For the past year, Stephanie Brown has faced her fair share of battles – from the fear-mongering Scarecrow to the electrically charged Livewire, from the League of Assassins to even nanite-controlled, zombiesque citizens of Gotham City. However, despite all those victories, none came quite as sweet as proving herself as the newest member of DC Comics’ Bat-family to both denizens of Gotham and readers alike in the pages of her very own series “Batgirl.”
Stephanie originally appeared during writer Chuck Dixon’s “Detective Comics” run as the daughter of the villainous Cluemaster. When the writer launched the very first “Robin” ongoing series a year later, he brought over the character as Spoiler, a super hero vigilante and love interest to Tim Drake. The character remained an integral part of the series for over a decade, briefly taking on the role of Robin herself before apparently dying during the 2004 Bat-title crossover “War Games.” However, Stephanie gained a massive fan following and she eventually returned from the dead in 2008 following the events of the Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul storyline that ran through all the Bat books. In the wake of Batman’s apparent death in “Final Crisis,” DC launched an all new ongoing “Batgirl” series by writer Bryan Q. Miller and artist Lee Garbett that introduced Stephanie in the role of the title character. Since then, she’s fought to not only prove herself in the role but also worked alongside former Batgirl Barbara Gordon to help maintain order in Gotham City.
With her first year in the iconic cape and cowl at a close, writer Miller spoke with CBR News about his initial thoughts upon taking over the title, his hopes of ingraining the character as part of the Batgirl legacy and his plans for Batgirl year two.
“I think we had a bit of a rocky start, but once we found our footing and got going, I’d like to think that it really took off, and people seem to be responding really well to it,” Miller told CBR about Stephanie taking over the role of Batgirl. “Our girl Steph definitely was someone desperately in need of, not just more attention, but also a second chance with readers and with the people of Gotham internally in the story. Hopefully we’ve started that ball rolling with the first year of the book.”
Of course, launching the title proved a bit unnerving for the “Smallville” writer, not only because of the character’s already hardcore fanbase, but also because of that of the previous Batgirl, Cassandra Cain. “As many people as are happy that Stephanie is Batgirl, there’s going to be just as many people angry that Cassandra was not Batgirl,” said Miller. “I’d say I was little more nervous going in about losing Cassandra fans as opposed to not doing Stephanie fans justice. That said, there was definitely some pressure to it. I think, naturally, anybody stepping into a character that already had a lot of history and people have already written a lot about, you definitely don’t want to be untrue to that. But at the same time, what’s handy about approaching Steph’s taking over Batgirl as a clean state, not being held back by the mistakes of the past and trying to forge a new future for herself helped in the narrative, because we didn’t have to focus Steph constantly on, ‘Oh God. I did this and I did this and this,’ and more on, ‘I’m trying to be who I want to be now,’ and moving forward. And all of the other Gotham heroes who she has come across in the first year have been more than happy to remind her that she was a screw up in the past, giving her someone to prove herself to.”
When he originally started writing the series, Miller said he definitely looked forward to establishing Stephanie as her own character, one free from the external forces he felt directed and controlled her life for a long time. “She was a young lady who was often characterized, as part of the Spoiler identity, as someone who was nipping at Robin’s heels, who was always chasing after a boy, who usually got herself into trouble in those regards,” explained the writer. “So, coming into [the series], there was a lot of opportunity to have her realize that and then take that step into adulthood of ‘That’s not who I want to be anymore. I’m going to consciously try and be someone else.’ We were able to have her acknowledge whose she’s been in the past and then consciously try and move forward from that.”
Helping Stephanie make that transition became a conscious effort for Miller as he began writing the series, which led to him purposely making Stephanie more insecure when the title first started. “I think, over the course of the year, she’s started to stand on her own, especially as she gets validation from your Batmans and your Robins, starting with Barbara saying that they were going to work together to get both of their lives back on track,” he said. “So, she’s definitely in a place where she’s been validated more, and because of that, she’s not going to be questioning her actions as much. So, in approaching story and character interaction, she’s definitely more confident than when she started. That isn’t to say she still isn’t going to be getting herself into trouble, but she’s going to be a little better at getting herself out of trouble than when the book started.”
The character most recently got herself – and all of Gotham – out of trouble by clearing up a nanite infection plaguing the people of the city caused by Barbara Gordon’s nemesis, the Calculator. The arc not only introduced the villain’s daughter Wendy Harris as a new series regular, but provided a “bigger, event-type feel for the first-year finale.” However, before heading into year two, the writer pens two done-in-one issues with August’s issue #13 and September’s issue #14. The former sees Batgirl chasing down the amorphous Bat-villain, Clayface, while the latter sees Stephanie teaming up with the Girl of Steel to battle a horde of black-and-white undead blood-suckers.
