Thursday, 27 December 2012

Cringeworthy Comicbook Moments - Robin: Wanted

I come armed with canon, so yeah, kind of a lot of scans behind the cut.
There are stories that in which the characters develop naturally over the course of several years to fill a certain role. There are characters create to fill a role from the start. And there are characters that are changed to fufill a role, like a square peg in a circular hole.

Robin: Wanted is the third of these stories.

As I have said previously, Batman: No Man's Land was pretty much the event comic that got me into the DCU properly, after dwelling on the edges with the DCAU-related context at the time. Partly it was because I was a post-apocalyptic kick at the time (Mad Max at the like) and partly because one of the characters introduced fascinated me.

That character was Cassandra Cain.

As such, while I was building my collection of trades, outside of Batman-related stuff like NML, Cataclysm, the Killing Joke etc. the collections from Cass' solo series were amongst the frist proper comicbooks I ever bought. Certainly the first ones that starred a female protagonist.

Because of this, in a way, I always kind of thought of her as being MY Batgirl. I didn't remember Babs from her time in BTAS, I rewatched that for the first time in roughly a decade later, and I was only really aware of her role AS Batgirl in the abstract when I was starting out. Steph was the Spoiler at the time, and since she didn't really figure into NML (and, again, I didn't read Tim's series straight away, a fact not helped by not all of her appearances pre-NML appearances being collected) I got to know her through her appearances in Cass' series.

In short, Cassandra Cain was pretty much the gateway drug into the DCU for me. I was fascinated with where she came from, her (at the time) unique powerset, her personality, her drive to do what was right, and her interactions with other characters...

...But then came the comic that actually drove me to start buying the individual issues.

Robin: Wanted.

A storyline that launched a seven or so year long webcomic (drawn mostly by me with collaborations with Anne of the Wotch fame and pre-Atop the Fourth Wall Linkara) in which our bile of the situation was unleashed to the amusement of some and the annoyance of others.

It was also the storyline that taught me who Dan Didio was, and that fact that it doesn't matter if you like a character, if someone in Editorial has an idea for how they could be used there isn't really anything you can do about it. Even if the idea makes no sense within the context of the character's own series.

So, for today's Cringeworthy Comicbook Moment, I'm going to cover some of the ways that this series failed (with the repercussions in a following article) to make a lick of sense to those who were actually a fan of the character, and that it wasn't a "logical progression" like the creators said at the time.

Let's begin.

- The storyhook: Tim is mugged in an alley by an Asian woman who can beat him up faster than he can see, only for her to end up dead with one of his throwing stars wedged in her neck.

(Robin 148)

Firstly, for those who don't know, One Year Later was a gimmick where, after Infinite Crisis, all of DC's books would skip a full year to justify changes to the status quo. The intention being that the series 52 would fill in the blanks when it came to say why things are the way they are now.

As for why this wouldn't work... well in the comic it said that Lynx had only been dead three hours and had died of a broken neck, when she'd kind of roughly two YEARS ago within the timeframe in question. Within Cass' series. Via one of her henchmen accidentally cutting her head off.

(Batgirl 56)

So apparently she regrew a head, only for someone to break her neck, dress her as Cass and dump her in an alley? M'kay.

- Moving on
Anyway, the cops see Tim standing over the body of Lynx, and since they don't know who Cass' secret identity is they assume that Tim had just murdered Batgirl. Oracle hears about this, and in an admittedly good moment tells the rest of the Bat Family of Cass' "death" and how she doesn't really want to talk to Tim at the moment, due to how cut up she is about this.

Shortly after this, Nyssa al Ghul (Talia's older sister who took over the League of Assassins after the death of her father) is killed via a carbomb.

(Robin 148)

This is the moment that makes me think that the writer of this series, Adam Beechen (a competant writer in most cases) only actually read the final trade of Cass' solo series. I know he said in interviews that he skimmed it, but enough elements from it turn up here to imply he's trying to carry themes over...

