A Shadow of the Batgirl Deep Dive – Opportunities and Errors

TITLE: Shadow of the Batgirl
AUTHOR: Sarah Kuhn
ARTISTS:
Nicole Goux, Cris Peter (Colorist), Janice Chiang w/Saida Temofonte (Letterers)
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: DC Graphic Novels For Young Adults
PRICE: $16.99
RELEASED: January 29, 2020

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There’s always been something special about the Cassandra Cain character. A certain X-factor that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s her unique origin story. Or the fact that she initially couldn’t communicate the same way everyone else did. Maybe it’s the diversity element. In the late ’90s, she was a young Asian girl among Batman’s other apprentices, who were primarily white males with dark hair. Perhaps it’s all that and more.

In any event, Cass may not be the most popular Batgirl there’s ever been. But she has a special connection with her fans. Thus, I was pleased to see her get the YA graphic novel treatment.

I enjoyed Shadow of the Batgirl. It’s a fresh and modern look at Cassandra Cain, and I’d argue the young-adult lens is perfect fit for her. But the book has some blaring flaws that I can’t seem to get past.

Cass’ origin is essentially unchanged. She’s the daughter of world-famous assassin David Cain, who trained her since birth to become a living weapon. Her regimen was so all-encompassing that she never learned to speak. Her language was combat. But when she runs away from that life to start anew in Gotham City, she must discover for herself who Cassandra Cain really is. But she won’t do it alone. She’ll have help from a few new friends. One of whom, a librarian named Barbara Gordon, knows quite a bit about the legendary Batgirl…

The Barbara Gordon stuff goes exactly where you think it’s going to go. Actually, Shadow of the Batgirl as a whole goes where you think it’s going to go. Which isn’t a bad thing. It hits all the right notes for a story about a young hero trying to find herself.

What’s more, Nicole Goux’s art is a tremendous fit for Cass. I don’t know if I’d call it “edgy,” as the promo copy on the back of the book does. But there’s an obvious Eastern influence to her work which fits the character like a glove. Personally, I found Goux’s art to be better suited to the dramatic and the dynamic. Her action sequences have a hard-hitting feel to them. Naturally, that’s an awesome quality to have if you’re working on Cass. Generally speaking, if Cass was fighting or moody, Goux was at home. Colorist Cris Peter also deserves a lot of credit for complimenting Goux’s work so well. His palette is a few shades darker than standard, and a little bit deeper. When Cass is in the dark, the result is delightfully moody.

While Cass’ supporting cast could easily have consisted of just Barbara, perhaps making for a more intimate feel between mentor and student, Sarah Kuhn fleshes out our supporting cast. Case in point, noodle shop owner and resident wise old sage Jackie Fujikawa Yoneyama. She’s got a nice Mr. Miyagi feel to her, offering wisdom, guidance, and even discipline to our young heroine. Like a surrogate parent, or the book’s answer to Alfred. Generally speaking, I enjoyed Jackie’s scenes a lot.

I was less fond of Erik, our love interest. There’s nothing wrong with him, per se. He just doesn’t do much to stand out. I’ll give Kuhn credit for making him sensitive and even a bit vulnerable, in contrast to Cass’ remarkable physical prowess. But other than that, he’s really only there to be pined over.

While very much enjoyable, for my money Shadow of the Batgirl has one major problem, one minor problem, and also misses a big opportunity

The minor problem involves Cass’ Batgirl costume. Not the thrown-together one we see her wear for a good portion of the book (shown at left). Rather, it’s the one she ends up with at the end. The one that’s supposed to be her officially-endorsed costume. Granted there’s a makeshift quality to that one as well, as Cass makes it herself. But the book lacks that all important awe-inspiring moment where she takes the legacy and the grandeur of Batgirl on her shoulders. Come to think of it, Cass’ original Batgirl costume wasn’t much to write home about either.

The major issue, at least in my mind, is almost funny. But it annoyed me and left me scratching my head for the first half of the book. When she first comes to Gotham, Cass creates a home for herself at the library. It’s there that Barbara is teaching a young writers class. The subject of which, at least while Cass happens to be watching, is Batgirl. We hear Babs say things like, “There’s nothing boring about Batgirl – she’s a hero!” and call her “Gotham City’s beloved daughter.”

In Shadow, Barbara is in her wheelchair but has yet to become the information broker to superheroes known as Oracle. The book doesn’t tell us what put her in the chair, but it seems like she’s still grieving. Thus, I could understand her using this writing class to work through some of her feelings about not being Batgirl anymore. The problem is the book never refers to it as such. So when we find out Babs’ secret, it feels very strange. Even egotistical. Certainly not behavior befitting either a hero or mentor.

Sadly, the book’s worst offense is that it doesn’t capitalize on what really made Cassandra Cain special in the first place. She wasn’t just unique amongst the Batman family. She was different than any other superhero you’d ever seen because she lacked conventional communication skills. Cass could barely speak, so she’d have to find other ways to express herself.

So many teens and young adults struggle to accept qualities that make them different, stand out, and in certain cases a little bit freakish. They see them as liabilities rather than potential strengths. While a dramatic example, Cassandra Cain certainly falls into that freakish category. I don’t think the book should have centered around her communication issues. But instead of giving her a standard YA love interest, why not use those pages to show her facing those challenges? It’s certainly not something you’d see in any other book. (At right is a small example from Cass’ original Batgirl run in 2000.)

