In a revealing video interview with Newsarama at New York Comic Con, DC Entertainment Co-Publisher Dan DiDio has given the best, longest and most open answer to the nagging question that he and his cohorts have had at every comic book convention for the last year or more: What's happening with some fan-favorite characters who simply vanished when the DC Universe was rebooted after Flashpoint? A number of creators have made attempts to resurrect either Stephanie Brown or Wally West since the New 52 began, and all of them have reportedly either had their pitches rejected or have been instructed before a pitch even formed to steer in another direction. His answer is not surprising--he and other DC editors have been saying for the better part of the last 18 months that some characters would be rolled out over time, as story dictated, rather than being brought into existence all at once. There's more depth to it this time around, though, particularly as it regards Stephanie Brown, which DiDio has apparently regarded as an ongoing problem. In the video, DiDio says:
You know, me and Stephanie, we go way back. The story with Stephanie Brown goes, they came to me as Executive Editor with the War Games story, and said we're going to kill Stephanie Brown. I knew Stephanie Brown for who she was, and said, "I don't know, if this is going to be the big ending to your story it doesn't feel big enough" at the time, because the character wasn't strong enough yet. So I said, "Why don't we make her Robin for a short period of time, build some interest in her, and then we kill her?"
That's what they did, of course, and to the great consternation of many fans on the Internet--particularly when her costume didn't get a place of honor in the Batcave like Jason Todd's had after he died. Most fans figured this was just because editorial had no plans of leaving Stephanie dead, but many of them felt the character (and by extension her fans) had been given the short shrift. It wouldn't be the last time.
By the time of the New 52 relaunch, she had become Batgirl and starred in a critically-acclaimed run on that series by Smallville writer Bryan Q. Miller. Sales were about what you'd expect for a title starring a B-list hero that got virtually no promotion after the first month or so of release. "We wound up bringing her back and the level of excitement wasn't there for what we thought it would be for the amount people that were talking about it," DiDio told Newsarama. "So we went ahead and made her Batgirl, and the stories were interesting but it never really took hold, with the sales, with the expectations we had for the series." So DC decided to replace her with Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, when the series relaunched. This annoyed not only fans of Stephanie Brown but also a number of Barbara Gordon fans who believed that she was a more inspirational figure as the paralyzed-but-still-active Oracle. Still, the combination of star writer Gail Simone, good reviews and stronger ties to the overall Batman family of titles has led to a sales success once the book was on the stands. A little salt was rubbed in the wound more recently when Miller, in an interview with TV Guide, announced that Stephanie Brown was slated to be the female Nightwing in Smallville Season 11, his digital-first comic set in the world of the TV series. Shortly thereafter, DC said that the announcement should never have been made and that it was in fact going to be Barbara Gordon, not Brown, who appeared in Smallville. DiDio's position, in a nutshell, is that fans should be patient and wait for their characters to return, and that if DC was really trying to bury a character, they could have just killed them on-panel:
I say this for every character that's missing, even including Wally West, including Donna Troy, all of them. The reason why we didn't go out there and say 'every character is dead' or didn't kill them off in front of people is because everyone has potential. And every character can come back if the story is right, or at the right time, with the right environment. Our main goal was never to introduce everyone all at the same time. We can't do that. If we do that, then we're right back where we started, that's the last thing we want. Every character should be reintroduced with story.
He noted that Stephanie Brown's return from the dead, pre-relaunch, remains a scene that convinces him he's right in this. When she came back, and Batman famously just kind of shrugged and said, "I knew she wasn't really dead," it undermined even further the seriousness of her death and cast doubt on Batman's motivation for keeping such a thing secret from those around him. "I said, 'that didn't feel right. If this was a big deal it should've felt bigger!' If Batman knew that, then he seems negligent, because he didn't do anything about it. And the levels of that. So I really want to make sure that when we go ahead and do things like that, the teams do it, that they craft it properly, that they take advantage of every emotional beat, they build it for everything it's worth," DiDio explained. "Because when you do that, people become more invested in the characters, not just about the conversation of them coming back, but actually going to read about them after they do come back. That's the win. Not the fact you're bringing them back, it's actually making them stay, and making people care about them more than just the people asking right now." Check out the full interview below.