped into a caper. What do we get? A beautiful neo-noir crime caper, two of my favorite genres, and a revamped Selina Kyle.

Gone is the cornball “Mrrrrow!” stuff. You mean to tell me that a grown woman is going to growl or purr as part of her natural speech patterns? No sir. The new Selina Kyle is smart, well-dressed, sporting a new, shorter haircut, and just as capable as ever. She’s a film noir dame to the very letter. Try and fleece her. She’s so good that you’ll walk away chuckling about how you fooled the pretty girl with the empty head, only to realize halfway to your house that she got you for your wallet, car, keys, safe deposit box, and the clothes off your back. The emperor has no clothes, and you are his majesty. She’s scary smart and if you think you’ve got one up on her, you’re already six steps behind. I could go into more detail about Selina’s Big Score (the awesome movie-style introductions, Robert Mitchum as Slam Bradley, more), but I need to stay focused.

This new, neo-noir Selina was the first time I cared about Catwoman since Adam West was Batman. Ed Brubaker wrote her solo series with art from Darwyn Cooke, Cameron Stewart, Javier Pulido, and others. They used a similar style as Darwyn Cooke did on SBC– few lines, sparse detail, kind of cartoony in style but moody in execution… it was a consistently good looking book. The art style fit perfectly with Brubaker’s stories, all of which stayed fairly street level. Selina, her sidekick (not Catgirl!) Holly, Holly’s girlfriend Karon, and most of all (Robert Mitchum as) Slam Bradley, the grizzled old detective were all well-rounded characters. The girls were sexy without being exploitative. People wore real clothes, and the new Catsuit was a masterstroke. Also, Slam Bradley was awesome. Even when she was hanging out with Hawkgirl or in Keystone City, Catwoman was kind of walled off from the DCU at large. It was refreshing.

Enter Paul Gulacy. He became the new regular artist on Catwoman when Cam Stewart left. Ed Brubaker was a big fan of his, but it was a 180 degree turn in terms of style. It was either taken well or horribly by fans of the book. This essay does a good job of taking a pretty pretentious angle on the change.

Anyway, I’m in the horrible camp.

Gulacy brought his strengths to the book… it just so happens that these strengths are hideous. Check out Catwoman’s neck and face on those linked pages up there. Then look at the cover to SBC in this article. When I look at Gulacy’s art, I don’t see Catwoman. I see Selina the Vampire Giraffe Woman who wants to bite a hole in my neck and suck my blood, possibly increasing the size of her neck in the process. This weird proportion work continued inside the book, with distended crotches, misshapen faces, and generally ugly art pervading the series.

For me, the mystique was broken. Gone was Selina the Dame. She was back to being a superheroic sex kitten, even if she never busted out a “Me-ow, cowboy.” Neo-noir looks traded off for art that isn’t anywhere near as attractive? Count me out. I want no part of it. I couldn’t even appreciate the story any more. It went from being “my thing,” which are crime stories, capers, and films noir, to just a regular comic book. War Games certainly didn’t freaking help, either.

For the record, though, it’s picked up nowadays. Will Pfeifer is doing a pretty good job telling tales of Mommy Selina, and I particularly like his characterization of the new Selina. It’s not the same, though, even with David Lopez’s solid art. I miss the noir. I like that she has a baby, and it’s one of the most interesting and possibly brave things to happen to a hero in recent memory, but it’s not the same. DC zigged and brought the book back to generic superhero land. Pfeifer brought it up out of that muck a bit, and his run is looking solid, but it’s missing the noir.

Next is the bit where, if I have any kind of audience here, I lose them in one fell swoop.

Batgirl’s gone evil. I’m okay with that.

Let’s start at the beginning. Once upon a time, as I was trawling the internet, I came across this two-page scan of a young asian girl dodging bullets. I still remember the caption text. “Even from my angle, I could see her kind of… squint. And then… I don’t know what happened.”

Batgirl 13 02 Batgirl 13 03 Well! I like ninja! I’m not much for teenage girls, but I do like girls! This must be the the best thing ever. Little did I know how right I was. The Scott Peterson/Kelley Puckett/Daimon Scott issues of Batgirl were literal and figurative works of art. Batgirl was my kind of hero. Like Batman, Spider-Man, and Daredevil, she was a hero who fought to right past wrongs and assauge her guilt. She was on a quest for redemption. I totally dig that, and being that Bats, Spidey, and DD are a few of my most favorite heroes, I’m totally down.

I want it on record that I called Lady Shiva being her mother, though. As soon as Shiva remarked that they had a similar skin tone in an early issue, I knew it. So there. Give me my nerd points.

