Stephanie Brown (comics)

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(Note: this is long. If you’re not going to read it all, please make sure you help us by joining the facebook group!)

If you’re reading this, then one can assume that you’re probably a fan of mine (or more accurately of our tiny little webcomic here), but just in case you stumble upon this little rant some other way, let me introduce myself. My name is Christopher Maverick, or “Mav” for short and I write the comic strip this site is devoted to, Cosmic Hellcat Adventures (I’m also a photographer and the artist on the little mini-story that’s running here right now, but that’s another story). Anyway, like most random yahoos on the internet that write/draw a webcomic, I’m a lifelong comic book geek. I’ve been throwing my hard earned money into this “addiction” for the past thirty years. Countless thousands of dollars over that time. And like any good comic book addict, I haven’t regretted it for a second.

But like most comic geeks, I’m overly invested in the characters that I read about every month. Quite unhealthily so, in fact. Every Wednesday, or as “my people like to call it” new comic day, I take a trip to my local comic shop (in my case, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Phantom of the Attic) to “score” and while I’m there I waste an hour or so of my life talking with my fellow geeks about the latest goings on in fictional universes and with the companies that control them.
As one might assume, lately a big topic of conversation at the store these days has been DC Comics recent decision to reboot their Universe.
Now for starters, I’m not a big fan of retcons. In fact I hate them. But whatever, if they’re done well, I’ll forgive them. After all, in today’s comics, it’s essentially a fact of life, especially in “the Big Two”. If a comic character survives long enough, some new writer is going to come in and revamp them. I’m even less of a fan of canceling and restarting comic series. It’s a cheap sales ploy. Hey, no one wants to buy issue #237 but you know what they will want to buy? A special collectors edition issue #1! Who cares if it’s volume #17, right? it’s still a number one. Sigh…
But you know what would impress me a lot more than a special collectors item issue #1? A special collectors item issue #1000! Action Comics is actually really close. They’re in the 900s. I’m not a Superman fan at all. But you know what? If they made it to #1000, I’d be the first person in line at the store to pick it up. BUT, in their infinite wisdom, DC is canceling it with issue #904, to restart the numbering with #1 the very next month. It makes perfect sense you see. I mean it would take 8 more years to get to #1000 at one a month. We can have a #1 NOW!!!! Sure, we’ve invested exactly 73 years in getting this far. But eight more years to reach the most monumental milestone in the history of this industry? Who has that kind of time?
And you know what would impress me even more than an issue #1000? A FUCKING GOOD STORY! Apparently that’s too much to ask.
And that brings me to my point. Actually, there ARE good comic book stories. Like I said, that’s why I’m a comic book fan in the first place. And do you know what my absolute favorite comic being published by DC is right now? You’d probably never guess. It’s Batgirl!
Batgirl has everything I love about comic book superheroes. An engaging story, good characters and respect for the shared continuity of the universe that those characters live in. Its the story of a girl destined to be a hero. Not for revenge. Not out of guilt. Not because the world hates and fears her. She’s a hero for one and one reason only. Because that’s what she wants to be. Stephanie Brown started her career as “The Spoiler,” a teenaged girl, pregnant, who was the daughter of a career criminal and determined to rebel against her father by becoming a hero. She gives up the baby for adoption in order to give it a better life. Batman himself tells her to hang up the tights. She stands up to him and refuses. She’s so headstrong that eventually he decides to make her the new “Robin.” Why? Because he realizes that she’s a hero. She’s going out there no matter what, better to train her so she doesn’t get herself killed. Eventually, the braintrust at DC decided to kill her off. She was so popular that the people demanded they bring her back again. From here she goes on to become the new Batgirl.
As Batgirl, she teams up with Barbara Gordon, currently Oracle, but previously, DC’s second (and commonly considered original) Batgirl. Barbara was introduced in 1966 as Batgirl, and in one of my favorite comics ever, the graphic novel, The Killing Joke, she was paralyzed, shot through the spine by the Joker, in a poignant moment that effectively killed Batgirl and gave birth to Oracle, a wheelchair bound heroine who solves problems with her brain instead of her brawn. As Oracle, Barbara would go on to become arguably one of the most powerful and important characters in the DC Universe. When written correctly, she was a deep and insightful multi-facetted character. Long since one of my favorites. Barbara, realizing Stephanie’s potential, decides to take her under her wing as the new Batgirl and further her training so that she might one day become one of DCs greatest heroes.