Instead, Shadow opts for a more conventional route. Which is a shame, as Goux and colorist Cris Peteri certainly have the artistic chops to handle the increased emphasis on visuals rather than dialogue.

I definitely recommend Shadow of the Batgirl, especially for those who aren’t familiar with Cassandra Cain. It’s good book. In fact, I believe if it could have been a great book, had the raw materials been used a little bit differently…

Email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com, or check us out on Twitter.

A Super Sons: The Polarshield Project Review – Superboy and…Batkid?

TITLE: Super Sons, Book 1 – The Polarshield Project
AUTHOR:
Ridley Pearson
ARTIST: Ile Gonzalez
LETTERER: Saida Temofonte
PUBLISHER: DC Zoom
PRICE: $9.99
RELEASED:
April 2, 2019

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

That’s right, kids! The Super Sons are back at it! No, not those, and definitely not those. Here we have a new breed of Jon Kent and Damian Wayne designed specifically for middle grade readers. Heck, instead of Damian, he actually just goes by Ian Wayne in this book. Which if you think about it, is so simple it’s actually kind of brilliant.

Hey. If kids are reading comics again, he can be Ian McKellen for all I care.

Jon Kent and Ian Wayne, who unbeknownst to one another are the sons of Superman and Batman, both wind up attending middle school in the city of Wyndemere. Among their classmates are Tilly, who quickly befriends (and has a crush on) Jon, as well as the mysterious Candice. Together, these four will uncover a massive conspiracy involving a mysterious illness that has struck, among many others, Jon’s mother Lois. In the process, they’ll form a friendship strong enough to make them into a formidable team of young heroes.

It’s interesting to read this book as an adult, trying to see at it through the eyes of your middle school self. The Polarshield Project accomplishes what it needs to the most by giving young readers characters they can connect with. We have Jon as the everyman character, and thus the most accessible. Tilly is more or less his female equivalent, but is also there to help fill the romance quota. Candice is the young lady trying to discover who she is and find her place in the world. Naturally, Ian is the loner who, in his own words, has trouble making friends. There’s a lot to relate to here. Which is saying something, considering the world it takes place in.

Pearson and Gonzalez set up a rich backstory for Candice. She’s essentially the uncrowned princess of the continent of Landis, which is most certainly not Africa. The trouble is, The Polarshield Project has so much to accomplish that we aren’t necessarily given enough to sink our teeth into. It’s designed to be a larger story that carries into the next book. But if there’d been a little more meat on the bone, the anticipation for that next volume would be that much greater.

At one point, the boys create makeshift superhero identities for themselves. Oddly enough, while Jon does indeed get to be called Superboy, Ian gets the hokey moniker of “Batkid.” That’s the part of the book I enjoyed the least. Batkid feels to silly to be something created by that character. This version of Damian Wayne is in an awkward position. He’s old enough to be Robin. But he can’t be. Not yet, at least.

On a related note, for whatever reason this book makes a point of telling us Alfred is dead. Specifically, the line is, “We all wish Alfred were still here.” There’s nothing wrong with it, per se. It just feels a little out of place. Bruce Wayne isn’t in the story very much, so it’s not like we’re wondering where Alfred is. If nothing else, I suppose it establishes the time frame this story takes place in.

Saida Temofonte’s “animated” style fits quite naturally here, and has a great flow to it. Particularly when it comes to the action sequences. Her work leaves you wanting more, and for this world to continue expanding. Granted, seeing Damian with brown hair takes some getting used to…

In the end, The Polarshield Project is a fun and accessible new take on the DC Universe, with plenty of room to grow. Hopefully, that growth can play out over several volumes to come.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.

Panels of Awesomeness: Supergirl: Being Super

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

THE ISSUE: Supergirl: Being Super #1

CREATORS: Mariko Tamaki (Author), Joelle Jones (Pencils), Sandu Floreau (Inks), Kelly Fitzpatrick (Colors) Saida Temofonte (Letters)

RELEASED: December 28, 2016

THE SCENE: In the opening pages of this out-of-continuity take on Supergirl, we meet Kara Danvers and her friends.

WHY THEY’RE AWESOME: I’m a sucker for body language and certain subtle visual cues. Comic books are, after all, a visual medium. I wasn’t even two pages into Supergirl: Being Super when I found one I absolutely love.

The book reestablishes the character as a modern American teenager. One of the book’s best attributes is establishes strong connections early on between Kara and her supporting cast, specifically her friends. One of those friends is Dolly Granger. 

What I absolutely adore here is how perfectly the art and the caption boxes are intertwined. The one on the left is our set-up, as we get this information about Dolly’s parents. Then we have the reveal of her hair, which beautifully points to her non-conformist streak without saying a single word. We probably don’t even need the caption on the right. But it’s a nice bit of garnish. Incidentally, it’s probably not an accident that the background is rainbow colored.

One of the book’s best attributes is how real and genuine Kara’s friendships feel. They work wonders in making this otherwise goddess-like character feel very down-to-Earth. Often it can be cumbersome to get those supporting characters established while still doing the business of the plot. But Dolly’s introduction is quick, seamless, and masterful.

For more Joelle Jones, check out Panels of Awesomeness: Catwoman #1.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com.