Op-Ed: I don’t care about Steph Brown (But I’m glad you do)

Booster Gold just faded away.

But he’ll be back. Or he won’t. And that’s ok.Booster

I’m about to type the most controversial words I’ve yet put on this site. Words that I have feared to put on Twitter or say on the podcast.

I don’t care about Stephanie Brown.

Hear me out! I don’t hate Stephanie. I’m sure she’s great. I don’t care because I had never read a story with her when the New 52 was launched and she wasn’t included. I’ve read a couple since but still have no emotional attachment, any more than I was attached to Kamandi when he vanished in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The first time I heard her name was in the context of “…has been retconned out.”

I don’t care about Steph, but I am thrilled if you do. Tell me your favourite character is Batman and the conversation will move on to movies. Tell me your favourite is Steph or Cass or Vibe or Wildcat and we’re talking comics all night.

I also don’t care about Cass. Or really Wally, come to think of it. Or Omac, who reappeared instead of disappeared. I love love love Ted Kord, but I’m actually fine that he has disappeared into the limbo of comics.

Booster is my favourite character ever. Steph has been retconned out, but there are people who actively hate Booster (fools). I’ve rarely encountered anyone who hates Steph.

I was rereading Grant Morrison’s Animal Man today and it reminded me, as so much has this past year, of the post-Crisis era. The changes to New 52 are laughably minor compared to Crisis. You mailed waffles after a year of Steph-less DC, Kara Zor-El Supergirl was gone 17 years! Some have never returned.

And that’s ok.

In Morrison’s Animal Man, Buddy discovers that he and everyone around him lives inside a comic book. The third trade paperback of that run should be required reading of anyone still feeling anger about the New 52 (including my good pal and co-host Mo). Morrison writes a catharsis of the post-Crisis anger, and believe me and the old guys, anger there was. The JSA were relegated to the history books, gone were the infinite Earths and the adventures thereon. Gone were Superboy, Supergirl and Krypto. Nonsense were the origins of Black Canary, Huntress, Power Girl, the Legion of Super-Heroes and oh so many others.

But that was what started me reading. The elimination of all that baggage made me a monthly DC reader for 15 years. I drifted away though, but returned when word of just such a reboot on the horizon. One of the stated goals of the New 52 reboot was to bring back the 90s readers who had wandered away. Me. They wanted me. And I’m back.

Though I wish I could make each of you stop and read Morrison’s Animal Man, I’ll just insert a few panels that fit the conversation.

 

Morrison’s Psycho Pirate, the only character who remembered the pre-Crisis continuity, becomes the voice of the reader who is angry over the reboot. He carries all of those worlds in his head and wants to remake it all. But the time has passed. And that’s ok.

Morrison has Buddy go through Comic Book Limbo, where all of the characters go that no one is using. When a new idea comes along, they get to leave and live again. A quick peak at the characters Morrison thought in 1989 would be gone forever is quite telling. You’ll see Jemm, Mr Freeze, Captain Carrot, and the Space Canine Control Agents. All of whom have made big or small returns (except the Space Canine Control Agents, I mean, c’mon). They mention in passing that B’wana Beast just got a surprise trip out. He appeared in Morrison’s Animal Man.

I can remember clearly getting so angry every time there was rumour of undoing Crisis. “The post-Crisis world is mine, you had your time”, teenage me thought. I hope very much that there is a teenager today thinking the same thing whenever someone talks about the increasingly remote possibility of undoing the New 52 reboot. I want them angry. If they are angry it’s because it is theirs. They own it. I hope I can go along for the ride a bit.

It would be horribly condescending to say “get over it.” You won’t. I hope when your favourite “benched” character comes back you love what they’ve done with them. I hope it’s like old times (like Booster’s title by Johns and Jurgens) and not I-really-wish-you-hadn’t (like Booster’s time in Extreme Justice).

I don’t want you to “get over it,” but I do suggest, humbly, politely, respectfully – find something new to love instead of being angry. The New 52 reboot is something that happened. It isn’t something that happened to you.

