Josh: Welcome back to the Batman News Quarantine Book Club. Yesterday we covered Dear Justice League, and today we’re covering Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn and Nicole Goux. This was actually a book that was requested for us to cover, and since we’d decided to do some YA books, it seemed like a natural selection. Plus, I’d heard great things about the book, so I was happy to sit down with it. Now, if you’re familiar with Cassandra and a fan of hers, then you might be wondering, “How do you take Cassandra Cain and make it accessible for young readers without completely changing the character? Well, you’ll find out below… And, if you’re like me, then you might find yourself surprised by how well this creative team handled that task.
So, we all know the process by now. I want to hear your initial thoughts on finding out Shadow of the Batgirl was a title picked for us to cover. I’ll go ahead and share that I was intrigued by the book, but was curious more than anything else. I just couldn’t picture making Cassandra Cain—a character who is known for being raised to be an assassin—a YA book. But… Here we are!
Matina: This is actually my second time reading the book, so I was mostly excited to have a chance to revisit it. I loved it on my first read, though I do remember being a little wary, because yes, how do you take a character like Cassandra and write her for a younger audience? Even on a second read, I’m still amazed by how well the team handled it.
Michael: I’ve been intrigued by the cover and premise ever since it was released so I was excited when this book was chosen. I’m not a Cassandra Cain expert, either, so getting to see her in the spotlight for the first time was exciting.
Nick: I think that I was pretty surprised to see a book about Cassandra Cain getting greenlit in the current age of DC—she hasn’t been given much attention by the company, though maybe that’ll change with her pseudo-appearance in Birds of Prey.
Casper: To be honest, I didn’t really think about it until it was time to read this. I will say, though, that I was expecting a completely different kind of story, something more edgy, and maybe a Lady Shiva appearance.
Josh: Yeah, I was curious to see if they used Lady Shiva or David Cain. Alright, so now that we’ve covered what we expected, generally speaking, how did you feel about Shadow of the Batgirl after you read it?
Nick: So… I kind of… loved this book? Like, legitimately adored it? Like I might need to buy it, physically, right now?
Matina: Haha, don’t worry, Nick. That’s exactly how I felt after reading it the first time too (and yes, I do have a copy on my shelf because of it). There is so much to love about this story for me, that when it comes to generally talking about it, I feel like a broken record who can only say, “I loved it, it’s just so good!”
Josh: Michael, where do you stand? Are you going to run out and buy a copy right now?
Michael: I probably wouldn’t go out and buy a copy right now, but I did think this was a very well-rounded and unique story that went in directions I wasn’t expecting.
Josh: I completely agree with you in terms of it going places I didn’t expect. And it accomplished that task well, which is part of the reason I enjoyed this book. So, yeah. I’m in the same boat as Matina and Nick. I loved it… and… I actually did go out and buy a physical copy.
Casper: Okay, so, I didn’t love it. I also wouldn’t buy a copy of this. I’m perfectly content with having read this once on our comiXology. This isn’t really the kind of book for me, but I do appreciate some of the things that it does well! The art steals the show for me, except I have one complaint about the art, which I’ll reveal in due time!
Josh: Now, I suspect people will have varying opinions of this book based on their familiarity with Cassandra Cain. I’ve always been a huge fan of Cass, but since writing for the site, I’ve found that there are many people who aren’t that familiar with her. So, before we start breaking things down, where are you guys in your familiarity with the character?
Nick: I like Cassandra Cain, but I’ve never really had the chance to experience stories involving her until this book. To be sold so thoroughly on a character like I was sold here takes a lot of effort and care, and it’s care that clearly went into this book. I think this is my favourite of the YA stuff I’ve read in this book club so far (though I do need to read Nightwalker still, which I sadly didn’t have the time to do).
Josh: Slacker… Seriously, though, for me, I feel that this is neck-and-neck with Nightwalker.
Casper, what about you? Are you familiar with Cassandra?
