Whoops, sorry if this reblog looks messy. I haven’t figured out how to cleanly reblog asks.
I’m not 100% certain about Cass, but I personally don’t believe that it’s possible for Steph to have been Batgirl. Barbara’s paralysis only lasted three years, so there’s just no way to fit all of what happened to both girls in that timeframe. Moreover, Tim has been aged back down to sixteen, right? Steph is supposed to be one year older than he is, which would put her at seventeen. Steph’s connections to others haven’t been confirmed—-i.e., did she date Tim when he was Robin? Was she still pregnant at fifteen/sixteen?—-so it’s difficult to judge who she is in the reboot continuity.
We know (as far as I’ve been told, and the last that I’ve heard) that she wasn’t a Robin. This is problematic, because if she wasn’t a Robin, she didn’t die. If she didn’t die, she didn’t go to Africa for a year. If she didn’t go to Africa, she never had the time and the distance to reflect on what—-and who—-she was fighting for back in Gotham. I feel like she transitioned from fighting because she was trying to prove that she was good—-and not an apple bound to fall close to the rotten old Cluemaster tree—-and fighting because it was right. She’s always been quick with the quips and raring for action, but I think that people forget how Steph was back in her pre-Robin days.
The Stephanie that Brian Q. Miller left us with in Batgirl #24 is a different person than the Spoiler that we were introduced to in the 90s. She was veeeeery clearly the product of the 90s, and fit the tone of Robin back then—-a ‘teen problem’ given a name and a face. The plots and characters were driven by issues that Oprah and D.A.R.E. were trying to drill into the youth of the time. Stephanie was a pregnant teenager from a broken home, not unlike Tim’s other friends (who were regularly engaged in things like peer pressure to have sex, smoking (killer) marijuana, cancer, class bullying, and school shootings. In retrospect, there’s a slight element of after school special parody going on in 90s Robin, and so there are issues in updating Spoiler!Steph for today’s target audience.
Anyway. Steph was a latchkey kid who, without parental supervision, engaged in unprotected sex and got pregnant. This is probably what she was known best for in her pre-Robin days. She has that go get ‘em determination, but back then she was angry. She was resentful. She became Spoiler to get back at her father, and to keep him from sucking her mother into another dependency spiral. When she finally got to face her father, she tried to strangle him with a length of chain. On more than one occasion, Tim had to force her to go back and save the lives of criminals. She continued to fight crime because she was an adrenaline junkie, and because she had a big sloppy crush on Timmy the Boy Wonder—-not because it was right or wrong, necessarily.
Working alongside Bruce—-for everything bad that came of it, during and after—-changed that in her, I feel. In Batgirl #53, Steph has a team-up with Cass that triggers memories of what it was like to grow up with a criminal for a father. As Robin, she questions what it will take to save girls like her from the cycle of particularly violent abuse that was commonplace in Gotham—-and there is no answer for her then. Ideas on choosing to fight in Gotham vs. surviving in Gotham percolated in that year abroad, and it redefined who she is when she is masked—-no matter what that mask may be. When the Batgirl mantle was thrust upon her, she decided that she was going to take the Bat symbol and make it mean hope, instead of just vengeance or justice. She took an active role in being someone brighter and more visible than a bat-shaped figure for the criminals to fear.
Since her time as Robin has been taken from her, that change may not have happened. Unless they calm her down from the start, she won’t have transitioned from a vigilante who fights for Gotham, and a vigilante who fights to survive in Gotham. If that sounds like mincing words, I apologize, but it is significant. In Detective Comics #796, she almost accidentally kills Mr. Zsasz. She swoops in to save Batman from getting julienned, and if Bruce hadn’t broken his nose beforehand, her automatic strike would have been a killing blow. Survival was first in her mind, thanks to years of hard knocks and trauma, so she looked to end fights without realizing that that was what she was doing. She was roughshod and reactionary. In order to fight the way Bruce Wayne decreed, she had to fight for something bigger than herself—-and she had to stop continually fighting the ghost of her upbringing.
Once that thread gets plucked away, more events unravel. She became Spoiler at fifteen, had her baby at sixteen, and crashed through War Games not long after that. So, if she is still a year older than Tim, she’s seventeen. She just recently had her baby, if she had a baby. For all we know, she may not have ever met Tim.
This leaves me wondering who Stephanie is going to be in this new universe. The events that led to her becoming Batgirl have either been officially removed, or exist in that grayish limbo zone where all of the secondary characters are hanging out and discussing the good old days, so no: I don’t think that she could have been Batgirl.
And that breaks my heart a little, I won’t lie. Her comics will always exist, but she has been stripped of much of what made her a uniquely powerful positive influence—-and no, taking Batgirl from her was not what dragged her into the murky mire. Her life events have been contorted pretty badly with this piecemeal reboot.
All that being said, my challenge—-and okay, maybe my prayer—-to DC is this: build her up again. It’s possible to update Stephanie to this generation of teenagers, and to make her accessible to girls who are desperately looking for heroines like her. She absolutely does not have to be Batgirl to be that hero. To me, what makes Steph great is that we all know someone like her—-someone who has had to work for everything, who fails often and spectacularly, but who keeps trying and is so genuine in her hope and optimism, you cheer for every one of her small victories. So, uh. I probably over-answered your question. Sorry!
Beautiful words, as always, but I have to disagree with some of it.
Stephanie did begin as Spoiler as a reaction against her father. She enjoyed it because of the rush, and because of Robin. But as early as Robin 26, she was thinking of the larger implications of what she was doing, of the people who were being hurt in her city. “Maybe Gotham needs a Spoiler.”
I don’t think Spoiler was merely an act of rebellion, either. She genuinely didn’t want her father to hurt anyone else. Yes, it was wrapped up in her own vengeance - but even then, it was more for Crystal than her. “I wanted Daddy Dearest out of Mom’s life for good.”
One of the first things she did as Spoiler was to hunt down Jim Murray - not to satisfy any thirst for vengeance, but to stop him from harming anyone else.
Yes, in those early days, she was very much an adrenaline junkie, and struggling so fiercely against a past and parent that tried to define her. But she also genuinely wanted to protect people. She’s angered when others are wronged. She’s distraught if she can’t help.
As Robin continues, we see her grow and mature. By Robin 100, she’s at peace with what other people think of her. She still has those insecurities, and a ferocious temper, but she’s far more focused as a vigilante, and far more confident in herself.
I also don’t think a more ruthless morality need be related to recklessness, or immaturity, nor mutually exclusive to fighting for a higher purpose. Going for a kill can save a dozen more lives. It would have, if Batman had let her. I don’t think it was her survival Stephanie was thinking of.
What I guess I’m saying is - Stephanie didn’t really need that year to truly become a protector, a real force for good, a beacon of hope. She didn’t need the Bat to be that kind of hero. She already was.