“It’s just one of those weird things where I was sitting down and working out what characters I’d like to cross, and, naturally, Supergirl was just a fit, especially coming off of the ‘World’s Finest.’ They have a pre-existing relationship. Then, [it was a matter of] just thinking of fun stories for them to be involved with,” said Miller of planning the issue. “Stephanie coming off of this year, it’s been a good year, but a little bumpy for her, and with Kara and everything that’s going on over in her book, it’s a nice girl’s night out between the two, and then wackiness ensues. So, that wackiness is in the form of Draculas. And I will hardily credit ‘Venture Bros.’ for having the word Draculas in my vocabulary.”
Along with Supergirl, Miller said he plans for a number of other guest stars in the coming months from outside the Bat-family. “Year two is all about getting her facing her own rogues and some larger, broader DCU guest stars coming into the book to open her world up a little more to where it’s beyond just the Bat-folk,” he said. “Supergirl is one instance of that. There’d be someone else around Valentine’s Day from the broader DCU, and probably one more two-parter with another DCU character in the middle of next year sometime.
“If year one is, ‘Who am I,’ then year two is, ‘Who do I want to be,'” the writer added. “Just when Steph thinks she has a handle on everything, it’s the next semester of college and it’s very easy for people with responsibilities – whether it’s work, study or…while most students don’t have a vigilante side job, but if you do – you’re putting all these different hats on and you’re trying to figure out what’s your future. So year two is Steph trying to, despite all those odds, maintain all the things that she likes while being pulled in all these different directions. It’s more of the concreting of the Stephanie Brown identity, whereas the first year was being seen by the world as Batgirl.”
One aspect from the previous year Miller said he would like to retain is continuing to tell tales from across all genres of storytelling – just as long as the fans still enjoy it. “If you like the tone shifts, then, yes, absolutely I’d like to do more tone shifts,” laughed Miller. “Having her not just work the same kind of case every week. If you can drop her into different types of situations, like rampaging Draculas or a bank heist or a zombie movie, it’s a widget that’s very universal for people to understand. It’s fun to write when you shift gears like that. I know it’s fun for Lee to draw when you shift gears like that – he’s very excited to draw Draculas. We’ve had many conversations about that.”
Beyond the expertly drawn Draculas and semi-zombie Man-Bats, Miller said he also loves working with artist Lee Garbett because of the penciler’s ability to perfectly convey the emotions the writer incorporates into his scripts. “I will say that, in two words, what I like most about Lee is ‘facial expressions,'” said Miller. “There’s a ton of times in the book where lines live and die on Lee being able to pull off what we talked about in the script on how Steph is supposed to be delivering the line, reacting to a line, reacting to something she sees off panel. That’s where it shines. Lee is specifically invaluable in that regard. His style is fantastic, but it all comes down to faces, which is why I’m also extra super glad that you can see Steph’s face in the new costume design. It would be a waste of Lee’s talent if Steph was still covered up in a full face mask.”
Of course, one the biggest questions about the coming year involves the return of a certain Caped Crusader and his reaction to the new Batgirl. However, Miller remains extremely tightlipped about the Dark Knight’s return. “There is definitely, probably a sense that should anything like that happen, Steph would be waiting for the other shoe to drop,” he teased. “And I would say, hypothetically, if that would come to pass, Steph’s reaction to Bruce’s return might not be what people expect.”
But with or without Bruce’s approval, the new Batgirl has undoubtedly left her mark on the Bat-family legacy, both inside of comics and out. Miller said that as the series continues into the future, he hopes to not only honor the legacy of Batgirl as part of the Batman crew but also as a character in her own right. “The great thing about legacy characters is that everyone has their favorite, depending on when they first started reading comics or when they were first introduced to a character. For example: Green Lantern. There are people who grew up with Hal Jordan. There are people who came into it with Kyle Rayner. There are people who saw John Stewart on the ‘Justice League’ cartoon. To everyone, that’s going to be their Green Lantern,” said Miller. “With Batgirl, you’ve got the Babs folks, you’ve got the Cassandra folks and hopefully, now, there’s a growing number of Steph folks. Legacy-wise, it helps keep Batgirl alive, but moving forward, it helps give readers coming in now a face for their Batgirl. I would never say that people who love Babs and people who love Cassandra should not think of them as their Batgirl, but in an age where Tim is Red Robin, I’d like Steph to at least remain, awareness-wise, in people’s minds just as much as Tim. And as much as Lee and I can do to get Steph standing on her own as a character in the DCU proper as not just Batgirl as part of the Bat-family, but also Batgirl as a general DCU character. That would be my biggest wish for Steph.”
“Batgirl” issue #12 is in stores now, and look out for issue #13 on August 11 and issue #14 on sale September 8.