Once the original team left, the series bounced in quality and took a hilarious nosedive before finally being cancelled. Honestly, it was a mercy killing. Lazara, the Lazarus-Pitted Wife of Mister Freeze? Are you serious?

But, the potential for the character was there. When she was written well, she rocked hard. She had interesting stories, and sometimes compelling ones, if I can play Hype Man for a minute. Then, the Crisis hit. One Year Later, and holy crap they’re going to kill Batgirl!

Wait… they’re going to turn her evil? GET THE PITCHFORKS!

I’ll admit, the idea of Cass Cain, The Girl Who Only Wanted Redemption, being turned into a Daddy’s Kwazy Widdle Girl was repulsive. Then I read Beechen’s story in Robin. Sure, it had C-c-c-crazy Cass… but it was good once you got to look past that. I’ll freely admit that it’s hard to reconcile this new Cassandra with Batgirl Cass. I’ll also admit that I find the new Cass almost as interesting as the last one. Why? There’s a couple reasons.

First– Robin’s reaction. To me, it was perfect. At first, he didn’t want to believe it. Batgirl 13 04 No way, no how, not Cass. It’s a trick. Then, he accepted it. He didn’t like it, but he accepted it. And he was going to figure out the how and why of it, and hopefully bring her back to the side of the angels. Sound familiar? It sounds to me like the arc that I personally went through while reading the series, complete with the hoops I would jump through to try and figure out if it’s an evil twin or mind control or something. It was a realistic reaction, and he doesn’t end up hating her. He’s still concerned, and she’s still Batgirl. He wants to help his friend.

This leads directly into the second reason– I am a sucker for villains with close personal ties to heroes, specifically friends turned evil. It can be a trite plot, but when done nicely, it’s perfect. Norman Osborn is a great nemesis for Spidey, but I’d say that Harry Osborn was more interesting. It was a tragic rivalry, all the way down to Harry swearing to be Peter’s best friend as he was dying. Hunter Zolomon was created to be a villain, hence the funky spelling of his last name, but he was established as a friend to the Flash first. Then, when he became a villain, it wasn’t to kill the Flash, or get rich, or anything stupid like that. He became a villain to make his friend a better hero. That he attempted to do this by inserting tragedy into Wally’s life and wrecking his marriage is only icing on the cake.

That’s drama, baby. I jokingly suggest that Jimmy Olsen should be Superman’s worst enemy, but the joke is that I’m not joking at all! …or am I?

Batgirl as villain works for me. It doesn’t work as well as Batgirl as hero did, but it does work. Now, Robin and the rest of the Bat-fam have failed Cassandra. Their way didn’t work. Is it because they didn’t try hard enough? They didn’t welcome her into the group? Did she remember Barb Gordon talking all that smack about her not being able to read and just flip out? Could they have stopped this? There’s tons of potential here. I’m particularly interested in Barb meeting up with Cassandra now, since she was the surrogate mother/big sister figure for a while. Even better would be a Lady Shiva showdown.

The heel turn adds another layer onto the Robin/Batgirl relationship, and honestly gives Robin a much-needed unique nemesis. He’s had Batman’s hand-me-downs for years. Lady Shiva I thought made a great villain for him, but she was Batman’s villain first. He and Batgirl have history of their own, and both personify the two sides to Batman. The do it because it’s right side and the any means necessary side. The detective side and the combatant side.

Think about it. Cassandra was a great hero, and she’s also a perfect villain for Robin. They’re mirror images. And I can dig that.

(Oh my word. Lady Shiva is still concerned about Batgirl’s fate. How crazy would it be to see a Robin vs Shiva/Cassandra team up? That is bananas and I dearly hope that Beechen does that eventually, or at least a three way battle.)

There’s another reason why I don’t mind Cass being a bad guy. Robin’s book, to me, needs to be one of the happy Batbooks. It needs kids, teenagers, jokes, bright colors, all that stuff. It needs Tim Drake being smart and a smart-aleck. It’s got that for the first time since Chuck Dixon left. After Dixon left, Robin was a miserable book. It was tragedy on tragedy. Then Bill Willingham came back, wrote Tim Drake out of being Robin one issue after he renewed his resolve, gave him a villain, gave him a newly dead girlfriend who came back as a zombie or something, and generally made the book worse.

