David Hines (hradzka) wrote,
David Hines

Writing Batgirl, part I: Cass finds her voice

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I like Cassandra Cain. The second Batgirl (third if you don't count Huntress's brief attempt; I don't) is a tremendously interesting character, one of my favorites in the DCU. She's a great action heroine, she's got a fascinating personal history, and has one of the best buddy relationships going with original Batgirl Barbara Gordon. (Her friendship with Spoiler is also terrific fun.)

She's also the hardest character in the Batfamily to write.

Cassandra started out as a mute. Her father, David Cain, raised her without language. He taught her violence instead. She came out of her childhood with great skills; Cass's first language is body language, making it easy for her to learn new physical skills and to evaluate people before kicking their asses. She also came out with a burden. When she was a young girl, Cain used her to carry out a hit. She tore a man's throat out with her fingers. Cass has been atoning for that act ever since.

In her early days as Batgirl, Cass understood little English, spoke less, and didn't much want to learn. This made for some Lassie moments:

It made for some cute and touching scenes, too.

It also made for writing problems: face it, it's tough writing a Batfamily comic book in which your protagonist can't interrogate perps, or angst, or narrate in appropriately-designed captions. So in Batgirl #4, Cass encountered a telepath who, in order to communicate with her, rewired her brain so she could understand and think in language. Her ability to speak was not nearly so advanced. And she (temporarily) lost her ability to read body language in the process.

She also became a caption chatterbox. Writer Kelley Puckett had Cass narrating her own book for several issues, and the effect was a bit jarring. Sure, now Cass could angst, and gripe about crooks. But too often it felt dull, even formulaic. And the contrast with the silent Cass made for a bit of whiplash. Her voice -- or lack of it -- had made Cass a rare breed in a dialogue-heavy format. Her sudden wordiness didn't really fit. Cass had a voice, but I don't think DC really knew what it should be. And when she spoke aloud, it became clear she wasn't the only one struggling with her dialogue:

The captions continued through issue 9. They were gone in 10, and issue 11 was given to a David Cain story. Batgirl didn't appear until the end, and then only uttered one word. It seems pretty clear to me that Puckett was experimenting, and that the folks at DC were looking for a new direction for Cass's voice.

Chuck Dixon found it.

Dixon guest-wrote Batgirl #12 as part of the "Officer Down" storyline -- not sure whether it's collected in that TP, but the story revolves around Jim Gordon's being shot. Batgirl tries to do her part to help.

I think Dixon absolutely frigging nailed Cass in this issue, and if you haven't read it you really should. Because Dixon manages to get Cass talking, narrating, in a way that's extremely effective for character. Rather than make her verbose and struggling, he makes her very terse, clipped, even in internal narration.

And when Puckett came back the next issue, the captions didn't. Puckett cut out the narration, but carried the voice Dixon had used into Cass's dialogue. The result was effective, attention-getting, and (dare I say it) sexy.

Hell, yeah.

In the next part, I'll look at where Cass went from here, and offer suggestions on how to write her in fanfic.
Tags: cassandra cain, dcu, meta, writing

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