As DC Comics fans know by now, this September the comic book publisher is undergoing a massive, company-wide relaunch of all its comic book series. With 52 new and rebooted titles set to release in a single month, one of the biggest controversies coming out of the relaunch has been the decision to reinstate Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, effectively ending the reign of Stephanie Brown as Gotham’s female Caped Crusader.
This is not the first time the character of Stephanie Brown has been embroiled in controversy, however. Indeed, it has dogged Stephanie for most of her history, from her 1998 teen pregnancy storyline in “Robin” to the lack of a memorial uniform in the Bat Cave after her editorially mandated 2004 death in “Batman: War Games.” Beginning life in the DCU as the daughter of the villain Cluemaster, Stephanie first appeared in “Detective Comics” as Spoiler, a costumed vigilante who existed to “spoil” her father’s plans. After briefly serving as the fourth Robin, Stephanie was killed and remained dead for several years before Bryan Q. Miller dusted her off and made her the star of “Batgirl.” Promising a more mature Steph, balancing, in the writer’s words, “who she was, who she is and who she wants to be,” Miller added a full supporting cast to the comic, including the original and future Batgirl Barbara Gordon as a mentor to the rash Steph, and the character rose in popularity once again.
While fans and creators debate the merits of the Steph/Babs swap, THE BAT SIGNAL lit the skies over Miller’s house, summoning the current “Batgirl” writer to discuss the end of the Stephanie Brown era, touch on all the characters and where they stand heading into the final issue of his run and get his opinion on the return of Barbara Gordon to the role of Batgirl. Plus, get an exclusive first look at the final issue of the current “Batgirl” series.
CBR News: To start off, you told us that you had to compress some of the story in issue #23 so that #24 would be the last issue. When did you find out that issue #24 was the final issue of your “Batgirl” run, and how did that affect writing #23?
Bryan Q. Miller: I want to say I didn’t get word until the end of March, beginning of April, maybe? I was at that point on issue #22, which had Steph and Squire in London and was originally intended to be a two-parter, issues #22 and #23. So I was probably halfway through writing issue #23 when I got word. Naturally, I wanted a little more room than one issue to wrap everything up, so I kind of truncated the action of #23 into issue #22. There was a whole different first half of issue #22, with Steph almost getting caught by her mom and stuff with her passport and riding on the plane next to an annoying kid — just a whole bunch of stuff I went ahead and pulled, and then collapsed #23 backwards into #22. Then I had to wrap up as much as I possibly could in what was to be the new #23 and then subsequently #24.
Besides truncating the plot, did you have to finesse what you were planning to do with the characters?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I think I had probably planned out for the current arc to end at issue #29 or issue #30, so I had to find a magical way to take what would have been 120 pages worth of story and find ways to tell it in just forty. For instance, in #23 there is the death of Grey Ghost and there was the conversation between Steph and Nick about Babs and about his time with the Reapers. It was originally intended to have entire issues devoted to that. I just tried to hit everything I wanted to on the way out the door. Some of it, unfortunately, came across a little fast or without much regard, but I wanted to get the checklist taken care of before it was all done.
Let’s touch on those characters heading into your final issue of “Batgirl.” Issue #23 ends with Cluemaster revealed as the man behind the Reapers. Did you always intend to use Cluemaster, or did you decide to bring him back so that the last issue would emotionally bring things full circle for Stephanie?
Kind of both of those things: he was always intended to be behind the Reapers, just like in issue #23 where there was that raid on Blackgate and the reveal that Arthur Brown was behind it. That was going to be a full arc. There were going to be three issues with Steph undercover at the prison — with brown hair! Stephanie Brown! [Laughs] She was going to have to be shoulder to shoulder with the people she put inside the jail in the process of trying to suss out who the ringleader was. It was always in the stars; we just had the opportunity to play that card earlier than intended.
The return of Cluemaster reminds everyone of Steph’s murky past, especially since, as you said before, one of your big goals for Stephanie was for her to become Batgirl versus Spoiler.
And in either version, the longer version of the arc or in this much shorter version of the arc, it was kind of right when she’s at her lowest when Dad rears his head — it’s when her past rears its head. That’s the challenge for her; when faced with that — even though she’s done all this work and put that behind her — when faced with it again, what’s her new reaction to that going to be? Suddenly there’s this very big, real, tactile reminder of how she began back in the day. There they are, face to face. It’s an interesting situation for Steph.
Let’s talk about the other characters as they now stand in the penultimate issue. Like Stephanie, Clancy is a character who received very little love from others in the DCU. Did you want to create him as a mirror for Stephanie, for her to see where she used to be?
Not necessarily a “Dark Mirror” for her, because I think Scott Snyder officially owns “Dark Mirror” terminology for Gotham, and rightly so! But I think Clancy to an extent does, and would have provided more of a cautionary tale for her, a reminder of what Steph doesn’t want to regress into. Not that she ever had the same attitude that Clancy certainly does, which makes them different. But he fills that role in her life.
