Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Sidekicks, icons and DC public relations

And now I am hungry for waffles. Mmmm ... waffles ...

A brief indulgence before we get started: July 14 marked eight years since I started blogging about comics on my own little website, the now-dormant Comics Ate My Brain. Since one of my first posts was called “Robin Problems,” it’s a happy coincidence that this week we return to the original superhero-sidekick identity.

Although I’m not always happy with DC Comics as a company, I have a lot of empathy for the people who work on superhero comics, especially those who populate convention panels. Regardless of how we think they’re doing their jobs, those are still their jobs, and I wouldn’t want to go to work every morning facing a steady torrent of criticism from my customers. (We lawyers get more than enough workplace second-guessing as it is.) It also can’t be easy traveling around having to face one’s critics in person.

That said, if the alternative-fuels industry could harness avoidable fan outrage, DC Comics would be the new OPEC. Once again demonstrating a knack for how not to behave, its panelists practically laughed off legitimate questions about switching out fan-favorite Bat-protege Stephanie Brown for the “more iconic” Barbara Gordon.

After those original accounts appeared online (on Friday the 13th, no less), more details emerged to help explain just who did what. It’s still a situation where DC higher-ups asked to remove Stephanie (which, it can’t be said enough, is really asking for trouble); but apparently the series’ writer got to choose her replacement. Don’t worry, we’ll get into all the nuances.


* * *

Some background, for those unaware: Stephanie debuted in early August 1992’s Detective Comics #647 as Spoiler, an aspiring crimefighter who soon developed a sweet, occasionally romantic relationship with the third Robin, Tim Drake. Eventually, she replaced Tim as Robin (in July 2004’s Robin #126), only to be scapegoated, tortured,and apparently killed shortly thereafter as part of the “War Games” and “War Crimes” intramural crossovers. Those indignities led to calls for her to have a Robin-costume memorial in the Batcave (to match that of Tim’s predecessor, the then-dead Jason Todd), but the DC leadership didn’t exactly make that a priority. Instead, Steph returned to Gotham alive and well in 2009 as part of the “Battle for the Cowl” reshuffling, and traded in her Spoiler duds to be the new Batgirl. (Ironically, this also produced some outrage, since Steph succeeded the fan-favorite Cassandra Cain, whose own Batgirl title had run for some eight years.)

Written by Bryan Q. Miller (who also worked on the Smallville TV series), Stephanie’s Batgirl book quickly found its audience, but was canceled after two years as part of last September’s New 52 relaunch. Steph disappeared into a crack in continuity, showing up only in a Batman Incorporated special that attempted to bridge the gap between the previous and current timelines. Accordingly, fans welcomed Miller’s news that he would write a version of Stephanie as Batman’s sidekick Nightwing in the digital-first Smallville Season 11.

Aaaand … that didn’t lasted very long. At Comic-Con, DC confirmed that Smallville’s Nightwing would be Barbara Gordon, invoking the I-word as justification shortly thereafter. I would brag more about getting that one right, but at this point DC tends to use “iconic” as shorthand for “whatever we feel like.”  Also, when I first read about all this, I didn’t know that Miller was able to choose Steph’s replacement, and that he chose Babs. I learned those things on July 18, when Gail Simone said so (on her Tumblr):

Today, Bryan told me it was his idea to use Babs, when asked to replace Steph. […] I am not sure why he chose Babs instead of Cass or Helena, but I know the kind of person and writer he is and deliberately upsetting people is not his style at ALL. He loves you guys and wants to do right by you and the characters.

While that doesn’t change the fact that DC didn’t want Steph as Batman’s Smallville sidekick, interestingly enough it cuts against the “more iconic” defense. Presumably, if Miller had named Smallville’s Nightwing Cassandra Cain, Helena Bertinelli, or even Helena Wayne — none of whom has Babs’ résumé — there was a greater-than-zero chance the higher-ups would have gone for it. I’m not sure anyone outside of the DC offices believes that, but there it is.

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We fans tend to be cynical in these matters because whenever DC reverts to some older version, more likely than not “more iconic” is the official reason. However, it’s not so much that “iconic” has been devalued as much as it’s become non-specific. What’s iconic to me may not be to you; and if my iconography prevails, you may well feel slighted. The criteria for “iconic” status also seem to shift based on circumstances. Exhibit A is the animated “Justice League”: no matter how many people it introduced to John Stewart/Green Lantern and Wally West/Flash, DC uses print-comics stature to defend emphasizing Hal Jordan and Barry Allen.

* * *

Today, though, we’re talking specifically about sidekicks, which reminds me of the legendary Jules Feiffer’s thoughts on the subject. (We’ll get back to the “iconic” discussion soon enough.) In The Great Comic Book Heroes (his seminal look at the Golden Age), Feiffer didn’t mince words:

If the theory behind Robin the Boy Wonder, Roy the Superboy, The Sandman’s Sandy, The Shield’s Rusty, The Human Torch’s Toro [and] The Green Arrow’s Speedy was to give young readers a character with whom to identify it failed dismally in my case. The super grownups were the ones I identified with. They were versions of me in the future. There was still time to prepare. But Robin the Boy Wonder was my own age. One need only look at him to see he could fight better, swing from a rope better, play ball better, eat better, and live better — for while I lived in the east Bronx, Robin lived in a mansion, and while I was trying, somehow, to please my mother — and getting it all wrong — Robin was rescuing Batman and getting the gold medals. He didn’t even have to live with his mother.

Robin wasn’t skinny. He had the build of a middleweight, the legs of a wrestler. He was obviously an “A” student, the center of every circle, the one picked for greatness in the crowd — God, how I hated him [pp. 42-43].

