Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Friday, May 05, 2006

What's in a Name?

While surfing about for WFA links, I found myself mildly interested by this. It's good to see female fans making their voices heard.

But there's something that bothers me about *Stephanie Brown* being made into some sort of feminist crusade.

Don't get me wrong, Stephanie Brown was a fun and interesting character on the pages of Robin. I liked her. I'm sad that she died.

But to use her as some sort of gender issue, to me, seems like a bit of a stretch.

Because, honestly, to me, Steph wasn't really Robin. I'm sorry, but she wasn't. She was a contrivance because they wanted to have the emotional impact of killing off a Robin without sacrificing the very developed and very useful Tim Drake.

They figured out some contrived way to get Tim out of the suit and picked Steph because she was the only option around. It's not like, despite popular belief, there was another teenage vigilante waiting in the wings with some vague association with Batman. Cass was there, but she was already in the Batgirl role from which going to Robin would be a sidestep that didn't really make sense.

Honestly, they probably picked Steph above say, Bernard or Ives, because she was more of a known presence (as much as being a sidekick of a sidekick entails) and would need less training so the two Robin issues with a blond girl on the cover (ooo! A blond girl Robin?! What's going on?!) would be action packed and finished quickly.

And no matter what Bruce says in War Games about making her Robin because of her, his actions speak louder than words. While Tim was in the suit, the only reason she got any training from Batman was because of her relationship with Tim. She was elevated to Robin, probably because, from Bruce's perspective, she was the closest thing to Tim. That was the attitude he showed, especially when he fired her ultimately for disobedience. (when did any other Robin get fired for disobedience? Tim and Jason disobeyed all the time, and Dick was fired for placing the Titans higher in importance than Gotham apparently after multiple offenses.)

Now, sure Steph could have been made into a good Robin, but Bruce showed no real interest or concern toward making her into a real Robin, and from his actions clearly didn't see her as one.

And thus of course she's not going to get a monument in the cave, even though he did indirectly cause her death. He's indirectly caused a lot of folks's death, but they don't get monuments either. Whatever he said to comfort her as she was horribly injured, he didn't see her as a Robin. The Robins were his adopted children (Dick or Jason) or his would be successor (Tim). Steph never had that bond with him and was never going to.

She was a *minor* character in a subordinate book. She was cool. And the Spoiler costume is one of the awesomest in comics. But she's not going to get remembered as a Robin when she'd only been shoe-horned into the role to begin with. And that's not because she's a girl. It's because she's a *substitute*. It'd have been the same thing for Ives or Bernard.

It was, I bet you ten to one, editorial mandate. They picked Steph because she had qualities A, B, C. Also probably because she's so strikingly visually different from the genuine article that it'd be obvious. Because it was so formulaic, the writers are going to ignore it as much as possible.

Which sucks. It sucks that a great supporting character was briefly elevated to a main role to be sacrificed (either literally or characterization-wise), but that's not new to comics. And it's not about gender...unless Jean-Paul Valley's hiding something...

It's like the use of Alexandra DeWitt for feminist crusades. It doesn't fit. These are subordinate characters, designed specifically to outline aspects of the main characters, ready to be sacrificed when the plot takes them. Alex was designed to die, like the Waynes, the Graysons, and Janet Drake. Spoiler was designed to be, basically, a sidekick's sidekick.

Now Jade. Yeah, there's a feminist crusade. A character that's been around since before I was born, but never properly developed as anything more than the acquaintance of others, written unevenly, scapegoated, with her potential squandered to be finally killed in a pointless way. Yeah I can see it. In fact, when I think about it, it does make me angry. But I remember that this is comics, and as unimportant as she is, she's got enough ties to important characters like Alan and Kyle to be brought back to life eventually. And maybe finally given to a writer willing to explore her potential. (Hmph, *I*'d do it. If ever they were willing to hire me. :-) Heck, if I screwed her up more they could always kill her again. :-))

Still I wish the women (and men) doing the Girl-Wonder thing luck. Because while I could care less if she ever gets a case in the batcave (she wasn't Bruce's daughter, after all. Not like Jason was his son. Cass might be, but Steph was never) but I would like them to finally acknowledge her loss in the book that created her.

I don't expect them to reference her being Robin again, really. Why should they? She wasn't Robin for a terribly long time (the Robin ongoing has it for quite a while, but everywhere else has it at a very short time: couple of weeks at most). When people talk of Azrael's (presumed) death, they don't call/consider him Batman.

