Thursday, October 04, 2007

Reflections On Stephanie Brown's Inability To Stay Dead

design by Joel Carroll

Looking at these awesome Stephanie Brown/Robin/Spoiler costume designs on the Project Rooftop blog, I cannot help but think the following:

The more you try to bury or deny something -- pretend it never existed -- the more it reasserts itself.

Let's face it: had Stephanie Brown gotten her trophy case, or didn't die horribly but cast off the Robin costume for one of a number of banal reasons, she wouldn't have captured the imagination of so many fans as she did.

But by making it a point to deny her the case, and by having Batman be so incredibly dismissive of her, and by doing so much to marginalize her and "make her go away," she's now drawn and redrawn, talked about, redesigned, reimagined, and discussed and discussed again. And not just by comic readers, but comic creators.

There is a law of physics somewhere in there.
design by Dean Trippe


  1. Heck, I even participated in the drawing meme & I don't have an ounce of artistic skill. & I wasn't a Stephanie fan, really- I liked her as a friend for Batgirl, I liked her as an almost-but-not-quite, & then...she got martyred. Seriously, you know how villains in B-films always have their "I cannot kill her- if I did, she would only become a symbol, & become unstoppable!" I guess Dan Didio didn't.

  2. That Trippe sketch is seriously fantastic, and reminds me I need to swap my background back to that one he did of Supergirl a while ago.

  3. I, too, participated in this meme. Stephanie Brown was the reason I read Robin for so many years. There is no other character like her in comics, now that she is gone. She was a non-powered teenaged female vigilante that wasn't a derivative of a male hero.

  4. I've been reading this blog for some time now. Sometimes I agree with the views posted, more often than not I disagree, but I am always entertained and interested in the opinions expressed. That being said, I am completely in the dark as to why the Stephanie Brown Robin has people up in arms. While I too liked the character (reasonably anyway) and was unimpressed (to say the least) with the resolution involving Dr. Thompson, I feel it is pretty self-explanatory as to why she won't be getting a memorial in the Batcave.

    I thought it was pretty clear that the events of War Games fell squarly upon She-Robin's shoulders. It was, after all, Stephanie's insecurities that led to War Games; she was mostly responsible. That being said, why, oh why, would Batman memorialize her? The whole point of her arc was that she had failed. Why would anyone want to reward that failure, particularly someone of Batman's infamous temperment?

    That being said, it was also somewhat obvious that the way the character was written was far different than what Dixon had created; but that is a different issue. Anyway, color me clueless if you wish, but I stand with the decision to not honor her failed run. Just wouldn't make sense to do so.

  5. Because you don't posthumously "punish" your sidekicks by dehumanizing them. Jason Todd was a "failure," both in the book (never-quite-reformed) & with the fans (who called in to make sure he died). Plus, he totally failed to capture the Joker! It was the search for his parents that had them circling the world, so that blame falls squarely on him. Oh, & later he came back from the dead & started murdering people. Still got a case, though. 'Course, he's a boy-Robin, so he counts.

  6. The solution I favor?

    Kill Jason Todd, and leave his case for the next trash pickup.

  7. "Because you don't posthumously "punish" your sidekicks by dehumanizing them. "

    I fail to see the logic of Stephanie not getting a memorial somehow equals her dehumanization. Walk me through it?

    "Plus, he totally failed to capture the Joker!"

    Sure, as has the Batman himself. However, and this is where it differs directly, he didn't cause the Joker to go on a rampage. Stephie's actions directly caused the mayhem of War Games.
    Her actions were so completely disasterous, selfish and uncalled for, I don't see how you reward her with a memorial. It is akin to giving John Walker Lindh a burial at Arlington National Cemetary.

    "Oh, & later he came back from the dead & started murdering people. Still got a case, though. "

    You say that as if he got a case AFTER returning. He didn't. Further, the inclusion of Todd's case also is due for Batman as much as it was a tribute. It was a symbolic reminder of Batman's own failure. Thematically, including Spoiler is beating a dead horse.
    Personally, I think even considering her as a Robin somewhat cheapens the character of Spoiler; She was Robin for 3 issues, whereas her character development and devotion came from her Spoiler identity and relationship with Drake, not Batman.

    "'Course, he's a boy-Robin, so he counts."

    Of course, its obviously about gender. How could I be so blind? Here, I thought that it had to do with Todd's tenure as Robin, his symbolic and thematic ramifications on Batman and sidekicks in general is what earned him a memorial. Silly me, it was because he had a penis. Now I know. Thanks for setting me straight there.

  8. One could also argue that Jason created the situation where he got killed.

    And even then, the fact that Stephanie had access to the war game scenario, didn't realize what it was, or that Batman would actually punish her for it by never mentioning her again or memorializing her is ridiculous. Furthermore, even after she gave it her all, did everything she could to rectify the situation after she had created, to the point where she was tortured by Black Mask and Batman even TOLD her she was Robin, it's wrong that she never got a costume.