To be sure, those early comics didn’t really exceed their own boundaries. For that matter, Feiffer’s reaction to Robin reminds me of my great-grandmother’s seething resentment of Barney Fife. For Grandma, Barney’s continued existence was an example that the universe was not a just place where the terminally negligent would otherwise have received appropriate punishment. (Grandma also thought Nixon got off too easily.) I suppose this means that after a while, she lost sight of one of The Andy Griffith Show’s main examples of forgiveness. Still, as sidekicks, both Barney and the Golden Age Robin had clearly-defined roles, neither of which left much room for development. For that matter, neither “TAGS” nor the Batman comics were quite the same after Barney left Mayberry and Dick graduated from high school … but I’ll leave this comparison before I start contrasting Warren Ferguson with Jason Todd. (Besides, there’s no truth to the rumor that Ernest T. Bass beat Warren to death with a crowbar.)

At any rate, today we have an extended, multigenerational “Bat-Family,” the very idea of which has its own subset of devoted fans. Clearly fans are more than happy to picture themselves as someone other than the headliner. Apart from reader-identification, Robin was created to help humanize Batman; and today, that task is spread among a squad of associates. Last August, they included Dick/Nightwing, Babs/Oracle, Jason/Red Hood, Tim Drake/Red Robin, Stephanie/Batgirl, Cass/Black Bat, Damian Wayne/Robin, maybe Helena Bertinelli/Huntress and Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and on rare occasions Kate Kane/Batwoman.

However, relaunches tend to thin the supporting-cast ranks, as 1964’s “New Look” did with the original Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Bat-Mite, and Ace the Bat-Hound. (Back in the 1970s, when an actual Batman Family comic had to fill its pages with characters other than Robin and Batgirl, it featured Man-Bat and the original Helena Wayne Huntress, and guest-starred the Joker’s Daughter and the original Batwoman.)

Of course, their fans haven’t forgotten them — especially “Kyrax,” AKA “Batgirl,” a dedicated Stephanie Brown fan and cosplayer who previously took on DC’s female-unfriendly postures and who, this year at Comic-Con, asked persistently about the switch. Stephanie’s presence had been confirmed in solicits, including as part of one issue’s cover art, and bolstered with a quote from Miller. DC responded to her inquiries with derisive obfuscation of the “we’re not aware of such rumors” variety.

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And here’s where I get agitated. Regardless of who on which panel knew what and when, that’s not the way to go. When you abruptly reverse course on a topic which obviously means so much, even to relatively few, there’s no reason to be snippy about it. You may be sick of the whole thing, including implications (or outright accusations) of misogyny. You may think it’s unfair, and/or rooted in the complainant’s own thin skin. You might just be having a bad day. Even so, isn’t it better to start with empathy, not condescension? Tell the fans you love what they love, tell them you’re sorry not everyone gets a spotlight, give them some hope that maybe their favorite(s) could come back — but don’t give them this “oh, not you again” attitude. (From what I can tell, Wally West partisans don’t get that treatment.) If you know why the change is being made — beyond the “iconic” dodge, which at this point sounds boilerplate — and can say so without spoilers, why not say it? Heck, if you don’t know, at least let people down easy. We know Stephanie has lots of fans, and we were looking forward to seeing her in Smallville. We’re sure Bryan will do a great job with Barbara as Nightwing. How hard is that? At least Dan DiDio seemed a bit more conciliatory, saying, “maybe down the road we can do more” when “Batgirl” talked to him the next day.

* * *

Still, by invoking Babs’ “more iconic” status, DiDio did exactly what I expected. I’ve said before that if DC were more serious about this whole “icon” business, it would mean rolling back about 40 years of continuity. Wally would still be Kid Flash, Dick Grayson would still be Robin, Barbara would be Batgirl (and maybe in Congress), and the only Nightwing might well be Van-Zee in the Bottle City of Kandor.

However, I have to recognize how much my own history with these characters affects my perspective. Dick was Robin for 44 years before ditching the short pants, but he’s been Nightwing for almost thirty. More persuasively, Wally was Kid Flash for twenty-five years (1960-85), and the Flash (or “a” Flash, at least) for about as long (1986-2006, 2007-11). Then, of course, you get into arguments like “more people probably read Barry’s adventures in the ‘60s and ‘70s because comics sales were higher” versus “more people watched Wally on ‘Justice League’” and soon it comes down to “we do this because we can.” Indeed, when Smallville-the-show started introducing established DC characters more frequently, it didn’t always use the older (and presumably more iconic) versions, opting for Bart Allen/Impulse, Mia Dearden/Speedy and Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle.

As hair-splitting as this stuff may appear, clearly it matters to a significant portion of DC’s fanbase. For decades, DC has been encouraging its readers to identify not just with Robin as a gateway into Batman’s world, but with Dick, Jason, Tim, and Stephanie as individuals. (I’m not sure who’s supposed to identify with Damian.) Moreover, making the costumes transferable created another layer of status: Stephanie’s stint as Robin was a kind of victory lap, making up ahead of time for her ignoble fate; and talk that the New-52 Tim may not have actually been a Robin isn’t sitting well with his supporters.

Exacerbating all of these twists and turns is the Internet’s impersonal intimacy, which can make the most innocuous business decision All About You. I’m not saying that the Steph/Babs switch was innocuous — DC must know by now to handle Stephanie with care — but even as part of superhero comics’ diminished audience, online fandom is apparently not that representative. Once again we turn to Gail Simone:

I don’t agree with it, but everything that has INFURIATED the internet fanbase lately has sold really well….

