One of things cover on this blog is how minority groups are treated in DC comics. Today’s guest blogger Neo-prodigy writes about minorities and comics regularly on his blog and elsewhere where he gives sexism, racism and homophobia, in any form, absolutely no mercy. Today he’s writing about a memorable moment for a great character, a WoC, who has not been treated very well by DC Comics in the past few years.
Neo-prodigy is writing about Cassandra Cain and the moment when she saved Jim Gordon’s life in Batman #567. His thoughts follow.
It’s always the quiet ones. You hear that expression all of the time, but for anyone who is familiar with Cassandra Cain, said expression takes on a whole new meaning.
The No Man’s Land story arc in Batman was intended to be a game changer for the Batverse. It was a storyline where we would see unlikely alliances, characters pushed to unexpected lengths, tragic deaths of beloved individuals, shocking (and not so shocking) revelations. Most notably, new players would enter the game.
No Man’s Land introduced Cassandra Cain who would not only come to make a profound impact on the Batverse but the comic industry as well.
Little is known about Cass when she’s first introduced. Unable to speak or read, she is an enigmatic courier for Barbara Gordon.
Meanwhile we soon learn that Jim Gordon has been targeted by none other than by world class assassin David Cain, one of Bruce’s former mentors. In seeing Gordon’s life in danger, Cass doesn’t hesitate to do everything in her power to protect him, even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice.
It is soon revealed that Cassandra is Cain’s daughter. Since birth she’s been raised to be a living weapon. In fact, as a side effect of Cain’s training, Cassandra’s mind learned to read an opponent’s body language instead of spoken or written language. Thus while mute and illiterate, she can read a person’s body movements and could for example see a punch coming long before a foe curled a fist.
Through flashbacks it is learned that Cain had his daughter murder a man with her bare hands at a very young age. In that moment Cass realizes the horror of murder death and escapes from her father. Despite this dark past, despite her programming, Cassandra has an indomitable will to do what is right whether it’s fleeing a sadistic and psychotic parent or protecting a man from being murdered in cold blood.
Why is this a memorable moment? Because in many respects we’re seeing the birth of a champion, much like we did many years ago when tragedy struck a young boy in Crime Alley. When Bruce lost his parents, he made a solemn vow to use every resource to fight evil and protect the innocent in his parents’ honor. He honed himself in mind, body and spirit to become an unstoppable weapon, even if that means mastering the darkness that formed him, hence his tutelage under Cain. But as Bruce explains, “Knowing how to kill doesn’t mean you must kill.”
Cassandra personifies that quote. While her skills as a warrior are second to none (as proven when she later does battle with Lady Shiva), she chooses to go against her programming and her father to protect the innocent.
Between Cass’s skills, her connection to Bruce’s past through Cain, and aiding Gordon: the paternal and surrogate father of Babs and Bruce respectively, it is only fitting that she would be bestowed with the Batgirl mantle.
This moment is also pivotal because it was the emergence of a new kind of character, a new kind of heroine. For Cassandra is no one’s sidekick. In fact she actually surpasses Bruce, not only combat but in her Spartan demeanor. She’s the machine that Bruce spent a lifetime honing himself into. Ironically as proven in Cass’s actions in saving Gordon, her overall character arc is that of a weapon discovering her humanity.
I believe that’s why Bruce trusts and relies heavily on Cass. Because he finally finds a peer, an ally who rivals him both in skill, demeanor and drive. For what is the essence of the Batman: a champion born from tragedy and darkness (be it the murder of one’s parents or being raised as an assassin) as a child and driven to the pinnacle of human perfection to be the force that evil fears. Cass is more like Bruce than any other member of the Bat-family. That isn’t to say that the other members don’t have crucial roles in their own respects, because they do (and it’s often to keep Bruce balanced) but when it comes to being disconnected with one’s humanity but possessed with the drive to defend the innocent, Cass is Bruce 2.0.
But while Cass may be Bruce’s ideal, by no means is she’s anyone’s puppet. In the years to follow, we will see Cass actually check Bruce and put him in his place when the situation warrants it. And how many times has anyone ever checked Bruce on anything? Cass overshadows her mantle and proves to be on equal footing with Bruce. And for a woman of color in comics, THAT NEVER HAPPENS.
For me personally (and I surmise this is true for other fans), the introduction of Cassandra Cain is a significant point in comics because finally it’s gratifying to see the comic industry acknowledge that minorities deserve the right to be showcased and celebrated in fandom. Too often minorities: women, POCs, LGBTQs, etc. are rarely featured in comics and when we are, it’s in marginalized and usually degrading roles. At best we’re the token sidekick, the magical minority for the cis straight white protagonist. At worst, we’re relegated to whatever minority stereotype, some storytellers decide to box said characters into. And that’s if we’re not written off and erased for inferior white characters which has recently become a pervasive trend.
But more than that, Cass is a groundbreaking character because her success is based primarily on the fact that she is handled with the same care and respectability that’s usually reserved for cis straight white male protagonists. And because she was handled with such decency, Cass has a strong following from a wide demographic of fans.
Fans of color found a champion in Cassandra Cain. She is our champion in that she proved POCs can have successful titles if given a fair chance. The truth is we need more Cassandra Cains, we need more Storms, Renee Montoyas, Black Panthers, Wiccans, Midnighters. It’s not acceptable for us to be a supporting sidekick or background dressing, it’s time for us to take center stage.
Here’s hoping that day comes very soon. So if you’ll excuse me, I have some Cassandra Cain Batgirl trades to re-read, for the umpteenth time.