Monday, January 21, 2013

Nerd Rage #13: Whatever Happened to Cass and Steph?

Probably the oddest odd couple of the DCU
Beta is Dead is now three years old and to celebrate I thought I’d revisit an older topic. Recently one of my old articles was floating around tumblr and brought some eyeballs over to the blog. It’s certainly a hot topic and still pretty relevant even today but sadly it’s outdated. Similar its sister article, which isn’t as popular but still just as relevant I’d say, is also out of date due to the events of the past two years. So I figured now would be a pretty good time to pick up where I left off with two of my favorite superheroes, and former Batgirls, Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown.

Now I feel I covered the details of who these two characters are very well in past articles (here and here) so if you don’t know who they are you can check those out. However if you’re too goddamn lazy here’s the short version of what I previously wrote:

1) Cassandra Cain, daughter of the amoral Lady Shiva, was a martial arts prodigy who was literally bred and raised to serve as the ultimate assassin and bodyguard for Ra’s Al Ghul by the League of Assassins. She rejected this and eventually joined Batman as the new Batgirl. After years of serving the role DC Comics decided to try turning her into a villain, becoming a murdering despot despite being totally against her character, but it backfired and resulted with a public backlash before turning her back to normal. Soon after this she abruptly quit being Batgirl, leaving the mantle in the hands of…

2) Stephanie Brown became the vigilante known as The Spoiler in order to rebel against her super villain father the Cluemaster. She became a frequent ally of Robin (Tim Drake) before a series a events led her to replacing him as Batman’s partner…only to quickly be fired from the role. DC then killed her off in a particularly controversial (and brutal) way while also denying that she was ever truly Robin. After a few years she was retconned back to life and soon afterwards took up the mantle of Batgirl from her friend Cassandra.

Today I’d like to catch up with both characters and see where they are now and what can be done for them in the future. If you regularly read this blog you likely already know what became of them during The Great DC Reboot of 2011 and you may also know what I’m going to say. Everyone else may want to prepare themselves for good old fashion nerd rage.

The very best of friends acquaintances!

Two former Batgirls after the jump.

So DC sent Cass to Hong Kong because, what, she's Asian?
Couldn't she fight crime just as easily in Miami?
We’ll start with Cass since it’s been a long while since I’ve talked about her. When we last left Cassandra Cain she had given up the mantle of Batgirl, despite the fact that she had only just recently returned to the role after her villainous controversy, apparently due to her grief and disillusion over the recent death of her adoptive father and mentor Bruce Wayne (though, because he’s Batman even Death can’t win in a game of Batman Versus, he wouldn’t be dead for very long). She tossed the also recently returned Spoiler her Batgirl costume and disappeared into the night. This happened over the course of a few panels in a flashback of all things since, you know, why would fans who were so passionate about the character want to see her have anything close to a proper send off? At the time it was very suspicious since DC was probably still smarting over the public backlash over trying to turn Cassandra into Tim Drake’s new archenemy and this seemed like a good way to simply cut their loses. Suddenly one of the very few female superheroes of color was replaced by a blonde white girl, of which DC has no shortage of. Obviously there were serious implications.

We would not hear from her again for a while, really not until Bruce Wayne returned from the dead. It not only turned out that she went to Hong Kong, where she was still fighting crime without any real reservation, but that her disillusionment was a ruse and she had given Stephanie Brown the identity of Batgirl as part of a Batman ordered contingency plans in the event of his death (probably one of thousands). Why she couldn’t just tell Stephanie all this at the time and save everyone migraines is unknown (though I suspect the usual “Oh my god, our female fanbase is pissed off over something we did so let’s make something up” was in effect). During this time the now alive and well Bruce Wayne had concocted a new scheme for his war on crime: Batman Incorporated, a new global alliance of superheroes who act as their local region’s Batman all the while taking orders from the original (which would allow Dick Grayson, who was Batman during Wayne’s absence, to continue acting as Gotham City’s chief protector). This included the introduction of the Batman of Africa (later Batwing) and the controversial Batman of Paris. Cassandra was invited to join the organization and she agrees but rather than simply becoming the “Batman of Hong Kong” she instead returns to Gotham with the brand new identity of “The Black Bat”.

As "The Black Bat" Cass would gain a new lease on life-JOSSED
Now, kind of lame name aside, this was a potentially awesome development. This would allow Stephanie Brown to continue on as Batgirl which was important for her own growth while at the same time continue the evolution of Cassandra without sacrificing one of the few Asian super heroines in existence. She, like her fellow adoptive brothers, has graduated into her own superhero identity and there’s nothing wrong with that. If it were handled correctly, such as Black Bat getting her own self titled series (even if it were a miniseries) or if she became a member of a high profile superhero team (like Nightwing and the New Teen Titans), this could have made up for every injustice the characters was forced to endure during the 2000s.

Unfortunately her development were derailed when the reboot was announced. But we’ll get to that in due time.