I don’t agree with [the theory that DC and Marvel incite fan outrage to goose sales], and even if I did, I think it’s a mistake to deliberately upset loyal readers, it’s uncalled for. But some people do believe it.

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The thing that I do believe, and this upsets people every time I say it, but the vocal contingent on message boards and social networks sadly do not seem to reflect the readership at all. I’m not sure if they ever did. I know this is sometimes sad to hear, but it’s true, it’s absolutely true.

If it were true, the best-selling books at DC would be Batgirl and Secret Six and at Marvel, they would be X-23 and Young Avengers, and so on.

If it were true, the top ten books, with a few exceptions, would sell almost nothing.

I know it stings a bit. But the vocal internet community is an elite part of the readership. They are like gourmet readers, in my view. They have very good taste as a rule … but the books they love the most sell nothing and the books they hate are huge hits.

We have to address it, we have to quit kidding ourselves. Critical acclaim is lovely, but Tumblr buzz bears no relation to a book’s actual success, in general (I’m sure there are exceptions).

So, I think we have trained publishers not to take internet upset too seriously at this point. If we are outraged and disgusted by crossovers, and they continue to sell like hotcakes, eventually, publishers listen to numbers and not to bloggers.

I wish this weren’t the case … I don’t know if it’s the same for prose and film and music, but in comics, people will rave and rave about a book, it sells nothing, and then because they have raved about it so much, the poster or blogger feels that the company hates them personally because that book was so loved.

But no one bought it.

When DC’s legacy-character structure really took off in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it offered readers — especially new readers — any number of gateways into its shared superhero universe. Wally, Tim, Kyle Rayner, Jack Knight, Kate Spencer, Ryan Choi, et al., could be effective guides because they were finding their way around too. Evidently, that sort of personal identification can also create some pretty strong feelings for fairly-specific versions of what were intended as rather broad figures. Complicating things is the perception that the “more iconic” versions (say, from the Silver Age) are demonstrably more boring.

In other words, for a good long while DC made it easy to like its newer characters, and then figured it was better off going back to the classics. If Simone’s assessment is accurate, DC may well be OK with losing those small-but-vocal online fans, particularly if it wouldn’t have to listen to them anymore.

Even so, DC does itself no favors whenever it appears to act capriciously. Fans are generally realistic about the chances of seeing their favorite characters, and they know when someone’s trying to blow smoke up their orifices, but nominal amounts of empathy and transparency go a long way.

Ultimately, this shouldn’t have been an issue. Smallville’s Stephanie would have been the sidekick to a supporting character in a book about one TV version of Superman. It would have been a nice way for Miller to work in one of his favorite characters, and of course it would have been good for Steph’s fans, but I doubt seriously that it would have affected the story significantly.

Instead, there’s all this hoo-hah about “more iconic,” which probably has more to do with a nebulous notion of “brand synergy,” and/or not confusing those hypothetical 20 people who expect to see Babs as Batman’s main sidekick because they saw her in the “The Batman” cartoon and read Batman Earth One and know absolutely nothing else about the characters. I’m not saying DC should necessarily listen to every vocal faction — but when you reach out positively to a group of potentially-hostile fans, and they respond in kind, why would you want to yank that away?  Why upset one group to court another group which may not care?  It ends up being no good for either side. Fans have one more reason not to trust the publisher, and the publisher has one more example of fans never being satisfied. Is that the kind of relationship DC wants?



We have been under the tyranny of The Didio(t) for 10 years now and as long as he at the helm nothing is going to change.

He’s run DC into the ground as far as I’m concerned. Yeah yeah, New52 is a hit. That does not excuse the piss poor performance of the entire line of titles from the last 10 years. Marvel kicked DC’s ass for a solid decade because overall they turned out more and better books with better writing and better art than DC did. And I hate Marvel characters.

Never ending shuffled creative teams, Identity Crisis, 52, One Year Later, books canceled and relaunched months apart, craptacularly boring story lines on major lines of books – the list goes on and it all falls squarely on his shoulders. I stopped buying DC books with the launch of New52 and am glad that I did. What little I’ve seen of the New52 books does not have me longing for the days of old. It has me longing for firing him and getting some new blood into the driver’s seat.

Very nice article and I agree with it a lot.
I’ll be honest, I’m a Steph fan and was looking forward to getting the Smallville comic just because of Steph being in it. But now…not so much. Don’t get me wrong, I love Babs but I can get that fix in the pages of Batgirl and Birds of Prey. I can’t find poor Steph anywhere.
I still think if DC would be smart about all this, they should combine Steph and Cassandra into their own team. They always seemed to work off one another well.

Stephanie fans should be happy she’s missing in action. Almost every other teen hero at DC has been ruined by the reboot. Better to stay out of the line of fire until the right people can be put in charge of her destiny.

For every Wonder Woman, Aquaman or the Vertigo lite DC Dark books we’ve had since the reboot, we’ve had twice as many complete duds. Some because of horrible writing, others because of the reboot itself and a few had the awesome fun to get saddled with both problems. (I’m looking at you Teen Titans!) Tho to be fair, titles like Green Arrow and the Superman books were pretty awful before the reboot too. This just added a new coat of paint over the rust that has already begun to run.

