I hope you have been enjoying this series. Please let me know. Today’s guest poster is Nevermore. Beyond being a strong and perceptive writer about women and comics, she is, without question, the person who knows more about Stephanie Brown than anyone, anywhere in the world. Nev runs a blog called Adventures of Comic Book Girl, created and runs the Stephanie Brown Wiki and co-runs When Fangirls Attack. It shouldn’t be a surprise what her topic today is.
Nevermore is writing about the moment when Stephanie Brown became Robin in Robin #126. Her thoughts are below:
For as long as anyone can remember, Batman has by his side a white, blue –eyed black haired young boy. The names of the boys have changed as has the length of the pants, but (partly for merchandising reasons) these boys are physically indistinguishable. They are an archetype- Batman’s ultimate confidante and eventual heir, his real partner in crimefighting, the first sidekick.
Robin is a role young woman easily identify with. I know Robin as a concept attracted me. The bright and bouncy teenager with the carefree attitude is much more relatable than the stone-cold Bat. Robin is human, scared, the hero-in-training, just learning like all of us. Robin is the one who rolls his eyes at Batman’s antics and bad attitude, one who asks the questions so the reader can have the plot explained to him, the one who brings humor and life to the story. Robin is the touchstone for the reader.
And the Robin role has been passed on several times. It doesn’t just belong to one kid. Why then, do all the Robins adhere to that white male archetype? Why can’t Batman’s heir, the crime fighting confidante and reader avatar reflect the changing times? Why can’t she be a girl for once?
Carrie Kelley gave us a glimpse of what how Robins could be girls in Frank Miller’s wildly popular Dark Knight Returns- but DC didn’t follow through, the Robin who replaced Jason Todd was another brunette boy. There was no girl Robin in main continuity.
Until Stephanie Brown.
Steph was perfect for Robin in several ways. She was a very human character who made mistakes, a hero-in-training. She had a bright and cheery attitude reminiscent of the first Robin, and propensity for calling Batman out, holding her ground against him and generally snarking at and making fun of him that fit well with the Robin role.
When she was made Robin, it was amazing. She stomped into Batman’s cave in a homemade costume and boldly declared she would be called Robin from now on. She showed the same spirit and attitude of all the Robins before her, and was confident and unashamed in her role as the Girl Wonder. She saved Batman’s life once. She teamed up with Batgirl, making the first all female Batgirl and Robin team. Her snark and cheerful attitude played well against Batman’s grim humor, her flippy kicks and bouncy heroics were perfect for the costume and she struggled and strained and saved the day as a Robin should. She was a milestone, and she shined.
DC may have seen it as a publicity stunt. They brutally killed the character off soon after, and seemed to try to forget Stephanie and her role as the first girl Robin, even going so far as to deny she had “really” been Robin, But Steph becoming Robin was important. The fact she had taken on this great role, and then been so easily killed and dismissed sparked something in the fans, specifically the female fanbase. Something amazing happened. Women who read comics and likeminded men banded together to demand Stephanie be remembered, that she be honored with a case in the Batcave just like the boys who came before her. They used Stephanie, the first girl Robin, as a platform to demand better treatment for women and minorities, as a symbol for what was wrong with comics. The more DC tried to insist that this girl was “never really a Robin” the more the fans remembered that this girl had been Robin.
As a result of this outcry, Steph was bought back from the dead and her history of Robin was no longer denied. She was given a case, given spots with other Robins on covers, and often recalled her history as Robin in her new solo tile, Batgirl.
Yes, Stephanie Brown becoming Robin is memorable and monumental and important. But not because of a three-issue-story, or a planned publicity stunt. Steph becoming Robin is memorable because of the strength of the character and the strength of the fans who refused to forget that Stephanie Brown, a girl, had been part of the Robin legend, if only for a little while.
For more analysis on the importance of Steph as a girl Robin, see Mary Borsellino’s awesome essay here.