17 July 2011

“The whole thing about her being Robin, was simply a trick”?

The comic book gossip website Bleeding Cool just highlighted a video from a New Zealand writers’ convention in which Batgirl scripter Dylan Horrocks shared his perspective on the Batman: War Games crossover of 2004-05.

In particular, Horrocks spoke about the death of Stephanie Brown, who had entered the Batman saga years before as a teen crime-fighter named Spoiler:
It was one of the most depressing weeks of my life, because we basically spent the whole week in this horrible office planning how to kill this poor teenage girl who I really liked. I thought she was a great character and she was one of the few friends that my character had, and I tell you the whole thing about her being Robin, was simply a trick.

The whole way through it was planned purely as a trick to play on the readers, that we would fool them into thinking that the big event was that Stephanie Brown would become Robin but we knew all along it was a temporary thing, and she was then going to die at the end of this crossover story.

It was really seedy, and I think about two days into it, I basically said look, I don’t want… because they planned this big long torture scene, I said I don’t want to really have anything to do with that. . . .

So when there was that big online debate about Stephanie Brown’s death I felt kind of really pleased and vindicated, and the other person who I think was probably happy about that but I don’t think she’s ever said so in interviews was Devin Grayson who was writing Nightwing at the time… she raised several issues during this meeting, she was one of the other writers in the meeting who said how come we’re always killing off the girls, and also how come we’re killing off the ethnic characters, there was a lot of debate in that meeting, well ultimately it all came down to this is what we’re going to do.
Another of the scripters in that conversation was Bill Willingham, then writing Robin. In 2005 he talked about suggesting that Stephanie Brown become the Teen Wonder:
The death of Spoiler was locked in before I was asked to take over the series, but it was my idea to let her become Robin for a short time before that. My thinking is that it would be nice to give her at least one moment of glory, accomplishment and success, before all of those horrible things that were destined to happen to her.
Thus, Stephanie’s death was long part of the company’s thinking, probably as part of a plan for Tim Drake’s maturation. Her becoming Robin was a later addition.

Horrocks’s perception of the storyline was: “we would fool them into thinking that the big event was that Stephanie Brown would become Robin.” Yet the new Robin debuted in several magazines that preceded War Games (many collected as War Drums). Readers knew that there would be another “big event” in the much-hyped crossover.

Did DC Comics raise the hopes of Stephanie’s fans by making her Batman’s sidekick? Certainly. Did they set up the progressive situation of a female Robin, only to snatch it away? No doubt. Was that in itself a “trick”? Not, I think, within the context of the genre.

Sudden narrative reversals have long been an integral part of superhero storytelling. The genre is designed to produce a roller-coaster ride for readers, with defeat snatched from the jaws of victory and vice versa. That’s why young acrobat Dick Grayson fell down so much. In recent decades, the low points of those rides have included the sudden deaths of major characters, even the most prominent.

At the 2004 Comic-Con, DC’s editorial and writing team promised just such a ride in War Games. While keeping tight-lipped about specific plot points, editor Bob Schreck said, “There’s stuff that's going to go on that’s going to aggravate people, hopefully in good way. . . . There’s going to be blood.”

Some savvy (or cynical) readers foresaw what would happen. In July 2004, before he became “Grumpy Old Fan” at Newsarama and Robot6, Tom Bondurant wrote:
Readers could be forgiven for any cynicism at this development. After all, this was the third Robin in twenty years. Besides, DC would never let Robin stay a girl — they’d have to crank out a whole new set of action figures, for one thing. (Female Robins had shown up in The Dark Knight [Returns] and other alternate-history stories, but never before in the “real” books.) For 64 years, in the comics, on TV, and in the movies, Robin has been a dark-haired boy, not a blonde. Changing the costume, as DC did with Tim in 1990, was one thing, but changing gender was something entirely different. Furthermore, DC is cranking up for a major storyline involving Gotham City gang wars, and promising carnage — and Stephanie would be a bigger casualty as Robin than as Spoiler. The whole thing smelled of marketing. . . .

I don’t hate Stephanie, but I can’t see her staying Robin for very long; so it looks like the wait is on for Tim’s comeback.
A clear sign of DC’s lack of commitment to Stephanie as Robin appears on the cover of Detective Comics, #796, the only issue of the two main Batman books to show her in the Robin costume before her death. “Batman & Robin… Together Again?” it asked. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, or a promise of a long partnership.

COMING UP: But it turned out that the trick was on DC.

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