This weekend’s comments about Tim Drake did set me off. Up until now, the stupid “five year” rule has largely been ignored by everyone involved in the Batman comics, so Batfans have been safely firewalled by this rule. Now we find out that Tim was always a former Robin and may never have been part of the Batfamily. Despite still being a Robin as of Batman #1 (unless Batman’s own computers are wrong) and was still part of the Wayne family as of last month’s Batman & Robin. In Marvel or IDW terms, what we have had in Batman was just a “new season”. Same for Green Lantern and Jonah Hex. Sadly, some genius decided to lob a grenade into the Batbooks and change Tim’s history.

Like Tim, his fellow Teen Titans do seem to have taken the brunt of the punishment from the reboot, either not existing or never having been a team, depending on which writer/editor is asked. The absence of Wally has at least been muted by the fact that the Flash is the best it’s been in years. Donna has been a non-entity since the New Teen Titans went direct market only in the mid-80s. Starfire is now famously an amnesiac hooker from space. Vic at least gets a starring role in the Justice League as their chief hacker and transporter chief (Miles O’Brien meets Oracle).

The Superboy & Titans books are among the worst comics being published today by any publisher, suffering from the double curse of the reboot with an awful writer. (How desperate we have become to be welcoming Tom Defalco as Lobdell’s replacement.)

The incident at Comic Con is a debacle, plain and simple. DC looks stupid. I mean, Barbara Gordon as….Nightwing? How is that iconic in any way? It’s a head-scratcher.

Beyond that, I have to agree with the people who say the new 52 is weak. The old DCU had problems, especially considering the number of team books that went absolutely nowhere (notably JSA and JSA All-Stars), and the continual reboots (how many Green Arrow #1s are there in the past 10 years), but there were solid creators and artists at work in at least some parts of the universe. Now the average book has direction and focus, but substandard story telling is the norm. The art is adequate but not especially good.

Is it because the higher ups (WB corporate or DC editorial) are handing down edicts telling the creative teams how to write the books? This incident sure makes that seem likely.

If I recall correctly, the comment from TPTB was that Smallville used “iconic” characters, so the comic should continue with that. Ergo, no Stephanie, but Babs is ok. I’ve said it elsewhere, and I’ll say it again: if Smallville was all about “iconic,” they wouldn’t have used Bart Allen as their Flash.

sandwich eater

July 20, 2012 at 2:05 am

I loved Miller’s Batgirl run. Stephanie Brown is the only female superhero that I’ve ever identified with. She was really relatable, and she had a very Peter Parker-like quality to her.

I think DC has to be careful that they don’t train their readers to stop caring about newer characters. If people think that a great new series about a character who was created after the 1970s is likely to be canceled then they won’t bother with it in the first place. I actually make no effort to watch new TV shows that I suspect will be cancelled after their first season because I don’t want to get invested in something and then have it yanked out from under me.

Also, I can’t express how frustrating it is when something you love is cancelled and replaced with something that you think is crap. I really loved the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon, but I think Ultimate Spider-Man (the cartoon) is just awful. It seems to be written with the assumption that its audience can’t focus on something for more than 3 seconds.

Jake Earlewine

July 20, 2012 at 4:27 am

I don’t care what they do with TV shows, movies, or cartoons. Or video games.
They’re different media and I don’t expect them to have ANY continuity with the comic books.
If CBR was called TV Show Resources or Video Game Resources, I wouldn’t even visit this site.

For me, the comic books are the only thing that matters. And the only place where continuity matters.
And DC forced me to stop buying their comic books when they rebooted.
Because continuity was a wee bit too much for their widdle brains to handle.

at every Con, DC knows that there will be questions about Wally, Donna, Ted Kord, Stephanie, etc. Why don’t they have better answers prepared already ? Or maybe just give the fans what they want. If it doesn’t sell, cancel it and move on.

Hey guys! I wanted to say that I really appreciate your support and that I agree with much of what you said above. I feel that I must clear something up, however.

DC was not rude to me. This whole framing of what happened at the panel as “DC again bullies Batgirl who just wants an answer” is such a mis-characterization of what actually happened! I can understand how things may be interpreted differently by different people, but as the supposed ‘victim’ here, I want to state for the record that I did not feel that Scott Lobdell was nasty or mocking. He was kidding around with me lightheartedly in exactly the same way that he does with every other panelist. I was laughing, too! I really wish DC would post a podcast of the panel the way they did last year so people could hear what happened for themselves.

I’ve written up my own take on what happened at SDCC 2012 and my quest for answers regarding Stephanie’s role in Smallville: (I should note that this was written before the news came out that Bryan actually had a choice of whom to use to replace Steph.)

I do appreciate your kind words about me, and your support in the face of DC’s perceived rudeness. I just felt that I must state publicly that this interpretation of events of “DC vs. Batgirl, Round Two!” doesn’t fit with what I experienced this year at all. I’ve experienced far more rudeness from fellow ‘fans’ than I did from DC this year.

A year ago, if they did a bad book, it was usually a bad book on a reasonably solid foundation.

If one Green Arrow series didn’t go so well, they could wait a few months and try again. With the New 52, they’ve essentially dug themselves a new foundation, and where the books are bad (or, diplomatically, mediocre or ill-conceived) they have nothing to fall back on.

If (for example) there was a consensus that Teen Titans was launched the wrong way, it’s very hard to go back to something that looks more like the “classic” Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans with the cartoon cast.

If you decide Stormwatch isn’t working, it’s very hard to build out an Authority series on top of it. Not impossible, just significantly harder than it would have been a year ago.

Just saying they have a tough road ahead of them.

I don’t care for Smallville but I was going to buy the upcoming issue for Stephanie. Now, not so much. The New 52 debacle has caused me to cease reading DC all together. It’s too bad because I would absolutely love to spend money on a Steph book and a Cassandra Cain book. Oddly for a business, DC doesn’t want my money.

