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Thoughts on the Return of Stephanie Brown to the DC Universe

One of the biggest reactions from fans to NYCC news has been Scott Snyder announcing Stephanie Brown’s return to the DC Universe in the pages of the new Batman weekly series, Batman: Eternal.

And on the one hand, don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly pleased, as well. I definitely enjoyed both Chuck Dixon’s work with Stephanie as Spoiler and Bryan Q. Miller’s work with Stephanie as Batgirl (Grant Morrison also did a really good job with her in Batman Incorporated). However, the excitement of the character’s return sort of speaks to something I’ve always had a bit of a hard time understanding, which is the exaltation of a character over a character as written by a specific creator. To wit, Chuck Dixon’s idea of a character who “spoils” her father’s attempt at villainy is a really good one, but not really for a sustainable character. It’s a good idea for a story arc or two. And I think Dixon viewed Spoiler as such – someone to show up here and there. It is just that when he began writing her personality in relation to Tim Drake’s in the pages of Robin that she began to almost force her way into the comic further. Dixon clearly didn’t intend for her to be such a major character, she just naturally evolved that way due to how he wrote her and how fans reacted to how he wrote her.

Similarly, Stephanie as Batgirl was not some obvious solution and in fact, you might recall that it outraged many fans who wanted to see Cassandra Cain keep her gig as Batgirl. However, once again, Bryan Q. Miller used Stephanie’s place in Bat-history (and all the groundwork Dixon had done) to make the character a compelling new Batgirl.

So here’s my concern – Tim Drake no longer is all that involved in the Bat-books and there really is no context for the usage of Stephanie Brown as Spoiler in the current DC Universe. She is basically right back to where she started under Dixon only without Tim Drake’s Robin to bounce off of and without the years of character development Dixon and Miller did on the character. With the earlier stories I mentioned today, the excitement about the return of Quantum and Woody and the return of Miracleman are based on the fact that their original creators were returning to write them. If Miracleman was just getting his own series set in brand-new continuity by Creative Team X, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, news-wise, even if Creative Team X was a good team.

James Tynion IV is a fine writer and I’m pleased to note that he thinks he can do something with Stephanie Brown, but we’re not talking about the continuation of Dixon and Miller’s work here. This is, in effect, a brand new character and I just don’t personally understand getting excited over just the introduction of a character with the same name and the same look as Stephanie Brown/Spoiler. For instance, I was a fan of Fire and Ice before the New 52, but their usage in Justice League International in the New 52 was horrible. It wasn’t something that excited me as a fan – since the basic concept behind Fire and Ice wasn’t what made them compelling characters, it was the work that Giffen and DeMatteis did with them that made them compelling characters. Remove the development of the latter (which is inherent to a reboot) and the former becomes meaningless.

This doesn’t mean that Spoiler won’t be an awesome character under Tynion’s pen, it just means that when you’re dealing with rebooted characters, their mere usage is not really necessarily a cause for celebration. Wait until you see HOW they’re used to celebrate.

28 Comments

this is really an argument that could be applied to any hero any time a creative team changes though, Why care about Batman now Grant Morrison is done with him (as an example)? Not that I don’t agree, this is why I read barely any super hero books, but I’m not sure why bring it up for Stephanie Brown in particular. People like characters, and when they’ve seen them written well consistently beforehand, they allow DC or Marvel the grace of getting excited in anticipation. If DC drops the ball on her return, I’m sure there won’t be the same reaction next time they announce she’ll be appearing somewhere. Sometimes you gotta let people have their little time in the sun. They wanted her back, now they’ve got her.

Brian-

I totally agree with this, and it’s something I’ve kind of always thought as well. I was reminded of this with the advent of the New 52, and I was really excited for titles like Stormwatch and Justice League International. And when the titles weren’t good, I had to remember that “Oh yeah, I don’t particularly care about any of this characters, I just really liked the way Ellis/Millar and Giffen/Dematteis used them.”

And even a character like Animal Man isn’t an intrinsically good character, he’s just good as long as writers are using him in very similar ways as Grant Morrison and Jaime Delano.

