Funnybook Babylon

March 24, 2008

Spoiler Alert

Filed under: Articles — Jonathan Bernhardt @ 12:07 am

It looks like everyone’s favorite C-list-supporting-character-turned- bizarrely-persistent-martyr is back for reals as of this past week’s issue of Robin (#172 for anyone who just has to hunt down a copy to read up on all these Shocking Revelations). I figure it’s been, like, five days or something since it’s come out, so I’m not spoiling anyone. G-Mo finally gives you a case, and now you want to be ALIVE again?!Get it??? You can get a surprising amount of mileage out of that joke, actually.

Anyway, yeah, it looks like Steph Brown is back to bumbling around the streets of Gotham. Which is pretty cool, since she had probably the most ill-advised character death-spiral seen in awhile during her last few appearances, thanks to the unholy combination of a well-meaning Bill Willingham, an editorial office dedicated to killing someone — anyone — to boost sales, and the apparent (and now hilarious) desire to wipe away a bunch of the Chuck Dixon-era contributions to the Bat-Mythos: killing Spoiler and Orpheus; sending Robin and Batgirl out of Gotham to Bludhaven — where Robin would eventually get a new costume, Batgirl would eventually lose her way and her claim to the Batgirl legacy, and Bludhaven would just get scourged clean off the face of the planet, though that’s more of a sidenote than anything else, and has little to do with what we’re talking about at the moment. The editorial office’s indulgences can be understood, if not quite forgiven — we understand you have to sell books, guys, but having Black Mask take a power drill to a teenage girl’s legs? Really? Really? — but Willingham’s contribution to Steph’s legacy, like most of Willingham’s contributions to comics, was a nonsensical perversion of what was on the surface a cool idea, that, when all was said and done, just ended up insulting the character.

Sure, it was nice that Willingham gave her some time as Robin before she bought the big one. But what did she actually do in that arc? Steph stabbed her boyfriend in the back, took his job, and generally used him in order to get closer to a much older man that she had developed an extremely concerning attachment to, and then proved herself generally incompetent and unable to handle the pressure of being a costumed superhero. Under Dixon, she was a normal kid trying to be a superhero, who, when put next to the ridiculous mini-Bruce Wayne that was Dixon’s Tim Drake, came off just like that; she wasn’t the greatest cBatman’s iconic artists: Frank Miller, Jim Lee; Superman’s iconic artists: Frank Quitely, John Byrne; Spoiler Robin’s iconic artist: Damion Scottaped vigilante, but she was a good person, and the character was endearing. This was especially true during Jon Lewis’s short, but really very good run on the book (Lewis, incidentally, should do more mainstream work when he finds the time). In Willingham’s bit, though, she’s conniving, pig-headed, and somewhat dull. Hand, say, Sean McKeever that premise (and take away the death sentence hanging over her head, while you’re at it), and see what happens. Bill Willingham? The sooner he goes back to Vertigo for good, the better. His hand wasn’t the only one stirring the War Games/Crimes pot — hell, as far as War Crimes went, he’s more or less admitted he just wrote the plot treatments he was handed — but he certainly didn’t help matters.

This isn’t to say I want to see Steph as Robin, incidentally. A girl? Sure, I’m down with a girl Robin, or a black Robin, or a black, girl Robin, or an Asian Robin, or honestly, whatever the writer wants to do, so long as he or she can pull it off. But not Steph, so much. It doesn’t fit what’s been established. If you read the character the way she’s been written by all the writers who’ve dealt with her — Dixon, Lewis, and Willingham primarily — she was never going to make it as Batman’s sidekick. She just isn’t the kind of insanely smart, insanely athletic, impossibly driven fool that the rest of the Batcrew are. She’s more or less just, you know, a regular kid. The unfamiliar territory she’s straddling — there aren’t that many unpowered vigilantes out there who aren’t cut out to be superheroes, yet still around to make a game of it — is actually pretty compelling, and is why I’m glad the character’s back, pending any ridiculous revelations on the subject of how she faked her death, or that she’s really evil now. That’d be epicly lame and really make no sense with any rational reading of the character, but hey, Gotham Underground did show her getting her Spoiler duds from the Penguin, who for some reason had them. Unless there’s a second Spoiler costume floating around out there. And I guess we’re forgetting that her secret identity is completely blown now, thanks to War Crimes? Actually, I’d be fine with that. But probably not so much fine with her landing the Robin gig as a steady thing. She’s not really cut out for it, and I think that’s an important and interesting part of the character.

“GIRLS!! I JUST DON’T GET GIRLS!!!” — Tim Drake/Chuck Dixon, 1992-2008To be fair, though, if you’re a character who’s a teenage girl, drawing Chuck Dixon as the overwhelming authorial voice behind your depiction is not really going to shake out in your favor. Nothing against Dixon — his Robin basically got me into comics — but he’s a traditional male in his middle to late middle ages. Robin #172 has a conversation between Tim Drake and his girlfriend’s father about how dag-gum EMOTIONAL those girls can get when you do a silly little thing like fall asleep during a date. Come on now. I don’t really have a problem with Tim being a bit of a naive chauvinist if that’s how Dixon sees the character (and make no mistake, Tim’s got a streak of it in him, and always has), but if when the Dad gets in on the pity party over the seemingly capricious, irrational, impenetrable tempest of emotions that is Woman, it’s a bit much. And another thing — Tim neglecting his social life in favor of his crime-fighting, and then acting clueless when whatever girl he’s fooling around with gets pissed, is an established trope of Dixon’s Robin, even if it is a bit tiresome and got old after a certain Marvel superhero did it for like, four decades, but if it absolutely must be done, and he absolutely has to fall asleep, can it not be on, say, a rollercoaster? Because of all places, a rollercoaster? Come on now, Tim.

