SDCC 2012: DC Swaps Out Stephanie Brown for Barbara Gordon in ‘SMALLVILLE’ Digital Comic

From Smallville: Season 11

About a month ago there was a lot of rejoicing around these part about the return of the Unsinkable Stephanie Brown. Smallville: Season 11 scribe Bryan Q. Miller said we’d see Steph donning the Nightwing suit in DC’s digital-first comic. Lately there’s been some rumbling that maybe the brunette in the preview image was not in fact Miss Brown.

At a few panels, concerned fans asked for confirmation that the former Robin/Spoiler/Batgirl would appearing in the announced Smallville role. In most instances, panelists denied knowledge of the plans, passing the buck to absent colleagues associated with Digital or the Bat Group. It was finally revealed at yesterday’s Superman DC Comics New Wave panel that the decision was made not to use Stephanie Brown in the story. Barbara Gordon will instead be appearing as Nightwing. The original announcement wasn’t so much inaccurate as outdated. Miller wrote Stephanie into the series, but editorial mandate stipulated the change.

Dan DiDio’s reasoning for the change was “If we’re going to introduce a character into the Smallville world, I want them to be the most iconic versions like Barbara Gordon or Dick Grayson, and maybe down the road we can do more.”

One could call shenanigans as Bart Allen appeared as Impulse during the TV series (in lieu of more popular versions of the Flash like Barry or even Wally), and that Dick Grayson is the most iconic version of Nightwing. In any case, DiDio’s comments are discouraging, suggestive of a low opinion when it comes to comic readers and their capacity to parse DC’s rich canon of alternate realities and legacy characters. Forget any perceived disrespect for fan-favorite characters. It seems to me like a disregard for readers’ intelligence, whether those readers are long-time fans or more recent converts.


  1. The tone of this piece is a little harsh. Perhaps since Smallville went beyond just comic fans and is offered digitally it is being geared to try to bring in a new breed of fan who isn’t as well versed in canon. So that would make Babs a better choice. I like it however they decide to do it and wouldn’t bash them for it

    • Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Why would an alternate reality Nightwing named Stephanie be any more confusing to a new reader than one named Barbara? They’re already introducing a Nightwing who isn’t Dick Grayson, so why play it safe?

      What’s disconcerting isn’t that it’s Barbara and not Stephanie in general. It’s that the writer wrote the character as Stephanie, it was announced as Stephanie, and editorial back pedaled for a really lame branding reason. It’s a case of editorial getting in the way of their writers. People like Miller, Scott Snyder and Gail Simon have voiced interest in writing characters like Stephanie and Cassandra, but have been told they’re not allowed.

    • If the readers aren’t familiar with canon, then why would it matter who the character is?

    • I’m glad somebody else picked up on the tone of this article. I don’t see how the writer has arrived at the assumptions made in that last paragraph…

      All DiDio’s comments suggest is that he is continuing to do his job.
      Maybe DC Editorial read through the pages with Brown written in and decided that a character like Gordon would better suit the story. We just don’t know, nor should we.

      Not a fan of the changes made to a minor character in a much larger story? Fine, don’t read it – it is just a story after all. But going on to suggest that DiDio has “a low opinion when it comes to comic readers” is completely ridiculous… you know, considering what he does for a living.

    • Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Just to clarify: The specific line you’re quoting is my edit, so don’t blame Ali for the phrasing there. Though we do feel the same about the situation.

      That said, it’s not a jump. This is commentary is based on observation of DiDio’s editorial decisions over time.

      It’s a character in an alternate reality. Why would Barbara better suit the story? The only case you can make is name recognition. The problem is that this change wasn’t made at the pitch stage. Miller wanted to bring back the Stephanie Brown character, in some form, in a pretty innocuous setting. It seems like a harmless cameo that wouldn’t have been all that difficult a proposition for new readers and would’ve been a nice treat for the character’s fans. It would’ve been fair game, if frustrating, for editorial to pass on that before announcing it. But they didn’t act until the news became public. Back-pedaling as they did comes off as arbitrary, even petty.

  2. Am I in the minority here? I would much rather Stephanie Brown as Batgirl in the main DCU than Babs.

    I was going to start picking this up. might not bother now.

    • Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      A lot of readers agree with you.

    • As far as current readers go, I think the pro-Stephanie crowd is the majority now.

    • What I don’t get is who took over the sigintel job that Babs did as Oracle? Batman Inc. would require someone do the job of intel gatherer/real time informer but no one is doing it. Stephanie was an awesome batgirl and while it’s nice to see Barbara back, no one at all has filled the void Babs left when she was no longer Oracle.

