I don't quite believe it. And yet I do. And yet I don't. And yet ... it makes sense. What better way to improve public relations for DC Comics than to resurrect a formerly off-limits character? If corporate gives the fans something they want, maybe the horde will calm down about all the recent nightmares DC's inflicted on its female heroes. I hate to be cynical in that way, especially since DC's playing this as if they're finally listening to popular demand. (Heck, Dan DiDio's even dropping hints that Lois Lane might get her own title in 2014!) But I think DC's systematic stabling of fascinating female and minority characters broke any trust I have in their New 52 regime, pretty much from day one. Still, this is the first time in two years of con announcements that I've been excited about anything DC is doing. One could even argue that giving characters like Steph and Lois their due shows that fan pressure is getting results. And yet ...
And yet I can't believe Stephanie Brown will be well served by her inclusion in the New 52. Her one and only appearance post-reboot came in Grant Morrison's Batman, Inc., which began its life as a sunny, trippy title, and ended with Batman enduring a grief-stricken existence. Throw in DC's bizarre mandate that characters can't have levity or stability in their personal lives, and Stephanie Brown's Pollyanna position doesn't seem quite right for any book's climate, let alone one set in the hellish Gotham City.
Now I know Steph herself started out in dire straits. Created by Chuck Dixon, she only donned her Spoiler costume to spoil (get it?) her psychotic father's crimes. While the lifestyle paved the way for first love with Robin, it also led to her brutal murder, courtesy of gang leader Black Mask and Steph's own terrible decisions. But who doesn't love an underdog? So, courtesy of a faked death, Steph found a second life as Batgirl, under the confident hand of Bryan Q. Miller. BQM understood that Steph's power comes from her capacity for hope, and her ability to follow through on her dreams with smarts and sunniness. Sure, the character started out as kind of a ditz, someone in way over her head, at times dangerously so. But she made friends easily, drawing then-Batgirl Cass Cain out of her shell. She followed her heart, and did what was right -- adopting the Batgirl mantle with unorthodox cheerfulness, even as others doubted her dedication. And she proved that fear is not the coolest weapon in the Bat toolbox. That hope has value, and endurance need not be a slog, if you finish what you set out to accomplish.
We need positive character portrayals in any narrative, not simply for our enjoyment, but also to grant meaning to stories themselves. If stakes are always high, emotions always hot, and characters always millions of miles away from achieving their goals, then any given narrative not only lacks surprise, it lacks depth. The New 52 is a continuous embodiment of this problem. Sure, Superman and Wonder Woman are soooo in love, but what fun moments do we get to share with them, that make their relationship matter to us? (Even their initial hook-up was fraught, based only on rejection from their mere mortal romantic partners.) Sure, Nightwing is kicking it bachelor-style in Chicago, but he may die soon, now that his secret identity has been revealed to the public, so don't depend on him. And don't even get me started on Forever Evil, a month's worth of stories dedicated to gross and downright depressing supervillain origins. (Though it did lead to one moment of hilarity, i.e., Ultraman snorting kryptonite as if it were cocaine!)
Bright characters like Stephanie can help the New 52, if only because stories about hope would provide a contrast to the universe's enveloping darkness. Of course, such an impact depends on whether or not Stephanie is allowed to broadcast her bubbly point of view. I'm not holding my breath, and I won't be returning to DC Comics until I get a better idea of what they intend to do with female heroes like her. For now, though, it's nice to spot a little bit of light in all the dismal news DC's been delivering lately. It's nice, and so very Stephanie.
UPDATE: As reported by one of my favorite feminist comics blogs, it seems that the Steph question at NYCC was actually a plant by DC. It also seems that perhaps the way for Stephanie has been paved prior to this occasion, with most Spoiler-centered creator pitches being rejected because of that? Who really knows?
Batgirl #24: Bryan Q. Miller, Writer; Pere Perez, Artist; Guy Major, Colors; Dave Sharpe, Letters.