Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Variations on Cassandra Cain On TV and In Movies

More Behind Cut
Red Robin 25
Ah, Cassandra Cain. The character that got me into DC Comics properly when I was younger after drifting on the edges of the market in the DCAU stuff, as well as being arguably DC's most successful minority character, having a series that clocked in at 73 issues that at the same time managed to outsell even the more well known series such as the Authority at the time of its cancellation

Which all things considered is pretty damn good for a book about a severely dyslexic Eurasian ninja trying desperately hard to be a good person, despite her childhood programming making her pretty much only good at hitting people until they resembled rubber sacks filled with jigsaw pieces.

She was an assassin whose hatred of the very concept of killing another human being once drove her to rescue a convicted murderer from a gaschamber, on the basis that she couldn't allow anyone to die on the anniversary of her (unfortunately only first) murder, even if society felt he rightly deserved what was coming to him.

JL: The Savage Time, Part 1
And yet, despite the character's popularity both when she had her own series and now, some five years after said series was cancelled, she didn't really get that much exposure outside of the Batman-related comics. In comparision to the previous Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, Cass' ventures into different media are frankly kind of limited, with only a brief (as in literally two/three seconds) cameo in Bruce Timm's Justice League cartoon, an appearance with Tim Drake in the cancelled Batman: Dark Tomorrows video game and an appearence in DC Universe Online.

So, I've decided to cover several characters that have simularities to Cass, and rate them on how close to the character that they are, as it's unfortunately kind of unlikely that we'll actually be seeing her in a tv show, game or movie at this point.

Just to warn you all first though, this WILL contain spoilers, so you if don't want spoilers for the Thai movie Chocolate, Kickass, Hanna, or the current Young Justice cartoon, I'd skip the rest of the article.

Still here? Cool, let's get started with a movie that is arguably the more obscure of the characters here, but is kind of infamous amongst those who are aware her movie.

4. Zen, Chocolate (2008)

Zen is a half Thai, half Japanese young woman who managed to learn spectacular martial arts skills from watching old movies on her tv, and from the Muay Thai academy next to her home. Finding out that her mother has cancer, but lacks the money to pay for chemo, Zen and her adopted brother Moom take off to raise the cash by punching everyone on a list of debtors left over from Zen's mother Zin's former occupation as a money lender until they cough up the cash.

Okay, I'm going to come right out of the gate and say it: the reason that they claim gives Zen the ability to perform her near superhuman martial arts powers (performed by debuting Thai actressYanin "Jeeja" Vismitananda) is that she's Autistic.

Yeah, I've worked with kids with Autism, and although some do become very focussed on things that they like, the people I worked with were obsessed with Doctor Who and the Titanic for example, I'm pretty sure that Autism doesn't work the way that it's depicted in this movie. Admittedly they do say that Zen's fascination for martial arts might be the reason WHY she's so focussed on it, but, I don't know it just seems kind of exploitative.

The fact that the gangsters she's fighting/robbing in the movie respond to Zen's proactive approach to debtcollecting is to hire an epileptic assassin to kill her (they reason his spasming martial arts style would make it harder for her to predict what moves he's going to use... I'm not making this up), kind of brings to mind the level of wrong that was brought up in the movie
Cage,which is about a braindamaged Vietnam vet, played by the awesome Lou Ferrigno, who is made to battle people in cage fighting matches by sinister underworld types. An excellent, and very funny review of THAT movie and its sequel can be found Here.

Okay, now that that's over, let's get on with the comparision.

- Really damn good at martial arts.

- Both parents are involved in the criminal underworld, albeit not in the same way.

- Raised by a single parent.

- Has male adopted siblings.

- Fights crime, via beating the tar out of gangsters.

- Socially awkward, though Cass' was more due to her childhood than her disablity unlike Zen, who is more defined by her Austism.

- Zen fights crime, but although it's for a good cause, it isn't really of the all purpose altruism that Cass exhibits most of the time in the comics.

- While Cass was raised by her father in a constant training regime to be the best assassin ever, Zen was raised by her mother and only really picked up her martial arts skills in her spare time.

- Not a superhero or ninja, despite how over the top the movie's setting is.

3. Hitgirl aka Mindy Williams, KickAss (2010)

This character was created by the Scottish comics writer Mark Millar and the artist John Romita, Jr. and she's kind of unique amongst the people covered in this article as she has two entirely different origins depending upon which version you're going with.