Casper: I have read some stories featuring Cassandra prior to this, but I have never had the chance to read her solo Batgirl run. I heard good things about it, and I hope to read it one day. When reading this story, I do end up rooting for Cassandra, which is a good thing. I just wonder how Cassandra’s characterization matches what’s established in her Batgirl run. Did anybody read those comics and is able to compare/contrast?
Josh: Uh, yeah… Her solo title is fine, but I never feel like she shined in it as much as she did in other books. It was as if they knew how to handle her in team situations, but never really knew what to do with her on her own. And it’s not necessarily that it’s a character flaw, it was just a matter of where her character was emotionally and in her personal growth. It’s kind of hard to have a successful book with a leading character that doesn’t know how to communicate. The only other option would have been to “fast-track” her, and I think we’ve all seen how that’s turned out over the past ten years.
Anyway, as for the compare/contrast, they honestly stay pretty true to the core concept. This version isn’t as dark, but it’s because they kind of skirt around her backstory by not showing it, and simply reference it. If there’s one thing that defines who Cassandra Cain is, it’s that she was raised, in some ways “bred,” to be a killer. The depiction of this in mainstream comics gets pretty graphic, so I thought it was smart for the creative team to jump into the story at the tail end of this life for her, and only featuring her heroic journey without vivid flashbacks.
Matina: Yeah, the story here hits all the major notes of what I know about Cass and her backstory. I also thought the team did a good job starting out the story here.
Nick: My one criticism is that I’m actually not sure if I like where the book kicked off. Once you’ve read the whole thing, you understand the emotional impact of Cass being shaken by the man talking about his daughter, but in the moment it feels a little jarring, when you’re setting off the story with the protagonist being taken out of her element—an element we haven’t taken the time to understand. I might have started a bit before the incident, or one of the scenes immediately after, then cut back to that sequence in those same flashbacks, like the creators already do.
Casper: Jarring is the right word here. I felt that too. I’m just not sure if it adds to Cassandra’s confusion or if it’s something that should’ve been streamlined during editing.
Michael: I agree with you there. To be honest, the first “act” or so of the book felt very scattershot to me and I wasn’t really sure if the book was working for me. It’s definitely one of those books where in retrospect you gain a better appreciation for the writing and how everything clicks together. But in the moment, it is definitely jarring, especially since it starts out as such a violent, high-intensity scene which it never really returns to until maybe the very end.
Josh: Yeah, I get what y’all are saying. The book definitely throws the reader right into the thick of it with no exposition or background, but I don’t know how you’d successfully capture Cass appropriately in a single story without doing this. I’m not saying it’s a good approach, just that it may have been the better option once everything was on the table. At the very least, it demands your attention from the word go.
And honestly, I think the key to this story is focusing on Cassandra’s journey to becoming a hero, not necessarily her past as an assassin. If we spent ten to twenty pages seeing her past at the very beginning, it would be hard to make her endearing to readers. And while I get Nick’s point of starting with her journey, then showing flashbacks, I feel like it’s so overdone at this point.
Matina: As a standalone story, I like that the focus was placed more on her journey of self-discovery than her time as an active assassin. But I also think it did a good job of reminding us of that through flashbacks and moments where she had to pull back to keep from hurting someone.
Josh: Yes! This is something that actually stems from mainstream comics as well. They never make Cass as violent here, but having the gesture and realization is definitely a nice, impactful touch. I do think that Shadow of the Batgirl makes Cass more relatable, though. She’s not as stoic here, and allows her emotions to show. Although, at times, her range of fast-changing emotions does make the narrative feel as though it’s all over the place.
Michael: If I had any general complaint it’s that the book felt like it was being pulled in many different directions, though that might accurately portray Cassandra’s dilemma.
Nick: Yeah, I think they balanced that pretty well, like she’s not sure where her priorities should lie so she has to be consistently grounded by her mentors!