Rollo Tomassi

July 21, 2012 at 2:21 pm

It’s too bad the wise sages, Didio, Nelson, Harras, Johns, and Lee couldnt have been around in the 50s. Then they could’ve prevented that upstart jerk Julie Schwartz from giving us stupid upstart characters like Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, J’onn J’onzz and the rest. And instead gone back to the ‘icons’ like Alan Scott and Jay Garrick.

Let us not forget, Wally West was featured in more issues as the Flash than Barry Allen ever was. And that’s not even counting his Kid Flash appearances. So who’s the “Icon” DC?

But whatevs, I took my own advice and voted with my wallet. I haven’t bought a DC book since last August. Except out of the quarter bins.

52 is a joke. Only a matter of time before things revert back and we learn it was all a dream of Donna’s All the teen heroes were hacked. Steph got screwed. Until DC changes the higher up clowns are gone we’re stuck with crap. The characters belong to us, their just caretakers. Idiots are running the asylum.

Yay, Barbara Gordon!! <3 I don't even know who this Stephanie person is… if it's Batgirl, it should be Barbara Gordon and if it's Robin, it should be Dick Grayson or that kid who immediately replaced Dick Grayson after Dick became Nightwing, lol. Admittedly, this is coming from someone who, aside from the occasional Supergirl comic, hasn't bought DC comics since the '90s or early 2000s. *total Marvel fangirl*

Great read, I loved the line about the Silver agers being more boring. I could not agree with you more. Another thing that really gets to me is how DC was able to keep all versions of Green Lantern, Robin, even the Flash (at least before the New 52) but they couldn’t manage to keep 3 Batgirls? I’m hoping that DC is keeping Cass and Steph under wraps for the time being because they want to focus on Barbara and that we’ll see more stories from them down the line but right now it’s just just frustrating.

I love how people ALWAYS forget to mention that between Stephanie being Spoiler and Robin are about 14 years of stupidity and failure. She was told by Batman and Cass (then Batgirl and #1 martial artist in the DCU) that she was going to get herself or someone else killed if she continued to be Spoiler. She was dropped by Black Canary in a quick blow off in Birds of Prey. She had a series of stupid blunders including taking money from the major villain in Batman Family mini for her own college fund and not realizing why everyone was upset about this Bruce Wayne guy during Fugitive/Murderer storyline. And those are just a couple of examples.. So she magically gets promoted for really no reason that anyone can explain (except maybe that Bruce was mad at Tim and she was pissed at Tim for him kissing another girl, so she goes and steals his mantle) to Robin. Then during the course of that, Bruce realizes again that she’s a failure, bumps her back down to Spoiler and then she gets herself killed (though we later learned she faked it.. she still got herself killed).

So then fast forward a few years, people are pissed that a character that had been consistently shown as being in over her head and way out of her depth was in fact, both because apparently that was Out of Character even though that was her character. Anyhow, long story short, she was bumped up into the role of Batgirl by editorial mandate (again might I add). She was given Cass’s mantle b/c Cass can’t stand living without Bruce (which it was NEVER about Bruce or Batman to Cass before, but suddenly it IS) and Cass throws her costume at Steph then jumps off a building. We later learn supposedly Bruce decided that Stephanie, having still consistently failed, had earned her right to be Batgirl (Yeah, this totally makes sense here). So Stephanie, without even once thinking about how she’s failed recently by well getting herself killed (or rather faking her own death, but whatever), puts on the mantle and magically is transformed into.. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER! She trades quibs and witty remakes just like Buffy even though the character never did before. Now with really no training, no build up, and no shift in the character on page anywhere (just a complete re-invention of the character), we have her suddenly becoming like an amazing fighter and great caped-crusader. Where did this come from? A few moments training with Barbara Gordon? Over the YEARS she spent as Tim Drake’s sidekick and Cass’s sometimes training buddy/friend/tag-along/sidekick too? She was a temp member of the Young Justice with contacts to all of them and suddenly she just JUMPS in performance? Yeah.. This is so not believable.

The worse thing about all this is we’re suppose to believe this is the SAME Bruce Wayne/Batman that was VICIOUS to Tim when he first became Robin, pushing him harder than he’d ever pushed Jason or really Dick. He constantly made Tim feel inferior and incompetent even though Tim was one of the best partners he’d had. This is the SAME Bruce Wayne/Batman that took the bat mantle from Helena Bertinelli because of a person dying that she couldn’t have done anything about because she WASN’T perfect enough.. and he’s ok with this girl, who has trouble figuring out which is the pointy end of the batarang? It’s absolute stupidity. Editors MADE Stephanie Brown popular, she was NOT popular based on her own greatness and her solo series didn’t sell anywhere near as well as Cass’s on-going OR Barbara Gordon’s current on-going, so.. Steph wasn’t anywhere near as popular as the interwebz and their fake outrage want people to think.

I’d like to read a counter-point to Gail Simone’s comments by another professional.

I just knew right away there was something wrong with Iconic thing. Made no sense. Yeah Barbara more Iconic but not as Nightwing. Didn’t add up to me. The other thing was that DC cared about Iconic part of their company after their what have they done to their characters. Costumes and change the way the characters are not their Iconic versions. DC lying doesn’t surprise me anymore after mess Shazam Family where they said we have plans for the characters. Two appearances that including Freddy being depowered later came the reboot. There was no plans and quickly they changed their story. So i’m not surprised that they lied to fans faces at Comic Con.
The story mentions how they keep trying to get these mythical new fans that are not coming or buying DC bs either. DC got a 6 month to year bump. Gave that much extra life. Sales didn’t stay where they needed to be or even go high enough what they needed to be. They keep trying to please these but it’s not working and your hurting your fan base. Really new fans are not going to be confused or lost if you bring Stephanie, Cassandra Cain, Wally West right way and explain it. New or old fans are not stupid. We live in digital age man were fans can find anything on any character in two seconds.