...Not necessarily good themes though. I'll get into Cass' anathema to murder later, but first I'll go over what Nyssa is doing here. In Destruction's Daughter, Nyssa revealed Cass' secret origin, that she was created as part of a eugenics experiment to create the ultimate bodyguard for Ra's al Ghul by Cass' father David Cain, to replace the Ubus.

As such, Nyssa feels that, as Ra's heir, she is also Cass' OWNER to a certain extent. She also tried to use Cass as a bargaining chip with the Society of Supervillains (Cass had injured Rose badly in one of their fights and Slade was one of the lead members) OR try and indoctrinate her into the League of Assassins herself...

Back with Robin 148, Tim is approached by Bruce, who tells him that he knows that Tim did didn't kill Cassandra... in the most bluntly honest way possible.

Anyway, Bruce tells Tim that he'll let Babs know that Tim didn't actually kill Cass, and Tim explains what's up. It turns out that he was sent a note addressed to his civilian ID, telling him that Cass was in trouble and to go alone to the alleyway. (Wow, and I thought Tim was supposed to be smart).

Bruce tells Tim that he suspects that David Cain (still in prison after his role in the Bruce Wayne: Murderer storyline) might be involved somehow, but he agrees to keep the rest of the Bat Family from getting involved as this is apparently "personal" to Tim. So, fair do's, Cass means enough to the rest of the Bat Family for them to want to be involved as well, but apparently Tim doesn't want them involved as he was the one targeted... m'kay.

Next issue.

While Tim is breaking into GCPD HQ so he can examine the body of Lynx for clues (stealing the cowl in the process) another sort of reference to Destruction's Daughter is occurring in Calvin City. Here an assassin is being attacked in an alley by a mysterious woman (Cass).

(Robin 149)

This, combined with Lynx's redeath and the deaths of others Cass may or may not have killed through out her time as a Villain, I think are meant to be a tip of the hat to a certain scene in Destruction's Daughter... but with a misinterpretation of the scene.

From the final issue of Cass' solo series, she has one last confrontation with her mother, Lady Shiva, who Cass realises has the same kind of deathwish that she had earlier in her series. But while Cass wanted to die helping people as punishment for killing one (possibly paedophile) gangster, Shiva implicitly wanted someone worthy to kill her for her inability to avenge her sister's death (indeed, even having a kid with her murderer).

(Batgirl 72)

The thing here though, is it isn't actually Cass deciding that murdering is okay... as such. Earlier in her series, Shiva killed Cass in a duel and then revived her, which seemed to satisfy Cass' subconscious need for someone to kill her enough for her to focus on things like making friends, and, well, LIVING. Here Cass had rigged a similar situation, she kind of killed Shiva, also freeing her of her deathwish, but hung her over a Lazarus Pit so that she would be inevitably be revived.

And if killing someone in such a way that their return to life is confirmed to be on the cards is the same as maliciously murdering someone... then the amount of times that Batman has injured Ra's al Ghul to the point that he need to use a Pit to regenerate (like in Hush for example) means Bruce must by the same logic be a murderer-born as well.

But, eh, apparently breaking someone's neck once when you know that they'll be completely healed again in a few minutes is the same as adopting a finishing move, ala a beat-up 'em computer game.

Back with Robin 149, and after Tim's admittedly kind of cool escape with the cowl, he's visited by Lady Shiva. This is also the point where Wanted stops following along an... interpretation of canon, and starts getting increasingly stupid.

...So apparently, prior to the completion of Cassandra's solo series (Infinite Crisis happened immediately afterwards, with Bruce taking his male sidekicks on a round the world tour while Cass just wandered the world fighting crime in Seattle among other places) Bruce found time to teach Cass how to read Navajo, one of the MOST COMPLEX LANGUAGES IN THE WORLD.

Cass is severely dyslexic, to the point that just months prior to the end of her series, she had serious trouble reading the words "It was".