Josh: Exactly! While she makes the decision to start this journey of redemption on her own, it’s definitely Barbara and Jackie that ground and guide her journey. And it isn’t just a heroic journey either. Cassandra has no understanding of pure human interaction or communication. Seeing her learn that, and having that love bestowed onto her is a treat to read. It’s something that Kuhn handles incredibly well.
Nick: I’ve gushed on the site about Heartstopper before, which I found to be a very real and approachable story about young love in the modern day—this gave me a very similar vibe, in both dialogue and art style. A lot of young adult books forget to be, well, young adult—this book has characters talk like kids really do, with swearing and modern lingo that (mostly) hits the mark. Sarah Vaughn does a great job of capturing the mannerisms of people who are pretty much my age, for someone who isn’t my age.
Michael: Yeah, there never really was a major moment where the dialogue stood out as particularly egregious or “adult writer struggling to emulate teen talk”. Even Erik’s awkward flirting with Cassandra, while painful to read, was pretty authentic.
Casper: Now that we’re on the topic of dialogue, there is something that seemed a little off to me. At the start of the story, Cassandra has trouble formulating sentences. I think she can barely get a word out at all. But then at some point suddenly she speaks actually pretty fluently. There is no transition here. It just abruptly switches from one thing to the other. I think this could have been a much smoother transition by showing how she adapts and learns in more detail. If done in a way that it adds to Cassandra’s character progression, then you strike gold with regards to this.
Michael: I gave the book some leniency there just because I was surprised at how long the book went without her really talking. In fact, a lot of the first third of the book is almost silent, where we see Cassandra sneak around the library and establish a home there. It was really impressive storytelling with the art.
Josh: Yeah, this goes back to what I was referencing in the mainstream comics as well. If you don’t fast track her learning, then it’s going to be hard to create an engaging lead character. It wasn’t my favorite move, but it’s what needed to be done to tell this story.
And they tried to showcase her learning in creative ways by using the art. Whenever she looked at books or letters, she could only make out certain words, but over time, she’d see and understand more words. I thought that was a really nice touch.
Nick: OH MY GOD, the detail of Cassandra’s books all looking like scribbles, only to see recognizable words appear on the pages as the story progressed? Actually a stroke of genius.
Matina: I missed those the first time I read this, and when I noticed them on this reading I was delighted. Her progression in learning to write is a wonderful detail to include.
Casper: I don’t know if I’d call it a stroke of genius, but I will admit that I entirely forgot about that. At the same time, I still think that the shift is too sudden for me. I would’ve liked to see this play out a little bit more. But maybe that’s just me, I can see why others might get bored with that stuff.
Nick: If it were a longer comic series I’d definitely agree with you, though I think it works here. When I say a stroke of genius, what I mean is it’s an added detail they didn’t have to bother with, but makes for really rewarding material if you read it the first time, and gives you something to chew on if you didn’t notice until your second read.
Michael: There isn’t really a true transition scene where Cassandra learns how to speak more coherently, but it does mostly happen when Cassandra speaks up for the first time during Barbara’s library lectures. Cassandra calls Batgirl a hero, which I think on a thematic level sorta corresponds with Cassandra becoming more confident in her ability to do good deeds…and therefore speak. Not saying it’s perfect, but I think it works decently enough especially within the confines of a graphic novel.
Matina: Yeah, Cassandra’s clarity when speaking does tend to feel a bit sudden, especially when there isn’t that clear transition scene. We get that with her learning to write and read, and I would have liked at least a few moments of her working on her speech, especially since she tells Babs that she wasn’t allowed to talk. But at the same time, I can accept that perhaps she was practicing it while she was working on everything else.
Josh: If I remember correctly, I think the main continuity showcased that her dad would hit her if she spoke. I kind of just translated that here. So it wasn’t necessarily that she never learned, it’s just that there was punishment for doing so.
