June 12, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Characters Case File #465: Stephanie Brown

Stephanie Brown: a woman of many aliases.

Last week, I covered the Cluemaster here and said something to the effect that I probably had to cover his daughter Stephanie at some point.  Well, here she is.

What superhero name should I refer to her with?  She’s had at least three that I know of.

Stephanie Brown, daughter of Arthur “Cluemaster” Brown, first appeared in Detective Comics #648.  The July, 1992 issue was the work of writer Chuck Dixon and artist Tom Lyle, soon to be the creative team behind Tim Drake’s solo Robin title, and the pair would take Stephanie with them when they did so.  Regardless, Stephanie Brown’s basic origin story was she learned her father Arthur was the villainous Cluemaster.  Seeing as how he had stopped leaving clues behind and she disapproved of his activities, she started leaving clues behind herself for Batman and Robin.  She gave her name as “Spoiler,” and while I remember the issue where she first used the name ended with Batman’s seeming approval, that changed not long after that because this was the 90s when Batman was at his peak “control freak” period where he would routinely swing around the city and tell other vigilantes that they weren’t welcome in “his” city and that they should leave or something.  He did it to the Huntress, he did it to Spoiler, and it probably wouldn’t take much effort to find a host of other young or new heroes he did it to.

As it is, Stephanie would soon be a supporting character in Robin’s book where she’d be something of a love interest for the Boy Wonder.  She even had a teenage pregnancy storyline at one point (Tim was not the father, but he was the Lamaze class partner), eventually giving the child up for adoption.  That was in 1998, and that storyline got some praise.

A later one, not so much so.  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Suffice to say as Robin’s girlfriend, my biggest impression reading over his Wikipedia summary is that she and Tim seemed to be constantly breaking up or finding a reason to put a wedge between themselves and then making up.  It’s almost embarrassing all things being equal.  She helps Robin find a missing girl, and she suspects he’s cheating on her and that drives a wedge between them until they make up.  Or Batman tells Stephanie Robin’s real name and then he gets mad at her, driving a wedge between them until they make up.  I realize the characters are probably supposed to be young and all, but that seems ridiculous, even for fictional people.

Regardless, at one point Tim quit being Robin when Tim’s father Jack told him to hang up the cape when Tim seemed to kill a guy (said guy got better), and Stephanie basically made a Robin costume, broke into the Batcave, and asked Batman to train her.  He reluctantly agreed, but then he eventually decided it wasn’t working out and not only “fired” her, but he told her she couldn’t be Spoiler anymore either because this is Control Freak Batman.  He even went so far as to tell her not to go for more training from Barbara Gordon or the Birds of Prey.

Stephanie then opts to take one of Batman’s secret plans to manipulate a gang war to put himself in charge of the Gotham mobs without telling anyone, but the resulting 2004 crossover Batman:War Games went horribly wrong because the plans were more of a mental exercise than anything meant to be actually executed.  And since this version of Stephanie was apparently a little incompetent, she was captured and tortured by Black Mask, making the whole exercise worse.  That would be the aforementioned “less praised” storyline that ended with Stephanie’s death because Leslie Thompkins, noted pacifist who has treated Arkham inmates that need medical attention without a second thought, apparently decided to let this girl die to teach Batman a lesson.

Oh, and for more fan controversy, despite Bruce’s assurance to the dying girl that she was a Robin, he never gets around to putting a tribute case to her in the Batcave like he did for the other Robins.  DC editorial never had an explanation for that that the fans would accept (that in Batman’s mind she was never an official Robin), and an in-story questioning of Batman by Alfred on the absence never quite yielded an answer there either.  So, they killed off a character the fans liked, another character the fans liked behaved out-of-character to do so, I’m pretty sure doing all that to teach Batman a lesson is one of those textbook definitions of “fridging” a woman while also flunking the Bechdel Test, and neither the company nor the most prominent character in their fictional universe had a good explanation for why she didn’t even rate a Batcave tribute.  No wonder people hated that one.

OK, Thompkins actually let Stephanie die to dissuade other youngsters from becoming vigilantes, but it’s still character assassination.  Stephanie’s autopsy photos were successful in getting Misfit to stop going by Batgirl, and Misfit had actual superpowers.

So, in 2008, Stephanie was revealed to have been alive and well the whole time.

See, Batman and Robin went looking for what they thought was a Stephanie impersonator who turned out to be the real Stephanie.  Now Leslie Thompkins faked her death to keep more bad guys from looking for her, and that was why a suspicious Batman never put a memorial of her up.  Stephanie was doing volunteer work with Thompkins in Africa.  Events lead her back to crimefighting in Gotham, once again as Spoiler, and it looks like Batman doesn’t mind so much this time.

Eventually, then-Batgirl Cassandra Cain decides to give that costume up and hands it off to Stephanie, making her the new Batgirl, and I get the impression she was a popular character to hold that particular role.

So, hey, that all works out then?  Um, no.  Then the New 52 happened and reset things.  Stephanie was once again Spoiler, trying to ruin things for her father.  When the DC Rebirth happened, Spoiler was one of a team of heroes Batman put together in the pages of Detective Comics, originally alongside Tim Drake’s Robin, Batwoman, and a reformed Clayface.  Barbara Gordon was back as Batgirl by then, but it looks like more recent events have had Barbara playing as both Batgirl and Oracle with Cassandra Cain and Stephanie acting as her Batgirl assistants/agents.

So, she’s been Spoiler, Robin, Spoiler again, Batgirl, Spoiler again, and is currently Batgirl again.

Oh, and in live action, she’s been played by actresses Morgan Kohan on Batwoman and Anna Lore on Gotham Knights.

So, she may get around, but she’s had a lot of aliases.