(Batgirl 58)

Babs did a test and confirmed that Cass did have an actual learning disability, and that she wasn't just "lazy or stupid" as Ms. Gordon said she was due to Cass' lack of progress with learning to read.

(Batgirl 67)

Wouldn't she had needed knowledge of how to read and write in both English AND Navajo for this is work? Blagh.

Next issue (Robin 150), decides to break David Cain out of prison on the basis that he probably knows what happened to Cass. David says that he has no idea what's going on with Cass and that he hadn't seen her in months, he also points out that he didn't need Tim to break him out of Blackgate Prison as he can walk out anytime he wants (this is true, he stays there because he knows Cass wants him to). But when David professes that he has no idea what Tim's talking about in regard to the League of Assassin's coup and Cass, Tim decides to try and go all Ollie Queen on him and beat the information out of him.

The information it turns out that he genuinely doesn't have. Oops.

Suddenly, ninjas appear. They tie up Tim, and suddenly the mastermind of the plot is revealed! It's Cass! With weird trousers!

This is the point where, I thought that, okay, this story could be salvaged, they showed in her solo that there were technical siblings to Cass out there and one could be trying to frame her... turns out that she'd gone freaking nuts. Complete with supervillain speeches.

(Robin 150)

Wow, Cass said more there than she did in nearly any five given issues of her own comic.

Again, CASS ALREADY KNEW TRAINED OTHER KIDS! She met them in her own series, convinced some to turn away from the life of being an assassin and was stabbed to death by another (Shiva revived her in a Lazarus Pit so they could have their Final Showdown).

In addition, the relationship between Cass and David was one of the most interesting things about her series. She knew he was a terrible person, that he'd done horrible things both to her and to other people, but despite that she still loved him because he was her Dad. She didn't know any better. In the context of her series, Cass deciding to go on a murderous rampage other something that she already knew about her father doesn't make any sense! And they're making the man who shot his four year old daughter to teach her to dodge bullets look like the REASONABLE ONE here!

In addition, the point of her series was her drive to prove that despite her parentage, despite her childhood and despite the fact that she killed someone it didn't mean that she was a bad person, and that she could still do good things.

To repeat what I posted a little while back, from Batgirl: Secret Files,

Turns out, Nope! Sorry kid, but you're doomed by your parentage from the outset! If you have bad parents, you are yourself destined to be a bad person. Unless you're Rose Wilson, where her horrible father just means that she's more "edgy" than the rest of the Teen Titans. Or Helena Bertinelli, whose entire family is mostly comprised of gangsters and Mafia assassins. Or Roy Harper, who is related distantly to Vandal Savage. Or Lian Harper, whose mother is a supervillain who nuked a country, just 'cause!

Next Issue, Robin 151. And It. Just. Keeps. GOING!

Wait, that was a flintlock pistol, how did it fire twice in a row? It's a magic gun, where'd she purchase that?

Okay, two things.

1. In the last couple of issues of Cass' series Nyssa attempted to use this "you can only save the world by killing bad people" logic on Cass to try and turn her to the dark side. Didn't work, because by this point Nyssa was both a hypocrite (openly working with the Society) and kind of a moron (building a Lazarus Pit on a mass grave and then getting surprised when zombies show up shortly afterwards, albeit not as a direct result of the Pit being there).

(Batgirl 69)

After her brother Mad Dog killed her, Cass was visited by the ghost of Steph, there to take her to Heaven. Cass said that she couldn't die, as she had her job as Batgirl, as well as friends and a possible lover back in Bludhaven waiting for her. Only for Steph to reveal that Slade and Co. had killed them all by dropping Chemo on the city, effectively killing all of her friends and ending the life she had built for herself in 'Haven.

This effectively broke Cass, making her feel that despite everything she did was for nothing, that she wasn't a hero because people keep dying around her and she can't do anything to stop it. This effectively leads to her quitting being Batgirl at the end of the series due to her feeling the good she does just isn't ENOUGH.