If you're going with the movie version, which I am, Mindy's dad was the top cop in New York City, until his investigations annoyed the wrong gangster, resulting in him being framed for drug charges and getting sent to prison, whilst his wife died in childbirth. After obsessing in jail for years over getting revenge on the gangster, Williams was eventually released and began drilling his daughter in how to be a really efficient death machine, so the pair of them could take apart the crimelord's empire both figuratively and literally with the use of swords, guns and explosives.

The comicbook version has Mindy's dad just being an obsessed comicbook fan, who trains his daughter to be a murderous superheroine because he thought that it'd be cool for such people to exist in real-life... yeah. Jane Goldman, the screenwriter for Kickass really did the character a favour by changing that little titbit.

The comicbook version of Mindy's father, who goes by the superhero name Big Daddy, is pretty much Cassandra Cain's father, but with a skewed sense of reality that somehow manages to make him worse.

I guess that that idea behind Hitgirl is that she's meant to be a deconstruction of the idea of child sidekicks, and how introducing children to the often violent world of superheroics can be incredibly damaging for them both mentally and physically... but depending on which mode he was going for he might have just been going for the same kind of shock value that the makers of Chocolate were going for, having a preteen girl murdering people with swords and such.

Nemesis 2
Any similarities to Cassandra Cain in Millar's verison of Hitgirl might possibly have been deliberate, though it's sometimes hard to tell with Millar. For example, he touted his series Nemesis as "what would happen if Batman had the same personality as the Joker", and what he basically ended up with was a semi-obscure Batman villain called the Wrath, who had pretty much the same backstory as Nemesis (if you believe the character in-story, that is...).

- Trained from a young age to kill, including getting shot so they wouldn't flinch if they got hit in a gunfight for example. Cass' dad didn't make her wear a bulletproof vest first though.

- Fights crime, albeit again in a more violent manner than Cass.

- Issues with her father.

- Horrible childhood.

- Teams up frequently with a nerdy male superhero (Kickass for Mindy, Tim Drake aka Robin III for Cass).

- Is a badass superheroine.

- Raised in single parent household.

- Lack of social skills.

 - Operates out of New York City, which Cass... kinda... does. Although this may be stretching it, as despite Gotham being described as being the scary parts of NYC in the times when it was kind of skuzzy and crimeridden, there is actually a version of New York within the DCU itself. Power Girl operated out of there and stuff.

- Willingness to kill. An interesting thing about the character of Cass Cain is that the sole purpose behind her training, beside making her a damn good assassin, was to deprive her of written and spoken language, so that she'd be able to interpret body language and human movement the same way that regular folk can read alphabets. Now, those of you who know anything about linguistics probably can't even begin to start with how little sense that makes, but since Cass operates out of a universe were getting drenched in forensic laboritory chemicals and electrocuted enables you to run faster than the speed of sound I feel we can probably cut her a little slack in that department. In any case, when Cass first murdered someone (when she was 8 or so years old) she ended up reading the body language of the guy she'd killed, which scarred her emotionally to the point where she would never allow anyone to die violently if she could stop it (unless crappy writers were involved). Cass learns why her training and child are/were horrible, whereas Mindy... doesn't. She treats murder as a game, which is probably what makes Hitgirl so disturbing in a lot of regards.

- Lotta f**kin' swearin'. Yeah, Mindy swears like a sailor in both incarnations (something that, along with the violence, caused the Daily Mail to decry Kickass), Cass is somewhat monosyllablic due to her not even having the ability to comprehend speech until she was around 16 years old, when a psychic rewired her brain because he didn't understand why he couldn't read her mind properly.

2. Hanna, Hanna (2011)
Hanna is a girl living in a cabin in the woods in the Arctic Circle with her ex-secret agent father, being drilled in survival skills, given a basica academic education via the facts in an encyclopedia, and how to kill people. Specifically a CIA agent called Marissa, who ends up pursuing Hanna across Europe to keep some of her old dirty secrets from coming to the surface.

Directed by Joe Wright and having a soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers, this is a really damn good movie, and in a way manages to make the shape of Cassandra Cain the most out of the live action movies, at least in my opinion.

Props out to Hanna's actress, Saoirse Ronan, for making a character that's an interesting balance of creepiness, social awkwardness, badass physical skills, and being oddly adorable. I'd recommend this even if it wasn't part of my list.