And she gained that confidence to speak freely because of the mentors she had in Barbara and Jackie. They invested in her and became her new family.
Nick: I think the book does a great job of establishing the family dynamic that is so essential to Cassandra in this book: what that means in relation to her father, to herself as a daughter, and to the people that she meets. How she learns to disassociate her biological relation to her abusive father with what it means to have a family is the emotional throughline of the book, that made me genuinely emotional at the end.
Josh: Oh, definitely. I think the emotions and family dynamic are what make this such an enjoyable read, and it’s something that worked well for Cass in the mainstream comics as well. The theme of daughters and sisterhood is also really engaging here. We have to keep in mind that Cassandra’s first encounter of kindness is her initial interaction with Jackie. Kindness was a foreign concept to her prior to this, so it’s interesting to see how confused she is by an act of kindness.
Jackie is essentially the mother Cass never had, and Barbara is kind of like her big, protective sister.
Nick: I love, love, love, how Barbara Gordon is represented. The fact that her being disabled was just a part of who she was, and not a vessel for her trauma at the hands of the Joker, felt like great, natural representation. The whole book did, in fact, and the introduction by the writer really helped me see what she was going for. It felt very genuine and heartfelt from beginning to end.
Michael: I have such mixed feelings on Barbara in the wheelchair, but this book really did a fantastic job of making me completely forget about The Killing Joke whenever she was present.
Casper: I don’t think I can ever not think of The Killing Joke when I see Barbara in a wheelchair. I’ve read The Killing Joke a bunch of times, and knowing that that’s how she ended up in the wheelchair is, to me, so linked to that character, that I can’t really unthink/unsee it. Even in this book, they didn’t mention the events of The Killing Joke at all, but precisely because of that, I was actually reminded of that book once again, because I noticed how they didn’t mention it. That said, I think it’s a good thing that they didn’t mention it at all, because, in a way, now it’s like that story isn’t part of the universe that Shadow of the Batgirl exists in. I also think that the events in The Killing Joke simply aren’t relevant for Shadow of the Batgirl, so excluding it seems like the right decision.
Nick: Yeah, I’ve always felt that Barbara works so much better as Oracle than she does as Batgirl, for a number of reasons. I think it’s very important to have a disabled person represented in a community like the superhero one, and I think Oracle beating her trauma and making it her own is such a great aspect of her character. I want her to go back to her being Oracle, but I don’t always want the baggage of The Killing Joke to go with it in each interpretation—to me, what that might mean is distancing the incident from that story, and focusing on Barbara as a character whose struggles are unrelated to a Batman villain. That’s where I think this book does something really important in that regard, because people who grow up with this story are never going to think of The Killing Joke.
Michael: It might be too late for long time readers to ever fully distance Barbara from The Killing Joke, but for a new reader who checks this book out will have a great introduction to Barbara that isn’t so linked to such a traumatic plot line.
Casper: You guys make good points there. I agree. I’ve always wondered to what extent The Killing Joke could be erased from Barbara’s history. To me it never really added much to her character arc in the first place. But we’re not here to discuss The Killing Joke, I guess.
Josh: Whoa, whoa, whoa. I completely disagree here. Ok, I’ve got a number of books that are now becoming “must read” books for this book club. If you see Oracle—or Barbara in a wheelchair—and the only thing you think of is The Killing Joke, or it makes you uncomfortable, or you wish her paralyzation wasn’t tied to that event, then you haven’t read enough of her stories. One of the reasons I hate that DC made her Batgirl again when they relaunched the New 52 is because she regressed as a character. She became so much stronger and heroic after she was paralyzed, and if we can’t see or push the power of that, then something is wrong.