Their relationship is a tad different from their 1960s counterparts
When last we talked about Stephanie Brown she had taken over as Batgirl. I didn’t talk that much about her in her then new solo title but I wasn’t a huge fan of it at first, partly because of how she became Batgirl and partly because of perplexing negative reaction of Oracle (the classic Batgirl) which seemed horribly out of character for her. However the book did maintain a vocal fanbase and it’s easy to see why: unlike most of the characters who were inspired by Batman Stephanie was not portrayed as a brooding dark character (though between her father, her teenage pregnancy and her violent and possibly sexually charged death she had every reason to be brooding). She was jovial, happy-go-lucky, really into waffles, and a huge fan of making quips at enemies while in combat. She was more like Spider-Man than Batman. Her book was a refreshing change of pace. She even had a ridiculously adorable report with the new Robin, the arrogant and extremely violent Damien Wayne, and they came off like the vigilante version of an older sister and her annoying little brother archetype...if the little brother had a bad habit of stabbing dudes. Their banter was so hilarious that I would have loved to read some sort of “Batgirl/Robin” limited series so we could get more of it.

Hell, there was even a great issue where Batgirl had to team-up (kind of) with Klarion (BUM-BUM-BUM) the Witch Boy that was so good it actually convinced me to start reading the book again. Basically Stephanie as Batgirl was a pretty decent success, at least critically as it was usually met with praise from reviewers. And while it wasn’t exactly a runaway hit it maintained pretty decent numbers; better than a lot of the current New 52 stuff that have avoided cancelation somehow.

A new definition to the term "sidekick" (Cue Rim Shot)
Stephanie made her last appearance ever in Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes where she aides Batman in infiltrating a private all-girls school that is up to no good (are they ever?). This book was a collection of Batman Incorporated stories that were not finished before the reboot occurred and it came out some time afterwards. Supposedly DC went back and forth on whether or not to include it in the new continuity. At some point all Batgirl pictures were redrawn as The Spoiler which would have made Steph’s place in the DCnU clear, but sadly the company decided the book would stay set in the now defunct old universe.

This brings us to the reboot. Batgirl was indeed canceled but not because of sales but rather because the powers-that-be decided to magically restore Oracle’s ability to walk, de-age her, and all around undue well over twenty years of continuity by having her again become Batgirl (as seen in this review). So Stephanie lost her spot and her series but that didn’t mean anything, right? After all she was a popular character with a devoted fan base so clearly she’d show up somewhere in the new status quo, right?

Wrong. It’s been sixteen months and there has been no appearance of either Cassandra or Stephanie. For the common viewer that doesn’t seem like a huge deal; after all the DCU is a big place and there are a lot of characters to focus on. However it turns out that several writers tried to use both characters but ended up being VETOED by the higher ups for no explanation that’s been made public. Furthermore a lot of rumors have floated around that DC has blacklisted both characters and refers to them as being “Toxic” though exactly what that means is unknown.

For example Bryan Q. Miller, who also wrote the pre-reboot Stephanie starring Batgirl comic, reportedly wanted to introduce Batman and a female partner in his new Smallville comic (taking place after the TV show’s ending) and thought it’d be cool to use his semi-signature character Stephanie Brown as “Nightwing”. When the internet heard this there was a lot of rejoicing since even if she wouldn’t be in the main books at least Stephanie Brown existed somewhere. Sadly Miller was told he had to change it to someone else (it ended up being Barbara Gordon…again) and I don’t know the exact reason though I’ve heard a few guesses from fans.

Man, Stephanie isn't even allowed to exist in the Smallville universe
Scott Synder apparently planned on introducing Cassandra Cain in his new critical acclaimed Batman comic but again he was told not to and instead he tweaked the character into newcomer Harper Row. There have been several reported cases of writers asking to use either Cass or Steph but every time they are explicitly told they can’t. If there is an official reason they have chosen not to share it with fans.

In the earliest days of the reboot, and even before the reboot, many of DC’s top guys implied we hadn’t seen the last of those two characters but now it seems that they have no intention on utilizing them. Obviously there’s interest among the writers but they are simply being told “no.” That implies that someone at DC doesn’t want either character back in the comics. There have been rumors of such but nothing has been explicitly proven. However what’s not being said seems to be speaking louder. Though on the other hand Stephanie was featured on the Young Justice cartoon so there’s at least some good news for fans (even if she’s still non where near the comics).

So the question remains: why not Cass and Steph? We have no answer but the head honchos at DC always seem a bit…hostile when discussing it. If I were to guess (and it’s just a guess) I’d say it’s one of two things: 1) Perhaps the rumors are true and someone powerful at DC (maybe even Dan DiDio) despises both characters and wanted to use the reboot as an excuse to finally get rid of them. That would explain why there hasn’t been a proper explanation for their disappearance since if it came out that an executive at DC was conducting business based on his personal preference the internet would likely break in two (though this would be far from the first time this sort of thing has happened). 2) DC has come to the conclusion that the vocal fanbase of the two characters are not as numerous as they may have thought six years ago. Perhaps the executives consider all their backtracking from planned storylines (Steph’s death; Cass becomes evil) to be the result of bullying from what they thought was a huge portion of their readers. Maybe now that they are convinced that it’s actually just very vocal minority they’ve decided to bench them in a sort of “F**k you, you aren’t our bosses” kind of deal. Again were this the case it would behoove them to keep their reasoning quite to avoid a reader backlash.

