It has been a while since Cassandra Cain, the teenage assassin-turned-protector of Gotham, has had a chance to hold the Batgirl mantle. That’s all changing with a new YA graphic novel from writer Sarah Kuhn, artist Nicole Goux, colorist Cris Peter, and letterers Janice Chiang and Saida Temofonte. To celebrate the release of the beautiful coming-of-age superhero story, we visited the DC Comics office to chat to Kuhn and Goux about reimagining Cass Cain.
Kuhn became involved with the project during the early planning stages of DC’s new young readers imprint. “When DC was starting their YA line, they sent my agent a list of characters they were interested in getting pitches on,” Kuhn said. “A lot of them were the characters you would think of: Wonder Woman, Supergirl. Characters who were in their big TV and movie properties, like Mera. And Batgirl was on the list.”
But Kuhn was tailor made to bring a deeper cut version of the hero than expected. “My agent knows that I love Cassandra Cain and that I also love any opportunity to tell a story about an Asian American superhero,” she said. “So she asks, ‘Does this mean just Barbara Gordon or could it be any Batgirl?'”
DC was open to Kuhn’s unexpected pitch, which surprised the author. “I thought Cassandra was the big long shot, because she hasn’t necessarily been used as much in recent years,” Kuhn said. “But I found out while I was doing this that she still has a very passionate, amazing fan base. I was really happy and surprised when they came back and said, ‘We’re actually interested in hearing more about Cassandra.'”
For artist Nicole Goux, a chance encounter at a comic convention with an editor at DC led to her first ever big two work. In an interesting twist of fate, Sara Miller had overseen a DC talent competition that Goux had entered years before.
“Sara was like, ‘I actually organized that and was the talent coordinator, and I remember your artwork from it. At the time, we were looking for a more mainstream style, but we’re starting this new YA line and I think that your art would be really great for it,'” Goux recalled. “I gave her a book and we talked a little bit and then a couple days later, I got an email asking me to test some character designs for Cassandra. I had a fairly short description of I think three characters: Cass, Babs, and our new character Jackie.”
“One of my favorite parts of comics is that collaboration and seeing how the artist brings their own vision to it to really bring that character to life,” Kuhn said. “I love that—and I hate this word, but—synergy. So that’s just so exciting in and of itself, but then to also get something that was so great. I feel like Nicole’s design for Cassandra, it was just all there. Sometimes with designs, you have to kind of go back and forth and figure out what you both want out of it. But I felt like her design for Cassandra was already complete. It was already amazing. It already had a voice of its own.”
Kuhn continued, “We all just wanted to give Cassandra a hug. [Nicole] had drawn her with such empathy. You could already see, even in just a few poses, the acting of that character. The personality of that character. How you feel for that character immediately, which is something that I think you really need to do in a story like this. So it was just wonderful. I feel like as soon as I saw that, Cassandra, I could kind of see the whole book. It took it to a new level.”
Goux continued, “The same thing with the city. Like, the noodle shop is small and it’s cute. But the surrounding area is this kind of darker part of the city—a little bit more ominous, a little bit scary. Especially in the beginning of the book when Cassandra is out on her own and running through the streets. So just trying to keep in mind the types of moods that each place is supposed to evoke.”
Something that immediately stands out about
“Something I knew about this story was that I wanted to really focus on the women in Cass’ life who would mentor her and help her go on this path to becoming a superhero,” Kuhn said. “But one of the things I’ve always loved about Cassandra, besides the fact that she is an Asian American superhero—and in a very iconic role—is that she is someone who really has all the tools to be a villain. That’s what she’s been trained to do. That’s what she’s been set up to do. She really doesn’t know any other way of life. And I think there’s something very powerful about someone who has all those tools and is on that path and instead decides to be a hero.”