Steph isn’t gone. You love her. Her stories exist. And one day someone who loves her will be asked by an editor “do you have any story pitches?” and they’ll say “ya, I have an idea for a new version of Stephanie Brown.” She’ll leave Comic Book Limbo, for a while or for a moment.

Until then, every time you read one of her stories, she lives again.

And that’s really ok too.

Keith is the co-host of We Talk Comics and is rereading 52 … featuring Booster Gold. He talks comics new and old on Twitter as CubReporterK.

Grant Morrison’s Animal Man is collected in trade paperback as Animal Man vol 1-3 (Animal Man, Origin of the Species and Deus Ex Machina). The first 9 issues (vol 1) are available through Comixology.

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10 thoughts on “Op-Ed: I don’t care about Steph Brown (But I’m glad you do)

  1. You say you’ve never met anyone who hated Stephanie Brown? Well I hate Stephanie Brown. I hate Stephanie Brown because she was handed title after title without ever earning them or showing once she was worthy of them. I hate Stephanie Brown because she kicked the single greatest Batgirl we’ve ever had out of comics and put her into comic limbo that lead to her getting a stupid costume and a stupid name. I hate Stephanie Brown because despite Batman (Cass and Dinah) saying that she was inept at being a hero and she’d get someone killed, she is handed Robin, gets fired, dies, then comes back to be rewarded for failing miserably because “its her time”. I hate Stephanie Brown because her time as Robin and Batgirl lowered the bar set by Batman to almost nothing. I hate Stephanie Brown because by making her Robin and later Batgirl, you taint the legacy for those who came before her and make it seem as if they hadn’t earned the title properly the way she didn’t. I hate Stephanie Brown because she was the first Batgirl that was differentiated herself from her male counterparts like Barbara with her photographic memory and Cass with her martial arts skills and ability to read body language (I will remind people at this point that Helena Bertinelli never called herself or was called in the comic, Batgirl). I hate Stephanie Brown because her fans are a small group of very vocal whiners that think because despite the fact that she was handed things time and again with by editorial mandate that they think she deserves yet more hand outs and/or that editors now hate her. I hate Stephanie Brown because she’s a blond bimbo who despite years of training from Tim Drake, Black Canary, and Cassandra Cain, never learned a single thing until she magically gets her own title and takes massive leaps in growth. I hate Stephanie Brown because Joss Whedon wrote her first as Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and he did it better. I hate Stephanie Brown because despite the fact she sold considerably less than the other two on-going Batgirl titles, people think she has more fans than the other two. I hate Stephanie Brown because a very, very small fan base, keep making her the center of everything that is wrong with DC.

    For all those reasons and more, I hate Stephanie Brown. She was a nobody background character for years that never grew or changed, but now she’s apparently the single greatest character DC ever created? I call shenanigans. If you’re mad Stephanie Brown is gone, read Batwoman and learn about Bette Kane, the original Stephanie Brown, who has at least TRYING to grow and become stronger in her own right, not just demanding it.

    • While I doubt that I will be able to change your mind (Internet debate is by-and-large a fruitless endeavor), I must respectfully disagree with your analysis of Stephanie.

      One of the reasons why Stephanie is my favorite character in comics is because of her growth through the pages of Robin, Batgirl (Cass’ series), and Batgirl (her own series), not to mention the other titles she appeared in over the years. Stephanie felt like one of the most naturally progressing characters in all of comics. From her motivations to her skills to her friendships and relationships, seeing her develop was a joy that embraced change.

      I find it almost ironic that you cite editorial mandate as her reasons for “sudden, undeserved” progressing, while I cite editorial mandate as the reasons for trying to keep her suppressed, even forgotten, when she deserved to be so much more!