And to say that The Killing Joke never added much to Barbara’s story arc is insane. Again, I think the only people that feel that way don’t actually know Barbara very well as a character. And no, I don’t want Barbara paralyzed because of some reason other than the Joker shooting her. That’s not to say that I revel in characters getting hurt, just that there was so much good that actually came out of that moment—both for her and others. So many characters grew because of this, and so many of Batman’s decisions were made with Barbara in mind as he moved forward—something that made him a better Batman. His hesitation of Tim, his disapproval of Huntress, his relationship with Gordon and Dick, his willingness to let Stephanie operate as a vigilante at all… And often in these situations, it was Barbara that decided they had every right to operate, so she took them in and trained them. There’s so much growth that comes out of that event, so no. Don’t change it. It is brutal, and it is difficult, but we always complain when there are no stakes, and taking that away from Barbara takes away from her heroic journey.
Matina: As someone who’s never read The Killing Joke all the way through (I know, I know), I don’t associate Barbara in a wheelchair with that story. When I was introduced to her it was with Birds of Prey with her as Oracle, still kicking butt and taking names. So when I see Babs that’s what I think of.
Josh: Yes! Exactly! She may have been paralyzed by Joker, and there was definitely some emotional healing that needed to take place, but she didn’t let herself remain a victim or damaged because of him. There’s power in that.
Nick: I see the point there, but—and this is part of me agreeing with you—they did change her back to Batgirl. That ship has sailed, she’s back to full health again. How do you make her Oracle from there? Do you retcon it again so the paralysis was permanent once more? Do you give her a new reason for being in the chair? Or do you never go back to it?
For me, especially for new readers, I think it has to be the second option. Yes, there’s power in her moving on after what Joker did—which was explicitly written as exploitative—but this book is proof enough that you don’t need that element to make Oracle work. I’ve grown up with Oracle and I prefer her to Batgirl, so I’m not saying this from a place of no experience.
Josh: So, her continuity now is that she is Batgirl again, but it’s because of an experimental surgery and implant. They’ve had a few stories now that teased the implant is starting to fail, so I think the idea is to eventually—or at least have the option—to take her back.
Nick: I don’t hate that! Probably the best way to do it without it feeling forced. In this case, though, I also mean outside of continuity—like, I don’t think it’s harmful that Joker isn’t a factor in this story, for example. I’m all for stories about her recovering from Joker—really excited for Three Jokers for example—I just don’t think we need to be beholden to that when representing Babs in stories like these.
Casper: Just to clarify this really quickly before we move on. When I say that the TKJ incident didn’t add that much to Babs’ character progression, I simply meant two things: A) Babs didn’t have an arc in that book, she was just there to get shot to drive her dad crazy, meaning she was reduced to a plot device; B) This incident itself doesn’t have to be the thing that puts her in a wheelchair, especially if during the event itself she was just utilized as a plot device. And it has nothing to do with it making me uncomfortable or not knowing the character well enough, either. I also don’t “just” think of TKJ when I see Babs in a wheelchair; rather, it is one of many things that I think about when I see her in a wheelchair, but it’s always in the back of my mind nonetheless. So I’m not at all saying that TKJ should be erased, I’m just wondering to what extent those specific events are necessary for Babs to become Oracle. I think Nick has successfully argued that that’s just not the case.
Josh: Fair point. I agree about Babs not having an arc during The Killing Joke itself. I still believe it’s a mistake to paralyze her for something other than Joker shooting her, exactly for the reasons I presented above. It completely changes the decisions that multiple characters come to make, how they view being vigilantes, and their general relationships with one another. And we can’t just have Jason being the only character who suffered the consequences of being a vigilante. He was a brash hothead. If he’s the only one with consequences, then it kind of comes off that if you follow the rules and tow the line, you’ll be fine. But with Babs, she was careful. She was smart… And yet, she still became a victim of the Joker.
Anyway, that was a huge detour, so let’s get back on track. Babs. Mentor. Cassandra.
