My caveat for this article: I love Cass Cain. I hate that she’s persona non grata in the DCU right now. But this isn’t about Cass, this isn’t about the editorial decision to remove Cass from the title of Batgirl. This is about the girl that took up the mantle next. Yes, many loved Cass. Yes, many think Babs is definitely the ultimate Batgirl. But I’ve never seen anyone say ‘Dick is my Robin’ to the exclusion of all the other Robins. I see that with Batgirl all the time, and that upsets me. Why is it that Babs or Cass can be our only Batgirl? Why must the one trump the others to such exclusion? Can’t we love them all for what they bring to the title and mantle? Why can’t we be upset with DC for removing a character we love but not look to the next character with both trepidation and hope?
I know one of the issues a lot of people have with Stephanie Brown replacing Cass Cain is that she’s a white blonde, and Cass was one of the few positively portrayed women of colour in the DC books. Absolutely. I get that. Cass was important for that very reason. But, accepting that, and accepting DC needs to bring Cass back in some form or another, I’m also going to try and explain why you all should love Stephie independently from Cass or Babs.
I’m going to tell you a secret. I’ve been lying to you all about the first DC comic I purchased. Excluding Jonah Hex which I strangely don’t consider a DC comic (just go with it, alright???) the first series I read was in fact Gotham Central – that much is true.
But the first DC comic I bought (after a long and contented life as a Marvel girl) was the Spoiler one-shot.
Imagine a car ride to LAX after three days visiting with all my girlfriends. Those girlfriends, geeky as they are, didn’t really read comics. The exception was my friend Sil, who was – sadly in my mind – a hardcore DC gal. She was the one who drove me to the airport, and she was the person who changed my perspective on comics forever.
We spent two hours stuck in traffic. Two hours inching closer and closer to LAX, and we were both exhausted after three days of very little sleep, Disneyland and lots of booze. We needed to talk about something to stay awake, and as driver, Sil chose to give me the history of the Robins, with special attention to the girl Robin, Stephanie. Without that, I don’t think I would have ever identified with the bat family. But hearing about Stephanie Brown from someone so passionate intrigued me. It made me want to know more. I could have cared less about Batman, but I wanted to know more about this girl that for a short while was his sidekick.
He never wanted Steph as a sidekick, but he got her. It was a short lived relationship. She moved away from the Robin title, and back to her own name, Spoiler. The daughter of the villain Cluemaster, she’d begun as Spoiler to try and spoil (get it? Oh DC, you slay me) her father’s plans. Robin or not, she was going to make her mark. She wasn’t going to let Batman tell her she couldn’t be out there fighting.
Growing up in Gotham, being friends with Tim Drake (and later Robin for a while herself), it was hard to move away from needing Batman’s approval. That changed at some point, into her need to show him that she was strong enough and good enough to be out there fighting. It was that attitude and refusal to give up that led to her torture and her apparent death.
Her death was supposed to make a point, apparently. Dr Thompkins (in a rather strange move by her) wanted to show Batman what happened, and how people got hurt around him, so let Stephie die. Not only was it not well-received at the time, it created a fan backlash the like of which DC wasn’t prepared for. They killed a tenacious and determined young girl, someone who’d overcome so much to go out and fight the good fight just to make a point to Batman? REALLY???
In the joy of retcon the past was rewritten. Dr Thompkins hadn’t let Steph die, but had instead taken her away from Gotham to Africa. Dr Thompkins saw it as her way of saving the girl by getting her away from it all, and apparently was able to make a point to Batman in one fell swoop.
That couldn’t last forever, and Steph returned to Gotham. First she took up her Spoiler mask again, and then later became the next Batgirl. She took the mantle from Cass, after Cass was disillusioned/decided she needed to leave/was ousted by DC. Steph ran into objections from Babs, who didn’t want her anywhere near the Batgirl outfit – didn’t want to take the chance of losing even another girl and something awful happening. Eventually what she did was make the outfit her own: she was determined and she became her own Batgirl
Okay, that got a lot more detailed than I meant it to.
Now that we know the backstory, why should you give Stephanie a chance as Batgirl?
1) Steph has attitude. Too much of it sometimes. She’s seen a lot and been around, and thinks she always knows what’s going on. But she doesn’t always (who can?) and it can bite her in the ass. That being said, she’s learning that she doesn’t know everything. She’s learning that she can’t always cover up insecurity with her attitude and bravado – though she still tries.
2) She’s tough because she has to be. She’s a normal girl who’s trained for this. She’s not the smartest person you’ve met, or the strongest, or prettiest. She’s not a martial arts genius or a once-acrobat or superpowered in any way. She’s just a girl who’s worked her ass off to prove herself worthy of this mantle, and will keep doing so.
3) Steph has spent her life proving herself. First to Tim and to Bruce, and then again to Cass and to Babs and Tim again. It was never something that sat well with her, but from time to time she got why she had to. Or she did get that for a while. But she’s held the title of Batgirl for some time now, and quite rightfully is getting comfortable under that hood. It’s not something anyone is taking away from her, not with Babs and Wendy behind her especially. She’s not giving it up until she’s ready to now.
4) She has perfectly human flaws, and we see them played out. We see her impatience, and her frustrations. She rushes headstrong into things and screws up, but she never gives up. But she also learns. We’ve seen her grow over the years, and she’s still growing. Her determination and her strength are amazing, and s few times we even see her apologise – which takes an entirely different kind of strength that she’s learning to deal with.
What we also get to see a part of is her normal life. Its fascinating to see her try and balance going to university with being Batgirl, and that dichotomy makes the book that much better. Too often superheroes are seem to operate outside of the regular world, and we don’t see their everyday lives. With Steph, that’s not the way of it at all.
5) Best sense of humour ever. Okay, maybe not the ever, but her writers have consistently gifted her with a wry sense of humour that leans toward the joy of puns at times, and it makes her enjoyable. Especially under stress she’ll crack a joke, and it’s a method of coping that I know well.
6) How many other superheroes or vigilantes had a baby as a teenager and gave that child up for adoption. No, really, if you can tell me one I’d love you. I think that it’s one of those points of her background that gets played up for the wrong reasons at times but to me it’s just something about Steeh that makes her more realistic. She’s dealt with something that a lot of girls out there have, and she’s not been branded a horrible person or a slut or awful. It hasn’t been the one life-altering event that forever marked her life. It happened. It was. There are sometimes thoughts about it, but she’s gone on to continue living her life.
7) The whole one life-altering event that forever marked/changed her? Insert rape, attempted rape and torture here. Cause Steph has had a lot of crap flung at her. But she’s dealt with it as best she could, and later writers (like the awesome Bryan Q Miller) know something key about her. Something that makes me think everyone should be reading Batgirl, and that everyone should give Stephanie Brown a chance: Above everything else, she’s a survivor. She will live her life, and she will not let herself be controlled. She is going to do what she thinks is right, and she’s going to go down fighting. Steph might blunder, she might mis-step and she might screw up but who doesn’t? She’s human, and she’s earned the right to be Batgirl.
Why should you read Batgirl as written by Bryan Q Miller?
Because he gets it. She’s a determined, resourceful girl. She talks too much and has inner monologue problems. She gets in over her head, and makes things right again. Above all of that, she has the heart of a hero, and he gets that perfectly.