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Gender Issues: Cassandra Cain

When the New 52 came around, many characters were left behind. Among the lost were Donna Troy, Stephanie Brown, and Cassandra Cain. These three characters were fan favorites, especially of women, yet were actively excluded from the reboot for one reason or another.

Cassandra Cain Solo

Of the three, the most enigmatic is Cassandra Cain. Few comic book fans seemed aware of her unique brand of justice and disturbing backstory. In fact, it took me several weeks of hunting down trades just to read her story. For what it’s worth, Cassandra was a character that escaped me even as I tried to connect with her.

I started with Kelley Puckett and Scott Peterson’s run (trades 1 – 3), which is the most logical place to start to get to know this character. What struck me most about reading 20+ issues featuring Cassandra was…I really had no clue who she was.

This isn’t a new problem for comic book characters. Sometimes the story and action gets ahead of the character development. I get that. But Batgirl is in a position to take some time to explore a troubled teen’s background. Instead of feeling her hurt and betrayal, I felt nothing.

Cassandra Cain costume

A primary factor in not connecting to this character was the portrayal of victim vs. prodigy. Throughout the three issues, Batman and Oracle spoke of how negatively David Cain (the man who raised and trained Cassandra) treated Cassandra to make her into the fighting machine. They spoke of her power only in terms of how she was a victim of horrible upbringing. Her power to see others’ movements before they make them was only the result of a very bad man.

Later, we will see a vaguely similar situation with Damian Wayne. A young child of outstanding pedigree, intensive training seemed inevitable. It is easy to think of Damian when reading about Cassandra. However, the comic book community embraced them very differently. While Cassandra became a background character that readers miss from time to time, Damian became a source of debate, hatred, and, eventually, love.

So what made Damian so much more palatable to the comic book reader than Cassandra?

Well, there’s the writing. Cassandra’s story (at least in the first three volumes) could be handled in a way that put her in charge of her story. Little to no exploration of gaining words was taken. Exploration of her past from her point of view was brushed aside. She was left with no personality, a pawn for the story. Granted, this is an opinion made after reading 24 issues (which is more than generous in giving a character a shot).

There’s also the visibility. Damian was everywhere – and we begrudgingly loved it. Comic book readers loved to hate on the new Robin. People tuned in for his last issue. Cassandra was left in the dust, faded away, with the exception of a devoted fanbase who are well aware of her potential. While there is not an outright attack on her ability to fight as a woman, there is an obvious difference in how she was handled compared to other members of the Batfamily.

Cassandra Cain Cover Art

Whatever the cause of her absence from New 52, one thing can be said of Cassandra: though she is thought to be a victim of her past, she has done everything in her power to correct for her mistakes.

If you’re a Cassandra fan, I’d love to hear you opinions on her portrayal of whether or not she is a victim in the comic book world. I’d also love to know some stories that highlight her character development.

Mara Wood holds a Ph. D. in School Psychology. Currently, she works for a public school system assessing students for educational placement. Her research focus is comic books and how they can be used in therapy and educational settings. She tends to spend…

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