- Trained from a young age to be really efficient murderer.

- Like Cass she was created as a eugenic experiment by a sinister secret organisation. With Hanna, she was created as part of a supersoldier programme conducted by a fragment of the CIA in post-Cold War Europe, of which she was the only survivor, and with Cass she was revealled to have been created as the latest in a line of eugenic experiments conducted by David Cain for Ra's al Ghul's organisation the League of Assassins.

- Creates a deep friendship with a girl that is pretty much her opposite in terms of personality. In her movie, the blonde Hanna becomes friends with the brunette teenage girl Sophie, who is socially overt and arguably more of a regular teenager than Hanna is. With the brunette Cass her best friend was the blonde Stephanie Brown, who was similar to Sophie in some regards, but was a lot less shallow and, well, kind of rude.

- Is very much a badass pseudo-ninja.

- Although Hanna is VERY good at killing people, by the end of the movie she tries to swear off violence, mostly due to the fact that everyone she's met up until that point has died. Whether that sticks or not we'll have to seen in the sequel, if one ever comes about.

- Complex relationship with her father. When she's with him it's depicted as being very much a father and daughter relationship, but, like Cass, as soon as she's had some more experience with being out and about in the real world she realises how screwed up her childhood was and tries to rebel.

- And also has an interesting relationship with Marissa, which in a lot of ways mirrors Cass' relationship with two major female antagonists in her series. On the one hand, the level of resources that Marissa commands, as well as her seemingly acting as if Hanna is her property, mirrors the behaviour of Nyssa al Ghul, the big bad of the last few issues of Cass' solo series. While the search across Europe to find her mother, the assassin Lady Shiva, mirrors Marissa's pursuit of Hanna, though that's stretching it slightly.

- Very socially awkward, both in her interactions with other people and with just every day things like light switches and televisions, as growing up in a shack in the tundra didn't really leave her with much of an idea of what Western society is like or how to deal with people outside of what she read in her father's book. Cass was pretty much the same way, with a large chunk of her series dealing with how she adjusted to the world after living in a hunker being tried by her nutter father or living as a wandering homeless person for roughly half her life until she met Batman and co. For example, interacting with teenage boys was somewhat mystifying to her, as she didn't grow up around anyone her own age, so when the likes of Superboy expressed an interest in her she wasn't really sure how to process it.

- Both have scenes where they kill and eat their own meat. Hanna killing a reindeer with a bow and arrow, Cass killing a dying cow by kicking it to death as she was starving and it was in pain.

- The relationship between Hanna and her father, although becoming less cohesive towards the end of the movie, remains positive for the most part, with Erik on the whole having more benevolent intentions than David Cain or the likes of Big Daddy.

- She's probably the most white person in the history of cinema. Verging on albino she is.

- She doesn't wise up to how killing people is wrong as fast as Cass, which I guess is more realistic, as she's kind of got a child soldier's mentality, and only decides to try and move away from the path she's found herself on after a series of massive personal losses, as opposed to witnessing the death of an anonymous stranger at close range.

- Not a superhero, despite having mild superpowers (VERY mild).

And now we come to, what I feel is the closest we'll ever get to Cassandra Cain in a DC Universe setting, and by that I mean I'm talking about...

1. Artemis Crock, Young Justice (2010 - )
Now this character is an interesting case, as she's based on a character from the original DC Universe, the daughter of the Golden Age supervillains the Sportsmaster and the Huntress/Tigress who in turn went on to become a supervillain in her own right. But, within this show she's filling in for the character from the Young Justice comic Arrowette, and in doing so appears to be borrowing a large chunk of Cass' back story in the process.

Before I start, I have to say that I do like Artemis in the cartoon, I do. It's just kind of sad that for a show that is so packed full of DC cameoes, seemingly trying to out do Batman: the Brave and the Bold, that they couldn't just have Cass in the story instead of appling so much of her character to someone else. Ah well, no matter. Considering Robin is on the team already, having two Bats in the group would probably make it a little lopsided in terms of characters or something.

ANYWAY, Simularities!
- Superhero based in Gotham.

