The latest in DC's line of Young Adult graphic novels is out, and it's a return to original stories for this line (rather than the also excellent adaptations of the DC Icons prose novels). Shadow of the Batgirl, written by Sarah Kuhn and illustrated by Nicole Goux, introduces readers to the sheltered child assassin and daughter of a super-villain known as Cassandra Cain, who eventually dons the Batgirl cowl.
Shadow of the Batgirl follows Cassandra on her journey of self-discovery and her realization of what family truly is. She learns a lot about herself while learning to live amongst "normal" society, including how to speak and read. (I did mention the sheltered part of her personality, right?) Cass might not know much at the start of the book, quite literally, but she knows that the life she's been forced to live isn't the one she wants—and that the weapon her father forged her into can be used for more than evil.
Let’s break it down!
One of my favorite parts of DC's line of YA graphic novels is how the covers frequently focus on the main character and don't include a lot of extraneous action or individuals. The cover of Shadow of a Batgirl points to Cass's future but also highlights the uncertainty she feels throughout the story. The use of the iconic yellow and black color combo is also a nice touch. It says Bat-Family without being too Batman.
Tell Me a Story:
Cassandra Cain is the third (well, technically, fourth, but Huntress only held the mantel for, like, a week, if that) person to fight crime under the moniker of Batgirl, but before she had an official Bat Name, she was an uneducated assassin who didn't know how to read, but could kill a person any number of ways. She never really thought about the people she was killing until a fateful day when a target mentions his daughter—and the emotion in his eyes knocks Cass into a new way of thinking.
On the run from her supervillain father and his assassins, Cass meets Jacqueline Fujikawa Yoneyama—"Jackie"—a restaurant owner and grandmotherly figure (who'd probably soundly berate me for describing her as such) and Barbara Gordon, a young woman with a passion for teaching Gotham's youth about the heroics of Batgirl. Cass finds refuge in a library, which she uses to its full potential to educate herself on both books and boys, and slowly comes out of her shell. But when her father's goons catch up with her, Cass is forced to take a hard look at who she was and decide who she truly is.
Let’s Talk Art:
Nicole Goux's art is deceptively simple. In many cases, characters' facial features aren't very detailed and their eyes are frequently drawn as black dots. And yet, everyone's emotions are extremely clear. Even when they're not the main focus, great care is given to giving each character a distinct personality. And the action in this book! It's so captivating. Cass is lithe and limber, and she springs from level to level of the library with a grace that shows her upbringing wasn't just about learning how to kill people all kinds of ways. (I also have to applaud Goux for taking the time to draw all the library's books in the many scenes that take place in the stacks. That couldn't have been a quick task.)
In the beginning, the dialog of Shadow of the Batgirl is somewhat one-sided given Cass's inability to communicate. Everyone talks at her, and she startles easily and runs away. But even when people are prying into places Cass doesn't want them to, it's easy to see from the way they phrase their questions that they care. Sarah Kuhn does an excellent job of showing Cass's growth from at first only knowing a few words (and maybe then not truly understanding what they mean) to speaking in complete and complex sentences, and having caring conversations of her own with the people in her life.
Still, even at the end when Cass has come so far, the dialog never covers the page. Shadow of the Batgirl focuses on the space between the words and balances Cass's past and present situations nicely.
Perfect Food Pairing:
When Jackie finds Cassandra dumpster diving behind her restaurant, she invites her in for an actual meal—a meal of one of my all-time favorite things, ramen! At least, I think it's ramen. The bowl Jackie provides is filled with noodles, a hardboiled egg, what looks like it could be pork and a super slurpable broth. And after that first meeting, the plot and characters often find themselves back at Jackie's, so there's little more fitting for a food pairing for this book than a huge bowl of ramen. I like mine with strips of dried seaweed, garlic chips, bok choy and a hit of chili sauce. Pure comfort in a savory package. And maybe some mochi ice cream for dessert?
One Perfect Page:
So, my one perfect page is actually two, but it reads like one. When Cass is making her first Batgirl costume out of items she's cobbled together from the library's lost and found bin, Jackie's hand-me-down clothes and various other scrounged items, it's like a movie makeover montage, but instead of the larger glimpses of Cass in a dressing room mirror, we get close-up shots of her hands or her eyes or the material itself. Very few of the panels are uniform in size—some are smaller than half an inch square—but each is an important step in Cass's crafting and in her growth as a hero. It's one of the most unique spreads I've ever seen in a comic and makes Shadow of the Batgirl super distinctive, while driving home how ingenious and creative this line of YA graphic novels can be.
What Would You Most Like to Ask?:
As a fellow book lover, I'd love to have a conversation with Cass about books—her favorite, her least favorite, the ones that made the most sense and the ones that totally confused her. I'd want to ask, specifically, which one made her want to keep reading, if there was one specific one, and what her favorite genre was. As one great panel late in the book says: "We Stan a Book-Loving Queen." A hero that loves books is definitely one I'd want protecting my city.
When Mandy Curtis isn’t reading books by Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J. Maas, she’s dreaming of busting bad guys with Wonder Woman—if Steve Trevor’s there, too, she won’t complain—and writing about YA fiction and pop culture at Forever Young Adult. Follow her on Twitter at @mandyannecurtis.
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