Last August, Grayson was BATMAN.

I think that they should stop getting everyone else to replace each other… Barbara was the most Iconic Bat-girl, Dick is the most iconic Nightwing, why fuck about with that? Stephanie has the Spoiler! why should she be Bat-Girl? i think DC comics needs to take a good long look at themselves and listen to the fans… the one that gives them their jobs, and get GOOD writers! No not good, get the BEST writers, get the BEST Artists, There are many i feel more qualified! “Oh but they are doing their jobs” well they are doing it wrong, they are fucking up so bad it’s almost impossible to take the comics seriously, what if they have some good writers down the line and they are stuck with these characters all disconnected from their actual history because some writers now wanted to ruin them. To just ignore the past 10 years happened is kind of harsh.
In my opinion, Barbara is Always the best Bat-girl, Dick is always Nightwing, the Robins where and always will be Dick, Jason, Tim, Stephanie (if only for a week or so) and Damian… That’s how i view them because that’s who they were when i was growing up.

@Herb Finn – what pro who’d like the opportunity to work at DC someday would DARE? Gail Simone is pretty far up the corporate backside, unfortunately. She’s very good at it though – she tied Jill Pantozzi into compliant knots. She promised to write a monthly column for Comics Alliance, then delivered exactly ONE – which she used as a tool to deflect criticism.

Gail’s as much the New 52 as Didio or Bob Harras or Bobbi Chase or anyone else you’d like to single out. But a woman’s gotta ea, right? May as well eat what the boss serves.

Its amusing how angry people get about this, and Gail Simone made a really good point about the reality of sales compared to those who are vocal on the internet.

besides the New 52 is just fine, some really good books, and misssing characters always get revived sooner or later, I wouldn’t sweat it.

Ya know, if DC’s first thought is about money, why the hell haven’t they brought back Cassandra Cain in some fashion? Her book outsold Hawkman, Catwoman and Firestorm. Those books returned OYL, and have been rebooted again since.

And since when is Babs as Nightwing ‘iconic’?

Lets be honest, the current DC is more about pushing the characters they like, and burying the ones they do. In spirit, they’re little more than glorified fanfiction writers.

Great article. I’d always loved The Bat family continuity and was hoping to see Cass as Batgirl, Steph as Robin and Barbs as Oracle, Dick as Nightwing and Tim evolve into a new persona just like Dick /Nightwing (not the Red Robin thing and not that person in the New 52’s Titans)
I know theres a lot of fans (me included) that dont like the New DC. The thing is they (Warner/DC) are making a lot of money from their crappy books. Just stop buying the books,stop attending the different conventions panels they do and fill every New 52 forum with our demands and maybe,maybe we see a little change and make them realize that we are the one who are feeding them (execs,writters,artis,editors,etc…).


July 21, 2012 at 6:06 pm

@JanArrah. People related and enjoyed Stephanie, because she constantly tried, and while having failed alot, has always strived to be a hero, despite her failings and bad experiences. She was an optimist, in a world of pesimists.

So when Bruce gave her the opportunity to be Batgirl, this was after she tried to stop all organised Gang Violence in Gotham City, underwent brutal torture by Black Mask, all the while not revealing any of Batman’s secrets she was privy to at the time (ie. Tim Drake is Robin, Cassandra Cain is Batgirl, Barbara Gordon is Oracle, where the Batcave was etc), gave up everything to go into hiding to protect her Mother, without any need to prove anything to Batman, Robin or anyone, fought to defend the village she and Leslie were based at. Finally showing that she’s a hero that isn’t doing what she’s doing for their aproval. She then returned and helped Tim (successfully I might add) with some of his personal cases, and then followed Bruce’s request to help make Tim a better hero (in turn following Bruce’s orders, which is where most of his issues with her being a hero were founded). This was all before Battle for the Cowl. And before Bryan Q. Miller started out writing her.

Stephanie earned her new life. She earned her role. She earned her second chance. And she earned our respect. As said by Bruce himself, “Maybe there’s room for hope in Gotham after all.” The fact that Didio (I may be mistaken on the specific person) went on stage during the DC Universe Fighting Game being developed, in which he whispered to the announcer to talk about how Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown WEREN’T going to be in it, for his and others own amusement, is childish and insensitive. There treatment of the fans and their own characters is bordering on insulting, condescending, and cruel. Guess there isn’t room for hope in Gotham after all…..

I’m a white, middle-income, white reader with about 35 years of dedicated weekly exposure to the medium, and I have no great love for anything “iconic” from those years gone by. I want to buy a well-written, interesting and artistically presented series regardless of who the character is. So you might think I’d be just as happy with an older original mask-wearer (Barry Allen, for example) as I would be a more recent development (Wally West). Not so. In fact, I find the newer characters to be a little better developed and ever-so-slightly more diverse; they represent a generational shift, and I’m pleased to keep moving forward with the generations. Inserting a so-called “iconic” version of a superhero back into the spotlight paradoxically(?) only makes me feel older, like that guy who never grows beyond the glory days of his high school football championship. I want *new* and now.

Thing is, unlike Wally fans (who do get hassled or bullied by the panelists) DC did sort of treat Cass/Steph fans fairly in answering. From last year to now, they’ve been letting Scott Snyder field that answer stating the usual answer and says that even when one of the two is brought up.

