Shadow of the Batgirl
Written by Sarah Kuhn
Art by Nicole Goux and Cris Peter
Lettering by Janice Chiang and Saida Temofonte
Published by DC
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Shadow of the Batgirl is a truly exceptional comic book. This is a standout among any of DC’s recent offerings - not just the YA and MG graphic novels, but any of them, period. From the writing to the lines, colors, letters, layout, everything, Shadow of the Batgirl is a well-executed and powerful labor of love from a team that cares very deeply about Cassandra Cain and reintroducing her to readers both new and old. This book and this team deliver on every level, and whether you’re a longtime fan of Cassandra Cain or curious to dive into her story after seeing her on screen in Birds of Prey, Shadow of the Batgirl will welcome you with open arms.
Unlike some of the other recent YA offerings, Shadow of the Batgirl is a fairly straightforward update on Cassandra Cain’s original backstory. Much like her initial introduction from Kelley Puckett and Damion Scott, writer Sarah Kuhn portrays Cassandra Cain as the highly-trained assassin daughter and weapon of choice for master assassin and criminal mastermind David Cain. Cassandra finds herself thrown into unexpected emotional turmoil after one of the targets assigned to her by her father pleads for her to pass a message to his daughter - a word the then-mute and illiterate Cassandra vaguely understands but has a much different emotional context for.
It’s here where Kuhn diverges from Cassandra’s past, sending her on the run from her father’s assassins as she takes shelter in a hidden, barely-used nook in the Gotham Public Library. With the help of Barbara Gordon and two new friends introduced for the first time in Shadow of the Batgirl, Cassandra comes to grips with the reality of her upbringing and begins to carve out her own future, one where she’s able to put her deeply-ingrained skills to use helping, rather than harming, the residents of Gotham. (Without too many spoilers - of the new characters introduced in Shadow of the Batgirl, Jackie is my hands-down favorite, and I am desperate for more Kuhn/Goux Cassandra Cain graphic novels to get to experience more of Cassandra’s wonderful new adoptive auntie in my own life.)
Everything about Shadow of the Batgirl is so kind to Cassandra, a girl who has experienced very little kindness in the course of her life and has no concept of how to handle so much of it all at once. Nicole Goux’s art and Cris Peter’s soft, muted colors create a sense of warmth and “home” Cassandra (and Gotham in general, much of the time) don’t often get; there’s something about Peter’s colors in particular paired with Cassandra seeking refuge as a round-the-clock library denizen that creates an almost Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler vibe that suits this world perfectly. Chaing and Temofonte's lettering is also impeccable and plays a vital role in helping chart Cassandra’s development and growth, from the wavering uncertainty of someone trying out words they’ve heard but never spoken or even really processed for the first time to the confidence of a young woman fully coming into her own.
This book is perfection from top to bottom. Kuhn has an incredible grasp on what makes not just Cassandra who she is, but Barbara as well, and delivers a powerfully emotional take on the idea of Batgirl that resonates through every moment of the book, whether Cassandra is in her (wonderfully designed and delightfully illustrated) own version of the costume or not. With luck, DC gives the Shadow of the Batgirl team more opportunities to build on the wonderful universe they’ve created here in the future.