@Jamie

That not really true though, because some characters (Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Daredevil, John Constantine, and several others) have been written so well by so many different writers over such a long period of time, that it’s rather obvious they’re simply great characters.

What Brian is saying is in reference to characters that have only been good in very specific and limited incarnations, which means they aren’t necessarily good characters across the continuum. Moon Knight is a great example. Marvel keeps thinking Moon Knight can work as a solo series because of the fondness an entire generation of comic fans has for the Moench/Sienkiewicz era. But the lesson there isn’t that those fans loved Moon Knight, it’s that Bill Sienkiewicz was on the title at the exact moment that he was turning into one of the greatest comic artists of all-time, and that title was where he developed, experimented, and became the amazing artist that everyone remembers. And Moench did a great job of catering the title to Sienkiewicz’s abilities and fueling his experimental art. But, none of that really had much to do with Moon Knight; it was just a great partnership at a specific moment that had the benefit of creative control over a minor character.

DC needs new blood to torture and eventually kill off.

They’ve also mentioned that Tim Drake will play a substantial part in the weekly. Hopefully they can slowly reintroduce Steph as a support character for Tim before fully reintegrating her.

Its not an issue for so i’ll just hope that new steph is as cool as the old one was.

I call it the ROM factor, because ROM fans act like ROM coming back would be the greatest thing ever, when what they really want is more of the Mantlo/Buscema run from the ’80s, and that’s clearly never happening. It wouldn’t even happen if Mantlo and Buscema were available to do more ROM, because it’s been 30 friggin’ years, and Mantlo and Buscema would be different creators. But try explaining that to ROM fans.

I have essentially boycotted the New 52 because they eliminated Stephanie (as well as Cassandra Cain, Kate Spencer, Connor Hawke, Helena Bertinelli, etc.), but now I will be buying every issue of Batman Eternal. FINALLY they listened to the fans! Before worrying how she’s handled, I’m going to give the creators the benefit of the doubt. After all, I had never read anything by Bryan Q. Miller before Batgirl #1, and he became Steph’s definitive writer. Looking forward to reading DC again!

Brian – there are a number of new characters Stephanie Brown can play off of including women who are similar in age – Harper Row and Carrie Kelly (in fact as I posted to day

http://dcwomenkickingass.tumblr.com/post/63920417048/stephanie-brown-is-back-the-real-story-of-what those two may even already know each other).

I do agree that the new Stephanie may not be like the old one. But you can say that for a lot of characters in the new 52.

For all we know, the Dixon development for Stephanie may still be there. Probably even the Miller development(Barbara wasn’t Batgirl for a couple of years, it is entirely possible Stephanie took up the mantle in that time instead of Cassandra). Wait and see indeed.

Even having the same creators and characters is no guarantee of good stories. Even Paul Levitz in the LSH turned a lemon now and then. Sometimes the writers just burn out on a character.

I never understood the love for Stephanie Brown. She’s never contributed significantly to any good storyline. She was always more of an appendage of Tim Drake at best.

Cassie, I get it, I love Cassie because she’s a compelling character on her own. But Stephanie Brown? She’s not compelling at all. She’s like that one kid that used to hang out with the Teen Titans that nobody liked.

I’d take it a step further, Brian.

Comic characters are an alchemy created by a specific writer and a specific artist. Through the Silver Age, artists were pretty constrained by both their House Style and editors who wanted them to ghost the previous artist. Mike Sekowsky drew the JLA by ghosting the character designs of a half dozen other artists. Marvel wanted everyone to draw as much like Kirby as possible.

All that changed with the rise of the fan community in the Bronze Age. Suddenly, there was an economic incentive for artists to have a distinctive style that they carried from title-to-title. That had three effects. The first was to shorten the runs of the artists. The second was to shift the primary story-teller role to the writer. The third was to dry up the flow of totally new characters.

All those effects are inter-related. An artist drawing nine issues per year for two years just doesn’t matter as much as a writer scripting every issue for years. New characters that change half their mysterious alchemy every few issues just don’t make the same impression as characters that were published in the same style for decades. All of that is perfectly fine when you are servicing a well-informed, retro-minded group of hardcore readers.