Because so many of these characters tie into the maturity of Stephanie as a character and as a person, to your mind, how has Stephanie grown over the course of your run? Have you hit those emotional goals you wanted to hit with her when you started “Batgirl?”
I think I have. I think she’s more self-actualized then she was preceding my run and the beginning of my run. She’s still the same girl, but I feel the reasons she’s doing what she’s doing she owns a little bit more. Hopefully she’s much more proactive now as opposed to reactive. Not to say she wasn’t proactive in the beginning with the Cluemaster stuff, but she kind of, in the middle there, became a kind of instrument of multiple parties for different reasons. She’s hopefully grown up under my pen.
Was Stephanie letting Detective Gage know that Barbara Gordon is into him part of that growing up process?
Yeah, definitely — that was intended. There was going to be more to get [Steph] to that point, but definitely, especially when faced with what she had to go down and deal with. I debated having a smooch between the two, but it just didn’t feel right for her, especially given the situation she was going into. Not that she and Babs ever really talked about it. I think there was, on Babs’ end, an awkwardness about the whole Nick thing! It is definitely, I think, a very mature thing for Steph to do.
Touching on the rest of the “Batgirl” supporting cast, was having Proxy/Wendy take off for Tibet partly done to clear the deck so the last couple of issues revolve around Stephanie on her own again?
I had a very different plan for Wendy; I like what happened with Wendy, but I had a very different plan. Going into the last run for Wendy and Stephanie, they were going to be Butch and Sundance a little bit, and there was a request made to broom Wendy out, so I tried to find the most actualized way to get Wendy out. This was a place I eventually wanted to take her, I just wasn’t ready to take her there just then.
When you look back at your run, do you feel you accomplished all you wanted for Stephanie and the series? Or do you have any regrets with the way your “Batgirl” is wrapping up?
It’s hard to say. I mean, hindsight is always 20/20. I think I would have approached the Reaper story differently, rather than having them be en mass at first, and do it more on an individual basis to get into the villains’ heads a little bit. I think I would approach it in the exactly opposite way that I did, and that might have gotten a little more traction. But apart from that, I’ve had wonderful art teams and great editors and it’s always awesome to get to play with toys in the sandbox, so I’m very grateful for what I’ve gotten to do!
We know at this point that Barbara Gordon will be back as Batgirl come September. Like many fans, did you originally come to know the character of Batgirl from the Barbara Gordon comic book run?
I wasn’t really exposed to Babs in comics form; I didn’t have much access to comics growing up, period. A lot of it came through all the Bruce Timm animated stuff. So that was my introduction — and to a very small extent, reruns of the Adam West “Batman” — but the Bruce Timm Batgirl was my primer growing up on who and what Batgirl was.
A lot of fans have commented that Stephanie feels very much like the old Babs Batgirl. Do you think your version of Batgirl helped revive interest in the Barbara Gordon one?
I have no idea! I have no thought or opinion on that whatsoever. It’s awesome, it’s great and I never in a million years thought that would happen, so regardless of who is under the cowl, my time with the book helped keep that brand alive, as it were. I wish it was still Steph; I think it’s great that it’s Babs, but naturally, I think I’m very partial to Miss Brown.
Going along with that, how do you feel about the switchover from Stephanie to Barbara come September?
I think, along with everyone else I’m going to hold off any kind of judgment on that until I read it. I literally, and I’m not exaggerating, I have no idea what is planned with “Batgirl or how it happened or pieces of continuity — I know nothing about it. Naturally, I would love to see and had planned to see Steph under the cowl for an additional amount of time. But I’m very interested to see how it all works out with Babs.
When Stephanie first took over as Batgirl, a lot of fans were unsure of the character, but over the past two years, many of them have grown to love the character, often vocally expressing how much they enjoy what you’ve done with the book. As you move into this last issue, is there anything you’d like to say to those Steph converts?
Nothing but thanks to everybody who stuck around and that core base that kept us around the, I want to say, the 25,000 mark, sales wise. There were drops, but we definitely had a core audience of people who came to the book month after month. People I’ve met at cons, people I’ve talked with online, it’s awesome and humbling at the same time to know that I helped kind of raise Stephanie’s stature in a lot of people’s eyes. I think it’s great, and I’m absolutely grateful for all of the goodwill that’s come from the book and come back from people reading it.
What’s next for you as a writer? Do you have any other DC titles, other comic book projects or television projects in the works after the last issue of “Batgirl” hits stands?
Yes, yes and yes! I can’t really say what any of them are right now, but there is definitely something that is not a part of the new 52 with DC, which will hopefully be announced soonish, and I’m definitely working on some things in other media. So there’s more to come, just not right away.
To end, is there anything you can share with us about “Batgirl” or the wrap-up changes?
I would rather not put out what may have been before it’s done. That’s certainly something that can be talked about after August. I feel that “Batgirl” #24 does Stephanie justice on her way out the door!
“Batgirl” issue #24 hits stores August 10