      As for the article itself, sure the tone is a little mean spirited but certainly a last minute editorial change for the name of a female Nightwing under the guise of easier on the reader is as mean spirited. It’s a freakin female Nightwing!

    • DC has gotten rid of two great characters, Stephanie Brown as Batgirl and Barbara Gordon as Oracle, and given us a mediocre Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. Perpetuating that bad decision into Smallville is not the way to fix the situation.

    • I’d rather have Stephanie as Batgirl than Barbara any day. I find Bat-Barbara to be dull as dishwater. Oracle was far more interesting.

  3. Who’s Stephanie Brown?

    • Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Stephanie Brown appeared as Batgirl in the series prior to the New 52 reboot. She has also appeared as Robin and Spoiler. Whether readers are aware of that history or not would likely have little or no bearing on their comprehension of Miller’s alternate reality story.

    • While it’s true that you surely wouldn’t have needed to know Stephanie Brown’s history to enjoy her appearance in this comic, if you wanted to know her history, you could check out DC Histories: Stephanie Brown.

  4. First off, you guys are doing a great job reporting on all things SDCC 2012. Thanks.

    But the info I was hearing from other sites, was BQM wasn’t at the Superman panel (even though he was supposed to be there) , and that they were not able to confirm or deny anything there. Was there another session? And has anybody heard anything from Miller on the subject, I’d really be curious in his take.

    I do understand (not agree with) why DC made the decision to go with Babs for Batgirl with the relaunch, but this change seems to have more too it. Is DC trying to limit the number of charcters in cannon?

    Oh well, it is what it is.

  5. What bothers me about this is that this is a Smallville comic. I don’t read the series, but I’m assuming the main focus is Superman. And that in this arc, Batman is a guest star. And he also has a sidekick/partner Nightwing. So even if these two guest star, I’m guessing the main focus is still on Superman, then Batman, then Nightwing. If this is the case, why does it matter who Nightwing is. It would be such a minor character compared to the others in the arc. Why not just keep Stephanie Brown to please the fans, while also satisfying the writer in what seems to be a minor role? I guess thats how editorial works. *sigh*

    • To be honest, Smallville even when it was a TV show did that all the time. The last four seasons were pretty much guest appearance after guest appearance.

  6. Call me crazy….okay I’m crazy!

    But maybe, and this is a big “maybe”, they decided to go with Barbara because she’s well known? She’s been apart of every major media outlet involving Batman since the 1960s. Instead of going with a fan favorite character maybe DC will sell an extra copy or two by having the biggest female lead in the Batman Mythos instead? Again it’s a crazy thought….but I guess suggesting Didio is thinking we’re “ignorant” is a much more sane idea.

    Seriously though the change makes total sense and we’re making a big deal out of nothing.

    • Uh… Barbara being well-known is precisely the reason DiDio is citing. Even if you assume that Barbara Gordon is a sales-magnet – which is yet in NO WAY proven fact – the problem is that this is a fundamentally foolish and myopic approach.

      Furthermore, it’s not even a fundamentally foolish and myopic approach that DC is consistent about.

    • Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      Every major media outlet involving Batman since the 60s? Not accurate.

      Fair weather fans know Batgirl, not “Barbara Gordon.” She’s not even Batgirl in this, she’s Nightwing. So that’s moot. The uninitiated are buying this for Batman in the Smallville universe.

    • It’s a FRICKIN’ FEMALE NIGHTWING! Every apologist comment citing the fact that Babs has been around longer needs to remember that Dick is Nightwing and has male genitalia!

    • yeah, why is it a girl nightwing? that makes no sense to me. if they wanted it to be babs then they could’ve named her batgirl. i’m assuming the reason why they’re using babs is so that new readers that pick up smallville will be interested in her and start buying batgirl, but those readers will be very surprised if they pick up nightwing expecting to see her there.

  7. None of our opions matter and the characters are not real. Lets wait until the comic comes out.

    • Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      No one suggested the characters are real. This is a commentary site with a comment section. Everyone is free to express their opinion on this news. Please don’t direct anyone otherwise.

  8. That’s really disappointing. I’m already reading Smallville (and slowly making my back back through the TV series – I’m about halfway through season two right now) and I was really looking forward to seeing Stephanie again. 🙁

  9. Well, that’s just dumb. Trading the modicum of props fans were giving you for having Stephanie appear in anything versus a mishandled “swap out” where people kept passing the buck on who to blame. It’s odd that for every good step DC takes they go and blow it all to hell with the next two steps.