      If you truly believe what you say you do, I just have to wonder if we were reading the same series. Stephanie’s developing skills and growing friendships made her one of the most relatable characters in comics history to me. Her place in the Batworld truly felt earned–after she earned it! And that did take a while! But her persistence is part of her wonderful charm that I feel is something woefully missing from the New52 today. And (getting back to Keith’s point) while I can go back and re-read that amazing progression again and again in my many back-issues, it still makes me sad to think that new adventures are currently on hold.

      Steph and Cass have one of the most amazingly real friendships in comics. Two characters so different, brought together by a shared cause, and seeing the potential in each other and in helping each other, using their individual strengths to help the other overcome their individual weaknesses. Now, this is a New52 book that I would buy in a heartbeat.

    • Sorry you feel the way you do but I think your post points out that Keith is wrong about his assertion that there aren’t a fair number of Steph haters. And they may well be the reason the Steph Brown character is considered “toxic.” I think it is because they feel the character somehow pushed aside characters they liked such as Cass or Babs or even Tim briefly although that turned out to be a bait and switch move. But it’s just not so. Neither Cass nor Babs had an ongoing Batgirl title that was replaced by a Steph Batgirl title. Steph’s Batgirl title on the other hand WAS replaced while still selling more than a number of current new 52 titles.

      Steph Brown is actually my favorite character for exactly some of the reasons you seem to dislike her. I get tired of characters having to be super savants at something to be considered worthy. To me the most important attribute is the desire to do good. I liked Steph’s progression over time precisely because she did what she could without being a super savant with a special ability.

      I did try reading Batwoman but gave up when Bette was gutted. I know that they say Bette is going to eventually come back more determined than ever. I just didn’t see the need to give her some traumatic tortured past to overcome. That makes her more like every other boring Bat instead of different. I’d prefer there to be at least one relatively light optimistic non-superpowered heroine that I could enjoy somewhere. One that hasn’t been darkened up to make her fit the current vision that all heroes have to be dark and tortured. Steph had a tortured past but in Miller’s Batgirl run all of that stuff had finally been put behind and at long last we had one heroine who was the bright optimistic persona that a real hero should be in my mind.

      That really gets to the core of why the new 52 doesn’t work for me. They’ve doubled down on dark and violent. I understand that a lot of folks like that and that’s fine. I fail to see the need for a line of “Dark” books if everything is going to be dark. I would suggest perhaps a line of “Bright” books then for those who might want to read about heroes rather than anti-heroes. I frequently hear talk about diversity in comics as regards things like race, gender and sexual orientation. How about some diversity in tone? Dark books for that crowd but a few bright books for the rest of us? Just my two cents. How about a title focused on heart, hope and humor for a change? How about the Further Awesome Adventures of the Unsinkable Stephanie Brown? Or even Kickass Cass and Waffle Chef Steph? Make it fun again, not depressing.

  2. Keith,

    I appreciate your article. I appreciate your positive outlook and your encouraging words. I can even see your point, as with Matt “@FotoCub” SantoriGriffith before you. I only wish I could feel the same way you both do.

    I take issue with your point (and Morrisons, and many others) who say things like, “they still exist in the back issues!” Of course they do. But that doesn’t immediately take away the sting of knowing that they are gone now. Hell, half the time it just makes it worse. As I re-read Cassandra Cain, Babs-as-Oracle, or my all-time favorite character, Stephanie Brown, every page is bittersweet. As much as I am enjoying rereading the various stories, there’s ALWAYS this thought in the back of my mind that these stories no longer “count”; that are not NEW stories being written with these characters, and that the universe where they once mattered has literally forgotten that they exist. They may live again, but only replaying the same things they have already done, and that’s never a totally happy thing.

    Secondly, the point of “They will come back someday!” is not as comforting as you may think. It’s even worse when time-tables are pointed out (“17 years” for Kara Zor-El to return, for example). I just turned 30. Am I really expected to be HAPPY about the possibility that I could be PUSHING FIFTY by the time I get to read Stephanie Brown or Cassandra Cain again? You may call it impatience, but I find it critical to keep these characters in the forefront of fans’ and creators’ minds. If not, then yeah, it may be until “my generation” of fans takes control of DC offices before they see the light of day again–and at what characters’ expense then? What fans then will have THEIR characters benched just so I can see mine again? Believe it or not, continuing the cycle of regression is NOT an appealing thing. That’s why I don’t want these characters to fade from the current public’s minds.

