Op-Ed: They Shoot Spoilers, Don’t They? Or Why DC Seems To Have a Hate-On For Stephanie Brown

Do you guys know who Stephanie Brown is? She was a teen superhero named Spoiler who palled around with Robin, before briefly becoming Batman’s partner in anti-crime herself. As we later found out, the only purpose for the character was to die: during the War Games storyline, she was killed after going a little rogue on the Dark Knight.

And it would have been left there, except after wounding the legions of comic fans who were excited about the prospect of a female Robin, DC rubbed salt in the wounds of those fans by refusing to give her a memorial in the Batcave. In fact, it became a running refrain at convention panels, where fans would repeatedly ask where her memorial was, with DC brass making a joke, or flat out ignoring the fans. There was a certain point when it became clear they were never going to honor these requests, and clearly got some sort of glee out of pushing these fans to the sidelines.

…Until they did make it right, in a way. They convolutedly brought Steph back to life, and even made her the new Batgirl, in a critically acclaimed series that ran from 2009-2011. The fans were elated, then disappointed when her title was taken over by the classic character Barbara Gordon in DC’s New 52 relaunch. This was a bit of a double punch, too, as Babs used to be the disabled hero Oracle, also a fan favorite. So in one fell swoop, DC eliminated two die hard fanbases.

You could fault them for that, except sales have proven them right (or as right as sales can prove anything), with both Batgirl, and Birds of Prey (Barbara Gordon’s former title) outselling their previous incarnations.

That out of the way, though, fans waited for Steph to come back. And waited. And waited. Finally, there was big news: she was coming back, as Nightwing in the Smallville Season 11 comic being released digitally on Comixology. Not only were fans thrilled Brown was back in the mix, but she was being written by Bryan Q. Miller – the guy who wrote Batgirl previously – who had teased this promotion in the final pages of his run.

All good, right? Except as we found out from DC over this weekend, once again, they’re replacing Stephanie with Barbara Gordon in the comic, after the preview art had already been released, and reportedly, the issue even finished.

Fans, as you can imagine, flipped the F- out.

And they’re not the only people upset: Miller was left off the San Diego Superman panel at the last moment, though he did still get to do a signing for the Publisher. And sitting in on panels, I can report from first hand experience that DC rather uncomfortably avoided any questions related to Stephanie Brown, Spoiler, or the replacement. That is, until Co-Publisher Dan Didio expressed that the reason Brown wasn’t included was that she wasn’t as “iconic” as Gordon.

Which, honestly? Is probably true. That was also him same reason, word for word, for including Gordon over Brown in the currently running Batgirl title, and though you could argue whether Batgirl is iconic at all to a non-comic reading crowd (and seriously, they may all know Bruce Wayne, and even Alfred Pennyworth, but asking names of ANY of the Robins would be a stretch), Gordon has been used more times than Brown, in movies, TV, and more.

There’s also the argument about how a character gets to be iconic: by them being used a lot over several decades, rather than constantly shelved and replaced by other versions. But I digress.

The bigger problem, though, is that DC is, with these moves, alienating a chunk of their audience, and that’s just bad business. Would I, personally, love to see a Stephanie Brown title? Yes. And frankly, I kind of hate the Smallville TV series, and haven’t really read Season 11 digitally, but I was planning on picking up the Stephanie Brown issue, just to see Miller write the character one more time. And I’m a casual fan.

What DC had done with the hardcore Brown fans over the years is just plain mean though, and they kind of need to stop it. To illustrate the difference, I’m going to use another character DC seems to end up talking to fans about all the time, Wally West. The former Flash disappeared even before the New 52, and every time DC is asked about him, they resort to, “We wanted a more iconic character as Flash,” for the explanation of why Barry Allen is in the mask. However, they also follow this up with a reasoned (though flawed) explanation that they already have a 20-year old Flash, and a teen Flash, so it’s tough to figure out what makes Wally different.

Ignoring the fans pointing angrily at the entire Green Lantern franchise (but one has black hair, and other is angry, you guys!), or multiple Robins, it’s the tone and execution that makes this different: DC doesn’t tease Wally West fans, and they certainly don’t seem to delight in it.

Back to Brown, the constant laughter from the panels at any, clearly anguished fan who asked about a Stephanie Brown memorial (does it really cost that much more to ink another tube with a Robin costume in it?) was mean. DC, launching the New 52, and trying to reconnect with fans, should be well aware of that, and even if they feel like they did their time with two years of Miller’s Batgirl series, should have at least the same sort of attitude adjustment towards Brown that they’ve taken to West.

Instead, they pull this latest stunt, which goes beyond putting salt in the wound, and just plain sticks your whole hand in there and wriggles it around to see what kind of nerves you can hit. Was it the East Coast DC that unapproved West Coast DC’s decision to use Brown, as suggested in this article over at GeekMom? Maybe. We’ll probably never know, but once the art was out there, interviews were done, and the fans were excited, it was too late to change it. Suck it up, deal with two digital issues of Stephanie Brown in an alternate reality tale that will only be read digitally, and move on. Instead, by changing her, you’ve riled the wasp’s nest once again, and that is not good business. One might even say, it’s bad business… And particularly with all the good press DC got over the weekend at San Diego, this latest puts a bad taste in our mouths.

I’m not asking that you launch a new ongoing Stephanie Brown series. I’m not asking that you even necessarily include her in your books at any point… If you really hate her, for whatever reason, let her fade into obscurity like a million other characters. What I am asking you to do, DC, is stop being bullies towards her fans. It’s unwarranted, mean, and overall, hurts your books.

Stephanie Brown may not sell more copies of your comics, but antagonizing Stephanie Brown’s fanbase can only succeed in selling fewer copies of your comics. Make the right choice.