Now don’t get me wrong. I love Barbara Gordon, and I love Cassandra Cain. They can both beat the crap out of pretty much anything, and on top of that, they are both well rounded, funny characters with rich back stories and they both represent groups of people that are severely underrepresented in comics.
I know that Stephanie has been labeled as just another white blonde girl, but let me explain why she’s not:
Stephanie Brown is the daughter of third rate Batman villain the Cluemaster (Arthur Brown), and his wife, Crystal, who is a recovering drug addict. Her family was pretty poor when she was a kid. They lived in a not-great neighborhood, and Arthur was not a nice man; abusive toward his wife and daughter, drank heavily, and well…he was a Batman villain, so you get the idea.
Stephanie became the vigilante the Spoiler, to stop her father and put him in jail. She was never adopted by a billionaire, she’s from a lower class background, and she’s a physical (and possibly sexual) abuse survivor. She is unique among the bats for having it rough in a truly realistic way.
Often told she was never going to be good enough, and that she was too reckless for hero work, she carried on. Bubbly, streetwise, funny, and personable, she’s always been great fun to read, because of her can-do give-’em-hell attitude.
During her tenure as the Spoiler, she became pregnant (giving the kid up for adoption), and was soon back swinging around fighting crime. When Tim Drake hung up the Robin suit briefly, it was Stephanie who took over, making her the first and only female Robin in main continuity.
And then not long after, she was brutally tortured and killed by Black Mask during the War Games storyline.
And then things got really ugly.
Because DC Comics editorial tried to sweep Stephanie under a rug, saying that she didn’t count as a Robin and her unfortunate demise was her own fault, and not the fault of biased writers and editors who didn’t want to see a girl in the Robin costume.
Campaigns were launched, complaints were heard, and finally, DC caved and brought Stephanie back from the dead, retconning her death as a fake-out. She was actually hanging out in Africa being a bad-ass, you see.
And then, something surprising happened.
DC handed the Batgirl mantle to Stephanie.
It took the Batgirl mantle away from Cassandra Cain, which sucks, but the thing about the Batgirl mantle is that it is a stepping stone roll into something better. Yes, it took DC a long time to reveal what Cass was up to (being one of the Batman Inc crew, Black Bat), but giving Stephanie Brown this chance to hold her own was important.
It’s important because, again, this character who has come from nothing and has been through so much was underestimated. Not only by the other characters, but by readers and retailers as well. Nobody thought she could hold her own book, and boy were we surprised. What a treat it’s been. It’s funny and action-packed, poignant without hitting you over the head. Stephanie Brown’s Batgirl title is everything a good natured superhero book should be.
And it’s ending after just 24 issues, due to the reboot, which places someone of a much higher social and class status in her place.
Stephanie is a character who has fought hard for her place with the rest of the Gotham Knights, every step of the way. She has learned everything she knows about crime fighting on-panel. We, as readers, have shared in not only her triumphs, but her massive mistakes, and that’s rare.
She is truly a product of the city she’s grown up in. She is not privileged or super duper inhumanly smart. She was not raised by ninja assassins or acrobats. She is as human as you or me, and while she remembers her past and her failures well, she is not weighed down or tortured by them.
Setting aside just how problematic taking Barbara Gordon out of her wheelchair and placing her in a role she has grown out of is, taking the Batgirl mantle from Stephanie, and giving it to a women with a higher income and more status (how many degrees does Babs have again?) is a terrible message.
It’s the message that you have to be privileged to be a hero. And it’s not the first time this message has been delivered.
If you haven’t been following Ms. Brown’s adventures, there are two trade paperbacks available: Batgirl Rising and The Flood.