Celebrating the 'Unsinkable' STEPHANIE BROWN on the 10th Anniversary of Her Becoming BATGIRL

Batgirl #24
Credit: Pere Perez (DC)
Credit: Phil Noto (DC)

This week is the tenth anniversary of Stephanie Brown's debut as Batgirl with 2009's Batgirl #1. First introduced as the daughter of Cluemaster back in 1992, Brown grew over the years into being a superhero - first as Spoiler, then as Robin - until reaching her apex as Batgirl in 2009.

As a character, she is written with determinedness that can withstand setbacks while keeping a smile on her face. Like many superheroes of a certain status, she's died and come back again, but also dealt with being fired from her role as Robin, going through pregnancy as a teen, and even living with a c-list criminal as a father. Her hero's journey led to her becoming Batgirl in 2009 - a role she held for two years until DC's decision to go back to basics with "New 52" and Barbara Gordon.

While her time as Batgirl is over, the time to celebrate her tenure is now, here on her tenth anniversary. For this, Newsarama spoke with three creators who defined her as a character: her creator, Chuck Dixon, and Bryan Q. Miller and Lee Garbett - the writer and artist behind the 2009 Batgirl title. We discuss her creation, growth, taking on the mantle of Batgirl, and how the character has changed after relinquishing that role.

Newsarama: Chuck, what was the initial spark behind creating Steph’s character?

Chuck Dixon: Stephanie started life as a plot device. I thought it would be fun to do a story where a Batman villain’s child rebelled by becoming a vigilante. I really never expected the Spoiler to appear again. But letters started coming in asking when she would re-appear. I worked her not the recurring ensemble cast for the Robin monthly and the fan response only grew.

From DETECTIVE COMICS #647
From DETECTIVE COMICS #647
Credit: Tom Lyle (DC)

Nrama: Bryan, let's bring you in - tell us a bit about the pitching process for the Stephanie Brown Batgirl series. Did you pitch it to DC or did DC come to you?

Bryan Q. Miller: I had just come off a few issues of Teen Titans when Dan Didio was doing his West Coast talent crawl. We had drinks after work one night (I was on Smallville at the time) and he asked if I was interested in either relaunching Superboy (which I think Jeff Lemire and Francis Manapul wound up doing) or Stephanie Brown as Batgirl. Given what I knew about Steph as a character – and knowing how much room she had to grow and change – I jumped at the chance to pitch on Batgirl.

Mike Siglain was the editor for that area of Gotham books at the time, so I submitted a written pitch to him (I think up against maybe four other writers). A few days later, I heard back that they loved, more than anything else in the pitch, my take on the Babs/Steph dynamic. Editorial had some direction changes (like shifting from high school, as per my pitch, to college, etc.). The rest, as they say, is history.

Nrama: Lee, how did you get involved with Batgirl?

Lee Garbett: I was already working in the Bat-department with Outsiders and my then editor, Mike Siglain, called and asked me about launching a new Batgirl series with Stephanie Brown taking in the mantle. Naturally I said yes!

Lee Garbett's original Batgirl design
Lee Garbett's original Batgirl design
Credit: Lee Garbett (DC)

Nrama: What went behind designing Steph’s Batgirl costume?

Garbett: We wanted to get an element of the Spoiler costume in there so the leg belt was not up for debate (i.e. don’t blame me). Other than that, I wanted to get something that felt a little real world, tough and practical while adding some extra design elements that I thought could be a bit different.

Nrama: Chuck, what were your initial thoughts on Stephanie taking over the Batgirl mantle?

Dixon: I wish I’d gotten to write it. For a year before DC had Steph become Robin I was pitching and idea where Tim Drake takes an offer from Ted Kord to be the next Blue Beetle. Think about that. It’s actually a better fit for Tim than the Boy Wonder. Steph would step in as Batgirl and Tim would be featured in a six-issue mini launching a new Blue Beetle series then return to the Batcave. I thought the idea was a winner from both the creative and marketing angles but kept getting stonewalled on it.

Credit: Dustin Nguyen (DC)

The persistent, and unexplained, rejection of this idea was one of the main reasons that made me leave DC and go to CrossGen. A couple of months later DC announces that Steph will become Robin.

Nrama: Lee, what were your favorite aspect of drawing Steph?

Garbett: Her joyousness, I think. It’s the same with Willa, the character from my recent book Skyward, I really enjoy a character who derives so much energy and fun from their situation. It’s refreshing. There are so many dark and brooding books out there, it was nice to have someone fly in the face of that. It was nice to have someone with humor and hopefulness against the super-gritty backdrop of Gotham City.

Nrama: Do you have a favorite issue of Batgirl?

Garbett: Batgirl #14, the one with Batgirl and Supergirl vs. Dracula. I loved that. That one or any time Damian and Steph were together, with him trying to be cool but having a crush on her… that was a lot of fun to draw.