    I see your point. I respectfully do not entirely agree with it. Even trying to set aside the fact that I DO feel like the New52 Reboot is something that happened “to me” (where you feel like they wanted you back, I feel like they want me gone), I just don’t think they mentality of letting these characters fade quietly into the night just because I can re-read their already-written adventures (that are explicitly stated in currently-written stories to have never happened now) is the best thing to do.

    I’ve found books in the New52 that I can enjoy. But they are far less in number than I was enjoying before. And some things, like the loss of Oracle and Steph and Cass, sting to the point of making enjoyment of Babs-as-Batgirl impossible. And that’s just tragic.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Matt. My reference on Kara is not so much “it might be a while” as “a year isn’t that long.” JSA took 6 years to come back, Kara 17, Morgan Edge about 5, and Superboy’s original concept basically was never used again (aside I think from Johns Secret Origin).

      I know the anger toward Didio but I’ve never seen him say never. He always says some unspecified time in the future. That might not be good enough, but it’s not a flat no like Kara and Superman’s-Adventures-as-a-boy got in 1986.

      Even in his maligned comments last week, Didio said “they will be back eventually, and they are waiting for the right story”

      As I said, I hope you like how she comes back as much as you loved her stories before. My experience is that it isn’t always the case. You might have something else eating at you if next month they announced “Steph Brown is joining Red Hood & The Outlaws!”

      • Indeed. It’s always the risk–and one reason why in all my letters and expanded comments to DC and its editors, I’ve emphasized WHY I like Stephanie Brown. Characters returning in-name-only is never good. I haven’t felt like I can call myself a Cassie Sandsmark Wonder Girl fan in some time, and she used to be another favorite.

        It has been only a year. Even I have to admit that is a short time. (Geoff Johns only averages two story arcs per book in that span!) While I still dread the notion of waiting 20 more, the bigger thing is that within this year, so much has been wiped out, and that’s what stings. But that’s obvious, so I won’t go into it.

        (My issues with Dan DiDio go back way before this, though. I’ll never be a fan of the man.)

  3. Getting retconned out of existence is the best thing that ever happened to a lot of characters. It saves them from the eternal skull-humping of later creators. Marvel’s The Vison would be better off if it was always 1978 and there are countless others.

    Continuity is over rated. Cherry pick the stories that work for you and ignore the rest. I come and go from these things all the time. I can’t think of any Marvel/DC character or series that I’ve stuck with from beginning to end, or where I thought the characters weren’t eventually under-served, screwed-over, forgotten or exploited at some point.

    Alan Moore opened one of my favorite Superman stories of all time (the last Superman story before Crisis I think) by writing something like “This is an imaginary story (aren’t they all?)” We comics fans would be well advised to take those words to heart, especially if we are going to form lasting attachments to corporate assets that exist primarily (exclusively?) to generate profits.

    Unless, of course, the nerd rage is part of the fun for you … then rage on, brother, rage on.

    • Is continuity overrated?

      First of all, that is one of my favorite things about comics: that it builds on its own history. Origins and previous adventures are accounted for, and, ideally, a character truly grows and doesn’t just remain stagnant. One of the reasons I could not get into all of the recent DC Animated movies was because it was a constant “reset” each time, unlike the fantastic fun that was watching Batman: The Animated Series universe grow and expand all the way into Justice League Unlimited. It gives you something to invest in, and all-the-more reason to go back and see where your characters once were.

      Secondly, can continuity be called “overrated” when so many consider it the evil that is to be avoided at all cost? From creators to fans, the word seems to be anathema these days, often cited as this terrible thing that is to be avoided at all costs. If anything, I feel like the blessings of continuity are undervalued today.

