How Long Do You Keep Hope Alive?

October 17th, 2008 by | Tags: ,

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.

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20 comments to “How Long Do You Keep Hope Alive?”

  1. I don’t think I’ve had this happen to too many characters I enjoy. Spider-Man is still essentially the same guy I first encountered when I was six or seven, the X-Men are basically the same characters they were when I first started reading them, and that’s about the extent of my long-term comics reading. Even Bishop is back to being a jerk, which is what he was when he first appeared.

    Cass is a pretty awful (or perfect) example of what you mean, though. I once wrote a lot of words about why I liked her heel turn, but I’m definitely eating them now. (wow, that was two years ago.)

    What’s the difference between her and any other generic ninja assassin/bat-character? Everything that made her interesting (silence, non-typical father relationship, mission) has been unrecognizably altered. She hates her father now, which is the worst surface level reading of a work since “Batman should be grim all the time like in DKR,” and she’s all about trying to kill him. Now she’s just Batman on a budget and at the point where he’s like “JOKER I’LL KILL YOU!” right before he goes “JOKER! I CAN’T KILL YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE MY MIRROR, A DARK MIRROR, SO DARK,” with a little teen angst (will he date me? o! i hope so!) thrown into the mix. Leapin’ lizardly lame is what that is.

    I’m the most disappointed in the loss of the previous relationship David Cain and Cass had. It was my second favorite dysfunctional relationship in comics, and the twist that David Cain loved her deeply, and regretted losing her, was an interesting one. Now, he’s just another abusive dad who daddy’s girl wants to kill.

    I’ve seen that movie. I’ve read that book. I’ve read that comic. I’m tired of it. It was better before, when it wasn’t so cut and dry and wasn’t just a revenge story.

    “I hate him for what he did to me, but I love him because he’s my father” is infinitely more interesting than “I hate him for what he made me do and now I’m gonna kill him and his buddy, too.”

    I used to love her.

  2. You could argue, were you familiar with Mr. Bones, that these almost total changes can be beneficial. Not that a teenage skeleton with a death touch & the Black Terror’s outfit who can cold-cock an Amazon & speaks in rhyme and was raised by an insane GYNECOLOGIST isn’t a sensational character find. But drop everything but the skeleton and the death touch to combine them with every asshole boss & vaguely sinister authority figure to strut through the shadows of the DCU and now the character drips symbolic resonance. He’s the chain-smoking embodiment of every possible use of the word poison*, branded with a skull.

    *Except the seductress who turns friends against each other. That’s Ivy.

  3. @david brothers: All we need are some drinks and really depressing country song. It’s true that Cass has become more generic. I suppose something might eventually come of it, but she still won’t be the character I liked so much unless there’s some kind of huge reboot.

    @HitTheTargets: It’s true. I picked a change that I really didn’t like. However, if you look at Catman, who went from hokey thief to psycho-killer to washed-up villain, the change into one of the extremely-anti-heroes of Secret Six was a great makeover.

    It can be good. It just sucks when a character you like changes.

  4. Is Mr. Bones a skeleton or a dude with a skull head? Either way, it’s 100% awesome that he chain smokes.

  5. @david brothers: I think Director Bones (He runs the Department of Extranormal Operations) is a regular human, but only his skeleton is visible.

  6. “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?”

    Take it from experience: as soon as you’re not enjoying it anymore. There’s always plenty of time to go back later and catch up if (when) you get sucked back in and want to see what you missed.

  7. @david brothers: Oh yeah, Mr. Bones has invisible organs, muscles, skin and such. In fact it was a big reveal in Infinity Inc that not only did Bones have skin…his skin was…BLACK!!!!

    Roy Thomas is the master of subtlety.

  8. Yeah, that’s one of the weird things about Bones’ total character makeover. In Manhunter, Bones gets /pissed/ when Kate implies he should be more willing to help women going missing in Mexico because he too is a minority. (Before you go “wha-huh?” she’s clearly trying to piss him off.) He even goes so far as telling her “Trust me; no one who’s black ever forgets it.”

    Except according to his origin he was raised with no human contact outside the gynecologist I mentioned, five other metahumans even weirder than him, and the boob tube. Oh yeah, and he had his powers from birth.

  9. More in line with Esther’s topic though, I kinda don’t like interpretations of the Joker as a guy who just kills stuff all the time. The new Morrison Joker seems like the 191 proof version of this, which at least gives the thing some legs, but I’m still thankful G-Mo keeps him leashed to a bit part.

    Where’s the guy who poisons the fish in Gotham Bay and copyrights his likeness? Or the guy who can’t bring himself use piranhas in a deathtrap because they don’t smile? Or the guy who thought he killed Batman and lost the will to be insane, settling down with a boring job & boring girlfriend? Or heck, what about the guy who kills everyone in the phonebook who’s name is a palindrome because he just escaped Arkham and wants a week-end project? Why is it his ‘super-personas’ seem to have progressively less and less personality?

  10. This post was like reopening a closed wound. I forgot how much I truly enjoyed Batgirl’s series up until around War Games. In fact, if I can pinpoint the real “Jump the Shark” moment of Batgirl, it’s directly after her awesome fight with Ravager. No, wait. Issue #66. The one with the pig-faced biker guy. Holy Hell, that issue was torture.

    The series got pretty bad after that, especially with that stuff involving Mr. Freeze’s wife. Ending the series was almost a mercy killing. Then she turned evil. At first I thought it was stupid, but grew to accept the idea. It looked like it had some potential. Upon me accepting it, Johns undid it and made her a hero again. As far as I know, the only thing she’s done of interest since then is walk around the kitchen naked in Outsiders.

