Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections #48: When A Batgirl Goes Horribly Bad
by Scott Redmond
As with most things, not all retcons are created equal. Some are good, some are bad, and some are just plain ridiculous.
Welcome to a new month of Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections where this time we’re going to specifically focus on the wildest most ridiculous best left forgotten retcons around! It’s all leading up to the big 50th edition of this column, where we’ll dive into one of the retcons so horrible it got its own wild ridiculous retcon almost twenty years later!
As usual for this column: Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife. Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections!
When it comes to superheroes, having a point in their career where they suddenly turn to the dark side in some way seems to be a rite of passage. Whether through their own choices or outside influence or being replaced by a clone/copy, even the greatest and noblest of heroes have taken a turn on the bad guy side of the road.
Sometimes it’s a story that works or is at least tolerable/forgettable, and we know that they’ll come back to the light side for sure at some point soon because of their stature in the universe. Other times, like the last column’s piece about Tony Stark, these evil turns are just the worst. When it comes to Batgirl Cassandra Cain, the time that she was turned evil was one of the worst retcons. A retcon so bad it had a terrible retcon of its own before things were restored to normal.
The daughter of the assassins David Cain and Lady Shiva (the hows and whys and some other bits of her origin have shifted thanks to reboots and retcons), Cassandra Cain was raised to be a perfect weapon. Her father taught her to fight and didn’t teach her to speak so that instead she could read body language and in a way ‘predict’ what people were going to do much like her namesake the mythological Greek prophet. When sent out to make her first kill at eight years’ old, Cassandra was able to ‘witness’ death through the man’s eyes and ran away vowing not to kill or be like her father.
Eventually, she became an agent of Oracle/Barbara Gordon during the No Man’s Land event that had Gotham devastated by a quake and cut off from the rest of the country. After proving herself and rescuing Jim Gordon, Cassandra became Barbara’s ward and with the blessing of both Barbara and Batman, she became the new Batgirl. In the early 2000s she got her own solo series, the first ongoing Batgirl series there had been, that ran for 73 issues.
During that time she had many adventures alongside the Bat-family, fought Lady Shiva and died but was revived, teamed up with the Birds of Prey, was instrumental in the War Games event that cost the life of her friend Spoiler/Stephanie Brown (more on that mess of a retcon here), and even was there when Mr. Freeze’s wife Nora returned and became a villain of her own for a brief bit of time.
This series came to an end, alongside others, following the events of 2005’s multiversal return-centered Infinite Crisis series (more on that retcon mess here). In that event’s aftermath all remaining titles, those relaunched, and a crop of new series all leapt forward one year in time within the universe. The events of that lost year were chronicled in the weekly running 52 series. It was during this one-year jump that Cassandra’s world was terribly altered.
The Nitty Gritty:
Without her own title in the reshuffle, it would be within the pages of the still-running Robin series, starring Tim Drake, where she would return and take her turn to supposed evil. Blinded in an alleyway, he recovers his sight only to find what appears to be Batgirl dead at his feet. Once unmasked though he discovered that it was actually a young woman named Lynx, part of a gang known as the Ghost Dragons, that he had encountered numerous times over the years. Unfortunately, the police showed up and while he was able to flee through this moment he was successfully framed for the murder of Batgirl.
At the same time Nyssa Raatko (al Ghul), the other daughter of Ra’s al Ghul and sister to Talia al Ghul and current head of the League of Assassins, dies in a car bombing. Tim breaks into Gotham PD headquarters to try and clear his name and manages to grab the fake Batgirl suit and escape. Lady Shiva shows up to give him information and he learns that Cassandra is being held hostage. Those holding her say that they want her father David Cain, so Tim breaks into Blackgate Prison and kidnaps Cain to deliver him.
At the meeting point, the League of Assassins come out and attack Tim, and he fights them off as long as possible until their leader emerges. You guessed it, that leader is Cassandra. This is when she goes off on her villain monologue to tell how she was behind everything from the Lynx death and Tim framing to the death of Nyssa. Turns out she claims that Cain had a second daughter named Annalea that he loved more and apparently that idea of fatherly love was the one thing she held onto in order to get through her terrible childhood at his hands. Finding out there was another she says sent her over the edge, for whatever reason.