- Comes from a single parent family, but in a odd kind of balance. She was raised by her mother, who used to be a supervillain before she was paralysed and sent to prison, when she was raised by her father, another supervillain who taught her to be an assassin and ninja who works for the Young Justice version of the League of Assassins, the League of Shadows (a riff on the Christopher Nolan version of the group). Once her mother was released, she returned to her mother's care, who wanted to turn Artemis away from the supervillainous life, and allows her to go down the path to becoming a superhero. The depictions of the uncaring father/assassin Sportmaster, appears to be similar in characterisation to David Cain in a lot of respects, while Artemis' start on the path to being a hero beign guided by a wheelchair-using mother figure brings to mind the relationship between Cass and Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl.

- Eurasian, has a white father and a Vietnamese mother, which is the same combination as Cass, depending on the writer. Lady Shiva doesn't exactly have a solid ethnicity, with everything from Thai to Chinese Canadian to Vietnamese being thrown into the mix.

- Determined to be a hero, even when the odds are against her.

- Worried about what her new friends would think if they knew about her parentage and training. Possibly jusiftied in Cass' case, as (unlike Artemis) she was pretty open on who her father was from the beginning, which lead to Tim Drake being scared of her for a long time, and Dick Grayson, the first Robin, openly saying that her assassin's blood means that she could potentially go evil at any moment, like it was a congenital disease or something.

- Expresses an interest in Superboy, though he ends up with someone else. Both Cass and Artemis express an interest in Conner Kent, though while Cass actually goes on a date with him before deciding to just be friends, Artemis tells her teammate Miss Martian that she isn't interested in him that way, only to go on a jealous crminal punching rampage through New York when she twigs that MM and Conner are now a couple ('Secrets').

- Artemis' relationship with her sister Cheshire (they aren't related in the comics) also brings to mind two relationships of Cass. On the one hand, it was revealled in the Adam Beechen penned mini-series that Cass had a number of "sisters" that Cain had created/trained prior to Cass, one of who is the psychopathic and bitter woman called Marque. Marque is somewhat close to Cheshire in personality, but not entirely. Who she's more close to is Lady Shiva, and serves the same function in the cartoon that LS does in the comics, while the comicbook version of Cheshire is more in line with Marque. If that makes sense.

- Although Artemis is capable of just punching people into submission like Cass, in the cartoon she differs to using a bow or crossbow when on missions, which both gives her range and enables her to assume her cover identity of being Green Arrow's niece (her equivalent character in the comics, Arrowette, was implictly GA's illegitimate daugther).

- Artemis is very chatty and sarcastic, which again makes her differ from Cass, but considering it's probably to make her balance out the (at least initially) incredibly peppy Miss Martian that's kind of understandable.

- The explanation for Artemis' turn to the light side doesn't seem to be as clean cut as Cass', at least as depicted thus far in the show. It's stated that family is very important to her, and it's possible that she only ended up with her father and sister with the LoS because, with her mother in jail, she had nowhere else to go. Only when her mother had finished her prison sentence did she leave to go live with her mum again and starting on the road to heroism. This is possibly because her mother at least wants good things for her (going to a good school, for example) while her father is unambiguous supervillain, and her sister is selflish and cruel. Artemis' desire for a family, any family, make a good counterweight to Cass, who once stated in the comic Batman and the Outsiders that the thing she wanted most was to keep her family away from her.

Potential serial killer? Give her a government job!
Special mention goes out to Laura, aka X23 from the Marvel books. Although she did originate in the X-Men: Evolution cartoon, I'm really only familiar with the version from the comics, so I discounted her from the list.

She does have several parallels with Cass, both are from superassassin programmes, have issues with their parents, have murderous urges and are in a lot of ways very similar to their male counterparts. Though I never really took to the character she didn't, at least to me, seem to have that much of a personality and always seemed to be staring off into space and acting like Cameron, the robot from the Terminator spin-off show the Sarah Conner Chronicles.

That I thought that, even for some of the things that happened to characters on this list, the decision to add a spell as being an underage prostitute to X23's backstory was both tacky and unnecessary. And I didn't like the idea of Scott Summers, the superhero Cyclops and current head of the X-Men, using her to carry out assassination missions for him as part of some kind of mutant deathsquad. Although it could make parallels with Bruce realising he was using Cass as a tool just like David Cain was, before deciding to back off and allow Cass a social life etc., I have had no indication that Scott has even considered trying to treat X2 as a normal person, rather than as an unstable potential mass murderer or tool for disposing of enemies' of the Mutant Race.

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