Saturday, January 26, 2019

Her Name Is Cassandra Cain

When I was a young lad, I was quite the avid comics reader. I loved the stories of heroes taking on enormous challenges and being pushed to the very edge of their abilities, all to stand up for a principle or to protect those who might not be able to protect themselves.

I especially gravitated towards Batman. He wasn’t an alien, with powers gifted to him by the color of our sun. Nor was he bitten by a genetically engineered spider or exposed to gamma radiation that caused his strength to increase exponentially. Granted, Batman does have the advantage of being a billionaire, but his powers are intellect, martial arts acumen, and, most important, sheer, indomitable will and determination.

I didn’t actively collect comics throughout much of my adulthood. I would occasionally stop by one of the comic book stores in my city and I would certainly catch all of the big superhero movies as they opened.

I got back into regular comic collecting a couple of years ago. I mainly focus on Batman, Nightwing, and Detective Comics. It was during a big story arc in Detective Comics that I discovered a character that I like even more than Batman.

Her name is Cassandra Cain.

Briefly, her history:

Her parents, David Cain and Lady Shiva, are notable assassins. Cassandra was raised by David to be a world-class assassin herself. He didn’t teach her to speak, write, or even read as a child. He thought that it all might detract from Cassandra’s focus on the killing arts.

David took Cass to make her first kill at the age of eight. She watched the man’s life drain from his body and she realized that deep down, she wasn’t actually the killer she was meant to be. She escaped from her father’s clutches and made her way across the world until she, of course, ended up in Gotham City and became part of Batman’s family. Her character has gone through a variety of iterations over the years… she has served as Batgirl, been known as Black Bat, and now goes by the code name of Orphan.

Cass is a world-class martial artist (in fact, even Batman himself admits that she could best him in hand-to-hand combat). She has an innate understanding of body language and physical cues, giving her the ability to anticipate an opponent’s moves. She is, essentially a killing machine.

One that refuses to kill.

What makes Cass my favorite is that she is all heart. She befriended Basil Karlo, AKA Clayface, as he tried to achieve some redemption after his stint as a supervillain. Cass, of course, sees herself as on a redemption path of her own, so she and Basil forged a close friendship during his time serving on Batman’s team.

When Cass’ mother, Lady Shiva, launched an all-out assault on Gotham, the two ended up in combat. Having fought her mother to within an inch of her life, Cass felt broken emotionally. The dichotomy of such a powerful warrior feeling broken really struck me to the core emotionally.

Cass refuses to be what others made her to be. She lives by her principles. She wields her not inconsiderable abilities for good, rather than evil… for life, rather than death. She may have the most dysfunctional parents imaginable and sometimes can’t even communicate well, but she still manages to be a great friend and team member. Cass is always trying to better herself and do right by the world. That’s what makes her a great character and someone that I think we can all identify with in at least some small way.

Cass has a large and passionate fan base, many of whom I have gotten to know via the magic of Twitter. I think we all appreciate her in different ways and for different reasons, but it seems that most of us agree that she is drastically underused and under-appreciated. Fortunately, the character of Cassandra Cain is starting to experience something of a renaissance. She is going to be a major part of a new DC Comics series, Batman and the Outsiders, which will be published sometime in the next few months. She has just appeared in the new animated series, Young Justice: Outsiders. Cass will also make her live action, big screen debut in the new Birds of Prey film (actual title: Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), which is due out on February 7th, 2020. There will even be a new graphic novel starring Cass, from the new DC Ink young adult imprint.

When I first became a Cassandra Cain fan, I did a little research. I was curious about her character, how she came to be, and what books in which she’s appeared. One thing I learned (according to DC Comics canon, anyway) is that her birthday is January 26th. That’s today, by the way… so happy birthday to this badass, world-class martial artist and superhero who, in a lot of ways, is just like you and me.