Me and Stephanie Brown

I have to start this story with the third Robin, Tim Drake. In his first appearance, A Lonely Place of Dying, by Marv Wolfman, I’d found Tim a bit too conveniently competent. I was supposed to believe that a thirteen year-old boy could do all that? Oh, I believed he had figured out Batman’s identity, that never seemed like a terribly well kept secret, but I couldn’t believe he’d traveled to New York and back, and more incredibly to me, made it outside of city limits to watch Batman fight over the reservoir, all on his bike!
(This, by the way, is the story-line in which Tim bluffs his way into the manor, and then, against Batman’s direct order, steals the Robin suit from Jason’s case and wears it out to fight crime, becoming Robin of his own resort, as it were.)
I first fell in love with Tim Drake in Rite of Passage, a mini by Alan Grant. In this story, I found the Tim I would imprint on like a young duckling. Tim was entirely aware of all the ways he was inadequate; he was supposed to be a partner to Batman? Tim was terrified, had nightmares of being eaten by a giant looming bat, and reacted by training harder. He knew he wasn’t good enough, but he was determined to be the best he could be. No one was harder on Tim than Tim was on himself. He was determined to be a Robin worthy of the name, but half-certain he would fail.
And then Stephanie Brown showed up. I resented the hell out of her. Tim hadn’t considered himself worthy of the name of Robin until he’d travelled the world training from the living masters; Steph thought a cape and a code-name was all she needed to be a costumed vigilante. Tim was willing (and eager!) to learn from those who had been in the business longer than him; Steph wanted to do everything her own way, and frequently screwed up. Oh, how she screwed up. She couldn’t climb as well as Tim, she couldn’t fight as well, she wasn’t as meticulously devoted to detail in fact, she seemed to think the whole thing should be fun!
And, the most petty reason of all for disliking her, she stole panels from Tim. She shared the limelight! She sometimes got whole story-lines dedicated to her stupid family. She pestered Tim to have a social life, when I wanted to see his freaky crime-fighting brain.
A diversion: some women of my acquaintance just can’t identify with a male character. They can like, enjoy, or sympathize with them, but they can’t identify with them. I think I’m being clear here that I’m not one of those women. It’s not really something I consider a special ability, but I’m actually more likely to identify with male characters than female.
I eventually got over my resentment of Steph, a little. She seemed to be making Tim happy, and she was getting better at the vigilante gig, which did a lot to reconcile me to her. She got some really good story-lines, from Peter David in Young Justice, in Batgirl, and from Jon Lewis in Robin.
But when I heard that Stephanie Brown would be replacing Tim as Robin, all my resentment came back. How did she think she could even compare to Tim as Robin? Why was DC taking away the best Robin ever (I don’t claim to be impartial) and replacing him with someone who was still learning how to use a grappling hook? It didn’t help that the textual reasons given for Tim leaving the position of Robin depended on Tim making a series of mistakes I saw as stupid and uncharacteristic of him.
I would later learn that editors at DC had mandated that Steph be killed, and Robin writer Bill Willingham had decided to make her Robin before her death. Thank you, Mr. Willingham.
My point is: DC, I was on your side. I didn’t like Steph as Robin. I half-resented her. I wanted her out of there.
But even I, who had a low opinion of Steph, could not believe how badly she was treated in the story leading to her death and the aftermath. I could not believe that she was tortured to death, slowly, over multiple issues. I couldn’t fathom that Steph would set in place a plan that she didn’t really understand, and which clearly had so much room for drastic, fatal error.
And I could not, and still do not believe that Batman would use her as a tool to get Tim Drake back as Robin. I was baffled that the Batman who appeared in Detective Comics after her death would agonize over whether he shared responsibility for the death of Cassie Wells, a walk on character with whom he shared a brief conversation. Had he completely forgotten that his lack of faith in Steph was instrumental in her death? It seemed calculated to rub in how unimportant Steph was; one poor young blonde girl dies, no one talks about it, a rich young blonde girl dies, she gets a twelve part exploration of Bruce’s guilt.
Kevin at beaucoupkevin says: ‘A glass case being drawn into a single location won’t change anything substantial in the medium, will it? It’s not a solution; only a reminder that there was a problem.’
Shoving it under the carpet isn’t a solution either. There needs to be a reminder. DC comics seems all too eager to forget.