YA Saturday: Shadow of the Batgirl By Sarah Kuhn & Nicole Goux

Welcome to YA Saturday, where Uncle Mac takes a break from the indies and instead reviews the latest and greatest young adults offerings from DC comics. If you have a young adult in your life that you’re trying to get into the exciting world of comics, this is the place for you!

Hey all, welcome to my new, semi-recuring article, where I review young adult graphic novels from DC comics. DC has been pushing these YA titles hard in the last few years, and the sales numbers seem to say that people are digging them. As the uncle to two comic loving kids, I’m always on the lookout for new ways to get them excited about reading. I plan on doing one of these every few weeks, so if you have any suggestions for titles you’d like to see me review, make sure you drop a comment down below! And with that, let’s look at this week’s title: Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn and Nicole Goux.

Here’s the blurb:

Cassandra Cain, teenage assassin, isn’t exactly Batgirl material…not yet, at least. But when Batgirl goes missing from Gotham, can Cassandra defy her destiny and take on a heroic mantle of her very own?

Cassandra Cain is the daughter of super-villains and a living weapon trained from birth to be the ultimate assassin. But that doesn’t mean she has to stay that way, right? She’ll have to go through an identity crisis of epic proportions to find out. But how do you figure out who you’re supposed to be when you’ve been trained to become a villain your entire life?

After a soul-shattering moment that sends Cass reeling, she’ll attempt to answer this question the only way she knows how: learning everything she possibly can about her favorite hero—Batgirl. But Batgirl hasn’t been seen in Gotham for years, and when Cass’s father threatens the world she has grown to love, she’ll have to step out of the shadows and overcome her greatest obstacle—that voice inside her head telling her she can never be a hero.

About the Author:

Sarah Kuhn, author of Heroine Complex and I Love You So Mochi, starts this OGN with a letter detailing her experiences with Cassandra Cain. As a young woman of mixed Asian heritage, Kuhn loved comic books but struggled to find heroes that she felt represented her. When she first discovered Cassandra Cain, a young woman with a similar heritage, she immediately fell in love.

This is something that really makes books like this work for me. Knowing that the person writing it not only is a fan of the character, but also has a personal connection to their life gives the book a much more authentic feeling. DC has worked hard with all of these YA titles to try to reach out to people who are not considered part of the stereotypical comic readership, in order to help introduce them to characters they might otherwise have never heard of.

I’m a firm believe that comics are for everyone, and everyone should be able to find a hero to connect with.

What they kept:

A lot of Cassandra Cain’s origin is maintained in Shadow of the Batgirl. She is still an assassin, trained by her father to be the perfect killer. She is a master of reading body language, has trouble speaking, and eventually trains as a student of Barbara Gordon. The book doesn’t shy away from the violence, with Cassandra attacking and, in some cases, killing those who attacked her, although the art style keeps it from being too gory for younger readers.

Cassandra also maintains her innocence and her awkwardness throughout Shadow of the Batgirl, and her difficulty in understanding those around her is a big driving point for the story. Fans of her relationship with Clayface in Detective Comics will definitely see a lot they like.

Finally, there is a romance element at work in Shadow of the Batgirl, and Cassandra has certainly had her share of romantic entanglements in other books. The romance is fairly muted overall though, with only some hand holding and kissing.

What they changed:

As I said, Cassandra’s overall origin is still intact, but there are some important changed that have been made. For one thing, both Lady Shiva and Batman are completely absent in Shadow of the Batgirl. In this story, Cassandra is sent on a mission to assassinate a man, but his plaintive cries of “daughter” triggers her and sends her running to a library to hide, thus starting her break from her criminal past.

Cassandra has no interest in being a vigilante at first, and it is only from listening to a lecture from a wheelchair bound Barbara Gordon that she thinks about following that path. Barbara teaches her about Batgirl, but at no point is Batman ever mentioned.

Speaking of Babs, she’s definitely recognizable, having taken a job tutoring young children at the library and working on a program named Oracle. She also is in a wheelchair, although they never explain how she ended up there beyond a passing reference to her having “an accident.”

Shadow of the Batgirl also introduces a lot of new supporting cast members, the most prominent of which are Jackie, an elderly Asian woman who takes Cassandra in and provides her with a sort of mother-like figure (although eccentric aunt would probably be more appropriate) and Erik, who is the child of an African American father and Asian mother (I think. He is definitely a mix of those two races, and frequently refers to himself as “Blasian,” but the mix is not 100% defined).

This diversity is a nice touch, giving Cassandra a number of people from very different backgrounds all working together to help her. The diversity never feels forced, instead it’s just another natural thing in this world she is trying so hard to figure out. Cassandra herself has no connection to any form of heritage, but in learning about and exploring the relationships of others she begins to realize she is connected to a larger world that is much more complicated than she ever imagined.

Age Appropriateness:

As I said, Shadow of the Batgirl does have violence in it. It’s bright and colorful, and the violence is very stylized, lacking any real gore or bloodshed, but it also does not shy away from the fact that Cassandra has killed people.

There is also some profanity in Shadow of the Batgirl, which always feels out of place in these books. It seems to be a common thread in all of the DC Ink and YA titles that they have to drop at least one or two swearwords to make them more mature?

I’d be comfortable handing this book to any kid between 12-18.

My takeaway:

There is a lot in Shadow of the Batgirl that works. The plot is clever and well developed, with a logical progressions of events that feels natural and interesting. The characters are fun and relatable, with just enough danger to make them exciting, and enough compassion to make them feel realistic.

As an older reader, there are a few places where I felt things got a bit hokey, and maybe a little more descriptive that they needed to, but as someone who works with kids in the age group this book is targeted at, I can definitely understand why that would be needed.

And this book also doesn’t talk down to the reader. One thing that I really like about all of the DC Ink and YA titles I’ve read is that they do try to tackle mature subjects that their readers would have experience with. The racial diversity might strike some more jaded readers as being overly “woke,” but in a world where more and more kids are looking for diversity in their reading I see it as a great opportunity to open doors that might have been ignored. If we want kids comics to thrive, we need fresh new readers, and I think this book could just do the trick.

So there you go. Let me know in the comments if there are any other titles you’d like me to review from the DC Ink or DC YA lineup. I’m thinking Breaking Glass or Wonder Woman for my next outing, but I’d love to hear other suggestions.

Until next time, stay healthy and stay safe.

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