    As others have stated, there’s absolutely no reason that fans *need* to have this be Babs. A tertiary character in a Superman story? A character we’ve already changed a fair bit anyway? It’s aggravating. I may have even checked out Smallville for a Stephanie Brown story. Not gonna happen now.

  10. If this was an isolated incident that would be one thing…a dumb thing, but still just a thing. Instead, this is another example of DiDio’s odd sense of dislike towards the character, as evidenced by the fact that they straight up don’t allow writers like Miller, Snyder or Simone use the character when they’ve been begging to do so, and not to mention the weird way that editorial goes out of there way to remind fans that Stephanie wasn’t REALLY Robin.

  11. Obviously there are fans of the Stephanie Brown character that are upset about this because they are fans of Stephanie Brown. I totally understand. I lived through the 90s with Hal Jordan being my favorite character, and I’ve always loved the JSA, which has had its struggles, too.

    But to assert there are more fans that want Brown as Batgirl than Barbra Gordon in the New 52 is just an opinion. Certainly, the disgruntled or angered fan is going to make more noise, but is the New 52 Batgirl book selling fewer copies now than the the Stephanie Brown Batgirl book? I’m guessing its not, but I could be wrong. I don’t really follow such numbers.

    Nevertheless, DC has decided to do its best not to cloud the waters with its characters and to go with its most iconic versions. For years critics and readers said DC’s continuity was too convoluted to understand, which was the reason its books weren’t as popular as Marvel’s. I tend to agree that such a theory is wrongheaded and doesn’t give readers enough credit. Any average or even below average comic reader who wanted to understand the parallel earths could have. Even Marvel has multiple iterations of its characters now and parallel universes are used broadly across all forms of entertainment.

    But, if it is DC’s intent to maximize the use of its most known characters, then Didio’s decision to veto the use of Stephanie Brown in lieu of Gordon was just following the policy that was established only a year more or less ago.

    Part of the continuity issues that began to rise within a few years of Crisis on Infinite Earths came about because DC’s editors did not make the tough decisions to follow the course it had set.

    Now, the Earth 2 book and the fact that the character is going to be Nightwing and not Batgirl also seems to go against the policy, but that’s another argument.

    I do hope at some point characters like Brown and Wally West and Donna Troy will eventually be used because I liked them, too, but I don’t think Didio made the decision to spite fans but rather to follow DC’s stated strategy with its characters.

    • Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

      That’s well reasoned. It’s unfortunate then that this editorial mandate wasn’t enforced until after the cameo was announced. It simply makes it all seem irrational and a little petty.

      The question is: Is it easier for an uninitiated reader to make sense of the character they know as Batgirl (Barbara) in the role of Nightwing or to understand Nightwing as a girl with a name that means nothing to them (Stephanie)? i’d argue that in an alt reality take like this, there’s more opportunity for confusion with the former.

    • Still an annoying and close-minded strategy.

    • New 52 Batgirl was selling about twice as much as the Stephanie Brown book. However, with that said, New 52 Batgirl lost more half of its reader pool from Issue 1 (~99,000) by issue 6 (~50,000), whereas the Stephanie Brown book had fairly consistent, but low, month to month sales.

      However, your entire argument would appear to be moot when you look at the Green Lantern books. Why on earth do we need to keep all 4 of them in the New 52? It makes no sense. And I love GL. Or if you look at the other mental gymnastics going on in the Batman universe post New 52. In just 5 years, Dick, Jason, Tim and Damian have been Robin? Really?

  12. storm meet tea cup

  13. This is not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but the reason they did this is pretty obvious. If Smallville fans begin to get interested in Stephanie Brown, then those who want to start reading mainstream will wonder where she is, and DC will have to figure out how to bring her back. If they replace her with Barbara Gordon, then they can just offer the current Batgirl series. They did the same thing for Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle.

    • “Figure out how to bring her back?” You make it sound as if that were difficult. It would be supremely easy to reintroduce Stephanie Brown to the DCU. She doesn’t have to be Batgirl; she could return to the Spoiler identity. Likewise, there’s nothing stopping Cassandra Cain from returning in her Black Bat guise except a completely nonsensical editorial fiat.

  14. My biggest problem with this is the bait and switch. If DC wants Barbara Gordon to be the one and only Batgirl across their entire line, then as much as I disagree with that, I can accept it. If Barbara Gordon and Kate Kane are going to be the only female heros in the entire Bat-verse, fine. But that’s not what’s happening here.

