Fangirl Fridays: Cassie Sandsmark, Wonder Girl

By the time this actually goes up, it’ll probably be Saturday, but I don’t care. For my inaugural post on this blog, I’m going to start the first of many traditions: Fangirl Fridays.

What are Fangirl Fridays? Simply put, they’re my chance to gush about someone or something I love. It might be a fictional character (and oh yes, Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Karolina Dean and Claudia Donovan are all on the docket). It might be a TV show or a movie. It might be an author or a book or a series of books. It might be a shining example of feminist or queer or minority representation. It might just be a guilty pleasure. Whatever it may be, it’ll be something that makes me go squee.

And Cassie Sandsmark is the perfect place to start, because I love, love, LOVE Wonder Girl.

Let me start by explaining a few things about myself: I have always been a nerd. I know, huge shock. But as a kid, I wasn’t the cool kind of nerd – I didn’t really get into video games until I was an adult, and I wasn’t a computer prodigy. I dressed up for special occasions, and I had some pretty cool costumes here and there, but I never really got into cosplay. I didn’t make neat little indie films or shot-for-shot remakes with my friends. My sister got most of the artistic talent; I tried my hand at drawing and sculpting, but never reached her level of mastery. Worst of all, I was, and still am, an introvert. So I was the worst of all nerds. I was a bookworm.

More than that, I was a history nerd. I wrote essays on various historical figures and periods for fun. (I was homeschooled. I didn’t even have to write the essays. They were never even graded.) I would check out a dozen books on Ancient Greece or Victorian England or Edo Japan for light reading. (Two things. One, yes, a dozen books. I was a voracious reader. Two, also yes, I liked steampunk before steampunk was cool.) I dreamed of being an archaeologist, and I don’t mean I wanted to be Indiana Jones, though part of me sort of did. As much as I loved the promise of the future, as much as I enjoyed the promise of the present, the past enthralled me.

As I grew up, all that sort of went by the wayside. I don’t mean I lost interest in history. Of course I didn’t. But I found new interests: folklore and mythology, psychology, game design, creative writing, and eventually, yes, video games. And all of these interests have, gradually, fed into one another. Lately I’ve been delving into history and mythology again as I research the background of my first novel, Fall. But history no longer dominated my life or my reading lists. I didn’t want to be an archaeologist anymore. I found new dreams and started doing new things.

Flash forward to the end of the Young Justice comic book and the beginning of the new Teen Titans. I’d started getting into comic books as a teenager, and had naturally drifted toward DC. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were already familiar characters. I started seeing references to a new Wonder Girl and I decided to check out Teen Titans as a result.

I don’t know when exactly I fell in love with Cassie Sandsmark. I know I was instantly amused and excited, in a dorky fangirlish way, that she shared the name I’d chosen for myself. I also know I didn’t fully understand her backstory at first, and while I thought her character was fantastic – strong, intelligent, beautiful, brave – I wasn’t hooked until I’d started delving into her past. But somewhere in there, I just clicked. I understood her. I empathized with her. I saw in her so much of the person I was and so very much of the person I wanted to be.

See, Cassie’s a nerd made good. And not just any nerd. A history nerd. A mythology nerd. The daughter of an archaeologist. Wonder Woman’s greatest fan. And when the world needed a new hero, she didn’t just jump at the call. She made the call happen. She grabbed the sandals of Hermes and the gauntlet of Atlas and used them to fight the forces of evil. She went up to Zeus himself and all but demanded powers of her own. And, at first, she lived and fought in Wonder Woman’s shadow. She wore Wonder Woman’s emblem and even donned a truly hideous black wig to be more like her hero. But as she grew, and changed, and gained confidence in herself as a hero and as a strong, capable young woman, she stepped out of the shadows and became something more. She lost the wig. She adopted new costumes, paying homage to her hero while establishing her own identity. She even, eventually (though not entirely by choice), gave up her secret identity and let the whole world see exactly who she was. She made mistakes, and she learned from them, but she made no apologies for herself.

When it came out that Cassie was actually Zeus’s daughter, somehow, I wasn’t surprised. When she began to come into her own powers as a demigoddess, shedding the abilities she had been granted by her father and by Ares and becoming, above all else, herself, I was thrilled. Her romance with Superboy still feels like one of the most authentic teen romances I’ve seen in a mainstream superhero comic – and while there were moments, particularly during the period when her powers were fluctuating wildly, when she had to watch her boyfriend fly off and save the day without her, they still felt like equal partners. They loved each other. They respected each other. Cassie could handle her own fights – she could even fight Conner, when she had to – and she didn’t need her boyfriend to rescue her.

Alas, all good things come to an end. In the latter days of Teen Titans, particularly as DC began steering toward the series of reboots that have (hopefully) come to an end, for now, with the New 52, her characterization changed. A lot of writers seemed to be treating her as the Titans’ annoying ‘head cheerleader,’ a disagreeable and tyrannical leader rather than the smart, strong, mature young woman I knew and loved. I slowly began to lose interest. When the New 52 hit, and it came out that DC was reinventing Cassie as a superpowered thief and rebel, I hit my wall. That was when I said goodbye to DC comics altogether. That was when I decided I didn’t need their stories anymore. I had loved Cassie’s stories before, and I would love them forever, but I had no interest in reading the new ones.

I haven’t abandoned Cassie Sandsmark. I still use her as an avatar on so many sites and forums. My personal contact cards (which I had out to new friends at cons and parties) still feature her prominently, fierce and determined and ready for battle. I still look to her and see what I want to be: a nerd made good. The awkward little geek who grew into someone strong, someone beautiful, someone confident and brave, someone unafraid of her intelligence and her power. Someone who makes no apologies for who or what she is. She is, in so many ways, the woman I wish I was, and the woman I try to be. I call myself Themiscyra, and that’s an homage to all the Amazons, both mythological and fictional, but above all else, it’s my homage to her. The superhero who shares my name. The girl who shares my past. The woman who inspires my geeky little heart to greatness.

I don’t care what DC’s done to her. Cassandra Sandsmark, daughter of Zeus, demigoddess, Wonder Girl – she’s freaking awesome. Part of me will always love her. And somewhere, in some parallel fictitious world where the colors are a whole lot brighter and everyone laughs at the laws of physics, I know she’s still out there, blazing her own trail, fighting the forces of evil, and going on some truly epic adventures.

And maybe, someday, the Cassie Sandsmark I know and love will return to the printed page. Or to the Young Justice TV show. I’ll be keeping an eye out. But don’t expect me to sit idly by. This Wonder Girl has her own adventures to see to.