Monday, August 5, 2013

Angel of the Bat

Art by Damion Scott
Sometimes, for whatever reason, a creator is never quite able to implement a certain pitch, idea, or storyline. Since we live in the age of the Internet, though, these unproduced ideas can still float around in the aether and be discussed by interested parties (take, for example, Kevin Smith's script for the Superman Lives movie that was never made).

This occurs in all media, including graphic literature. Periodically, it involves proposed storylines with religious themes. You know, the kind of fodder ripe for Wednesday Theology. But, alas, these ideas never make it to the page. They can still be intriguing, though, and worth discussion.

Now, in the gaming and software industry, unreleased products forever stuck in development hell are referred to as vaporware. Software that only exists as a vapor, a whisper, a rumor. So maybe I will take to calling these instances of unproduced religiously thematic graphic literature storylines Wednesday Vaportheology.


Cassandra Cain was the daughter of expert assassin David Cain. Cassandra was raised to be the ultimate assassin, to the detriment of her own social growth and education that was unrelated to killing people. Eventually she became an ally of Batman and took on the mantle of Batgirl and got her own book. At one point when sales were declining, editorial was looking for a new direction and asked Gail Simone to pitch what she would do with the character.

From the ComicBookResources forums:
I was asked to come up with a direction for Batgirl, something new that would give her a fresh platform. I gave it a ton of thought, and the direction I came up with was this (obviously this is the abridged version):

Batgirl saves this minister, a guy who preaches to the homeless of Gotham City, a real get-down-into-it guy, from a vicious robbery. He's beaten badly, and Batgirl lashes out at the gang viciously, until he begs her to stop. He's forgiven them, let the police handle it, he says.

Batgirl is utterly baffled. She doesn't get it. Forgiveness for those who kill and injure innocents isn't part of the batcode. She starts visiting the minister in the hospital. He talks to her, not to convert her, but the belief he has in God is so moving and unshakable, that she comes to think of him as incredibly strong. Everything about him is the opposite of Batman--he's at peace, he doesn't believe in violence, and above all, he's got the joy of God in him, in every part of him. He tells her he used to be a bad, violent man, and the book changed him. The idea appeals to and terrifies her.

So, even though she can barely, barely read, she buys a bible, and at first, she's afraid to even open it. It must be a dangerous and powerful book to change men's hearts so. Each sentence is a struggle at first, and she has to call Oracle and Robin and Alfred to have words explained to her. But one day, bam, she gets it.

From then on, she is truly devout, truly converted. She wears a white bat outfit and starts looking out for the most vulnerable of Gotham's residents, runaways, immigrants, homeless people, mentally ill people, etc, because that's what she understands the minister would do. She still issues righteous beatings because she's a little bit old testament, but she talks scripture with both the minister and the gang members. She believes.

And after a while, she gets a new nickname...many people don't call her Batgirl anymore, she becomes to them, the Angel of the Bat. And for the first time, she's genuinely happy.

Okay, here's the thing. I am not religious. In fact, I am an atheist, and you guys know I'm liberal as all hell. But I too believe Conservatives and religious people have been represented cheaply and unfairly (sometimes stupidly) in comics. When I turned in my pitch/outline (and I wasn't pitching for the book, just being asked what direction I might see for it), the editor instantly thought I meant it in a condescending she would be religious, but would be shown to be naive, or that it would be just a fad, from an intellectual standpoint.

But that's not what I meant at all. I meant that she REALLY believes, and isn't stupid OR ashamed. Is in fact proud of it. Quotes the bible. Asks questions about matters of faith and scripture. And that she would be using her very dark knowledge in a redemptive way. I felt, and feel, that religious readers are often spoken down to in comics, and this would be a character change that would be fascinating for non-believers as well. But no cheating. No smirking. No trying to put in a knowing wink to the parts of the audience who aren't themselves religious.

The weird thing is, the idea actually seemed sort of radical, apparently, as I don't believe they thought it could be carried off sincerely. I don't see why's a character. Her belief system doesn't have to match the writer's, or I couldn't write Dr. Psycho and Chuck couldn't write, say, anyone who isn't a gun nut (I'm kidding!!! Love ya, Chuck!).

Anyway, that was my idea, Angel of the Bat. For whatever reason, that idea seems a thousand times more controversial than having her be the head of the League of Assassins.

I'm not bitter about it, and hopefully I can revisit the idea somewhere, but with all the grim, hopeless characters in the bat-verse, I thought it would be delightful and seditious to do the exact opposite and present a sincere, hopeful and positive version of the character. Batman's reaction alone would be priceless.

So, I did try, anyway!


There are several things about this that I find interesting. One reason that it wasn't implemented was because editorial apparently didn't think a sincere look at a character of faith would work, or that even Simone was sincere in the idea. It is true that most depictions of Christians and even God in graphic literature are not flattering. The obvious example is Preacher. But many other titles tend to portray Christians as backwards idiots or crazed fanatics, such as Rev. Stryker in X-Men. A reason for this is pop culture is an avenue for creators to vent frustrations with organized religions, and since Christian creators tend to self-exclude themselves from the main pop culture arena, these disparaging looks at the faithful dominate.

Another part of this critique was Simone's own religious leanings, or lack thereof as an atheist. Could an atheist write a Christian character that seemed genuine? Sure. Why not? She can write other characters with characteristics which she personally does not hold. Simone is not a pyscho killer, a masked vigilante, or a King Shark.
Honestly, I just wanted to post this picture of King Shark
The job of an author of fiction is to write characters that are unlike herself. There was a similar issue with The Avengers movie. When referring to Thor as a god, Captain America quips, "There's only one God, ma'am, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that." Certain sectors of the fanbase objected, complaining that this scene was an example of writer/director Joss Whedon shoving his Christian agenda down viewers' throats. The thing is, and I believe Whedon acknowledges this in the DVD commentary, like Simone, Whedon is an atheist. However, Whedon acknowledges, Captain America is not. While the sentiment of this (admittedly throwaway) line is not shared by Whedon, it is in line with the character of Captain America.

As intriguing as all these factors are, the potential this idea has within the story is what I find completely fascinating. Simone was on to something when she wanted to focus on a mostly non-violent, forgiving nature of the Angel of the Bat. In other posts I've talked about Jesus as an inversion of messianic expectations. People expected the messiah to come as a conquering warrior. Instead, Jesus preached loving your neighbor and turning the other cheek. What would happen if a member of the Bat-family exemplified these teachings?

It would be interestingly jarring to witness the shift in Cassandra from violent master assassin to expressing the love of Christ. Furthermore, not only is the teaching of Christ contrary to instinctive human behavior, it is contrary to Batman behavior. Batman is known for solving problems by beating people up. He is driven by vengeance, trying to quench the hole left in him by the tragic and violent loss of his parents. In Batman's world, violence begets violence.

The stylistic differences in their approaches to vigilantism would undoubtedly lead to tension and conflict between them. The contrast is usually in the other direction, comparing Batman to more lethal anti-heroes like Azrael or the Punisher. But in this instance, Batman's penchant for violence would be spotlighted by Cassandra's desire to to follow a Christ-like example of pacifism, yet still fighting injustice in Gotham City.

I would love to read this!

But, at least for now, it exists only as Wednesday Vaportheology.

I mean, does Cassandra Cain even exist in the Nu52?

Also, this isn't the first time I've talked about Gail Simone's ventures into religious themes in graphic literature. Some day I'll get around to thinking even more in depth about the theology in Secret Six. I promise.

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