The flip side is, as a fan of both characters, Cass/Steph, I’m exhausted at the trials of being a fan of them. DC seems to toss a bone the fans way (ex. Batman & the Outsiders, Batgirl mini, Batgirl ongoing for Steph, and Cass as Black Bat) and then yanks on it denying fans any satisfaction (ex. Tomasi all but ignores Cass on his Outsiders run, Steph’s ongoing ends and is replaced by Babs, and Cass/Steph are AGAIN in limbo). This ain’t even going into the War Games or OYL bits of the two.

I think the backlash is due to fans getting tired of the same old answers and this whole “ironic” or “toxic” exchange DC has had is one giant PR nightmare. Worse, instead of going away the whole mess is becoming worse. At this stage of the game DC HAS to answer with something positive. Either change Nightwing back to Stephanie or give BQM a Stephanie project.

@JDHetherington, Didio didn’t do that. The article in question (written by me actually) was from a site that sometimes has fun mocking companies. In this case we mocked the current Batgirl situation. Because quite honestly at this point in the game, DC or Didio haven’t done themselves any favors.

Here’s the thing. I think Gail Simone is right about the readership and what sells. But here’s the part that the comic book companies miss. Over the years they have lost readers in DROVES. That vocal contingent that the companies are ignoring are the fans who represent everyone who’s dropped the hobby over the last 30 years. We’re holding on by a thread. So DC can continue to ignore us, and though they’ll sell well to the tiny group of readers who are left, they’ll never get back the huge group of people who’ve left the hobby for good.

And I think the point The Truth makes is the reason why DC is going back to so many “classic” versions of characters like Babs Gordon as Batgirl and Barry Allen as Flash. With The New 52, they’ve seemed to get back a portion of those lapsed readers that left over the course of the last 30 years. For as many people I’ve read about online that swear they’re buying 2 DC books, but they used to buy 20 pre-Flashpoint, or dropped them altogether, there HAS to be twice as many lapsed readers back. All you have to do is look at the sales charts, see the 20% rise in sales that we’ve settled into one year later, to see there’s clearly people who love what DC is doing. What’s frustrating to me is that those who hate the new direction believe with every fiber of their being that their opinion is the majority, even if there are just as many people who speak out in the opposite.

But ultimately, if you look at the sales numbers, it’s just not true. And they’re there for everyone to see:

you lost me DC. with what you’ve done to Tim and Steph (and removing my favorite Threeboot Legion), you’re not getting any more of my money (except maybe from the Tim and Steph trades I will purchase)

As someone who abandoned Marvel last year after 35 years of collecting, it’s interesting to me to hear people on the DC side express similar feelings of dislocation, even alienation, from comicbooks and favourite characters.

Simone’s comments are interesting, although I have no idea to what degree they are true. I can only speak for myself. I don’t go on message boards and complain about comics – I post very irregularly – but I am one of the people abandoning comics. Reluctantly abandoning them, I might add. So, at least one person disproves her assertion.

Almost no one except Nightwing …talking about how Correct Gail Simone is .

I am here to adress that … Gail Simone speaks that true gospel .

Except that the important part of Simone’s assertion is not so much that the voice of the internet is skewed, but that publishers — as a bottom line business — look at sales. And the sales validate what they do going forward, even IF that data contradicts internet fan reaction. AvX is widely regarded online as poorly constructed, but it is selling better than any book in recent years. As a result, Marvel will be making more books this way. The decisions surrounding Barbara Gordon and the Flash are widely criticized in regard to The New 52, but their sales remain double their previous incarnations, even after the post-marketing slump. For a corporation that is in the business of making a profit, this is editorial validation. I don’t care for every decision each company has made, but I have to acknowledge that a whole lot of people must, based on the reported sales numbers. Money is hard fact in this case.

That said, DC in particular has been in the business of taking chances lately, with books that aren’t necessarily sure-fire hits, like OMAC, I Vampire, Animal Man and Swamp Thing. That gives us a more than better chance they’ll take a leap on Stephanie Brown’s character too. Here’s hoping!

concidering that Smallville season 11 is a comic that sells digitally first DC might be more carefully to not outrage the internet community

Very good article. Totally agree with your view of DC using the Iconic as a shield instead of being honest and saying this is just the way WE at the top want things to be and we have the power to make it this way. And Simone’s 100% correct about really vocal/dedicated fans not really driving sales. And honestly, that goes for any entertainment medium. The fans who love tv, music, film, etc. as an ART FORM first will always be a minority. Those just looking for simple escapism/entertainment/fun will always out number the former. And their purchasing power will always outweigh people like me. Such is life.

The “iconic” argument sort of falls apart when you look at Robin. Sure “my” Robin is Tim Drake but Dick Grayson is Robin in the general public’s eyes and I can guarantee they’ve never heard of Damian Wayne unless they’re already a comic reader.

Dick Grayson is the iconic Robin so why isn’t he back in pixie boots?

Great one Grumpy. And now I have my answer as to why there is next to nothing in trems of vid or audio of DC panels in a year. There know it looks bad!!!!

Speaking of the Tim situation, I wrote a blog about it some time back. It’s definitely a knee-jerk reaction, but I never claimed it wasn’t, and i still stand by every word.

If there are any Tim fans reading this, please check it out. Thanks.

If it’s not Barbara, I couldn’t care less. She’s the only Batgirl for me. Don’t like it? Well, welcome to my world for the last 20 yrs.