Matina: Ok, so, yeah… I read Barbara and Cass a little differently than you guys. To me, their relationship here is such a beautiful rendition of what it’s like in the comics. It’s Babs who teaches Cass to read, and Babs who mentors her for so long, and to see that here, made me cheer audibly. Babs as a mentor to the other Batgirls is something I miss from current comics, and it was amazing to see her back in that role in this book.
Josh: I completely agree! I also like that they made such a strong point to use the library. With Barbara’s history and tie to libraries, it was a nice touch.
Casper: The library is awesome. I like how big it is, and seeing all those book shelves and the books and everything…I’m a book nerd. I want to be in that library.
Matina: It is a dream library, that’s for sure.
Josh: I mean… If I ever found a library like that, I’d probably try to live there too. Just saying. Haha!
Casper: So, here’s something that doesn’t exactly bother me, but still makes me think. We have Cassandra admitting to her friends that she has killed a lot of people and did some horrible things, which, to me, seems like something that would be really traumatic for her. But her friends kind of just respond like, “Oh, well, it’s fine, just look on the bright side.” And that seems like a strange reaction to me. What do you guys think?
Michael: If I were in their position I’d totally try to pretend that Cassandra being a trained killer was no big deal, then very gently remove myself from the friend group.
Josh: Hahahahaha! I’m with Michael on this one. I’d probably be like, “Yeah, I need to go to the bathroom.” Then find a new library to frequent. Which would pain me, because, as discussed, that library is epic.
Nick: The whole murder thing does take me out of it a little, yeah—but I guess I just tried to view that through Star Wars logic. Murder isn’t really a big deal in that world unless you make it a big deal.
Casper: I love that you brought up Star Wars, because I was reminded of this terrible scene in Attack of the Clones where Anakin confesses to Padmé that he killed an entire tribe, and Padme is just like, “Oh you!” I mean, what happens in this book isn’t nearly as bad, but it’s still something that has me raise an eyebrow and wonder why the concept of murder isn’t treated more seriously. Especially in a Gotham-based comic.
Nick: Well I did like the implication that there was more to the story: as if Barbara and Jackie have experienced situations with people like this before, which makes sense in their line of crimefighting work.
Matina: I also think that they realized just how manipulated Cass had been all her life, and instead of lingering on the death, they chose instead to focus on the decisions Cass has made for herself. I’m sure if the book was longer or had the possibility of multiple volumes it might have been done differently, but this scene in particular plays heavily into one of the book’s main themes, in that we have the power to choose who we are going to be, and we can rise up from where we’ve been.
Nick: That’s a great point!
Josh: It’s a great point. Also, as a society, I think we have to question the degree of fault in someone doing something bad if that’s all they know. If your whole life has been spent teaching you one thing—to kill—and that it’s a good thing… I would probably want to work on rehabilitating you as well, and view you as innocent.
Casper: Yeah, I agree. I guess I just would’ve liked to see more of an in-depth look at how Babs and Jackie would support Cassandra and help her deal with that, but I totally recognize that there’s no room for that in this book, so that’s fine!
Josh: Now, to kind of change the subject, Babs and Jackie weren’t the only ones who played a part in Cass’ reformation. She also found a bit of a love spark in Erik. What did you guys think about that.
Nick: I think the romance between Cass and Erik is done really well. I touch on it in a few other places here, but Erik as a character himself feels really natural. I think one of my favourite moments in the book is where Erik pretty much calls Cass out for how she’s acting—“that’s bullshit” actually hits harder than I thought it would in a YA novel—but manages to be supportive and his own person at the same time. It’s a tricky balance, but he felt like a character I could empathise with, even if he weren’t in a Batgirl story.
Josh: I agree. The “bullshit” moment hit me hard as well. I wasn’t expecting him to be that direct, but it made me like him even more.
Generally speaking, I like the texture of his character and wouldn’t mind seeing more of him. I like that he’s mixed race and has overbearing parents. I like that he’s a jock, but is discovering an interest in other things. It reminds me of many of my friends who were jocks, but found music or art in their highschool/ college years.
