Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about the fourth Robin and the fourth Batgirl, Stephanie Brown.
Created by Chuck Dixon and Tom Lyle, Stephanie Brown first showed up shortly after Tim Drake obtained the role of Robin. When Bruce and Tim began investigating a Riddler-esque criminal known as the Cluemaster, a new young masked vigilante began showing up around their case. This figure in purple and blue was quickly unmasked as Cluemaster’s teenage daughter, Stephanie Brown.
Stephanie was stepping out in a mask not to help her father but to try and stop him. Between her father’s illegal criminal enterprise and her mother’s addiction to pills, Stephanie grew to resent them both. Figuring that it would be easier to put her father in jail before she tackled her mother’s issues, she created her own costume and put her years of gymnastics knowledge to work as Spoiler. At first, Batman seemed to be a bit impressed.
After Cluemaster’s scheme was stopped and he was put in jail, Stephanie became semi-retired as Spoiler. Occasionally, she would slip on her costume and hang around with Tim. She was constantly held at arm’s length by the Dynamic Duo, who felt that she didn’t have the skills necessary to join their little club. Part of maintaining their distance was keeping their identities secret. While they knew that Spoiler was really Stephanie Brown, she had no idea who was under the Batman and Robin masks.
Even though she wasn’t getting any official help from Gotham City’s vigilante set, Stephanie continued to hone her skills as well as she could. To that end, she continued with the gymnastics program at her school. It was there that another major male figure in her life, her coach, betrayed her. In this case, instead of being a masked villain like her father, her coach turned out to be a drug dealer. Stephanie didn’t take it well.
Over time, Stephanie became a major supporting character in Tim Drake’s solo series. Chuck Dixon seemed to really like her, so she stuck around for years. When Tim broke up with his girlfriend, he and Spoiler began dating. However, Stephanie still had no idea who was behind Robin’s domino mask. It was awkward for Tim but he knew that if he told Stephanie who he really was, she’d figure out who Batman was. That wasn’t Tim’s secret to tell, so he kept quiet.
Just a few weeks after Robin and Stephanie started officially dating, Stephanie revealed something that changed their relationship. She told him that she was pregnant.
The father of Stephanie’s baby wasn’t Robin but a former boyfriend who had skipped town after Gotham City was hit by a huge earthquake. Stephanie decided to have the baby but didn’t have much of a support system in place for how to deal with the coming months. Her mother helped where she could but her father was in prison. To help her cope, Tim created a third identity for himself named Alvin Draper. “Alvin” accompanied Stephanie to Lamaze classes and was a solid support system for the pregnant teenager. It would cause too much of a scene if Robin showed up alongside Stephanie to these events. She knew that Alvin was Robin, of course, and appreciated his help. After giving birth to a baby girl, Stephanie decided to give the child up for adoption without ever seeing her daughter’s face.
After recovering from her pregnancy, Stephanie bounced back. Once again donning the role of Spoiler, she continued to hone her skills as a vigilante. Towards that end, she hunted down two people who could help her take the next step into being a true hero. She managed to talk Black Canary and Wildcat into giving her some fighting lessons. Unfortunately, their first interaction began with a misunderstanding.
After learning the ropes with other heroes in the DCU and jumping back into her vigilante role with both feet, Stephanie was finally told by Batman just who he and Robin were under their masks. She was back on Batman’s radar. However, being on Batman’s radar can be both a blessing and a curse.
When Tim Drake’s father learned that his son was really Robin and that Bruce Wayne had been allowing Tim to risk his life night after night for years, Jack Drake was understandably enraged. While he stopped short of actually coming to blows with Bruce, he did demand that Tim retire from the role of Robin. Tim acquiesced. What Bruce did next is up for debate. Perhaps as a way to lure Tim back to the role or perhaps just because he thought she could handle the challenge, Bruce upgraded Stephanie from being Spoiler to becoming the fourth Robin.
Stephanie leapt into the role with both feet. After years of hard work, constantly being told that she wasn’t good enough, and still pushing forward anyway, Stephanie had officially become a member of the Batman team. It was thrilling.
Things went south rather quickly. Bruce’s main rule was that Stephanie needed to follow his ever order to the letter. However, when facing off against a super powered menace just a month or so after Stephanie become Robin, Batman found himself in a deadly situation. Ignoring Bruce’s orders to stay away from the battle, Stephanie entered the fray and tried to help Bruce out. Things weren’t as bad as they seemed and Stephanie only proved to get in the way. Her interference allowed the villain to escape. Bruce fired her for ignoring a direct order.