I think Gail has a point, but there are a few issues with her statement. For one thing “selling well” really doesn’t mean as much as it does in comics as it does any other industry. Yes, crossovers and relaunches and “iconic” revivals sell well… for comics. Its not really enough. I do agree that critical acclaim and cult status doesn’t translate well to short term sales, and its not exclusive to comics either. Look at Arrested Development, Community, The Wire or Firefly. However, critically acclaimed cult shows do make SIGNIFICANT money in the long term. Cult status and, more importantly, a well made product are key to long term, sustained sales. Don’t get me wrong, cult fans can also be annoying as all hell in their insistance that a company or culture is out to get them personally (seriously, let Firefly go already). But cult fans can be reliable, and surprisingly so can good taste. I also think that Gail and the cult fans BOTH ignore just how big the online fanbase for crap is. Online readers are not just the Stephanie Brown and Young Avengers fans. They include nearly everyone, even the dude bros who love the tits-and-ass-in-the-same-frame shots.

As a random aside, in the video game industry there is at least one case of a company refusing to publish a product due to their irritation at fans. Nintendo America has admitted that they DISPISE the, to be fair, completely insane Earthbound fanbase and that was one of the reasons they passed on translating Mother 3. I wouldn’t be all that shocked if DC had a “no Stephanie Brown” policy out of spite. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t either, of course. Nintendo handled their issue a bit better though, by unofficially giving their approval to a fan translation. It would be kind of neat if comic companies did something similar, letting fans make and distribute their own nudge-nudge-wink-wink underground fan work of certain characters. In reality, anyone doing their own Stephanie Brown fan comic would be lawsuited into oblivion.

I think people’s reactions to a character like Stephanie Brown is simple and understandable- people just don’t like getting jerked around.

I mean, think about it- you’re a fan of the character. Then you hear that she’s going to be the first female Robin in continuity. You think “That’s GREAT!” A favorite character of yours is going to be part of history. Then in the story she’s shown to be incompetent and unworthy of the mantle. Then she’s killed off in an event to motivate and punish other characters. So a favorite character of yours, instead of taking the next step as a hero, is instead depicted as incompetent and unceremoniously disposed of. Adding insult to injury, her character doesn’t even get a memorial.

But THEN her character comes back, and all of those complaints are addressed. That’s GREAT! THEN Stephanie gets to be the new Batgirl in her own series. Even BETTER! She’s not Spoiler, but she’s still taking that next step. THEN the series gets cancelled due to a line wide relaunch of the universe. But THEN you hear that her character is going to show up as NIGHTWING over in the Smallville comic. GREAT! I mean, it’s not much. But if you’re a fan of the character, it’s still interesting to see her show up in another book in a new role. THEN you hear that she’s being replaced, for vague philosophical reasons that make absolutely no sense (Barbara Gordon is more “iconic?” But isn’t she more iconic AS Batgirl? And isn’t Dick Grayson more “iconic” as Nightwing? And isn’t Robin more “iconic” as Batman’s sidekick rather than Nightwing? I mean, if you’re already making these changes that alter the iconography, why scrap one character for another?)

It’s kind of like what happened with Alpha Flight. FIRST they get killed off. That’s a bummer. Then Marvel mocks fans when they ask if they’re going to come back. But finally Marvel relents and the team is resurrected. GREAT. Even better, they’re getting a new mini series. Even better! But wait, that mini is now an ongoing. AWESOME! Oh wait now it’s been cancelled and wrapping up with the planned final issue of the mini. I know the Alpha Flight fanbase isn’t THAT huge, but that still doesn’t mean they appreciate getting the run around. No one does.

Also, pointing out that just because people are upset on the internet doesn’t translate into big sales has no bearing on the discussion, whatsoever. I don’t think Stephanie Brown fans- or Alpha Flight fans, or Deadpool fans- regard themselves in the majority. But- as I pointed out- that still doesn’t mean that they don’t like being jerked around. They don’t like being told one thing, getting their hopes up, then being told the opposite and given a confusing reason as to why things happened the way they did. In addition, there were a lot of franchises that didn’t do well financially or in terms of rating or followings. Deadpool had a staunch fan following, but his initial book had trouble staying on the shelves and was almost cancelled several times. Now he’s in several titles. Community doesn’t have strong ratings, but does that mean that the fans can’t be upset with the show’s creator being fired and be fearful that what made the show great might be sacrificed in the quest for ratings? And the uber example would perhaps be Star Trek. That show only lasted three years. Should fans have “accepted” that they are just a minority and accept it’s cancellation as a sign that it was just a cult classic that wouldn’t appeal to a wider audience? If they did, the series or fanbase might not be where it is today.

To sum up…. people don’t like being jerked around.

So stop jerking them around. And when they do get jerked around, don’t be surprised when they’re upset about being jerked around.

While I like lots of obscure characters, listening to the vocal minority can screw things up for the majority. The first example pre-internet was when letter hacks wrote to Marvel to protest Spidey’s new black costume. Everyone I knew and everyone I ever ran into loved that outfit. A couple of old school boys complain a lot and it was back to red and blue.

I love my Booster Gold and Moon Knight whenever I can get it, but I realize the bigger situation. I’m going to love my new Capatain Marvel book as long as it lasts and push it on everyone I meet, but I know it’s not going to be forever.

All you can do is vote with your wallet. Writing is cool, but spending is what counts.

As for DC or any other panels, I think the real situation is that companies aside, Dan Didio is just a scumbag, and there’s no reason to bother engaging him in any fashion. Letting DC know how you feel would be to leave a DC panel with the sound of crickets in the field.

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