      Should continuity be a tyrant? No. But should it be something that should be used and respected? Yes. Or at least, that’s how I feel. How can one really get attached to this new continuity when, deep down, they know that given time, it’s just going to get wiped away as unimportant, too?

      Continuity is underrated.

      • Except that it was always so. the 1960s DC Silver Age was a reboot. Crisis OIE too. And warm-start reboots at Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis. The option is Marvel’s non-rebooting which I find increasingly clunky.

        I also don’t find continuity to be a bad thing. But continuity in this case ran from the 1960s-1985, 1985-2011, 2011-whenever it goes.

        I wrote about continuity a year ago, right before the reboot and while my blood was still hot. http://www.thecorrectness.com/comics/continuity-entropy-or-%e2%80%9cthe-nerdiest-op-ed-you-will-read-all-week%e2%80%9d/

      • @MattNatt “How can one really get attached to this new continuity when, deep down, they know that given time, it’s just going to get wiped away as unimportant, too?”

        Well, that’s just it — you can’t get attached, or you shouldn’t, because continuity really is genuinely unimportant, or at least significantly less important than so many other elements of storytelling that it frequently encumbers.

        Adherence to continuity above story (as is so often the case in this field) discourages new readers, confuses returning readers, and disrupts otherwise-satisfactory stand-alone tales by accommodating off-stage, line-wide, continuity-driven crossovers and editorial events. Character growth and change is the soul of fiction but too often this is confused with trivia and minutia that discourages effective storytelling.

        When Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing discovered he was a new kind of being who only thought he was Alec Holland, it unlocked a brilliant run of new Swamp Thing stories that acknowledged previous continuity but were not encumbered by it. Meanwhile, over at Marvel, the Spider-Man Clone Saga grew from a four-issue story to a four-and-a-half-year, continuity-driven train wreck which alienated core fans, confused casual fans, and saw Spider-Man circulation drop by fifty percent.

        It’s not that continuity is bad per se — it’s more that continuity for its own sake misses the point, and too often that’s all we get in comic books, driven as they are by short-term gimmicks that litter comics with the debris of half-assed ideas that succeeding creators have to keep around because it’s, you know, part of the continuity. And so when the time comes that your favorite character is encumbered by a sex change, a hook hand, and an underage ward from an undiscovered moon of Uranus, cancellation or a reboot are pretty much your only options …

        … because the unwise application of continuity has destroyed that character. Because creators and editors so focused on next month’s sales, with so little respect for characters and properties built up over the last half-century, decided, yeah, sure, it will be cool to kill this spouse or erase these children or rape this wife or change this costume or whatever, and that throws a big rock in the continuity pond that everyone has to deal with, even if they’d prefer to look away and continue enjoying their own little corner of the comic book world where those things might not otherwise intrude.

        I like long runs where characters change. Recently I’ve read the Bendis/Maleev Daredevil run where our characters are subject to all sorts of mischief, and it’s nice that the story continues right into Ed Brubaker’s run, which takes the story into even darker directions. These are fine tales, and they employ continuity and the characters transform, and they’re great reading. I don’t think they’d be remotely improved by including Matt Murdoch’s “wacky twin brother” Mike from the silver age Daredevil run, or by somehow tying everyone up in knots explaining how Matt Murdoch was of a contemporary age with the blind soldier he met in issue #68 during the Viet Nam war yet he still appears to be thirty-something years old in 2005. And I don’t think Mark Waid’s new run on Daredevil would be half as successful or entertaining if he had to drag around every element of dysfunctional continuity from Bendis and Brubaker in defining his take on the Man Without Fear.

        In the hands of the right creators, continuity can be a boon that give comics a unique, long-form storytelling spin few genres can match. But too often they are a crutch or a tail that wags the dog and I will take a fresh take from a new team than continuity-driven fan service any day.

        And isn’t it a funny thing that you defend continuity, while I disdain it, yet we still both dislike those reboots. Hmm. Something’s broken here.

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