One of the most enduring themes of the DC Universe is legacy. Among all the sidekicks, supporting casts, and family titles, there are plenty of characters who inherit the roles of icons, making them their own before assuming other, more distinct identities. The concept of rebirth and revision holds strong in a world with many different heroes, often sharing the same masks. Case in point: Cassandra Cain.
Originally introduced in the Batman storyline “No Man’s Land” as a nameless courier, Cassandra would become Batgirl for most of the 2000s. And though that remains her biggest claim to fame, it’s hardly her only superhero identity. Let’s look at each of the different masks Cass has worn throughout her history, showcasing the multiple facets of her character...
The first Batgirl to headline her own ongoing series, Cassandra inherited the mantle from Barbara Gordon, after a vacancy of over eleven years (albeit one briefly occupied by the Huntress in No Man’s Land.) The costume is striking in how it evokes Cassandra’s silent-but-deadly persona -- a black leather mask with the eyeholes and mouth completely sewn shut. This Batgirl made herself known through action over words. As one of the world’s greatest martial artists, Cass could be relied upon to leap into a room of gunmen and take them out with speed and precision. In Batman’s own words, “She was perfect.”
Trained from birth to communicate through body language over reading, writing and speaking, Cassandra was raised mute and illiterate. This, plus her scary costume, put her at odds with some members of the Bat family, most notably Robin, who admitted on more than one occasion that he was scared of her. When the two joined forces on a case, he got over his fear and formed a friendship that flourished in the aftermath of "War Games," when they comforted each other after the presumed death of Stephanie Brown. During the "missing year" after Infinite Crisis, Cassandra was kidnapped and brainwashed into villainy by Deathstroke the Terminator. She assumed leadership of the League of Assassins and attempted to coerce Tim to join her side. Rescued by the Teen Titans, the event traumatized Cass, who was already heavily burdened by her memories of childhood -- during which she was raised as a killer.
In the 12-issue limited series Justice League Elite, The Flash and Green Arrow teamed up with members of The Elite, a group of metahumans once partnered with Superman villain Manchester Black. Their purpose was to perform tasks and missions that were considered morally compromising to the Justice League’s reputation. One of the members was a mysterious assassin known only as Kasumi. A ninja who’s masked face was scarred and deformed, it was actually Cassandra in disguise, under the direct supervision of Batman. The Dark Knight informed only Green Arrow of her secret assignment to watch over the Elite, ensuring they took no lives in their missions.
In issue #6 the JLE battled the Justice Society, with Kasumi utilizing the Shadowthief’s technology and fighting Hawkgirl. Coldcast – a member of the Elite – released an enormous charge of energy that forced Cassandra’s blade through Hawkgirl’s chest, critically injuring her. Cass was consumed with guilt and Batman removed her from active duty on the team. When London was threatened by Manchester Black seemingly back from the dead, Cassandra donned the Kasumi costume one last time to save Batman and defeat Black with the help of the team she had grown to trust with her life.
In the aftermath of the "Batman R.I.P." storyline, the Bat family was thrown into chaos over the loss of Bruce Wayne, with their identities shifting wildly. Dick Grayson defeated Jason Todd to claim the mantle of the Bat, and took Damian Wayne under his wing as the new Robin. Tim Drake assumed the identity of Red Robin and searched the globe for Bruce’s whereabouts, believing his former partner to still be alive. And Stephanie Brown – formerly the Spoiler – became the new Batgirl after Cassandra appeared to have abandoned the role after Bruce’s death.
As for Cass herself, Tim tracked her down in Hong Kong after Bruce returned to Gotham, offering her the mantle of Batgirl once more. Cass – who was ordered by Batman to give the Batgirl role to Steph in the event of his death – maintained that Steph had become the Batgirl Gotham City needed. But we next saw her in Batman Inc. #6, operating under the identity of Black Bat. The new costume was much like her old Batgirl suit, save for a friendlier domino mask and a spookier cape. Black Bat made but a few memorable appearances, saving Tim in Red Robin #25 and assisting the new Batman and Robin in battling the Architect during the "Gates of Gotham" storyline.
Cassandra disappeared in the New 52 era when continuity shifted, reappearing in the pages of Batman and Robin Eternal. Her history as a trained assassin was kept mostly intact, with the addition of the character Mother and her father David Cain going by the name “Orphan." After being found by Batman and Dick Grayson, Mother was defeated and Cassandra took up the identity of her late father, becoming Orphan. Though many details of her original history were altered, she regained friendships with Tim Drake and Stephanie Brown, and grew close with new characters Harper Row and Duke Thomas. New elements to her character included a love of ballet and a friendship with a reformed Basil Karlo a.k.a. Clayface, whose former villainy struck a familiar chord with the always haunted Cassandra.