Batgirl: Redemption, artist J. Calafiore draws Cassandra Cain relatively straight and angular, a far cry from artist Damion Scott's first depiction of the character -- rounded, small, often almost disappearing into corners of the panels until she might spring into action. There's a tendency among many, myself included, to decide in this difference that Beechen and Calafiore's Cassandra Cain is not "our" version of the character; rather I came to understand this change in presentation later as an indication of how much Cassandra Cain has grown as a character since her first appearance.
[Contains spoilers starting right now]
In Redemption, Batgirl Cassandra Cain embarks on a Heart of Darkness-type journey to find her father David Cain, encountering him finally in just the wee final pages of this book. It's only there at the end of the story that a way to rationalize the recent controversial changes to Cassandra Cain really crystalized for me. David Cain taunts his daughter that despite her protestations that she's not the assassin he raised her to be, it only took minimal drug inducement by the villain Deathstroke in the pages of Robin, Supergirl, and Teen Titans to get Cassandra to kill again. Fan outcry over Cassandra turning rogue in those pages was loud and ardent, but I think I finally get it: Cassandra Cain fell off the wagon.
That is, David Cain raised Cassandra to be an assassin, and we know she was one, too. We haven't seen overmuch of Cassandra's pre-Batgirl life, but we know she killed at least one businessman for Cain, and possibly others. If we grant that Cassandra was indeed raised as a "killing machine," that killing comes somewhat naturally for her and that forsaking murder was a late-life decision when Cassandra left Cain and joined Batman, then Cassandra's turn bad suddenly makes sense to me. Deathstroke set free what's essentially always underneath the surface for Cassandra; the "evil Cassandra" is as much in line with the character (or not, depending on your view of the following examples) as the Dark Supergirl or Smallville's Clark Kent under the influence of Red Kryptonite.
Granted, Beechen himself contradicts this when he has Cassandra argue that, at another time, what Cain took for her bloodlust was instead Cassandra's amazement at the toys and signs of happiness that a murdered family possessed. Cassandra envied not the murder, but the domestic bliss; Cain only thinks Cassandra has that darkness within her. Indeed the theory of Cassandra Cain as a "natural born killer" won't hold up with every fan either, and admittedly to an extent it's just excuses for the change in story direction from bad Cassandra to good. Beechen has to devote two dialogue-heavy pages at the beginning to explain away all of Cassandra's bad behavior, and doesn't even quite succeed; Beechen concludes one of Cassandra's new murders took place after she was supposedly cured (I'd have just flubbed the timeline, myself), an issue never quite resolved.
Redemption is essentially a good example of a phenomenon I'd venture is somewhat limited to serial comic books and political agendas: a mid-stream course correction. Had Cassandra Cain the villain been wildly popular, Redemption wouldn't exist. And it is a good and at times thought-provoking story that pays homage to many of the high notes of the Cassandra Cain Batgirl series -- her relationship with Oracle, her conflict with Deathstroke and Cain, her begrudging alliance with Deathstroke's daughter Ravager, and the loss of Cassandra's boyfriend Zero -- but especially in the first chapter, one can just about hear the tires squealing as Beechen forces Cassandra's trajectory 180 degrees away from where it had been headed in no less than three other DC Comics titles.
In the end Beechen does offer Cassandra the redemption of the title, but I think he tempers it in a wise way (or at least takes good advantage of external circumstances). First, Cassandra essentially lets Cain die, and it's only by virtue of some good luck that Batman saves him; Batman gives Cassandra a pass, but the reader understands that Batgirl is more Manhunter than Superman at this point. Second, Batman offers to adopt Cassandra, taking her in a hug and promising the family she never had, as long as he lives ... and Calafiore adds a rather unusual tombstone shadow coming off Batman with the letters RIP, most definitely a reference to Batman RIP minus some monthly issue text copy.
I take from this that what we need to understand about Cassandra Cain Batgirl is that she's a hard-luck hero; things are not ever going to be easy for her, up to and including that she's going to lose her Batman father-figure just as soon as Final Crisis brings Darkseid to town. If I had to project into the future, I wouldn't be surprised if Cassandra Cain gets in touch with her evil side a few more times (though DC Comics wouldn't be that crazy); the road to redemption will always be an uphill battle for her. We know that wasn't what DC was trying to say when they first turned Cassandra evil -- rather, I think, they just wanted a good villain -- but I think that's what Beechen is trying to say now. Again, that won't please everyone, but it makes enough sense to me that I think Batgirl: Redemption brings a satisfactory close to the matter.
[Contains full covers]
Adam Beechen Week continues on Collected Editions, including a Q&A with the writer and our review of Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond, both later this week. Be there!