The YA take on the story of Cassandra Cain as Batgirl highlights neurodiversity and reimagines one of Gotham's finest
Everyone knows Batgirl as Barbara Gordon, but what about Cassandra Cain? First appearing in 1999, Cain has held the mantle of Batgirl previously, and now goes by the name Orphan as part of the Outsiders team. If you haven’t been keeping up to date on this character, her history can be a bit messy, but today, we put that aside and take a look at another entry in the DC Icons imprint, with a look at the YA graphic novel “Shadow of The Batgirl”.
Written by Sarah Kuhn and illustrated by Nicole Goux, “Shadow of The Batgirl” is the newest installment in the DC Icons brand of comics for young adult readers, and is non-canonical with the DC comics universe, like all of the Icons books. It follows a younger Cassandra Cain, who is the daughter of an evil man who taught her to be a deadly assassin. Unfortunately, that is where his parenting skills ended, as Cassandra is almost entirely non-verbal, and extremely socially awkward since her only way of understanding life has been killing. Through a chance encounter during an assassination gone wrong, she has her first moment of empathy and runs away into Gotham City. Homeless, she meets noodle-shop owner Jackie, and takes refuge in the local library where she meets Barbara Gordon and football player/ blooming poet Erik, who help her turn her life around to overcome her violent upbringing. Of course, it isn’t long before Daddy comes calling, and Cass and her friends must help her take the final steps she needs to break the cycle and become the hero she wants to be instead of the murderer she was groomed to be.
Cassandra Cain is developed excellently in the hands of Sarah Kuhn, who is no stranger to Asian American superheroines. An Eisner nominated writer who is an up and comer worth keeping your eyes on, Kuhn approached the character from her perspective growing up as an Asian American, and being unable to not only find characters who looked like her, but to herself being unable to feel like she could be a hero or something more than how other people viewed her. It’s a great take on a character who is already interesting, and adds so much depth in a story that is less than 200 pages long.
Nicole Goux’s illustrations are a perfect marriage to the writing, and paired with Cris Peter’s colors make for a very vibrant experience. All of the previous books I reviewed in the DC Icons series in the past had unique looks, but this one is among the most stylized of the bunch so far. While I adore the style of her characters, it’s the interiors and how these people fit into the environment that I appreciate the most. There is a certain color temperature as well that Peter brings into the book that also help to create the tone and mood for each chapter, a welcome part of storytelling that affects the reader often on a subconscious level.
This book is garnering some praise for its neurodiversity, a term that highlights how differences in brain patterns and thinkings are not negative traits, and helps others to understand and empathize with people who share these differences. The original character of Cassandra Cain in DC Comics continuity started out as nonverbal, and over time developed a vocabulary. Likewise, so does Kuhn’s iteration of Cain. There are plenty of debates about how to classify Cain, some arguing she is Autistic, with some using the term “linguistic minority” to define how she thinks, but the labels are irrelevant. What’s important is how the character processes the world around her and how she expresses herself, and “Shadow of The Batgirl” gives us a window into that world of being neurodivergent.
While Cain has not developed the ability to verbally express her thoughts and emotions, she can read body language and understand physical expressions more than the average person. Through the book, her vocabulary grows, as do her social abilities. Sure, it may come off as a bit rushed, but when you only have 200 pages to tell a story intended for young adults, I think it does more than get the job done, and tells a compelling story of Cain starting her journey on becoming accepted and learning to express herself. It’s not about “fitting in”, but about acceptance and understanding for what Cain brings to the table, and I can see this being a helpful book for YA readers in empathizing more with people they may encounter in their everyday lives that might be like Cassandra.
“Shadow of The Batgirl” will remain one of the most unique entries in the DC Icons series for some time, and was a graphic novel I liked far more than I initially expected. Vibrant illustrations, solid storytelling, and a special perspective you often don’t get in comics, “Shadow of The Batgirl” is a great journey for YA and adult readers filled with action, entertainment, and a learning experience that we can all benefit from.
“Shadow of the Batgirl” will be released on February 4, 2020 through DC Comics as part of their DC Icons imprint. You can pick up this book on Amazon using our affiliate link below to help support our website.