Miller: Tough! My heart will always belong to #14 (Draculas!) and #18 (Klarion). Also #17 (Damian and the bounce house). So… I guess it’s a three-way tie.

Nrama: Bryan, Lee what do you remember about finding out that the "New 52" was coming, and how that would affect your series and Steph’s role as Batgirl?

Credit: Dustin Nguyen (DC)

Miller: There was some tumult on the book from Batgirl #15 on, so I knew that my time with the book was borrowed, at best. But I kept my head down and just kept writing until I got a call from Mike Marts and Janelle Asselin (Janelle wound up being the final editor on the book) informing me that the book was ending entirely, and I had two issues with which to wrap things up. Since "New 52" was so veiled in secrecy – and I wasn’t being invited to play in that sandbox – I didn’t get much more information than “you don’t need to set anything up for Steph or the mantle, heading out.” But, I at least got two issues to end things the way I felt Steph deserved – and for that, I’m grateful.

Nrama: Do you think she should have stayed being Batgirl longer than the two years she had?

Garbett: Well, it’s comics and nothing stays the same so I didn’t think she’d stay as Batgirl - and she’d already been Spoiler and Robin by that point - but I think she made a great Batgirl and was a worthy wearer of the cape and cowl. I’d like to see her return to the role in  Batgirls book (which, if it hasn’t been done already, I’m now pitching in this interview).

Miller: I’m a big fan of legacy in comics, and being Batgirl means something different to every young woman that dons the cape and cowl. So I think Steph would (and should) have moved on to a new role (perhaps even – gasp – an original one) once she got what she needed from the bat symbol on her chest. Then Little Nell could have grown up into Batgirl. ‘Member Nell?!?

Dixon: That could never happen. In mainstream superhero comics all change is illusion. Nothing is permanent.

Credit: Dustin Nguyen (DC)

Nrama: Were there more stories you wanted to explore for the series?

Miller: Absolutely. All of Steph’s Black Mercy hallucinations from the final issue are glimpses into stories I planned to tell. That said, if we had managed to keep going, her third year under the cowl would have been terribly angsty – very much on purpose from a character development standpoint. Though I wish the circumstances surrounding it were different, I’m happy we wrapped it up exactly how we did, exactly when we did.

Nrama: What do you think of her placement in DC's comic books now?

Garbett: I have to admit I've no idea where she is right now. I get so little time to read comics now that I’ve not had chance to check in in Steph for a long time. Is she okay?

Miller: Never in a million years would I put her in a costume that covers her smile/smirk. Laughing in the face of danger – and danger being able to see that laugh – is 90% of her hero game.

Dixon: I’m not entirely aware of her position in continuity. I know she appears in one of the cartoons and has returned to the comics. But I don’t know what her role is these days.

Nrama: Would you like to see another solo comic book series with her?

Garbett: Definitely. For all the reasons I mentioned above. She’s just a ton of fun - and totally kick ass.

Miller: Yes, but as neither Spoiler nor Batgirl. And yes, I have a pitch for that. And no, I won’t spill it here.

Dixon: Only if I write it!

Nrama: Lee, would you want to draw Stephanie again?

Garbett: Oh yeah. Always. I think she’s one of the best characters around.

Credit: Dustin Nguyen (DC)

Nrama: Why do you think people have grown to love Stephanie so much?

Garbett: I think it’s because she’s "us". She’s not the billionaire, alien or a god, she’s just working her way through this super hero thing and doing the best she can - and sort of loving it.

Miller: In hindsight, writing Steph was an outlet for dealing with some depression I didn’t know I was going through. How she faced the world around her was therapeutic. So I know that’s what I grew to love about her. As far as everyone else reading her, I think Steph was a beacon of light in the darkness of not just Gotham City, but comics, as a whole.

The market is very different now than it was then, so finding positive, inclusive heroes isn’t that difficult for a reader. She never gave up. Always moving onward and upward. Steph was the Bad News Bears. An underdog. Unsinkable.

Dixon: That’s hard to say. I know why I love her so much. Steph has overcome a rough and disappointing childhood to be her own person. But she’s no Mary Sue. She makes mistakes but, in the end, makes the right decision no matter how hard it is. I like that she’s from a middle-class background and her crimefighting gear reflects that. A second-hand dirt bike, a wooden pole for a weapon, a costume she cobbled together at Wal-Mart.

There’s so much to admire about her and, I have to say, of all my comic creations, I have the most affinity for Stephanie.

Nrama: With so many DC characters being adapted into other media, would you like to see her in her own TV show or movie?

Miller: Yes. And I have a pitch for that, too – and I won’t spill that here, either! Rest assured, it involves some purple on her costume and a twinkle in her eye.

Dixon: That would be cool. She certainly has the appeal.

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