This left Stephanie in a dark place. Before she left the Batcave for the final time, she managed to snag a few of Batman’s emergency plans. One of those plans detailed how Batman could consolidate all of Gotham’s gangs under him. Stephanie set that plan in motion without telling Bruce first. Without Batman there to guide things, an all-out gang war erupted across Gotham. Black Mask, an old foe of Batman, eventually became the leader of this mob. Knowing that she’d messed up, Stephanie attempted to take Black Mask out herself. The plan went belly-up and it ended with Black Mask kidnapping and torturing her. Though she was able to free herself, her wounds proved too deep. Stephanie died.
Bruce knew that Stephanie was dying in this moment. It’s unclear if he was lying to give her a restful final few moments of life or if he really meant his words.
Stephanie’s death didn’t sit right with Bruce. After investigating the circumstances of her death a little more, he discovered that Stephanie would have survived Black Mask’s attack if she had been given proper medical care. The clinic that Bruce had brought her to was run by Leslie Thompkins, the woman who helped sooth Bruce after his parents were murdered. For decades, Leslie was portrayed as a dedicated caregiver to Gotham’s poor souls. Now, with little provocation, she had denied Stephanie care in order to teach Bruce a lesson about his Batman lifestyle. He didn’t take it well.
Let me be very clear about something: This storyline was wretched. It existed only to kill a lovely supporting female character in Stephanie Brown and decimate the usefulness of Leslie Thompkins. It sullied them both. Stephanie was presented as being stupid enough to kick off a giant gang war without thinking of the consequences and it showed Leslie Thompkins, a character who was really the guardian angel of the Batman universe, to be a killer. It was one of the biggest unforced errors in the Batman editorial offices since the character debuted in 1939. To add insult to injury, Stephanie was never given a memorial in the Batcave like Jason Todd had been given after his death. Stephanie was a second-class Robin.
Fans made their displeasure known. From questions asked at comic convention panels to online comments and letters written to the editors, it became clear that fans wanted both women to be returned to their proper roles. DC agreed and, in 2007, a character dressed as Spoiler appeared in a Batman event titled Gotham Underground. After some investigation, Tim finally found out that it was Stephanie under the Spoiler hood.
It seemed that Leslie had faked Stephanie’s death. After Stephanie’s run-in with Black Mask, the villain knew her secret identity. Fearing that a retaliation was in order if Stephanie were still alive, Leslie whisked the two of them to Africa where they did aid work far from the dangers of Gotham.
It wasn’t exactly clear why Leslie had lied to Bruce about Stephanie’s death. After all, if Batman can’t keep your secret, no one can. But no one really dwelt on that. This was simply a retcon to fix a past mistake and it was a good call. It allowed both women to reenter the Batman books without any baggage.
The pair moved back to Gotham City to regain their former lives after Black Mask turned up dead. Stephanie retook the role of Spoiler where she again went back to becoming a supporting character for Tim, who had taken back the role of Robin around the time of Stephanie’s ‘death.’
It was Bruce Wayne’s death that changed everything for Stephanie. After her boss and mentor died, Cassandra Cain became disillusioned. Cassandra had held the role of Batgirl since shortly after No Man’s Land. With Bruce dead, she wanted no part of being Batgirl. Cassandra hinted that Stephanie could have the job if she wanted it.
It turned out that Stephanie did want that role. She wanted it very much. When she started out as Batgirl, she used a slightly modified version of the costume that Cassandra used. Shortly thereafter, she realized that she needed her own look so she incorporated elements of the Spoiler costume into the design. Working alongside Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, as her mentor, Stephanie took to the role with stunning results.
When Bruce Wayne returned from the dead, he knew that he had some catching up to do. Things had changed in his absence, not the least of which was Stephanie’s new role. So, to test her out, Bruce donned a mysterious costume and engaged her in combat to see just where her skills were at. When she discovered that her opponent was a resurrected Bruce, Stephanie had a strong reaction. She slapped him.
Stephanie simply had enough of Bruce’s tests. His tests had made her feel small and unwanted before. His tests had resulted in her nearly being killed and had forced her to flee the country. After all the troubles that the two had gone through in the past, he was testing her once again. She had every right to slap him.
With that, Stephanie was now a full ranking member of the Batman family. When Batman Incorporated was developed, Stephanie became a part of it. When Batman needed a private all-girls school investigated, Stephanie was the obvious choice. She was now at the peak of her abilities and her self confidence was rock solid. Stephanie Brown had arrived.
That’s where Stephanie Brown left off before the New 52 wiped her away. As far as I know, she has not appeared since the end of Flashpoint. Batgirl is again Barbara Gordon and Stephanie is nowhere to be found. That’s a real shame, because Stephanie’s time as Batgirl made for a really great story. It was funny, it had great characters, and it had solid forward momentum month after month. Here’s hoping that Stephanie returns soon.
Jeff Reid is a big fan of Stephanie, in case that wasn’t clear. He discusses other things he’s a fan of on Twitter.