Do we NEED A New Batgirl? The Case For, and Against, Stephanie Brown

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It's sitting beside my outstretched legs right now, propped slightly against the couch cushion. She's staring at me, from behind her cowl, batarang slightly off the page. Yep, Batgirl is officially staring me down, daring me to write this article. I've just finished reading her latest issue, Batgirl #3, and I'm pretty ambivalent about it. Not the issue on its on necessarily, but the concept of this Batgirl. Stephanie Brown, the current wearer of the cowl, started out in the early 1990's as Spoiler, vigilante daughter of the "super" villain Cluemaster. She's had a long road from those early days to where she is now, but two questions are begging to be asked; does she deserve to be Batgirl and, perhaps the most important, do we need a Batgirl right now? It's not as if Stephanie would be the first person to wear the horns and utility belt. That honor belongs to Bette Kane, the pre-Crisis Bat-Girl, created to be a romantic foil for Robin. She is mostly forgotten, perhaps rightfully so, and Barbara Gordon, currently Oracle, is considered by many the right and iconic Batgirl, the Batgirl against which all other Batgirls will be judged. Stephanie's donning of the symbol comes closely on the heels of Cassandra Cain's turning away from it. Cain appeared as Batgirl in her own ongoing series for seventy-three issues, and was arguably a fitting representation of the character and what she meant to the DCU. And now we have Stephanie Brown. Stephanie's career has been a checkered, but consistent one, with her appearances as Spoiler leading her to a brief career as Robin, which led to what appeared to be her untimely death during Gotham's vicious gang war. Her death was a ruse, and after a few brief appearances as Spoiler again, she's now back as Batgirl. Is this a move that we as readers can believe in and get behind? Obviously the title of Batgirl is an important one, or else it wouldn't have lasted over forty years now (more than that if we include Bette Kane's time), but with Stephanie, currently, the heroic name doesn't seem to fit. Yes, one could argue that Stephanie started out much like Barbara, a girl in a costume who had something to prove (according to the fabulous Batgirl: Year One from not so long ago). While Barbara went on to develop training to supplement her superior intellect and natural detective skills, and in the process become a still highly-regarded figure of the Silver, Bronze and Modern Age, Stephanie hasn't done a lot to overwhelm anyone who might consider her a possible successor to the title of Batgirl. Yes, she was Robin for a brief period, but the motives behind Batman choosing her to be his sidekick seemed at odds with his insistence that she would never be an effective crimefighter. Her blunders often resulted in disastrous effects, either for her boyfriend, then Robin Tim Drake, or the city as a whole. While Stephanie's heart is in the right place, her overall caliber of ability and skill may not last. It's obvious though that DC sees something in Stephanie. She's certainly determined and driven to be a part of the heroic legions of Gotham, and she did prove to be resourceful enough to take down Scarecrow in the latest issue of Batgirl, earning Barbara's blessing and support in the process. Is that enough though? Does there always have to be a Batgirl to help balance out and "fill" the Bat Family? That question is even louder when you consider the shining example that Batwoman is currently setting in the pages of Detective Comics. There's a perfect case of a character who is handled in such a way that she seems like she always belonged. However, I am willing to say that this third issue does make an excellent point in Stephanie's favor about proving one's self and about second chances, although technically I've lost count of how many chances she's had at this point in her over ten years as a character in DC Comics. Some things working in her favor? She scrappy, tenacious and mostly quick on her feet, even if she has gotten more than her fair share of beat-downs over the years. She has a clear sense of right and wrong as well, something that certainly works in her favor as she tries to break back into the Bat-realm. I have to say that the second I saw that this new series was going to happen, my first thought was that this would probably end up being Stephanie. Who else, logically, could it have been? They say that sometimes the anticipation of a thing is worse than the actual thing itself, but I found that not to be true in this case. I bought issue one but was not thrilled with it. It seemed once again to be an attempt to force the square peg that is Stephanie into the round hole of the DCU. Issue three does have me thinking that perhaps, maybe, this time, Stephanie can finally get it right. Her speech to Scarecrow, as she was kicking him in the face, made sense. Maybe now she's ready to face the pain, the chance for hurt, the chance to be who she is supposed to be, but now just doesn't seem like the time. So far the series hasn't really established a "need" for a Batgirl, be that Stephanie or otherwise. While Batwoman and Red Robin seem like necessary and vital characters in this current makeup of the Gotham hereos, this current Batgirl still has a ways to go to proving herself a currently relevant addition to the Batman storyline. Good luck Stephanie Brown! You have more than the Joker, Ivy and Penguin looking to see if and when you're going to slip up. You might just have skeptical readers waiting for that too! I'm willing to see if Batgirl, the series and the character can grow into that relevance, but if it can't, it might be lights out for Spoiler/Robin/Batgirl once again. A question to ponder for next time, possibly: would the failure of a successful Batgirl this time around possibly damage the character for good?