The Robin thing was a brief interlude. She was created as Spoiler, she was the most interesting as Spoiler, and she died as Spoiler. She's Spoiler.

But it would be nice to see Tim acknowledge his loss.


  • At May 05, 2006 7:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Open Question;What are 5 signs that a character is being Shoehorned....

  • At May 05, 2006 7:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I suppose I more or less agree with you. The gender of the sacrificial lamb in the Robin suit didn't really matter. Why the editorial staff thought dressing up a secondary character in the Robin suit and killing them was a cool idea.. is not a feminist issue. Bad writing isn't a feminist issue...

    This is a good post, because I was just thinking of this character and the fact that her death bugged me. You've helped clarify why.

    The part that bugs me *is* Bruce's utter lack of concern about the matter. She's dead and he doesn't give a shit. He mourns Jason (who was, as you said, no obedient choirboy himself), broods over Dick and probably worries about Tim. But from what I saw he never gave much of a damn about Stephanie.

    It was like she was a brightly colored toy rather then a person. I wonder if it's because she's a girl (ooh- Bruce doesn't LIKE girls :p), or if it was because she was a girl with a rough past (tainted therefore- women can never be forgiven for mistakes). Either way, though, his complete indifference to her just seems really ugly to me.

    Is that a feminist issue? Beats me. The issue for me is mostly just that it makes me like Bruce a whole lot less. I've lost a lot of sympathy for him, so maybe now I don't enjoy reading stories about him so much. Is *that* a feminist issue? I guess it isn't really.

  • At May 05, 2006 9:40 AM, Blogger CalvinPitt said…

    Ah, but Tim can't mourn her, because that would defy DC's efforts to make him into the next Emotionless Dick Batman.

    You know, I still say that if Dr. Thompkins wanted to teach Bruce a lesson, it was stupid to let someone she wasn't mad at die to do it.

    Seriously, Bats comes to the clinic, tell him Steph is doing poorly. Cue Batman feeling sorry, and telling Steph all the crap he said. While he's being all emo, stab him with a scalpel, yell at him, kick him out, and SAVE THE PATIENT'S LIFE!

    Ugh, editorial mandate, can there be two crappier words in the English language?

  • At May 05, 2006 10:33 AM, Blogger Azrael said…

    Nor would I want them to. I was a *horrible* Batman...

  • At May 05, 2006 11:18 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anonymous: Well for me it could work as:

    A: Character 1 is a particular superhero, basically the defining superhero for this particular comic line. All of a sudden, very contrived circumstances require character 1 to quit and character 2 is placed in the same spot.

    B: Character 2 is placed in said spot in a manner that defies preceeding characterizations. The mentor character 3 never approved nor did he even know her very much, and yet suddenly Character 2 is appropriate in that position.

    C: When despite the former hard feelings between Character 3 and 2, they're resolved in, basically, the same issue or the next from when Character 1 leaves. An Ironic Juxtaposition when one remembers it'd taken literally months for Character 1 to win enough to replace predecessor characters 4 and dead character 5.

    D: When Character 2 is instantly placed into Character 1's position for about two issues of every related book. Enough to have been visible as Character 1's replacement, before being fired in as contrived a way as Character 1's quitting. A way that isn't consistent with Character 3's previous actions (as hiring Character 2 to begin with was also inconsistent.)

    Finally E: When the character is killed in a plotline that advertizes killing the person in Character 1's position, however, character 2 has stopped being that position in earlier issues, and in this plotline Character 1 has reclaimed his title. Subsequent stories in this plot ultimately use the evocative image of Character 2 in the suit, dead, when she hadn't been when she was killed. Basically demonstrating that the company wanted the impact of killing the person in character 1's position without killing character 1.

    Or basically my whole essay. :-P

    indicia: I don't know, the whole Stephanie thing did become a huge plot in War Crimes, even if the ultimate justification or it (Leslie) basically is an attempt to rob Bruce of any culpability. He's shown signs of being angry on her behalf at least. Even if it was rather impersonal. It's his attitude while she was alive that bugs me more.

    It's clearly not because she's a girl: He cares deeply about Cass and Barbara and Selina. And it's not the rough past, considering Selina's street kid/prostitute background, Cass's once-assassin-ness or heck, even Jason Todd trying to steal the damn car's tires.

    I think they've at least tried to make Steph's death have an impact on the Batman comic and the character, even if it's a little poorly done and overshadowed by the return of Jason Todd. Now the complete lack of adequate emotional closure in Robin is more unforgivable in my opinion, as she was very close to Tim.

