Orphaned, Riko Sheridan was eventually adopted and currently attends Middletown North. Sheridan is an excellent student, however she shows anxiety to perform. An otaku at heart, Sheridan is an avid Batgirl fan and currently a member of Middleton Robin Cell.
Batman and Robin Eternal #4 by Scot Eaton (Middle Left)
Detective Comics #47 by Steve Pugh (Upper Middle)
Gotham Academy #13 by Adam Archer (Middle Right)
Robin: Son of Batman #7 by Scott McDaniel (Lower Left)
Teen Titans #15 by Miguel Mendonça (Upper Right)
We Are Robin #4 by James Harvey (Lower Middle)
We Are Robin #5 by Jorge Corona (Upper Left)
We Are Robin #7 by Carmine Di Giandomenico (Lower Right)
We Are Robin Promotional Art by Khary Randolph and Emilio Lopez (Center)
So one of the interesting things about today is that beyond it being another Wednesday where I was hoping to see Cassandra Cain featured in a weekly title, I also saw that DC Comics is having a Supergirl sale on Comixology, including the run that was my intro to the Supergirl mythos and still pretty near and dear to my heart, Supergirl (1996-2003) with Linda Danvers as Supergirl.
This comic was a big deal to me when I was younger and first starting out in the DCU, and its back issues were among some of the first I ever collected, including #63, where Linda teams up with Gotham’s then-current Batgirl, Cassandra Cain.
I’ve talked about this issue in my Rena Rambles in the past, and while there are several things I praised about its writing, I was also very firm in my criticisms. Like a lot of things in Peter David’s DC work, for a lot of the progressiveness shown there was a lot that both at the time and now do not fly. And Cass’ debut in Supergirl is another case of something that was unfortunately pretty rampant in the early years of Cass’ adventures: transphobia.
[“Oh. Okay… lemme guess. Either you’re Batgirl, or you’re Robin with some serious gender issues.” Supergirl (1996-2003) #63]
This happened more than is ever excusable, where a joke would be made about the androgynous appearance Cass took on in her costume as Batgirl. Normally benign or even positive examples of this in her own series – where despite being female, Cass’ likeness to Batman was used as a positive to her character or as a genuine point of comparison, as Bruce often would even overtly say he found her eerily like himself, would often transfer to Cass’ guest appearances as being a point of ridicule or humor.
This was not okay then, but generally comics have gotten better about this. We still have incidents, such as with last year’s controversy with Batgirl of Burnside using stereotypes of “evil drag queens”, but this was rightfully met with wide scorn and criticism. Something that led to creative changes and adjustment from DC’s offices as a result.
It’s interesting that this issue came on sale today, because it’s an issue that was handled at the time a lot like the controversy of today with Batman and Robin Eternal.
You see, I don’t find the treatment of Cass’ disability in this series to be much like how it was handled in the past. But that’s because I don’t find the approach well handled. The actions speak louder than words here, and in the sense of action, Batman and Robin Eternal doesn’t look too pretty.
What we sometimes forget is that Cass had several years as Batgirl to develop her relationships in the old continuity. And because of that I’ve been very lenient with Batman and Robin Eternal. More so than I should have been, obviously. Because my hope was that these were either small oversights that would not be repeated or that these situations were meant to be addressed and disproven.
Cassandra Cain may or may not have a speech & learning disorder in this universe, it has not been confirmed yet. But considering the importance it held in her last incarnation, and all the indications of how she’s being written now, there is a justifiable assumption to be made here that Cass is supposed to have a disability here as well.
It’s in that context that comments like:
[”She’s got the mentality of a child, Dick. We need to use what works on children. Incentives.”Batman and Robin Eternal #3]
Take on even more weight than the fact that it is a stupid and nonsensical comment for someone supposedly the “smart one” to make. It’s condescending and awful. Tim might be written here to be the douchebag that he comes off as in the scene (which, even worse, I don’t think was the writer’s intent), but the fact remains is that Cass is forced to sit there and be subjected to the treatment without any opposition.
You can argue she gets it when she “shows up” the boys by reducing them to the traits she sees them fundamentally working on – therefore proving that she has a deeper understanding of their abilities and teamwork than even they have shown to this point – but it’s weak. And made weaker by the fact that these rudamentary comments made at the expense of a mental disability are further enforced by yet another touchstone character of the series with Harper just a few pages later.
[”Where’s everybody – hey, Cassandra! You’re supposed to stick around, you creepy little weirdo…” Batman and Robin Eternal #3]
Cassandra is creepy because she is silent and doesn’t communicate outside of action. In any other context, in an issue where Cass was not being treated the way she is by the other characters in this issue, might not incite a lot of eyebrow raise, but in this context it does.
Which makes the wanton violence Jason Todd wants to inflict on Cass for not speaking even worse by compare.
We’re talking about not just a woman here but someone who is the only present character of color in the entire issue, the only person with a disability thus far in the entire series, and more than that is a woman who has done nothing in the four issues of the series but saved other people.
She’s met with condescension, violence, reductiveness, and then, in this issue today, undue and undeserved seeming hatred.
