Stephanie Brown. Formerly Spoiler, formerly a Batgirl and currently a non-entity in the DC Universe. Hers is a name that comes up almost as often as Wally West’s when it comes to grilling DC editors at conventions and in interviews. But why? She’s hardly on the same level as Wally, a character who had a lead role the DCU for over 20 years. Yet, there is a passionate fan following for Steph that wants to see justice for the character, and it’s hard to see where that passion comes from at first glance.
Some could point at her recent run as Batgirl. It really was a surprise success, and Batgirl by Bryan Q. Miller was arguably one of the best Bat-titles of its post-Battle for the Cowl era. There’s no doubt that a lot of new Stephanie Brown fans were created by this series. It was the first time Steph really had a positive leading role in a story, much less a full-on series. Everyone loves an underdog, and that’s exactly what Steph was. Be honest. No one really expected her seemingly hastily thrown together Batgirl book to be any good. Oh, but it was. People fell in love with how Miller owned the perception of Batgirl as a book made up on the spot with an unlikely star by emphasizing Steph as a character who improvised her way out of situations despite no one believing she should be Batgirl.
But there’s a problem with pointing to Batgirl as the source of the interest in Steph.
The fan following predates it.
Don’t forget that the only reason Steph got to be Batgirl was because DC brought the character back to life. They brought her back because of fan pressure. Who remembers the campaign for Steph to have her own Jason Todd-esque memorial case in the Batcave? That’s right. DC has been getting harassed by fans about Steph for years before she ever got to be Batgirl.
The reason anyone should care about her wasn’t all that obvious, though. Steph was a second tier supporting character. She was a supporting character of supporting characters. She was Tim Drake’s love interest and Cassandra Cain’s friend, qualifying her as a C-list Batman character if you were feeling generous. But you would probably have declared her D-list if you were really honest.
Steph was not really a remarkable character. So many characters like her had come and gone through the years without anyone really kicking up storm over it. We all have our favorite fringe characters, but we know of their fringe status. Even if we don’t like it, we kind of get why we don’t get to see much of them. I know my love for Sasha Bordeaux will most likely lead to nothing but disappointment. It is what it is.
Except it’s not when it comes to Stephanie Brown.
See, the thing with Steph is that it’s not so much about who she was as it is about what DC did to her. That is what got people’s attention. That’s what ignited a lot of the passion.
Years ago, Steph went from being Spoiler to Robin. Yeah. Notice how I didn’t mention that in my opening? There’s good reason. The story of Stephanie Brown as Robin -- the story of the first and only female Robin in the main universe -- was actually the story of Tim Drake not being Robin for a little while. That’s it. Steph’s only real arc in the story was to fail as Robin quickly and miserably. The female Robin... sucked. That was the story.
Immediately following this, DC had the character do something unforgivably stupid. She fumbled one of Batman’s secret plans and caused a gang war that got many people killed. This was War Games. Steph was then captured and tortured to death by Black Mask. So her character arc this time was to fail even worse than before and die a brutal death because of it.
What capped this all off was something that fans arguably brought on themselves with their own expectations. Stephanie Brown, a Robin for a short time but still a Robin, had died. She would at least get a memorial case in the Batcave, right? Wrong. DC refused to do it. Explanations varied a bit at the time, but the argument seemed to center on the idea that Steph didn’t count because she wasn’t Robin when she died. Sure, she died as a result of being Robin and stupidly trying to redeem herself in the eyes of Batman for her failings as Robin. But... she didn’t. So... she wouldn’t.
And so the passionate cult following of Stephanie Brown was born.
I don’t think it has ever really been much about who Steph was as opposed to what she was. A female character. A female character whose sole purpose seemed to become being mistreated a few times over. Steph was now the postergirl for DC’s poor treatment of female characters, born out of DC’s refusal to even say she was worth remembering with a simple memorial in the Batcave. The man has a giant penny in there. He can’t have a little memorial? DC had treated their Girl Wonder far different and far worse than any Boy Wonder. There was no prerequisite of being a Steph fan to care about that.
Eventually, DC relented to the pressure from fans by bringing Steph back, returning her to her old role as Tim Drake’s supporting cast member. Now, I’d argue this misses the point of all the passion and outrage. There was still no case. Steph’s return seemed more about moving on from the mistreatment that really doing anything to try to make up for it. Moving on like it all never happened was probably easier for DC. In fact, I would wager in that in the new continuity, Steph never even became Robin.
But DC did bring Steph back. And they did eventually try to make up for things by making her Batgirl. So why is the passion for the character still out there the same as ever? Why was there a woman dressed as Steph grilling DC over their overall treatment of female characters at a conventidon? Why did Bleeding Cool think it would be a good way to rile people by announcing a Spoiler series as an April Fools’ joke?
Because... where is Steph now?
After years of outrage and frustration, fans finally got thrown a bone when Steph began starring in her own Batgirl title. It was a well done series that generated a lot of goodwill that had been lost. Then just as quickly as it had come about, it was ended and thrown out of continuity by the New 52. Barbara Gordon has become Batgirl again, and Steph is simply absent. And with Tim Drake awkwardly sidelined as Red Robin, it’s doesn’t seem like she has any place to even go.
Fans are struggling to understand why it turned out like this. DC has explained that they believe it was best to go with the most accessible version of Batgirl, namely Babs as she has appeared in television and movies in the role. But this just brings up that same double standard again. Why does a female character like Steph get discarded for not being accessible enough? The same standard applied to Batgirl was not applied to Robin. No one can argue that there’s even anything accessible about Damian Wayne. Plus, his very existence breaks DC’s new five year continuity. Yet, Damian stays. Tim stays. Jason stays. Dick stays.
This is why people care, and still care, about Stephanie Brown. She has become an indicator of how DC really treats its female characters. Oh, DC will point to Batwoman and show you Justice League covers with Wonder Woman standing in the center. But look at Steph instead and you’ll see how DC has bent over backwards for all its Boy Wonders but screwed over its Girl Wonder yet again.