The interplay between the two women, a hero just starting out, and one long retired, has made for innovative story telling. In a way, it beckons back to the interplay between Batman and Nightwing but from a refreshing female point of view. A grizzled veteran with a ton of baggage attempting to train and relate to a headstrong optimistic teen Also both of the leads have unique outlooks on life. In other words, it’s great.
And so it’s been cancelled. 
DC has decided that what people really want to see is Barbara Gordon back in tights as the or
iginal Batgirl. Starting in September, she’ll be staring in a relaunched Batgirl #1 with no mention of Stephanie whatsoever.
This destroys not one, but two characters. Stephanie is once again apparently being relegated to comic book limbo. Barbara on the other hand is being regressed to the character that she was 23 years ago. I have a multitude of problems with this, First, as is obvious from what I’ve written so far, I love the Stephanie Brown character. I don’t want to see her go away. I think there’s still a lot of exploration that can be made out of her struggle to become a hero.
Second, the Barbara Gordon character has spent the last 23 years overcoming the stereotypes of her handicap. Using her mind and the human spirit she has proven that she can become DC’s greatest hero without ever throwing a punch. She’s an icon to the physically disabled. But even ignoring that, the message DC is sending is insulting to women as a whole. Barbara Gordon was a second rate character (at best) as Batgirl for 22 years, since then she has spent the past 23 (1 year longer than she was Batgirl) establishing herself as Oracle, a strong character in her own right, independent of the specter of Batman. So why regress her? It’s like a 40 year old professional woman has suddenly decided to give up her career as college professor to return to her high school job as a waitress. Its insulting. Gail Simone (the woman who will write the title and has written Barbara’s series Birds of Prey quite well for years) tried to address some of my concerns in an interview with another blogger that complained about it. But didn’t really do so to my satisfaction. And on top of that implied (unintentionally I’m sure) that the best thing that could happen to a disabled person, is through surgery and hard work, to one day walk again, which basically undermines everything she’s ever written about the characters accomplishments despite her handicap.
But DC has made up their minds on Barbara. There’s clearly nothing that can be done. One of my favorite characters is simply going to go poof in a puff of smoke. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you can’t dismiss a concept without giving it a fair chance. And I like Gail Simone as a writer, but I’m not optimistic. There’s a great chance that I’ll just be dropping my comic shop subscriptions to every DC title come this September. We’ll see. 
But it’s not too late for Stephanie. As far as anyone can tell, DC has no obvious plans for her whatsoever. I was discussing this with my friend (and fellow indy comic creator) Wayne Wise, who works at the comic shop earlier today and we’ve come up with a plan. Normally, we’d hate to just give away a concept like this to DC Comics free of charge and all, but dammit, this is something we really want. (And hey, if you want to hire us to write it, we’re available)
Earlier I compared Stephanie to Dick Grayson, Nightwing. One thing I really like about this DC reboot is that they are returning Dick, who’s currently running around as a substitute Batman, to his own persona of Nightwing. What I like about this is that Dick is his own man. He’s grown into a hero on his own that is separate and different than Bruce Wayne, and there’s no reason for him to live under that shadow and try to emulate him. He’s a different character with different motivations, but still related to the Batman mythos (the name Nightwing being a golden age analog of Batman). Dick took the alias and made it his own.
What if Stephanie did the same thing. What if either on her own or under the tutelage of Dick Grayson she finally became her own hero, with similar light connections to the Batman mythos. Wayne and I discussed this and finally I came up with the concept for her. She can be the new Flamebird. The original Flamebird was a golden age analog of Robin, connected to the original Nightwing. Once Dick became Nightwing, however, the alias was adopted by the Golden Age Batgirl (Barbara, while commonly considered to be the first Batgirl is actually the second) in a retcon. But that character, Betty Kane, is seldom referenced today (she’s a tertiary character in the current Batwoman comic, which I don’t care about at all). Let Stephanie adopt that alias and live on and grow in it, either as Dick’s partner (not sidekick) or on her own. 
At least that way there can be one comic that I know I want to read in this reboot.
Are you with me? Comment here, and join the facebook petition group that I’ve created for the cause. Hopefully if enough fans do, then maybe DC will take notice of us. It worked for Betty White!
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