In comics, it’s common for the identity of a superhero or villain to be taken over by another character. A good example of this is with Batman’s Robins and Batgirls. Of the women who’ve taken on the guise of Batgirl, my favourite is Cassandra Cain. As the daughter of two of the world’s deadliest assassins, Cassandra was raised to be just like them. But she found a way to overcome her family history and become a hero.
Cassandra is the daughter of David Cain and Lady Shiva. Cain raised her in isolation and deliberately kept her away from human speech. She grew up mute and was capable of reading body language to make her a better killer. When she was eight, Cain took her to Macau to do a hit and she ripped out the throat of a Triad boss. Due to her body reading abilities, she could see how much pain the man was in. This traumatised her and Cassandra rejected her father. She spent several years wandering until she ended up in Gotham City.
She first appeared in the No Man’s Land arc as one of Oracle’s agents. Batman eventually accepts her into the family and she takes on the Batgirl mantle. Her costume was different to Barbara’s, featuring a stitched-up mouth that reflected her inability to speak. Her brain was ‘rewired’ by a telepath to help her learn how to speak. More progress was made when Alfred tutored her for a year and her language processing skills developed further.
Cassandra’s relationship with her mother, Lady Shiva, is complex. When her ability to read people was lost, Cassandra wanted Shiva to reteach it. Shiva agreed on the condition that they would have a duel to the death. A year from the agreement, Shiva kills her daughter and then restarted her heart, suspecting she had a death wish. They fight again and Cassandra defeats her mother without killing her.
A controversial decision was made during the One Year later arc. Cassandra was turned into a villain and became the new leader of the League of Assassins. This change was widely criticised and writer Adam Beechen has given his opinion on the matter.
“”When I came to the book, I was told that the first arc would deal with presenting Cassandra as a major new enemy for Robin. From there, I worked out the details of just how that would come about with our initial editor, Eddie Berganza. They didn’t present me with a rationale as to why Cassandra was going to change, or a motivating factor. That was left for me to come up with and them to approve. And we did that. But as far as to why the editors and writers and whoever else made the decision decided that was a good direction, I honestly couldn’t answer.”
Eventually, Cassandra was accepted back into the family and became a hero again. With DC Rebirth, Cassandra has been reintroduced and taken the codename of Orphan. She’s much the same as her previous incarnation.
What I admire most about Cassandra is her determination and drive to be better than she was. For most of her life she was unable to communicate. But it didn’t stop her from learning and she was able to create a new life for herself under Batman’s mentorship. She may not be the original Batgirl, but she is the greatest in my opinion.