    Calvin: However Bruce can be angry/grieving of characters clearly, so that doesn't make sense. Honestly, I think this is an example of bad timing (his dad dying at the same time means Tim can only really visibly grieve for one without nothing else happening in the comic) and the uneven mix of styles...Willingham is minimalistic in this sort of emotional storytelling.

    But I definitely agree with you that the motivation made no sense. It was some sort of parable about playing god, setting up some kind of metaphor between her role and Bruce's, but that sort of meta-symbolism only works if it's internally consistant and this wasn't.

    Leslie's motives didn't make sense. Her character, as established, would not have done that. Your scenario is much more plausible and in character...and the injuries/seriousness of the screw up would have allowed Steph to retire and possibly even isolate herself from the Batclan (if they really didn't want her in Robin), and this whole debate would be moot.

    azrael: Aww, you gave it your best shot. Also, Steph was not a particularly successful Robin either. I don't think this was completely her fault, they shoved her in the role than had him fire her so quick she didn't have time to learn the ropes...just enough to be identified as Robin.

    But that's cheap, I think. Memorializing her in that role she served as, badly, versus memorializing her as the identity she was for years, the identity that highlighted her personality in a way that was appealing and emotionally resonant. The identity where she was becoming very skilled and competent...

    *Spoiler* is the identity that she should be remembered as. Not as the subpar Robin. (And again, the lack of case doesn't bother me because she was not his *son*. Jason Todd was his adopted kid/ward as much as he was a Robin, like Dick before him. Steph wasn't. Why would she, not his daughter, be mourned as he would his son?)

  • At May 05, 2006 11:30 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    As an addendum in general: I'll give the writers a benefit of the doubt and say that I think what they're going for is the unspoken acknowledgement. The idea that Steph's death is partial underlying motivation for Bruce's current maturity and attempts to make things right.

    Unfortunately there's a list of other possible reasons too: Jason's return, Dick's near-death, Selina's pregnancy, Kal-L's shock statement...

    Now what the writers should have done was read Beau Smith's Warrior. THAT is how you use the death of a character as an overwhelming underlying force within the main character's life while almost never mentioning it.

    For me, reading that series, (once you get past the art) it was so damn obvious how important Tora Olafsdotter had been and was to Guy Gardner. Her death was so much a presence that it only took the occasional mention (i.e. Supergirl taking her form to shock him out of hypnosis, the two times we saw Olaf and their shared understated grief).

    I suppose it was because of the strength of the times the writer used her appearances. Her death had been much more contrived than Steph's (in fact could be another, more valid, feminist issue), and there was no concluding emotional War Crimes-esque arc. But there didn't need to be. Every time he crossed paths with another who knew and loved her, like Olaf and Fire, their shared grief was like a damned palpable, uniting them where they'd initially been strangers or enemies. And her actual references/appearances were very few and far between.

    I suppose it's not unlike Steph's appearances in Batgirl, which much as I didn't care for the series in general (too much emphasis on being the strongest, and fighting for the position, when more interesting stories stayed untold) I have to admit was well done. Only way it could be better (i.e. equalled Warrior) was if she very occasionally crossed paths with Steph's mother to share their grief.

    But it's a shame none of the other series knew how to do that...

  • At May 05, 2006 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Superboy punches the universe.

    Spoiler was never Robin.

    Leslie Thompkins -- the kindly old woman who took a grieving boy's hand on the coldest night of his life -- never a murdered a child.

    Superboy punches the universe.

  • At May 05, 2006 12:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Superboy punches Universe,Fandom punches Superboy,Superboy lands on his big,red S....End of Story.(for now....)

  • At May 05, 2006 12:10 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    athelind: You know, I could go for that. I'm not much for retcons, but that'd be fine with me. She can retire or something, even be injured and be recovering at a hospice via Bruce Wayne's money. That'd be fine with me.

    anon: heh.

  • At May 06, 2006 12:50 PM, Blogger Marc Burkhardt said…

    Actually, I hope that whole thing about Batman "firing" Robins was retconned the heck away. Initially, I believe, Dick simply grew up and went off on his own to college, Barbara and the Teen Titans.

    What's so bad about that?

    Early in Winick's run, Bruce did show deep regret over Stephanie's death. But rather than wallow in angst, he just internalized it and became even more of a jerk. Then Jason came back, etc. etc.

    Leslie Thompkins never would have let a girl die just to teach Bruce a lesson. That's even too harsh for the Silver Age Superman!

    Maybe it's better Tim isn't openly mourning Steph. Then he'd be trying to clone her too...


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