  9. Discussion aside (and I do believe Soiler should get her memorial case, after all bring Robin only cost her life), I think that Joel Carroll design for Stephanie as Robin is just ten shades of awesome!


  10. Dan- pretending like Stephanie never existed & denying her a memorial case isn't about her level of competency as Robin. In fact, I agree, as I said above, that her character was portrayed as unable to handle the situation, over her head, etc. The point is here that her treatment as an incompetent Robin has a lot wrapped up in how women are, in general, portrayed in comics- which is as love interests, or as knock-offs, rather than valid characters in their own right. The whole "women in refrigerators" trope is evidence that women are treated as literary devices to advance the plot of the white male heroes. Stephanie is an example of an endemic dismissal of women present in comic books- it is only deepened by some of DC's editors sort of "laughing off the controversy" & pretending that if they close their eyes, it will go away. Like I said above, Stephanie Brown has become a symbol.

    Let me walk you through the dehumanization. A person, such as Jason Todd or Dick Grayson, makes mistakes, gets up when they fall, & grows as a character. If they die, it is cause for mourning, & it effects those around them. Stephanie Brown, on the other hand, was not given these options- her arc was cut short & abandoned. She made a mistake...& was dropped like a hot potato. Nightwing's fiasco with Blockbuster, Red Hood killing fools left & right, all these allow rehabilitation, but Stephanie? Nope. Her death? Is ignored by all the characters in her life. Batman...hasn't mentioned her, didn't put up a memorial case, & while Dan Didio has claimed she was "never really Robin," Batman has said otherwise. Her ex-boyfriend Tim Drake? Has spent a year trying to clone his pal, Conner, but Stephanie? Gone. Forgotten.

    As to my sardonic comments regarding Todd not catching the Joker, you miss the point, which is that Stephanie's action? Are not any different than any of the "mistakes" found in any of the other characters. Batman's OMAC screw-up, for one.

    & yeah, it is about gender. Not about a penis, but you might have noticed that there are a few social factors that kind of "ride along" with having a penis or vagina. It takes real willpower to close your eyes to the "second class hero" status of women in the world of comics. It is changing, I like to think, but that change is happening despite editorial direction, rather than because of it.

  11. "Silly me, it was because he had a penis. Now I know. Thanks for setting me straight there."

    You see all those - well-made and reasoned - points you raised in favour of not memorialising Stephanie? Fandom has yet to hear anything so structured and coherent from DC representitives when asked, just contradictory explanations from different sources. It seems everyone's got an opinion, but no-one has a straight answer.
    You make very good points, but Batman has dozens of trophies consisting of things used to try and kill him - the idea he'd banish all traces and memory of someone - male or female - whose death he was instrumental in (the War Games scenario was his plan, after all) seems at odds with the character DC have created. He feels guilt for every life he fails to save, yet can't find space on a shelf for a memento of someone he once trusted with his life? Rationalising it off the page - and not within a story - seems rather weak, and you can't blame fans for wanting to know why when there have been miniseries dedicated to more inconsequential minutae of the Bat-verse.

    This issue could go away by letting an artist add a trophy case to a background image in two or three panels, or a few lines of dialogue from Batman or Tim Drake's mouth. It could go away tomorrow, yet still no background detail or line of dialogue, and I begin to suspect that DC encourage it at this point - if only to get their books talked about.

  12. I don't think Stephanie should get a case--her death is a reminder of a lousy storyline and is better off forgotten.

    Seriously, it's a New Earth -- can it not have happened at all?

  13. I think Rob has it just about right.

    I hear what you're arguing, I just wholeheartedly disagree.
    If your argument were "Why did they write the GIRL Robin as such a fuck up?" I would definately be able to get behind that.

    But as a symbol of Women in Fridge? You can do a lot better for a symbol. Suppose she did get a memorial case, what would it say? "Fuck Up Who Nearly Got Gotham City Destroyed"

    No thank you, would rather remember her as the Spoiler and friend of Robin.

    PS...the Trippe sketch IS fantastic. Just wanted to end on something we CAN agree on.

  14. A while back, I picked up some cheap older issues of Robin and really liked this character. I think I read those issues just as she was getting killed off in the current run. It's a shame that DC doesn't realize how much potential she has.

    Is it true that Dr. Thompkins involvement with her death was retconned?

  15. Trippe is a pimp, definately. & the thing is, yeah; there could have been a much better Stephanie Brown story, I agree with that, too. The disconnect, I guess, is that I think that when editorial pronouncements come down from on high to toss away female characters for a cheap shot to throw the male characters into sharp relief, that counts as misogyny.

    'course, the best defense to that is to say that Tim's parents were killed of cavalierly for no good reason, & just claim general stupidity. That, I don't have an easy answer for.

  16. Hey thanks for all the love, both for me and Steph. :)

  17. Some of those redesigns are absolutely beautiful to look at.

    *looks at the drawing table across the room...*