I can’t help but feel that, when all is said and done, Erik is someone Cass feels like she’s fighting for. Babs and Jackie inspire her, but people like Erik are why she decides to do good. It’s the idea of finding a life worth living, if that makes sense.
Nick: Plus the freudian slips Cass makes as she learns to talk to him are really funny.
Josh: Haha! Yes! And all of this, together, helps give her an identity that she kind of sees as her own… Which pushes her to suit up.
Michael: That was by far my favorite part of the book. The two page spread where we get this intricate sequence of her getting suited up followed by the splash page of her…amateur outfit is quite good.
Matina: Her suiting up and righting wrongs in the library was such a great scene. I love that just about everything she changed was based on something she’d pointed out to Barbara earlier when they were talking about her “super power.” It was a nice moment of actually showing us how she’d change what she noticed.
Nick: I think one of my favourite moments in the book is the subversion of the “suiting up” montage: Cass’ meticulous sewing and stitching and tearing felt like the scene in Mask of the Phantasm when Batman puts on his cowl for the first time… only her outfit looks utterly ridiculous at first, and she just focuses on protecting the library. I think that grounded her so much to me, knowing that this one building was her entire world, and all the little goings on in there were what she felt like she was protecting.
Matina: I loved that too. It points to one of my favorite aspects of this book, which is that when Cass decides to become a hero, she doesn’t instantly rush off to try and stop David, but instead decides to protect the place that’s become a home to her. I love that this book gave us a Cass who is so good, and just trying to find a place to let that goodness out. She’s inspired by Batgirl, understands that what her dad is doing is bad, and on multiple occasions decides to step up to be a hero. First within the library, then against the assassins and David, and then as Batgirl. I think it’s a good progression, both for Cass and readers as we follow her move into more and more confidence in what and who she wants to be.
Josh: I agree. It proves that her heart isn’t seeped in revenge—which, again, is another tie-back to the comics and No Mans Land, and ultimately the reason Batman takes the cowl from Huntress and gives it to Cass.
Matina: I also loved how you really could do this entire story without Batman at all, and the book pulled that off without much in the way of problems.
Nick: I honestly loved that the guy wasn’t even mentioned. It didn’t even feel contrived, because it’s just not his story. Cass is already in Batgirl’s shadow, and I think Batman’s shadow looming over the both of them would hinder where this book goes. As it stands, it felt really fresh.
Josh: Oh yeah!
Casper: Just something that I briefly thought of while reading the book, and which I’m reminded of here about Batgirl being a hero… Did it seem slightly weird to you guys that Barbara really wants to teach kids about her own superhero alter ego? Barbara never struck me as the kind of character that wants to talk about herself and her actions extensively.
Matina: You know, in the moment, no. It didn’t really read as odd to me. I just figured it was another way for Babs to attempt to inspire people through Batgirl. Even if she couldn’t be Batgirl anymore, she could maybe use who she was and what she’d done to teach kids a lesson. I think if she’d been with a group of peers or adults I would have felt weird about it, but with kids it seemed almost natural.
I think that inspiration worked really well when we look at how it impacted Cassandra. I mean, eventually she does create her own Batgirl uniform and set out to “hero” in the library.
Casper: Yeah, all right. Makes sense!
Josh: Yeah, I enjoyed that aspect. It almost felt as though Babs had the mindset of, “I can’t be out there to inspire young girls, so how can I do that from here?” I liked it. And, clearly, it worked because it pushed Cass to become the hero, not only of this story, but her own story as well. It’s some well-crafted storytelling.
Alright, this is running a little long, so I want to go ahead and touch on the art before jumping into our final thoughts for this book.
Nick: The art is honestly phenomenal, in my opinion. Some of the YA books I’ve read have felt the need to be more flat and simplified on account of the format, but I think that can sometimes be a real detriment to the story. Here, the art is exactly how I’d want it: fluid, colorful, vibrant, stylised—the splashes around Cassandra during her first kiss feel really inspired—and eager to portray men and women of all shapes and sizes. Nicole Goux makes Cassandra look adorable too, which is very important.