Beechen’s first few issues are the first happy issues, Batgirl notwithstanding, of Robin I’ve seen since Dixon left. Bruce adopts Tim, Tim moves in, they joke about the Clash and just disturb Alfred in a perfect scene, and Tim’s got his head up in the midst of adversity. I’m not saying that Robin needs to be a happy go lucky book, but it can’t be the same dark, dreary mess that the other Batbooks were for so long. This new creative team? They’re nailing it. Tim Drake’s voice is perfect. Bruce Wayne is perfect, and so is Batman. I’m in for the long haul, guys. I hope that you can look past what you might see as the mistreatment of Cass and keep reading. Her story isn’t over, and I get the feeling that great things are coming. Here, I think, is where DC’s zig-zag actually paid off, editorially mandated though it was.

This post is titled “On Ninja Girls, Dames, and War Games.” The first two are self-explanatory. I was going to write on how War Games was a misstep, but it wasn’t so much a misstep as a man falling down a manhole, but it’s bottomless, so he shoots out the other side of the Earth, rockets over China, and ends up hurled into the sun where he gets burnt to a crisp. That’s how bad it was, and i thought that before they offed Spoiler and burnt down Oracle’s tower.

In other words, it’s not worth words. I’d much rather ramble on more about Selina’s Big Score, or the awesome wedding of Storm and Panther, or how I once got a paper cut on my freaking eyeball in third grade than talk about War Games.

I will probably talk about one of these things tomorrow, unless something better comes up! Place your bets on which one I go for. I know! Grant Morrison on Batman again. Mark Waid on Flash.

Let’s talk happy comics. Comics are for loving, not for snarking.


(make sure that you say “ninja girls!” like Dakuon from Ninja Scroll. neeeenja girls. It totally adds to the effect.)

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5 comments to “On Ninja Girls, Dames, and War Games”

  1. See, to me, the problem is, I didn’t see Robin– or Batman, for that matter– being concerned about Cass herself, except for exactly one panel in #150 (the “Cassandra, this isn’t you!” panel).

    That said, I’m liking Beechen’s run for the same reasons. And everything I see points to the whole “evil Batgirl” thing as being some kind of fakeout, so…

  2. “Writing is an occupation in which you must constantly prove your talent to those who have none.”
    — Jules Renard

  3. I loved the noir Catwoman too, and it was the dive back into generic superhero/villain territory that just bored me into dropping it and never looking back. I think that might be a good example of why the Bat World just doesn’t really fit into the larger DC universe – Batman worked best with the Timm/Dini noir-inspired crime series, notsomuch as a improbably powerful Joe among people with heat vision. The quirks of the hero and villains can work great in the loopy Rat Pack/Oceans 11 mold, you can do cool and not be embarrassingly “meeow” campy, like the generic comic booky style can get.

    I’m still not so sure Cassandra turning evil works, unfinished storyline or not. It seems… defeatist, almost – you can’t ever escape your “essential nature,” you’ll fail at being good and eventually turn evil, like Cass.Although it’s been suggested Evil-Cass is a double. I think it’s especially hurting to her fans considering the wider context of awful things happening to women in the DCU. Cass has been demoted from having her own title and in a “big name” position to a villian of a sidekick. It seems like an uninspired choice for a character that seemed to have such a unique origin/premise. If you really wanted to, you could also get into some class and race issues (Tim/Bruce/Kate/Barbara: white, well-to-do socialite families vs. Cassandra: essentially a child soldier from Cambodia). Although maybe that’s looking to much into it… 😛

    I’ll maintain that the OYL jump was a terrible thing to happen to Teen Titans – it had a ton of momentum going into IC with the Brother Blood arc, the Beast Boy/Raven romance, BB’s developing role as a leader, Raven’s new life, that dystopian future looming over them. Then Johns decided to kill a bunch of them and put them through hell, and pick up where things have become totally overthrown and flooded with angst. The severe lack of information may have sounded great, but abandoning certain teamates (gee, Geoff, are we ever going to see BB, Bumblebee, and Herald/Vox and the Doom Patrol ever again?) and the delays are helping kill it.

    I’m giving Runaways a chance with it’s decision to kill off a teammate because, unlike Geoff, Vaughn seems to care more about character development and everyone’s interactions, rather than dump a bunch of overblown shocks and only care about a select few (because why the hell should Titans fans wait till 52 Week 21 to find out what the hell happened to everyone not Tim and Wonder Girl?).

    But I’m a broken bad record. 😛

  4. I wonder if Cass being bad falls into ye’ olde “Battered Spouse Syndrone”… Where someone with bad habits, or in a bad situation will revert back to their old ways, or often fall back into bad situations, regardless of the level of support around them.

  5. I believe Tim Drake’s dead/resurrected girlfriend was called Stephanie Brown… another charater who’s been so screwed with that I now hate. Hopefully that doesn’t happen to Cass…. 😡