She rattles off some cliche about this taught her that there is no justice in the world, and she wanted to prove this to Tim so that he would come to rule the League at her side. To prove loyalty he must execute Cain and then he would be her partner in crime. Tim of course refuses, they fight, him taking on a more flailing style so that she can’t predict his moves, till the place explodes. In the chaos, Cassandra and Cain both escape, and Tim moves on to other adventures and events.
This appearance was followed by another in the Supergirl series where Cassandra kidnapped Captain Boomerang II (the son of the original) and took on Supergirl with the League of Assassins. Of course, the response to this sudden evil change to Cassandra did not go over well at all. So Teen Titans writer Geoff Johns decided to take a stab at retconning it, making an even bigger mess.
Over in that aforementioned Teen Titans series, during their ‘One Year Later’ story, the Titans went on various adventures including a quest that saw the return of former Titan Jericho who is also the son of their enemy Deathstroke the Terminator. Upset about losing family to the Titans so many times, Deathstroke builds his own Titans East team, full of counterparts and foes of the current Titans, and attacks them. Of course, one of those members is Cassandra/Batgirl who fights the Titans alongside the other evil Titans.
During a brutal fight in the tower, Batgirl takes down Ravager and goes to attack Robin. This is where its revealed that all of Cassandra’s evil was because Deathstroke had been feeding her a drug that turned her evil. Robin knew this suddenly (despite in his own title and in Supergirl he and Batman had effectively written Cassandra off as an evil lost cause) and had a counter agent that freed her from Deathstroke’s control. She swore vengeance upon Deathstroke and was back on the side of good, just like that.
There was some other bit about how alongside the drug he visited her during the missing year, when Batman and Robin and Nightwing were away and other Bat-family folks were busy or dead, and essentially negged her till the drug took effect around doubts that grew in her. Just a truly repugnant situation as a whole.
Bet you’re wondering “well was this followed up on after this retcon upon a retcon?” Very good question! No, not it was not. Essentially nothing was stated about what happened to Cassandra and nothing between her and Tim or others until later in the year when she was a m member of the Batman and the Outsiders series and then she got a mini-series in 2008 that semi-dealt with stuff but also dealt with more family stuff before she eventually gave up the mantle to Stephanie following the believed death of Batman a few years later.
If some of the snarkiness and the gist of the current theme for the column didn’t make it clear, this was a duo of terrible retcons. Making Cassandra evil over something as petty as her abusive father loving some suddenly introduced second daughter speaks of just knowing so little about and not respecting the character. This went against everything we had witnessed and learned about Cassandra over the six years that she had been around and the time she had her own title.
Having her kill and take over the League while setting up Tim just didn’t track. Not only this but the evil turn changed her personality too so suddenly she was a huge talker, compared to her previous self who was softer and less spoke because of the fact that she was still learning after what Cain did to her.
Then comes in Johns of all people, a master of many terrible retcons and resurrections over the years, trying to fix it by having it that this masterful fighter at some point got overwhelmed by a villain and was under his drugged control for most of a year. Not only did it not make sense to drug her and then let her go off to do that stuff in the Robin and Supergirl books, but it also stripped her agency and control away in a disgusting way.
Things didn’t get easier for Cassandra from here as she was back and a hero but gave up the Batgirl mantle (to the returned Stephanie) and then was wiped out of continuity for years after the New 52 reboot. Eventually, she returned but with the codename Orphan, and her origin was somewhat retconned and played out again. Thankfully though during the James Tynion IV run on Detective Comics during DC Rebirth she got back on track, and these days she and Stephanie are both Batgirls in their own Batgirls series with Barbara Gordon as both a Batgirl and Oracle. It is an awesome series.
Next Week: There are two wolves inside Logan’s worst short lived retcon