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Thursday, 21 July 2011

Batgirl: Silent Running

Today's guest review is brought to you by Jamie Rimmer, who has this to say about himself:
Hmmm lets see I'm Jamie Rimmer, by day I'm a mild mannered office worker, by night a shadow lurking, comic loving geek. Paintbrush in hand I aim to right the wrongs of the World one injustice at a time. Loves superheroines, pretty art and coffee, hates bullies and small mindedness. Still waiting for my letter for Hogwarts.  You can follow Jamie on twitter under @theyallfalldown.

Writers: Scott Peterson, Kelly Puckett
Penciller: Damion Scott
Inker: Robert Campanella
Colourist: Jason Wright
Letterer: John Costanza
Publisher: DC

What's it about?
This book features the origins of Cassandra “Cass” Cain, an Asian-American teen, raised to be a trained killer by her assassin David Cain. Cassandra has an uncanny knack for reading body language, at the expense or learning to read, write or speak. She can understand your thoughts, emotions and intentions by watching your body and to all intents and purposes, body movement is her language, like English, French, Russian, or Japanese is yours. Her dear old Dad chose to re-wire her brain in this way by not allowing her to hear spoken language for several years. This approach also left no room for socialisation, so Cass has no idea about normal human interaction.
Cass escaped from Cain and is now the latest in a long line of wards for the ever brooding Batman, and first wore the Bat-symbol during a yearlong crossover event between the Batman family of books called No Man’s Land. No Man’s Land saw Gotham City destroyed by an earthquake and become completely isolated from the rest of the USA. Batgirl proves herself worthy and is given the costume by the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, now known as Oracle, after Cass saved Barbara’s father, Police Commissioner James Gordon.
The events of Silent Running collects the first issues of Batgirl’s solo series into one neat volume. Whilst her origin is already partly established, there is enough room for Peterson and Pucket to craft exactly the kind of story that engages us as new readers. We hit the ground running, and it is re-established within the first twenty pages exactly who our Batgirl is, how she came to be, and what she might one day become.

Essentially, this book is about heart, about challenging preconceptions, the idea that we are not our parents, disability, and how to overcome barriers in the face of adversity, how to find your inner strength and voice.

Welcome to the neighbourhood Cass!

What's good about it?
Within the visual storytelling medium of comics, you’d be forgiven for a mute character might not sound like the most interesting of protagonists and it might not work, but please, bear with it, if you do you will not be disappointed!

The ease at which you find yourself drawn into the adventures of this new and shiny Batgirl are a serious credit to the writers and art team involved, and the story flows effortlessly.

The exposition is cleverly crafted through a variety of ways, for example, flashbacks are used to great effect, giving us glimpses into the horrible past that this young seventeen year old girl has endured. Speaking characters are used to excellent effect, whether its Oracle explaining to those of us who were late to the party who Cass is, or Batman seeing a lot of himself in the young and troubled Batgirl. The flow of the book is never lengthened or distorted by the fact that our heroine is both illiterate and unable to speak more than about ten words - something which perhaps changes and evolves, with the character. Cassandra is never a victim who takes things lying down, she will always overcome.

The relationship between past and present Batgirls is something born out of circumstance, and whilst an awfully convenient-pairing of the old Batgirl with the new, this is a situation which sees two heroes with disabilities (not to mention two of the only disabled characters I can think of) serving as an excellent entry into the world of Batman. Whilst their relationship is not always easy - they certainly have their differences, there also seems to be a great deal of mutual respect, Oracle comes across as very protective of her successor and gives Batman a good telling off or two which is always fun to see.
This new Batgirl is definitely a reflection of the world in which she lives; Gotham is a dark, twisted place which seems to breed serial killers and rapists at an unsustainable rate. She is in no way a “Robin” type character, all bright colours, pirouetting and swinging through the night, always ready with a flippant comment. This is a Batgirl for the new millennium, a silent and deadly shadow of the night. This is not just a sidekick, but a more than capable equal, perhaps this is why Batman’s portrayal often comes across as callous and harsh. Maybe he is so hard on her because he sees a reflection of himself.

