How Cassandra Cain challenges a stereotype


You will see a disclaimer at the bottom of this article stating that the opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of Warner Bros. and its affiliates, but still believe me when I say this: Cassandra Cain is the greatest hero in DC Comics history. The definition of a hero is someone who uses everything they have to lift up, inspire and protect those around them. As a girl trained from birth to be the ultimate assassin, no one had better things to do than Cass. Deprived of a language, an identity, or even a name, Cassandra was able to define herself by escaping the life she was meant to lead and becoming the person of her choice. A person who uses all the skills given to him to ensure no one has to die again.

Those who know Cassandra, love Cassandra. She was the first Batgirl to have her own comic series, which ran for nearly 75 issues. She won multiple “Best Heroine” awards from major publications years in a row for this entire series. But after a certain point, Cassandra began to undergo drastic changes. Falls into the supervillainy. Under mind control. Shipped to Hong Kong. Erased from continuity entirely, only to return without the bat symbol that once meant so much to her.

In his film debut, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Story of Harley Quinn), everything about his character other than his name and ethnicity was changed in the translation. It almost seems that for a time, and despite her massive popularity in the early 2000s, people were afraid to write Cassandra as she was.

Today, a very sincere Cassandra shares the Batgirls in the spotlight with her chosen family of Barbara Gordon and Stephanie Brown. But for over a decade, this once-famous Batgirl was hard to find anywhere. So this AAPI Heritage Month, a year after Cassandra graced the cover of the Asian superhero anthology, DC Heroes Festival, it’s worth looking within and asking: what’s wrong with Cassandra Cain?

Cassandra was trained by her father, assassin David Cain, to devote herself entirely to the art of combat. She was even denied the chance to learn the language, with the theory that the language of violence would be the only one she would ever know. This built Cassandra’s reputation in her early appearances as a towering character who could confront anyone in any room, but was nearly unable to greet those same people.

For Asian readers, it was a situation that was all too familiar. It wasn’t the first time you’ve seen such a character in fiction and media. Or the tenth. Or the hundredth. Or the thousandth.

The idea of ​​the “mysterious and incomprehensible Asian” is a stereotype as old as the first encounters of European traders with East Asian society, who treated the linguistic and cultural barriers between their peoples as if they were a separate class of people. ‘Human being. Over time, ideas spread among Western cultures that Asians could be wise and stoic, but “they weren’t like us”.

In the centuries since, these ideas have crept into our media, often treating Asian women as symbols of horror or sexuality, but rarely as individuals. Of Miss Saigon and Full Metal Jacket for Kill Bill, The Western media has often shown a serious problem by portraying Asian women as band-aids and sacrificial dolls with little voice. With all this cultural baggage, the idea that we would introduce our first major Asian hero to Gotham City as a young woman with literally no ability to verbalize is not only shocking, but reprehensible.

And it would be, if that was where Cassandra’s story ended. Anyone who has ever wanted to remove this Batgirl from canon, or alter it in any significant way, would be right. But this communication denial is not where Cassandra’s story ends. In fact, it’s only chapter one. Because what makes Cassandra the best heroine in DC Comics history is that she was never a static character. Throughout the story of her first solo title, and in the twenty years since, Cassandra Cain has been the rarest character in superhero media: a hero who is allowed to change and grow.

When we first meet Cassandra in “Batman: No Man’s Land” we see a mother Barbara Gordon working diligently with her new ward to help her learn the language. Together they achieve a breakthrough as the words slowly begin to come to him. But in the fifth issue of bat girl, something unexpected happens: Cassandra meets a telepath, who accidentally unscrambles her mind so she can think in full sentences for the first time. The language becomes something she can understand, though it comes with the unlearning of her unrivaled combat abilities, which she only regains through Lady Shiva’s conditional tutelage. Become the best again and fight Shiva to the death in a year, or just stay smug for the rest of his life. For Cassandra, it was no choice at all.

Years later, we would learn that it wasn’t just a narrative device to define Cassandra’s values. Editor Joseph P. Illidge recently wrote about how, even at the time, concerns were raised about how Cassandra’s fierce and silent past drew parallels to a deep-rooted stereotype – a fact that was so ingrained in our culture that the creators didn’t even recognize it. until reported. It was then that the psychic unraveling was plotted to move her character forward a little faster, but the intent was always the same: Cassandra Cain, like the Asian woman’s role in media itself, was built to adhere to a specific ideal, as a tool in his father’s story. From the start, Cassandra’s strength came from her refusal to be that tool.

Cassandra Cain’s story arc is literally about a voiceless woman finding the ability to speak – to discover the love of friends and chosen family, a passion for stories and literature and above all, a symbol of heroism at the height. Because more than anyone since Bruce himself, Cassandra Cain understands the drive to step out of your own darkness and be the hero you wish you were when you were powerless. The Asian stereotype of the silent other will always be a part of Cassandra’s story, as that very symbol has become the thing Cassandra exists to outgrow.

AAPI Heritage Month itself is about showing how this community of many cultures can recognize and celebrate a shared experience, but cannot be defined by the boxes through which popular media and other conceptions lock them. Denying and erasing this troubling history would do a disservice to the obstacles that Asian Americans have had to overcome and on which there is still much progress to be made. But whether it’s Barbara, Cassandra, or Stephanie, Batgirl’s coat has always meant one thing above anything else: no one but you can tell you who you are.

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly “Ask the Question” column and writes about superhero TV, movies, comics and history for Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find it in the DC community like HubCityQuestion.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.


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