    But God, she was such an awesome character back in the day. You know what made her so great? She was able to be what nobody else in the Batfamily could be. She was the female Batman.

    Babs Batgirl and Batwoman? Nah. They’re just female versions of Robin and Nightwing in bat outfits. None of them, including Nightwing and Robin, have any of the mystique of Batman. If you’re a mob boss and one of those heroes attacked your gang, you’d see them as talented acrobats/martial artists with a lot of luck and yell, “GET ‘EM!” They’ll probably win, but they’ll still come off as just guys or girls in spandex.

    If Batman or Cassandra Cain Batgirl came after you, you’d try your damnedest to get the hell out of there. Maybe you’ll go after them out of lack of options, but you know you don’t stand a chance. Nightwing and Batwoman and the like are heroes in tights, but Batman and Batgirl are straight-up forces of nature. You’d swear they were supernatural.

    I still think it’s a waste that they never did a Batgirl/Eradicator “World’s Fiercest” team-up. Just saying.

  11. What Batgirl stories SHOULD someone unfamiliar with the character read?

  12. You can start off with the beginning of her series from 2000. She was a player in No Man’s Land, but I never read too much of it and don’t feel like I was missing much.

  13. @HitTheTargets: Yes, I miss the Joker, too. I don’t mind him killing people (though I’d like a moratorium on killing established characters for a while) but I’d like him to do it for more creative reasons than making Batman mad.

    @Gavok: I liked Batgirl right up until the end, although there was a change in tone when she took that road trip. I was hoping that it would lead to a new order for the character once she got back to Bludhaven, but – ah well.

    And you’re right about Batman and Batgirl. They both had a single-minded dedication to what they were doing and the skills to back it up. For her to go all, “This time it’s personal” now is – not working for me.

    @Jbird: She was in War Games. And she had her own series for quite some time. I’d say a good trade to read if you wanted to get a sense of her character would say reading the TBPs ‘Silent Running’ and ‘Death Wish.’ Also there’s a Ghost/Batgirl mini.

  14. Its ok Esther, you and Cass can sit in the corner with me and Max Lord…

  15. I used to love her like I love Deadpool. Now it’s just…mannnn 🙁

    As for hope, I would just try not to think about it. It’s within the realm of possiblity that someone might come along and make her awesome again (JOE KELLY WHERE ARE YOU WHEN I NEED YOU QUIT MESSING AROUND WITH BEN 10 AND SPIDER-MAN) but I don’t expect it to happen.

  16. To be fair, she was able to read fake Batman’s body language in the latest issue of Outsiders. Not that anyone actually reads it, but still.

  17. Marvel killed my love of their mutant books with the one, two combo of M-Day and that whole deal with the Charles’ “first” team. That crap made me flee to cosmic marvel (Planet Hulk, Nova, the Annihilation crossovers, Guardians of the Galaxy).

    I don’t regret the move.

  18. I think I’ve talked about how much I like that original Batgirl re-launch with Kelley Puckett and Damion Scott. The whole thing fell apart completely when they left the book.

    Nobody else understood that the twist of the character was that you had a Feral Child dealing with civilization. This is by no means a unique trait, but played out rather interestingly in the batman universe, and had quite a few interesting beats.

    Basically, the book is what if Conan was an teenage girl assassin, being mentored by batman. When she goes on a date with superboy the whole thing falls apart, and shows that they completely misunderstood the audience they had with the book.

    That David Cain and Batman where competing for a father role was an great part of the book, especially when they played David Cain as the likeable assassin/alcoholic dad, that was trying to win someway back into contact with her daughter.

    Unfortunately like most good things at DC, it went largely ignored.

  19. You know, Onion, the ironic thing there is that the Deadly Genesis story was the first part of a continuous X-men story set in the Shi-ar galaxy, with the Starjammers and everything.

  20. I gave up on Cass for good around when Johns/Beechen completely dropped the ball on the Titans arc that was supposed to fix Adam’s previous screwup with a hugely convoluted magic mind control serum excuse – after which she still behaves just as out-of-character and incompetent as before. Around that time I figured out that they had screwed her up past the point where she can be un-screwed: as hard as I’ve thought, I just can’t come up with any scenario where the Beechen issues could remain in continuity and the character could still be worth following.

    It’s a real shame, because on the face of it the basic idea “Cassandra Cain takes over the LoA, starts dealing out her own brand of harsh justice” had a lot of promise. Just think about the implications – somebody who knows every detail of the rest of the batcrew and is a match or more for any of them physically, somebody whom Batman trusted almost unconditionally, suddenly assumes control of the MIA Ra’s al Ghul’s vast resources and uses them to do something they can neither ignore nor stop. That’s big, that’s almost JLA big. Played right, written well, it could have been natural development for her and might have been her ticket out of the fringes of the DCU and into the limelight. All they really had to do was to keep her in character, keep her previously established relationship to the other characters consistent, and explore all the natural consequences.

    Instead we got Beechen treating her as pretty much a replacement for Lynx – a decidedly less-than-impressive generic asian villain chick with a shockingly petulant motive and a newfound love for monologues, commanding a handful of nameless incompetents in ninja costumes. Batman’s only reaction to this was to crack jokes, cementing in the idea that her going rogue [i]did not matter.[/i] The thing that grates me here is not just that the story was dreadful – it’s that it wasted the potential for a story that could have been one of Cassandra’s best, if it only had been written by somebody less inept.