Cassandra Cain is the forgotten Batgirl. She’s the least known among the general public and is currently gone from DC Comics stories. Worse, she’s unlikely to make a re-appearance, as requests to use her by several of DC comics writers, including Grant Morrison, have been turned down.
Yet Cassandra is important. She was the first Batgirl to headline her own series, a book that lasted for six years and seventy-three issues, one of the longest runs ever for a non-white character in mainstream comics.
Cassandra shares an origin unique among the Bat-Family. Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, Jason Todd, Barbara Gordon, Kate Kane…all of them are trying to live up to their parents’ legacy in some form. Only Stephanie Brown, who succeeded Cassandra as Batgirl, shares one similarity: their fathers were super villains.
But Stephanie’s dad was a minor villain and only a small influence on her day-to-day life. Cassandra’s father was David Cain, one of the world’s deadliest assassins. He trained his daughter to be a killer from babyhood. But when Cassandra first killed someone as a child, she hated it and rejected her father and her training. In her first appearance, she prevents David Cain from killing Jim Gordon, the father of Barbara (Batgirl, Oracle) Gordon. Babs gave her blessing for Cassandra to assume the role of Batgirl and became one of her mentors.
Cassandra’s other defining trait was her inability to speak. Cain had been so focused on teaching his daughter to read body language better than anyone that he never taught her to use words. Once Cassandra found a new path away from Cain, she became intensely and single-mindedly devoted to preventing death, and as obsessed with justice as Batman, her new role model. And yet, she was still a teenage girl trying to grow up and find out who she really was, and her attempts at normalcy was endearing.
Cassandra’s definitive story was in Batgirl #19, “Nobody Dies Tonight” in which she vows that no one in Gotham will die under her watch, not even a condemned prisoner due to be executed at midnight.
Eventually, Cassandra gained the ability to talk, discovered the truth about her mysterious mother, and developed friendships with Tim (Robin) Drake and Stephanie Brown, then Spoiler. Cassandra and Stephanie were odd friends but flip sides of the same coin. Both daughters of villains, Cassandra taught Stephanie fighting skills while Stephanie shared her optimism and hope with her friend.
But the cancellation of Cassandra’s title was the beginning of the end for her. First, she came back as a villain and murderer, all her altruism seemingly gone, a story that dismayed her loyal readers. Later, it was revealed she was drugged and mind-controlled during this period but no later stories followed up on these events. Eventually, she changed her identity to Black Bat and became the Batman of Hong Kong in Morrison’s Batman Incorporated. Unfortunately, her appearances in that comic were little more than cameos. In the rebooted DC Universe, she no long exists.
Which is a shame because Cassandra is the very definition of a hero: under the worst circumstances, she put the needs of others ahead of her own and refused to give into baser instincts, even though it meant turning against the only person in her life.
Batgirl: Silent Running is a terrific introduction to the character and the later volumes are worth reading. They may take some tracking down, however, as they’re out of print.
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Corrina Lawson is a writer, mom, geek and superhero, thought not always all four on the same day. She is a senior editor of the GeekMom Blog on Wired.com (www.wired.com/geekmom) and the author of a superhero romance series and an alternate history series featuring Romans and Vikings in ancient North America. She has been a comic book geek all her life and often dreamed of growing up to be Lois Lane.