    Instead, Miller was given some kind of green light to use Stephanie Brown as Nightwing (both of those names most likely will mean nothing to new readers) and someone also gave Miller a green light to announce that news. To then dance around the question at panels until it becomes necessary to address the issue that no, Stephanie Brown will not be appearing in this title looks sloppy. It looks like DC isn’t on the same page and doesn’t have their proverbial crap together.

    Neither myself nor Paul are the only fans of a character that have been frustrated by who was cut in the New 52. When you look at things like the Green Lantern universe and parts of the Bat Family that have not at all been impacted by the “reboot” it’s easy to be upset. I’d like to believe that “telling good stories” is the motivator for the decisions around what characters can and cannot be used. But when editorial makes a decision after the fact that a writer cannot use a character he or she has already written into a story, it starts to look more like picking favorites. You can’t have it both ways.

    • Let’s also not forget the fact that when asked about Stephanie as Nightwing during the Superman panel, DC editorial called it a “rumor”.

    • Yeah, I think people are more outraged at the needless duplicity than anything else. If they’d come right out and said, “You know, we were going to do Steph, but it didn’t mesh with our goals and felt it necessary to change it to be more in line with the New 52’s character pool.” While still weird and silly, at least it would have been honest.

      Also, Ali, high five on pointing the hypocrisy of the GL Line and Robins!

  15. I really appreciate this post –
    Editorial mandate is wrong in this case, let Bryan do what he intended. Fan are really getting frustrated now. Believe it or not Didio, Stephanie Brown has a lot of fans. (personally I miss Cassandra Caine too, but that’s a whole other can of worms)

  16. I just wanted to follow up that I think a big part of why there was so much excitement by Steph fans surrounding this is because it was Miler writing her. I can’t speak for all, but for me it was just how well he wrote that character that was so appealing. No offense to other writers, but if a Steph Spoiler just showed up in teen titans and didn’t have the same voice and attitude she had as Batgirl, I think there would be even more disappointment. BQM is a good writer, he should be able to bring that characterization to an alt world Babs, or another character if he should choose to.

    I think this was somewhat shown with Batwoman, once Rucka stopped writing her. Williams has done an OK job ( the Art still Rocks!), but the motivation of the character has seemed to change.

    I know there are countless other examples of this, and it is bound to happen when you have as many people writing these corporate charcters as you do. Yet another reason I believe the maturing comic book reading audience is leaning more and more to creator owned comics, more consistency in characters.

  17. I have kind of a different take on this. I became a huge Stephanie Brown fan during Miller’s Batgirl run before the re-launch. I also have no interest in the smallville book. I hope to one day see Stephanie back in the DCU proper. I’m kind of glad she won’t be in this book, because if she ever does make back to the DCU(no matter what costume she’s wearing), I feel like it would have less impact and confuse new readers if she was already running around as Nightwing in the Smallville book. It probably doesn’t matter that much either way, but personally I want to see her introduced into the bat books before I see her anywhere else. Of course if this was her only chance to see the light of day in the new 52 era DC, I’d rather she was used here than not at all.

  18. This is just disappointing and confusing. It makes no sense to change it so far into the process, especially changing to Babara, whose not been a brunette since the Adam West Batman series.

  19. Looks like they just got rid of the one thing that I would have checked this book out for. I couldn’t care less about Smallville ‘Season 11’, but I do miss Stephanie. I can read about all of these characters elsewhere, but I would have checked this out for my Ms. Brown fix 🙁

  20. Exactly what is “iconic” about a Barbara Gordon Nightwing that has never appeared in any DC comic in 73 year history of the medium? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  21. Super bummed. Was looking forward to reading more of Miller’s Steph.

  22. I wasn’t a huge fan of Smallville, but I was going to get this series specifically for Stephanie, who I adore. Now? Back to no interest in this series. Really starting to get annoyed with Didio. These antics are making it blatantly obvious that editorial doesn’t like Stephanie and is actively trying to keep her out of sight till her fans give up on ever seeing her again.

  23. I hope Stephanie Brown never comes back – because I am so sick of hearing all the complainers.


    At this point, I’d just like a goddamn explanation. What is the reasoning here?

  25. A substantial number of fans have watched the 60’s Batman tv series. As well as Batman The Animated Series. Both of which are in perpetual syndication. In those, Batgirl is Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. It’s not a big step to form the connection.

    I’m not so sure having any female in the NW role here is the best idea though.