Matina: That is the most important. Especially her Batgirl outfits. I know we talked a little bit about her makeshift one but can we also talk about how fantastic her redesigned one at the end is? Because that outfit is amazing.
Casper: I love the art! The one complaint I have, though, is that there’s no consistency in how the artist draws the characters’ eyes. Sometimes the eyes are more realistic-looking, and sometimes they are just these sort of round, black buttons. There is no logic to this, either. It just switches from panel to panel. I found it to be incredibly distracting to a point that it got annoying.
Michael: I thought the art was really spectacular…but yeah the eyes really took me out of it sometimes. If the round, black button eyes were only used for cute moments or just when characters are far away then it could’ve easily worked. As it is, there is a lot of shifting back and forth without much rhyme or reason.
Nick: I think it can be used to great effect in some scenes, though, like when Cassandra reacts to something—I remember noticing it in particular during some of her romance scenes.
Casper: It definitely works for certain moments. But there are also plenty of moments where it just seemed entirely random to me. And that specifically is what I’m criticizing, the apparent randomness.
Josh: The eyes were hit and miss with me, but overall I thought the art was great. If I’d change one thing, I thought the action sequences could’ve been better. That’s my only gripe though.
Alright… Final thoughts.
Matina: Shadow of the Batgirl is my favorite young readers title DC’s put out lately. It’s a great example of how you can take a beloved character and rewrite them for a different audience while still respecting that character, their history, and essence. It provides a number of great messages (choosing your own destiny, rising above past circumstances), as well as showcases many different characters that readers can connect to. And honestly? It’s just a great book. It’s fun, it’s cute, it tells a solid story, and it’s delightful to look at.
Michael: My initial impression wasn’t quite as high as everyone else, but the more I think about Shadow of the Batgirl, the more I like it. When it’s all said and done, it hits a lot of the beats you expect out of a YA take on Cassandra Cain, but its structure and art style makes it stand out from its contemporaries. It’s just an inch unwieldy in its execution at times and never fully rectifies Cassandra’s immensely violent background with its otherwise YA friendly nature. There’s a lot packed in here from its ample time exploring the educational wonders of the public library system to a more traditional teen romance subplot, all wrapped within an assassin escaping her past narrative. I think most readers will find something that appeals to them here and the minor misgivings I have with the book are easily overshadowed by its inventiveness.
Casper: This isn’t exactly the type of comic that I’ll typically look for, but there certainly are things in this comic that I enjoy. Particularly the art is good (aside from the weird button eyes), and Cassandra is a likeable character, and the library looks like a universe of its own, which is really cool! After this discussion, I appreciate the comic a lot more, but, that said, this is probably not a book that I’ll revisit. I guess that it’s safe to say, after having read several of these books, that this YA stuff just isn’t my cup of tea.
Josh: Shadow of the Batgirl is a real treat to read. The emotional beats of the story resonate incredibly well as we watch Cassandra find a new family, and embark on a new journey for her life. The book stays quite true to the core beats that define Cassandra Cain in mainstream comics, while also making the story a little lighter in tone to allow for a broader audience. It’s quite a gem, and worthy of your bookshelf.
Nick: I’ve been getting more and more into YA and romance lately, so reading this and seeing so many elements of stories I’ve been eating up lately was a really pleasant surprise. This book feels rewarding—you could feel that it was important for the creators, and I think it’s easy to tell when a project is being injected with both love and personal experience. I wanna see more books like this, and I wanna see more from these creators. One of my best book club experiences so far, and I’m buying a copy in the next few days!
Thanks for joining us for our coverage of Shadow of the Batgirl! We’d love to hear your thoughts on the book, and make sure you check back next week for our discussion on Gates of Gotham!