2. Cass doesn't think murder for murder's sake is okay. Ever.

Although the above pages could be interpreted as her deciding that murder is an effective tool to save the world, it doesn't quite gel with her attempts to reform Mad Dog and the other members of the League of Assassins in her comic after Nyssa runs off. Nor does it stick with her Thing being she can't allow anyone to die.

Cass wouldn't let a murderer be legally executed because it feel on the anniversary of her First Murder, because she had vowed no one should die in violent circumstances on that day, no matter the reason.

Hell, Cass will RUN directly into gunfire and allow herself to be repeatedly shot because she didn't want to risk the assassin behind her possibly getting killed by any of the stray bullets she could have easily dodged.

(Batgirl 6)

IF Cass was to decide to kill people to save the world, she wouldn't do it as easily as she's depicted as doing it here, and she certainly wouldn't use things like car bombs which, as Shiva's newspaper said, are highly likely to injure innocent bystanders!

Back in Robin 151, Tim goes nuts and starts reeling off a list of Cass' victims, and how he's going to beat her up and have her sent to jail for what she's done. He does mention that she's obviously nuts so the court will probably be understanding...

He finally confronts her on top of a tank in the oil refinery they ended up in, where they casually decide to reduce her in threat level some more.

Bullshit. Martial arts, let alone Cass' abilities, don't work that way!

The fight is actually pretty well done, despite that daft line though, with Cass easily having the upper hand against Tim, who himself is worn down pretty quickly by the conflict.

The fight comes to a close with the fire (that Tim started as a distraction) causes the oil tank they're standing on to explode, making Cass and Tim retreat.

Tim admits to himself in the narration that he'll miss Cass too...

The overt "Cass is interested in Tim sexually/romantically" undertones of this storyline I'll be dealing with in another post, but for the meantime I'll just say that at this point they kind of come out of no where. That is, prior to this Tim has expressed an interest in Cass not not vice versa.

Anyway, Cass and Cain escape in the inferno, with Tim only finding the bodies of Cass' ninjas lying around the places with their necks broken. The issue ends with one of Tim's snitches delivering one of Captain Boomerang Jr's titular weapons to Tim, signally that they want to meet.

The two hadn't met at this point (and ironically he was actually more a hero at this point, even dating Supergirl for a while), but Tim grins his teeth grimly and prepares himself to a fight with the son of his dad's murderer.

...Screw you Tim, your best friends include someone who is biologically Lex Luthor's SON and a girl whose father is mythological serial rapist, you're not one to judge.

We round off his abysmal storyline in Robin 152, with Tim asking Bruce if Cass' theory that Bruce uses his Robins as brightly coloured distractions is true...

...Bruce, you really can be an ass sometimes.

So, here we had DC's first woman of colour to get her own solo comicbook series, which sold better than Catwoman and the Authority in places. She had her own character arcs, relationships, and personality, but it was all thrown away to expand Tim Drake's rogues gallery...

Do I really have to go into how problematic this entire story is? Besides the continuity flubs, I mean, they took a character that was on equal footing with Batman in places, and effectively decided to make her into a supervillain because, bluntly, she thought Daddy didn't love her. And then had her get all touchy feely with the male hero in a way that previously never was part of the character. It's like they were trying to make her into what Talia al Ghul ended up as under Grant Morrison's comicbook run...

And it gets a lot worse before it gets better as well.

The fault for... this isn't entirely with the writer, Adam Beechen. He's a good writer in other places, the Teen Titans TV show and JLU for example, and there are definitely bits of a good story here. Tim's infiltration of GCPD headquarters was particularly well done, for example. But the problem is that it so heavily contradicts both Cass' character and her own series that Cass here might as well be a separate character.

The twice evils of editorial mandate and general laziness (again, Beechen said he hadn't read Cass' series, only skimmed the last issues and added other details where told to him by Editorial) are at fault here. Maybe it could have turned out better if people who were familiar with Cass were writing it, but as it is the entire thing is just a colossal mess.

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