[ “Are you with her? Give her the zap! The girl is dangerous – she can’t just leave! […] Orphan almost crippled you! She took him on no problem! Shoot her! She could kill you!” Batman and Robin Eternal #4]
Which later escalated from the same character to dehumanize Cass based on her speechlessness.
[ “Cassandra is barely a person…” Batman and Robin Eternal #4]
The pattern here is continued alienation from the characters who are not only established in this universe, but have for years (if not decades for some) been established among readers as being characters whose lenses they can speak from. Their world view is the established world view of this series, the one familiar, the one to be trusted the most in the narrative.
For someone coming into this series, Cassandra Cain is still just a name. She is a person whose only introduction thus far is these 4 issues, and while her actions of preserving life and making good calls should say a lot, the fact is that she is not someone who people can or will easily be able to fit into the narrative of. Cass’ difficulty is expressing herself, and one of the difficult parts of her character is always going to be portraying that unique perspective without taking away from the audience the ability to see how much she struggles to interact with the world around her.
So far in Batman and Robin Eternal her character has been met with all of this instead.
While this isn’t unrealistic to the experiences of people with similar impairments, the problem remains the framing.
After all, in the previous universe, Cass was friends with Steph, Tim, Dick, and more, and at one time or another each of them was guilty of not being sensitive to Cass’ experience. All of them more or less found her creepy or untouchable due to her silence, but it was never supported by the text.
Or, rather, like here treated as normal. That’s the danger here – these comments are reinforcing each other and normalizing this treatment under the basis that “of course people will react that way, it’s realistic” – that’s not the point. The point is that that impression and that instinctive behavior is wrong and should be corrected, and should be the cause of embarrassment or shame for the people who, otherwise might be good people, but still acted that way.
And that was how it was done before, with great effect. Riding the line of realistic interactions and correcting behavior that was acceptable in the past but could still be looked at as wrong.
[”I’ve, uh… I’ve been avoiding you. It’s… your background, the assassin training and all that. […] It’s just… my childhood’s so normal. I mean, Batman and Nightwing had some rough stuff to deal with growing up, but… but, you – you were raised to be that guy down there, and you turned yourself into one of us. That’s… pretty intimidating. But I shouldn’t have let it affect the way I treat you… and I apologize. Friends?” Batgirl (2000-2006) #18]
Cass’ mantra in the past has been “change.”
No character in the batfamily advocated for the ability of one person to change their lives more than Cassandra did. And while her series made it clear that Cass really wanted to change herself, and succeeded to glorious effect, more than that she was shown, again and again, to hold the power to help change people.
Not just people who had been wrong and violent and bad to make them good, but people who were good and well meaning but were still capable of being in the wrong and doing the wrong things.
She challenged what her loved ones perceived about mental illness, about disabilities, about criminals, and even about herself.
[”Because you’re… you. You make me know change is real. You found something you believed in and followed it with all your heart. It’s beautiful. Really.” Batgirl (2000-2006) #67]
This doesn’t mean that we should unrealistically have the world accept Cass and not find her differences off putting and intimidating. (We could and it’d be justified as this is fiction). But the point is that Cass is never set up as having to stand down and take the treatment before.
She was never set up to not prove these accusations and these things as wrong, or herself worthy of overcoming them. Every time she was treated poorly due to her differences, it was clearly shown as being terrible and wrong and heart breaking. It was never treated as something casually said or, even worse, as something to be possibly right about her.
This doesn’t mean that people can’t treat Cass poorly or the world be unfair, but the punchline should never be that Cass has to deal with transgression.
Cass should have the power in the situation to take it all back for herself, to prove that she owns herself and her disabilities and is proud of herself.
[Supergirl (1996-2003) #63]
“Hey, sweetheart… I bet I can get you to say more than two words at a time!”
Cass’ early years had many many things wrong with them. We’ve mostly forgotten about them because, like the transphobic statements often thrown her way, they were soon dropped and people were instead able to focus on how improved and progressive Cass’ narrative was handled and how much it improved until DC dropped the ball yet again.
The point remains that these things weren’t acceptable then, but they were still over ten years ago. And now? Well, we’re older, and generally we’re better as a people and expect more.
Just like we’d never want to see these awful moments of Cass’ history repeated, we don’t want to see a new unfortunate cloud to hang over her return. Especially when it means backsliding from something that was handled better back when things were generally worse in old narratives.
That’s what’s upsetting about Batman and Robin Eternal and that’s why this issue can’t be overlooked, either on its own and in context.
Poor writing and thin plots aside, this will absolutely ruin this comic and, especially, ruin Cassandra Cain as a viable character if this does not stop
Okay… On the subject of Batman & Robin Eternal #4…
Cass’s problem with speech is a disability. I know her origins have changed but in every other continuity it is a disability, same as her problems with reading. It’s the way her brain is wired. So having Stephanie fucking Brown say “Cassandra is barely a person” just because she doesn’t talk/doesn’t really communicate is an absolutely horrible, out of character thing to write. I love Steve Orlando, I am a huge fan, but my heart is fucking broken that he would write something like that. Last issue she was referred to as having “the mentality of a child” as well.