Pictured: Cassandra Cain Harper Row, whoever that is
There’s no true indication that either of these theories hold any merit but I can’t think of any other reason why Cassandra and Stephanie would be on the “DO NOT USE” list and why no one at DC will give a reason for it. I do know that it can’t simply be that no one has been able to come up with a good enough story to reintroduce them and if DC ends up claiming that they’d have to be lying. After all the best writers at DC have all said they’d like to use them. If you can’t trust the likes of Scott Snyder and Gail Simone to write great stories (which they currently prove to be extremely capable of doing) then who the hell can you trust?

Is there even a place for the two former Batgirls in the current state of the DCnU? For Stephanie I’d say “yes”. As a contemporary of Red Robin (Tim Drake), current leader of the Teen Titans, there’s no reason why she couldn’t still exist. She certainly doesn’t need to be Batgirl to bring the same charm she’s always had (And I’ve been wanting to see her back as The Spoiler for years). She’d have to be slightly de-aged, just like Red Robin was, but there are worse things. As for Cassandra…that’s a bit trickier. Apparently in the new Nightwing book Lady Shiva was retconned to be at least similar in age to Dick Grayson who is likely no older than twenty-one in this new continuity. Meaning that there’s no way a seventeen (plus) year old Cassandra Cain exists in this universe, unless she has radically different origin. And since she has one of my favorite superhero origins ever (all about “Redemption” and “Nature vs. Nurture”) I wouldn’t be too happy about massive deviation. But even that aside I really think DC could easily bring them back at any time and it wouldn’t be out of place or weird. If I had my way I’d be reading (or even writing) a Bat Black/Spoiler team up book that not only helps the lack of lady heroes (there are some right now but we can do better) but it could be a pretty interesting story of two opposite personalities that still manage to be friends. I’d read it.

One's a unstoppable killing machine, the other really likes waffles!
The fact is that as of right now Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown are personae non grata in DC Comics and it doesn’t looks like that will change for a while. The best thing to do is to let the powers-that-be know that it’s not an acceptable status quo. Fans of the characters need to become better organized to show they are a larger percentage of the core fanbase than DC currently thinks. We also need to introduce other fans to these characters. One day both Cass and Steph will be back in the fold but for now it’s up to us fans to make sure no one forgets about them until then.


  1. Great read man, but I have another theory why we haven't seen those two (and Wally for that matter) back in DC.

    Simply put, I think DC hates happiness...think about it, those characters represent a much needed light for not only the Bat-books but also in fan's hearts. They were simply FUN characters. Not brooding or totally f'ed in the head or even 90s EXTREME.

    With DC cancelling every Tiny Titans/Superman Family Adventures title and now with Morrison leaving Action, there really isn't a spot in DC's cannon where people can go to get simply FUN characters....and waffles

    1. Well to be fair I don't think I'd call Cassandra a "fun" or "lighthearted" character in the same way Stephanie is. With her background and the way her stories were told there was plenty of room for broodiness. Still you make a good point about the whole "Fun Books Get Canceled" rant.

  2. Yes. Cassandra have background story that very compelling. Sadly, she's a woman AND Asian. Cause i imagine if she were straight white guy, she will make a cameo or whatever at Batman animation (Even Steph appeared at Young Justice)

    And DC even make Lady Shiva, one of the greatest martial arts, much younger at new 52.

    I think gender and race play important part at character. I know one TV show that have two character that both stoic, badass, overpowered, and good looking. The different is: one is Japanese woman and the other one is (white) guy. Guess who get more love from the reader? If you answer the guy, then... correct!

    Meanwhile the lady get so much hate and called psycho, stalker, crazy man-loving because:
    1) Just imagine your parents get killed in front of you and you're kidnapped by slaver to be sold as sex slave at age NINE. And then you must killed the slaver to save your own life and your adoptive brother at age NINE. reader reaction: She's psycho! How dare she killed two slaver without any remorse! (I'm not kidding)

    2) She love his adoptive brother so much that she's willing to give her life to him cause he's the only family left. Reader reaction: Ugh, what crazy stalker love sick girl! (Totally ignored that she's caring about her friends)

    3) She's being called boring because stoic and never crack lulz

    Yet ppl keep loving the same stoic/badass man who's never have background story and never get much screentime rather than the girl. Okay then.

    1. That concept is depressingly common. Male fictional characters tend to be beloved and forgiven far more than their female counterparts. It's B.S.