What's bad about it?
As a fan of this series in its entirety I do find it perhaps a little harder to fill in this section, there are a few things that I guess would appeal less to some people out there. In essence Cassandra, like the mythological figure with whom she shares a name (intentional or not), was a character born out of great tragedy, a victim of child abuse who carries a lot of emotional baggage. Some people out there may find her a little off-putting.

The flashbacks are often brutal and graphic, and show just how warped our heroine has been throughout her life - comparisons between a girl she saves and her own memories of her father left me in a bad mood, but this is one of the reasons I like this book - it is challenging. It isn’t always a comfortable ride, but it is well worth the journey, to see this character grow and evolve is a beautiful thing.
One thing I would say however, some of the plotting upon re-read seems a little heavy handed, I don’t want to give away spoilers here, but in particular look out for a very convenient super power being used by a new character in a time of need.

What's the art like?
I have to admit, when I first started reading Batgirl, I wasn’t a massive fan of the art, Damion Scott’s style seemed better suited to more upbeat books, but any reservations I had were quickly and easily dispelled. To the point where I am still a massive fan of Mr Scott.
The art I feel takes a very “Marmite” approach and people either seem to hate it or fall in love with it. It is highly stylised and somewhat manga/cartoonish in its approach. It is a thing of substance, a thing of beauty: Scott’s batgirl is a deadly acrobat whose ballerina like elegance lends itself well to the action within. Another thing worth mentioning, despite not being able to see her face, Scott is graced with the story telling chops which allow us as readers to always know what Batgirl is feeling. She is emotive, powerful and expressive.
The inking of the book provided by Robert Campanella is massively influential in creating the overall tone of the book and meshes perfectly with Scott’s pencils, and Jason Wright’s colours. The palette to which we are treated is often muted, it’s not all technicolor rainbows and sparkles, and lends itself perfectly to this story set within the grim and gritty streets of Gotham City.

Other infomation
ISBN: 1563897059

Price: This is out of print, so on Amazon it's currently quite expensive.  I would recommend payign upt o £15 for it.
So, what next? For the non too casual reader (it will take a lot of time and in some places effort) I would urge you to track down Batman No Man’s Land, but be aware, this isn’t for the faint hearted, this is a LONG story, but in my opinion, worth a shot if only to glimpse a peek at the girl who would eventually become Batgirl.

Next in the Batgirl saga:
· Volume 2: A Knight Alone
· Volume 3: Death Wish
· Volume 4: Fists of Fury

Unfortunately some of these books are now out of print and not always easy to track down from Amazon , I would recommend checking your local book store/comic shop.

Editor's note:  As an interesting follow on from Jamie's review, I wanted to point our readers towards a couple of other bloggers' views on Cass regarding whether or not she is disabled.  In this post Debi (who is also our newest contributor!) argues for Cass being considered a linguistic minority and not disabled.  Joel Bryan follows Debi's post up with this one, where he compares Cass to people learning foreign languages.

I'm not taking an official stance on this, I'm not certain offhand whether or not the books address the issue of how her brain is set up (it's been a while since I read them), but I can certainly see the reasoning behind classing Cass as a linguistic minority, akin to a Deaf person who's first language is a Sign Language.

Cassandra Cain generates a lot of love in comic fandom and if you wish to find out more about her I suggest you read those posts and the responses to them!  But mostly, please go find one of her books and fall in love with her as we all did!

3 comments:

  1. This is the book (and No Man's Land as well) who sold me over DC Comics "back then".

    I know what you're saying about the art, and understand it, but the style of Damion Scott is what personally sold me the story and this "new" character originally. A great inspiration stylistically wise.

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  2. I think the art contains some really interesting perspectives. The first scan with Barbara telling Bruce off is one of those, as is the first scan in the Art section. However, it took a while for me to enjoy it.

    It's quite cartoony isn't it? But still witha sense of realness, and feeling.

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  3. If only I could buy this for less than £50... think I might have to go digital for this one, it's just not worth it.

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