So time will tell on this whole issue, but it’s good to see Steph Brown back. She was an interesting character — along with Orpheus, who sadly won’t be returning without some kind of magic, because he was subjected to an intensely graphic and intelligence-insulting “facelift” courtesy that same, now-departed Black Mask — and it’s good that she’s possibly going to be around to spice up Gotham in general, and Robin in particular, which could really, really use it. Just like Hush eventually came to dominate the Gotham Knights series before it was canceled, for the last stretch of Dixon’s run, Robin became just as much Spoiler’s book as the title character’s — and it was only then, when she was dealing with the Riddler living in her home, or her dad dying in the Suicide Squad (Except not really!! Thanks Bill!!!), or, well, having a kid, that Dixon’s Robin was actually engaging — because the rest of the time, it was a perfect teenage boy fighting, like, Kid Napoleon, or an evil cross between Daredevil and Cobra Commander, or a giant, stupid bug named Anthrax or something equally ridiculous. Looking back on it, there really wasn’t a reason to publish Robin, any of it, ever, except as a place to store crossover issues, and a place to read the story of Stephanie Brown. And really, that wasn’t a bad reason to go to press. In fact, we could probably stand to have a bit more of it, before we’re through.


  1. “Batman’s iconic artists: Frank Miller, Jim Lee; Superman’s iconic artists: Frank Quitely, John Byrne;”

    I don’t see a Neal Adams or a Curt Swan in there, what’s the deal pal?!

    Anyway, it’d be nice if the Spoiler running around now really is Stephanie Brown, but the way Dixon and Tieri are handling it seems incredibly manipulative. If you want to undo her death because her death was stupid and pointless, fine, and Robin is probably the best comic to do it in, but why skirt around the issue for so long? According to DC’s solicits we won’t learn Spoiler’s real identity until Robin #174 comes out in late May (because all we know so far is that she’s a blond girl that knows Robin is Tim) and I have to wonder why they keep the reader waiting for the reveal outside of leading them on. If it is Steph then there was no mystery, and if it isn’t Steph it’s just a huge cockpunch to her fans.

    Also, I hope they give someone else a shot at the book soon after Dixon is done with this. The guy had his run, it was almost 100 issues, not all of it was good, and his future plans for the book don’t sound promising, with upcoming new villains like a guy named “666Gun” and more stories about the Penguin:

    Comment by Hoatzin — March 24, 2008 @ 8:25 pm

  2. Then again, maybe they should just cancel Robin and springboard a Spoiler title off of it. It would at best become a book like Batgirl, Manhunter or Spider-Girl staying afloat entirely due to a highly dedicated fanbase, but it’d be something different.

    Or at least do something else with Tim and make Damian the new Robin, so we’d have a much more interesting main character to read about.

    Comment by Hoatzin — March 24, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

  3. I’ve been in favor of canceling Robin for a Batgirl & Robin or Batman & Robin title since well before it became fashionable to do so, and will remain in favor of it well afterwards. Damien would be a nice Robin too, and let Tim move on up to his real destiny in Checkmate or something. Whatever. Either DC needs to find someone with a vision for Tim Drake, Robin, or they need to invigorate the property with a switch.

    And if you’re going to do a Spoiler ongoing, you’ve got to have one powerful pitch to keep that going, and a powerful team to back it up. It’d take Bendis-like dedication and name recognition to get that off the ground.

    Comment by Jonathan Bernhardt — March 24, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

  4. What they really ought to be doing is exploring why Tim fights crime, with the caveat that killing people he is close to doesn’t count. Even Spoiler has an interesting motivation, her dad’s a criminal and she hates him.

    It’s funny, she died because Batman had too many ancillary characters, and she’s coming back because Robin is in desperate need of a supporting character.

    Comment by HitTheTargets — March 25, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

  5. Stephanie was a very human character, and even the stupid actions she took in War Games made sense given her history and inexperience. While I understand that her death was handled poorly, it still had strong repercussions for both Batman and Tim Drake. For that reason alone her death shouldn’t be reversed (and so soon.) Plus, with Jason Todd’s resurrection, it would have been kind of nice to have a meaningful Robin memorial in the Batcave.

    With Batgirl still a psychotic nudist assassin, the Bat books are in need of a seemingly ‘normal’ female heroine. Perhaps Steph can come back and fill that role once more, but with DC as crossover happy as they are it seems unlikely. Can’t they just move Speedy to Gotham or something?

    Comment by TheBraveandtheBlog — March 25, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

  6. Wait – there was someone who liked Jon Lewis’ Robin run? I didn’t realize such a creature existed. :)

    Comment by matches — March 28, 2008 @ 10:10 am

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