A Tale of Two Robins

guest rant by petra and please, pardon the bad pun…

I like Bill Willigham as an author. I love the work he’s done on Fables. I was excited when I heard he was going to be writing Batman. I was even more excited when I heard that he was going to be writing a female Robin to replace Tim. Yes, there are plenty of female superheroes in the Batman universe–Batgirl, Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress, Catwoman . . . but Robin is iconic. Robin was part of the original Bat legend before DC’s stable of heroes multiplied, so I was fascinated when I heard rumors that Willingham was going to make the next Robin female, because really, way to go with girl power and equal opportunity for women in the US comic market.

Except in execution, not so much. I have no issue with Tim leaving his role as Robin. I get why he did it. I find it fascinating that he can walk away from being Robin in a way that Batman, or Nightwing, or Batgirl would never be able to do. I’m even reasonably okay with the idea that even though Batman has told Spoiler (Stephanie Brown) to stop vigiliantying in his town because she lacks the appropriate perspective and focus he takes her on as the new Robin because he admires her for standing up to him and insisting on being a part of that life. What infuriates me is that she gets reduced to a plot device.

By all rights Stephanie Brown should be a fascinating character. Her father was a costumed villain and she is driven to becoming a costumed hero because she wants to make amends. She got pregnant, dropped out of high school, had the baby and gave it up for adoption, and then went right back to being Spoiler. Previous appearances of Spoiler indicate that she’s a little willful, and that she lacks the focus of the Bat team, but she isn’t stupid and she isn’t ineffective. She works with Robin. She dates Tim. And, she’s friends with Batgirl. None of them are people who tolerate inanity or ineptitude, which makes her personality shift in Willigham’s hands hard to buy.

Whereas before she was headstrong and brash, here she has become a giggling busty pin-up of a sidekick. In War Drums she gets hired and then fired as the new Robin. In War Games: Act 1 she tries to get back into Batman’s good graces by implementing a highly flawed plan to clean up Gotham. And, in the end, she gets murdered by a psycho-sexual killer who ties her up and tortures her while everyone else is too busy trying to clean up the mess she’s made of Gotham to even notice she’s missing. She’s a plot device.

If the point of the War Drums/War Games plot arc was to reintroduce Tim as Robin there were other ways to achieve it. Batman vehemently protests the idea that Spoiler as Robin is a way to lure Tim back, but that’s exactly what Bill Willingham is doing. Stephanie is held up as an example of everything that a Robin shouldn’t be. Tim was stronger, faster, smarter and more loyal than Stephanie. And, although it’s never said outright, most importantly he wasn’t a girl. In the end Tim realizes that he can’t turn off being Robin and, her usefulness outlived, Stephanie becomes another name on the roster of victims that Batman couldn’t save.