The problem is that the power didn’t shift with the responsibility. Once Chuck Dixon (or Bryan Q. Miller) becomes the only reason that readers care about Stephanie Brown, what function does the Editor serve and (more importantly) why do they retain virtually all the power in the relationship?

I will never understand the popularity of this character. Good for her fans that she’s back, I guess, though I had thought that the new 52 was trying to streamline a lot of the redundant characters.

at least stephanie finaly got back in the dcu and fans can be happy she is back no matter what book she is now in. for charactes don’t stay away in the comic world .

What I hope is that Nguyen and Fridolfs can then use Steph in Li’l Gotham, which is really the only decent Bat-ongoing at this point anyway ;)

I haven’t really been impressed with much of what I’ve read in the new 52 so I doubt this will change anything for me. Even when its characters I like and writers I like, I dislike it when done in the new 52.

Yeah, this is how I feel about a lot of the characters in the New 52. They give the character the same name, but really they may as well have just created a whole new character. I don’t see the point of bringing any characters we may have liked before into this new world; they’re just going to be a crushing disappointment.

Buttler, I have that reaction to the Wonder Woman series. In its own right, it’s great, but it no more feels like Wonder Woman than it does, say, J’Onn J’Onzz.

@ T.

I haven’t really been impressed with much of what I’ve read in the new 52 so I doubt this will change anything for me. Even when its characters I like and writers I like, I dislike it when done in the new 52.

That has basically been my reaction as well.

There is a certain “DC Comics” vibe that is hard to define, but is something that I have always loved. Alan Moore got it, but was still able to do his own thing within it. Grant Morrison was able to do the same. However, it has ebbing away for a long time under the current regime, but the nu52 seems to have expunged it.

@ fraser:

I’d disagree slightly.

The Azzarello/Chiang take on Wonder Woman feels like a Vertigo book. It is modern day, dark fantasy. It isn’t a character that meshes easily with any previous DCU, but at least it feels about as much like Wonder Woman as Shade or Animal Man felt like their progenitors.

I’d be happier if there wasn’t going to be ANOTHER Bat book on the the shelves for Stephanie to come back in. In my opinion she should be reintroduced slowly back into Batman or Detective Comics and then Tim Drake could be reintegrated as Robin. I’m in the minority that liked Damian, but Tim Drake is my Robin of choice. It’s sad that DC used Scott Snyder for this announcement know that all of us Bat fan boys will hang on every word that he says. Like everything else DC has done the last few years, this just feels like a huge marketing gimmick.

I loved Stephanie Brown both as Spoiler and as Batgirl. That said…I’m not sure how well she fits into the current DCU. I have a feeling she’ll be a different character. Ah, well. Nice to see she’s not forgotten, but this is the problem with a reboot: people want to cram in 20-50 years worth of characters in 2-3.

The “new 52″ is mostly a washout for me. The Legion is cancelled and I’ve dumped so many of the books I gave a run at it’s a little sad. Still holding on Birds of Prey and the Earth 2/World’s Finest set…but that it now. They seem to be flashing on a lot of the gimmickry and poor oversight Harras was known for in his last stint as EiC in the 90’s at Marvel. Not pretty.

Dean, having read the Animal Man series I’d say it’s still fairly close to its preboot character (or at least some stretches of its preboot character).

You are of course right Bryan but I am holding onto my hope that Steph comes back…rebooted but still carrying the sass and fun she had as Batgirl.

Deep down, I wish they would have put her with Cass (Black Bat). Those two together had a good dynamic and I think the pairing would make a lot of fans happy.

Just finding this, but others have hit on my own fears. That this Stephanie will not be the positive upbeat girl we saw in the Preboot universe.

I’ll wait and see.

@Third Man – if you never brought back any characters under different creators, how do you determine if the character is Spider-man or Moon Knight? When Lee and Ditko stopped working on Spider-man should it have ended? You only know Spidey is a great character (and maybe Moon Knight was just a certain creative team) because they’ve gotten more chances to succeed or fail.

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