A Case for Stephanie Brown: A Good Soldier
Project Girl Wonder

"They are our post-industrial folklore, and, as such, they mean much more to people than a few minutes' idle amusement. They're part of the psychic family. The public and apparently callous slaying of one of their number was, to some, a vicious attack on the special part of their souls that needs awe, magic, and heroism."
- Dennis O'Neil, A Lonely Place of Dying

"If gender has become a battleground at this time, it is worth asking who fights the battles, who receives the wounds and bears the scars, who dies?"
- Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinity

"Was I really Robin?"
"Of course you were."
-- Stephanie Brown and Batman, from War Drums: Act Three

In 1988, a boy who was Batman's Robin was killed. Batman was grief-stricken. Rightly or wrongly, he blamed himself. But when a girl he failed was killed in 2004, everyone knew who was to blame: her.

The first dead Robin, a male character named Jason, was given a memorial in Batman's cave. This took the form of one of the Robin uniforms Jason had worn, encased in glass with an inscription reading 'A Good Soldier' at its base. This memorial has become an image instantly recognised by any Batman reader.

The second dead Robin, a female character named Stephanie, doesn't have a memorial. In fact, DC seems to have forgotten she existed at all.

We haven't.

Project Girl Wonder is a campaign based around a simple idea. It damages the integrity of Batman as a text and as a character to ignore the contribution Stephanie Brown made to the mythology. We believe that our intelligence has been insulted by those in control of these characters and this mythology.

We believe that appropriate acknowledgement of the character's importance will stand as proof that the system is capable of correcting its errors; something which is currently in dire need of proving.

In short,

 There should be a memorial case for Stephanie Brown.


Consider this: Stephanie died of injuries sustained when she was tortured for hours by a power drill. A power drill which has been made into an action figure. These comics and action figures are not marketed to children, but to have a tool which was used to violate a woman's body be made into a toy displays a disregard for the horrific nature of such acts. It trivializes torture and death in a very specific, demeaning, and sexist way.

When she was being tortured to death, Stephanie was drawn like this and like this. (For a comparison of gender portrayal, this is a panel from the same plotline -- War Games -- depicting Jason's murder, and this is artwork from the same period featuring his body.) Her breasts and hips are emphasised and her body is twisted into unlikely but sexually suggestive poses. This is how a teenage girl; a superhero; a Robin is depicted as she is being fatally brutalized.

This second image of Stephanie invokes many of the same visual cues later combined in a controversial advertising campaign, wherein many commentators deemed invocation of these cues to be "yet another drop in the bucket of cases of violence against a sexualized woman." Considering that Stephanie had previously been utilised in sensitive, thought-provoking storylines dealing with how the media denies agency to survivors of sexual abuse, to see her reduced to what one fan described as "a body, a puppet. [T]hey took a woman and made her an object" sheds a poor light on many creators capable of far better.

They damaged her, they violated her, they killed her off... and then they forgot her.

In Detective Comics #818 (2006), Batman says of his current Robin, Tim Drake: "He's so alone. His father gone. Conner, his best friend, dead." No mention of Stephanie, whom Tim had been in a romantic relationship with for longer than he'd even known Conner. No mention of the young woman who had been Batman's partner during the same period of time as the death of Tim's father.

We're not trying to argue that Conner's death and the death of Tim's father weren't hugely important things for that character. They were. But so was Stephanie's death, and there's never been a satisfying acknowledgement of that.

At the same time that Detective Comics #818 was on the stands, the Executive Editor of DC Comics, Dan Didio, did an interview with Newsarama.com. When asked by one audience member about the spate of violent deaths of female characters, Didio responded:

Their deaths had a major impact on our heroes and their lives, and will continue to do so in the year to come.

Statements such as this fail to include any reader who considered Stephanie a hero; she is reduced to nothing but a plot element in the male heroes' stories.

Coupled with Batman's remark on the deaths which had left Tim alone, this answer made it painfully apparent that DC needs us to remind them how important Stephanie was, because otherwise they're going to keep ignoring her and then blatantly lying to us about doing it.

Well, I don't know about you, but I didn't like her. Not everybody did, you know.

We know. But not everybody liked Jason Todd. Lots and lots of Batman readers didn't. He was, infamously, killed off due to a phone-poll of audience opinions. He still got a memorial. Perceived popularity amongst a particular chunk of your assumed demographic is not a logical basis from which to argue that Stephanie does not deserve the same treatment.

And this isn't an issue about whether a character was popular or not. It's a very clear, neat, clean example of sexism in superhero comic books. Jason Todd got a memorial; Stephanie Brown didn't. It sends a message that Boy Wonders matter, but Girl Wonders don't. Comics can do better than that.

We love comics. But it's very hard to do so when we're given characters like Stephanie only to have it taken away again in a brutal, offensive manner. Then we were shown quite clearly that she didn't matter anyway. It's an insult to our intelligence to pretend otherwise; the truth is her character was used, discarded and then forgotten.

There is no excuse which can justify this state of affairs, and those which have been offered ("DiDio pinned the blame on [Stephanie] herself", "we know you'll always be back for further outrages") have simply made the ugliness of this whole situation even more apparent.

We want to be able to look at our "post-industrial folklore" and say: "Once upon a time, Batman had a Robin. She died, as the Robins sometimes did. But he remembered her, and he honored her."

Honor her, DC.

Honor your fables, your industry, and your fans.