Although Cassandra Cain may not be a part of the current DC universe, for many Batgirl fans her character has certainly left an impression that will make her very hard to forget -- and it's no wonder why. Of all the female heroines in the DC Universe Cassie's origin story is one of the hardest, grittiest and most grounded of all of Batman's supporting characters. So if you've never read a Cassandra Cain story before, where should you start as a new reader? Her ongoing series, of course.
Cassandra Cain was born from the 'No Man's Land' story line and given her first series in April, 2000. The character's ongoing series went on to span over five years with the conclusion of her series published in April of 2006 with issue #73 -- something of a big achievement, especially these days. In 2001 DC comics collected the first two volumes of Cassandra Cain's ongoing series, and both volumes are absolutely worth getting if you are able to find them (as they happen to be out of print). And while her entire run was pretty fantastic, the second volume BATGIRL: A KNIGHT ALONE which collects issues 7 to 11, 13 and 14 of her ongoing may be one of the highlights of the entire run, and certainly worth picking up if you have ever been curious about her character. If you have ever wanted a solid grasp of Cassandra Cain, BATGIRL: A KNIGHT ALONE is the perfect place to start.
One of the unique things about Cassie's character is the fact that when she was originally introduced to readers she could not verbally communicate. Although the reason for Cassie's inability to speak is revealed in the first six issues of her ongoing series, it is not until the second volume that this aspect of her character is really fleshed out and explored, and readers discover that the reason she cannot speak is actually a deeply psychological one. Although I personally really enjoyed the first volume of the character's series, I think that many people may have a problem with the lack of dialogue from Batgirl. Puckett relies heavily on other characters and on the series' artists to depict Cassandra's thoughts and emotions, and while I think this was done well, I think that as the character began to adapt to verbal communication (starting with the second volume and onward), that's when she became more interesting.
BATGIRL writer Kelley Puckett explores Cassandra's psyche as well as her relationship with both Batman and the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. It is evident, especially in this second volume, that Cassie is a trained killer. Her abilities as a fighter and a hero are phenomenal because she has been trained from birth to be a warrior, but these qualities gradually erode away as she begins to learn how to speak normally. Basically, she can't have it all, a really fantastic quality added to this series. As a result, BATGIRL: A KNIGHT ALONE is predominantly a story about overcoming obstacles. In this volume we see Cassie struggle to learn how to fight defensively, something she never had to do before because she was given the ability to read the moves of her opponents and act preemptively. The series writer, Kelley Puckett, does an incredible job depicting her difficulties both physically and emotionally, and one of the most admirable qualities in Cassie's character really comes to the surface in this volume: and that is her unwillingness to give up. On the surface, volume two is about Cassandra's struggle to be the fighter that she used to be.
While BATGIRL: A KNIGHT ALONE is certainly a story about Cassandra as a fighter and a character struggling to re-learn her abilities, it's also a story about relationships. The second volume of BATGIRL is where the identity of Cass begins to be explored. Where did she come from? Why was she trained to be a killer? What is her relationship to David Cain? And what about Lady Shiva? Beyond that, there is also her relationship to Batman. Although Batman takes a relatively hands off approach with Batgirl (unlike we've seen him do with his Robin's), Puckett draws a connection between Batman and Cassandra Cain. It's evident he feels for her and he is angry at the thought that she has been abused by Cain from a very young age. He is also protective of Cass and for good reason, and he sees a lot of himself in her. In this story there is one particular moment where he is speaking to Barbara and he asks her, "who does she remind you of?" That pain that exists in Batman's dark, brooding stubbornness exists in Cassandra as well and Puckett draws a relationship between these two characters. They very clearly have similarities and it is interesting to see them so out in the open like it is here.
Reading this series again reminded me of why I fell in love with comics in the first place. On the surface, this is a great comic book. It has fantastic dialogue, action, adventure and of course, the Batman family characters. Beyond that though, this is a great look at the psychology of these characters. This story is so much deeper than what we see on the surface: it explores a character's insecurities and how relationships can influence and affect an individual. With Cassie, she is a character of very few words, but it is always clear that there is something much darker and deeper brooding beneath the surface of who she is, and Puckett successfully captures this dynamic incredibly well.
Have you read BATGIRL: A KNIGHT ALONE? What did you think of the volume?