Warning: Some Birds of Prey spoilers are ahead.
Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is done with Joker and traded up for the best girl gang around: Harley, Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and last but definitely not least, a young, talented thief by the name of Cassandra Cain (13-year-old actress Ella Jay Basco). While Birds of Prey is a mish-mash of DC comics characters, Cassandra, or Cass, is one that you might not be completely familiar with. You certainly don’t need to have read every single DC comic to love Birds of Prey (or any comic, really), knowing Cass’s origin story definitely adds another layer to the blockbuster romp.
Who Is Cassandra Cain In The Comics?
We’re introduced to teen orphan Cass via Black Canary, who is her neighbor. When we first meet her, her foster parents can be heard fighting in the background. So, she entertains herself by pickpocketing, but it turns serious when she steals a diamond from psycho thug Zsasz (Chris Messina) and, to avoid getting caught for it, swallows it like a true badass. That's how she ends up in Harley Quinn's care and eventually makes her way into Harley’s new, military-grade weapon-toting group of BFFs.
But her character in the comics is way, way different than the girl we meet in Birds of Prey, and her origin story is pretty intense. Cassandra Cain is actually Batgirl. According to ScreenRant, she’s introduced in Batman #567 as an illiterate mute who “lacked social skills most people take for granted.” Her mom and dad are infamous assassins named Lady Shiva and David Cain who treated their daughter more like a weapon than a human girl — which is why they never bothered to teach her how to speak or communicate with others (which is actually very, very sad to think about). Originally born in Tibet, Cass was trained to be villain Ra’s al Ghul’s bodyguard and was only eight years old when she first killed someone.
When Does Cassandra Cain Become Batgirl?
In the comics, Cass becomes part of Batman’s family after she saves original Batgirl Barbara Gordon’s dad, Commissioner James Gordon from the clutches of her own dad, David Cain. Bruce Wayne takes her under his literal wing after seeing what she did for Barbara and James.
Batman and Barbara teach Cassandra how to be a good person and give her the new role of Batgirl (although her aliases include Black Bat, Kasumo, and The Nothing), essentially taking over for Barbara who pivots to hacking and goes by “Oracle.” Cain's Batgirl is beloved by many fans — not only is she a young woman, but because she’s also a young woman of color. Giving a young, Asian superhero the spotlight and ability to succeed was a big deal for DC Comics when her character was introduced to the DC Universe in 1999.
Cass’s comic book character has fluctuated over the years — much to the dismay of many fans. In a Robin story arc in 2006, Cass becomes evil and takes over the League of Assassins. Readers were so upset, that the writers recalibrated her story, explaining she was given a mind-control serum that forced her to do bad things.
In 2009, Robin Stephanie Brown replaced her as Batgirl, but Cass made her way back to the story in 2011 in Batman Incorporated. She served as one of Bruce Wayne’s agents in Hong Kong and had a totally new name: Black Bat. She then came back in the 2016 comic, Batman & Robin Eternal, yet again with another new identity: Orphan. Her latest iteration is in 2020’s Birds of Prey.
Does Cassandra Cain Have Powers & Abilities?
Cass, like Bruce Wayne, doesn’t have superpowers, but she’s highly skilled in martial arts and is well-trained in hand-to-hand combat. Because of the way she was raised, instead of learning to vocalize her needs or speak to others, she was taught to read other people's body language, so she can anticipate the actions of her opponents way, way before they actually execute them.
Even though her skills have been reconfigured for Birds of Prey, after just a few minutes of screen time, it's easy to see why Harley would want Cass on her team.