Click below to listen to an audio version of this post, or download the mp3 here .
Those of you following along at home know that, ever since I first donned the cape and cowl, I've been hoping for a return of Stephanie Brown to the pages of DC Comics. In June of 2012 we learned that she would be in Smallville, the out-of-continuity comic penned by Bryan Q. Miller. Then, at San Diego Comic-Con that year, we discovered that, despite the fact that over forty pages of the story had already been written, penned and inked, DC was forcing Miller to change the story and turn Steph into someone else – a decision that exemplifies DC's utter disregard for creator freedom. In October of 2012 Dustin Ngyuen was forced to re-color a cameo background appearance of a character dressed as Stephanie Brown for Halloween in the out-of-continuity all-ages book, Li'l Gotham – which even some employees of DC apparently found bizarre.
And then, for a year, we heard nothing of Stephanie. DC's tactics of bullying their writers and artists into submission had apparently been effective. Thus, when I attended New York Comic Con last October, I had little hope that there would be any news concerning my favorite DC heroine.
As it turned out, I was wrong.
So if you've been waiting for my take on what happened at DC's Batman panel last year, read on.
It all started on Friday morning at the second-largest comic convention in the country. I began my day with DC's All-Access panel, moderated by John Cunningham, the VP of Marketing at DC and an old hand at panel wrangling. When it came time for questions, serendipitously, the person before me asked about Stephanie Brown and whether she would return. Cunningham was unusually brusque with her, while Scott Snyder, current writer on Batman and a number of other popular DC titles, gently suggested that it was a question for the Batman panel later in the day. He also said of Steph, "Of course, all of us love her."
Since I was next in line, I wondered aloud into the microphone why, if they all love her, she had not been seen in anything that DC had created since the New 52 was released. The reply was that they were waiting for the right time. After that I went on to ask my 'real' question, one directed to Kyle Higgins, the author of the excellent Batman Beyond 2.0 comic. Just before the transition from Batman Beyond to Batman Beyond 2.0, I said, they'd introduced a new character: a Batgirl who was interesting both because of her origins and the fact that she was a woman of color, the second in the Batman Beyond universe, which means that this fictional universe actually has two more women of color than DC has on their entire creative staff. I asked if we would be seeing her in future issues and Higgins replied simply, "Yes." Snyder teased him about his propensity for mono-syllabic answers, and he obligingly added that he thought the new Batgirl brought an interesting perspective to the Batman Beyond universe, a more street-level view of the world of future Gotham, and that he was looking forward to exploring that at some point. I thanked him and told him I was looking forward to it as well.
By the time the Batman panel rolled around that afternoon, I was dead on my feet, having gotten almost no sleep the previous night. I was ready to settle in near the back of the room and let someone else ask the questions this time. At least, I was until Snyder came over to me and said quietly, "You should ask your question about Steph."
I blinked at him. "Which question about Steph?" I asked. Hey, I have more than one!
"Whether she's coming back!" he said, slightly exasperated. He looked around the room and added, "You should sit closer to the mic to make sure you get a chance to ask it. Come on, sit up here."
"O-okay," I stammered, and moved up several rows.
A few minutes later, as the panel was about to start, Cunningham himself, who was once again moderating, came up to where I was sitting and said to me, "I'm worried that we won't have enough time for questions, since we have a lot of panelists. So when we put Batman Eternal up on the screen, I want you to step up to the mic, and I'll recognize you and have them turn it on so you can ask your question."
I stared at him. "I can't do that!" I said. "Interrupt the panel like that? That would be so rude!"
"No, no," he insisted. "I'll handle it. It'll be great."
"Well…okay," I said dubiously.
I hardly heard the first part of the panel. I was filled with anticipation tempered with nervousness. Since I was sitting with a friend dressed as Cassandra Cain's Batgirl and I knew she had, ironically, intended to ask about Stephanie Brown at the panel, I invited her to join me at the mic when Batman Eternal finally appeared on the screen.
Cunningham, as promised, interrupted the panel, saying, "Oh, it seems we have a question from the audience! Can we get that mic turned on? What is your question, Miss?"
I rolled my eyes. "You know what it is," I replied dryly.
"Well, ask it," he pr
"Is Stephanie Brown going to appear in anything DC comics puts out ever again?" I asked.
Cunningham said, "Well, we have heard the enormous support of the fans, and we are going to bring back…Crazy Quilt." I snorted. "No, in all seriousness, folks," he began, and went on, with Snyder chiming in, to talk about how DC knew how much the fans loved and supported Stephanie Brown, and how they'd been waiting to give her the reintroduction she deserved, and how she was now going to come back "in a big way" in the new weekly, Batman Eternal.
He also added that Dan DiDio – who was apparently in the audience – was going to kill them for breaking the story now. DiDio shouted something from the back of the room in response, but unfortunately I didn't catch the words.
The rest of the panel passed in a blur. I was slightly giddy and also feeling a pang of worry: would they do Steph justice? The tone of the New 52 has been so overwhelmingly dark. A touch of lightness, of humor, of hope is just what the DCnU most needs. But would Steph be able to bring that? Or would she be drowned in gritty, grotesque stories that would overwhelm her light? And would the writers remember that Steph was more than a beacon of hope? She was also a passionate advocate of social justice, a young woman that overcame an abusive background to bring that hope to a city that desperately needed it.
I stopped to talk to Snyder after the panel. He talked to me a little bit about what they're planning on doing with Steph, and it sounds like they're going in a very interesting direction, even playing with the whole concept of what it means to be called "Spoiler". That's right, this Stephanie Brown will be more independent of the Bat-family, and she, like almost everyone in the New 52, has been rebooted. While she won't be donning the Bat-cowl any time soon, the Eggplant Avenger is back in a weekly title that will hopefully be very good and sell very well.
I don't know if I'll like the comic or not. But I'm sure as hell going to buy it. I intend to give it every chance. And I am cautiously hopeful.
The day after the news broke, I had the opportunity to ask Cunningham about the reveal, and he grinned at me and said, "Yeah, we had a huge lead time on that decision of about three minutes."
"Be honest," I said, "Were you just trolling Dan DiDio?"
He laughed, but neither confirmed nor denied. "I will say this, though," he went on. "We decided it on the spur of the moment. 'Should we break it? We should break it. It's the last big convention of the year, let's break it now,' we said. And when we saw that you were here, that clinched it. We wanted you to be the one to ask the question, because we know how much you love the character, and we wanted to finally be able to give you the answer you wanted. So thank you for playing along."
"Thank you," I said.
Stephanie Brown is coming back to the DCU and it feels like I've come full circle. I first chose to dress as Stephanie because I wanted DC to see and understand how passionate I was about the character. I wasn't the only one who felt that way. I haven't always been the one to ask whether Stephanie Brown is coming back any time soon. I'm not the only person who found in Steph a character to identify with. I'm certainly not the only one to be inspired by her.
And it is not for me, but for us, the fans, for every person who spoke up and said, "I love this character!" that DC is bringing her back.
Keep your fingers crossed that it will have been worth the wait.
The Final Squeak
So, where and when can you buy Batman Eternal? Not for a few months yet, unfortunately. Though Snyder has discussed the book in multiple interviews and even released a teaser image, it's not slated to be released until April 9th, per IGN and my local comic shop. So get your order in now!
Some of the things Snyder mentioned in the interviews are suggestive, though – and not just about what will be happening in the book itself. Apparently Snyder agreed to the book despite a very full work schedule only because DC promised him "creative control of its direction" and "anything you want and with whichever characters that you want" (emphasis mine).