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OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

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OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby LOLtron » Thu Jul 19, 2012 7:42 am

Christian Hoffer wonders exactly what is toxic about Stephanie Brown.

 


Last night, the Outhouse reported that executives at DC had instructed Bryan Q. Miller to remove the character Stephanie Brown from an upcoming Smallville Season 11 arc and had given him a list of approved characters with which to replace her. Miller ultimately chose Barbara Gordon from the list, which allegedly also included Dick Grayson. Shortly thereafter, Wired.com reported that multiple sources at DC considered both Brown and Cassandra Cain, another former Batgirl, as "toxic" characters.

Reaching out to several DC sources, I can confirm that "toxic" is indeed the word being bandied about by DC executives, with one source quoted as saying "Toxic? Yup, that about sums it up." The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that DC does not consider Cassandra Cain or Stephanie Brown to be marketable characters and is doing their best to scrub their comics clean of them, looking to prevent the characters from ever having a chance to take root in a book, be it in a starring or supporting role.
 

steph1
This didn't happen, claims DC.

The fact that DC considers at least two of its characters (and we're not including Wally West or Donna Troy, two other established characters that have yet to be mentioned in the DC stable) to be "toxic" is a surprising and baffling fact. While both former Batgirls have...fanatical fanbases, the truth of the matter is that when given a starring role in a book, both haven't been failures in the comic market. Last August's Batgirl #24, the final issue in Brown's series written by Bryan Q. Miller, sold an estimated 22,695 issues according to Comichron. While these aren't exactly record shattering figures, it did outsell the latest issues of Stormwatch, Batwing, Demon Knights, and even Smallville: Season 11 (although this does not take digital sales into account). The first three books mentioned are all series that DC has committed to and have survived two rounds of cancellation thus far.  Furthermore, that final issue didn't have the boost of the New 52 marketing campaign or the stronger comic market of 2012, which has enjoyed a 20% boost in sales from last year.

So if sales aren't to blame for the character's toxicity, what is? It can't be that DC believes there are too many characters in the Batfamily. DC managed to keep all four male Robins in continuity and gave three of them starring roles in their own books. If DC were claiming that multiple Batgirls were too difficult for a new fan to digest, surely four Robins over an accelerated five year period would be a bit much to handle as well? It's not as if Brown's continuity is overly complicated either. In truth, her backstory is fairly generic (daughter of a supervillain who became a hero to stop him) and could easily be repurposed or restructured within the New 52.
 

steph2
This probably did.

If sales or continuity can't be blamed for the toxicity of the character, than what else is left? I'm hesitant to throw out the obvious answer of sexism, despite DC's sigh inducing inability to see the difference between cheesecake exploitation and female empowerment. However, the idea at least needs to be tossed out that while having multiple male sidekicks is okay with DC, having more than one female character is not. The comic book industry has historically had sexist undertones and progress on pushing the industry towards a more equal footing has been hampered in part by the sad fact that sex sells comic books.

There certainly seems to be a double standard in play, in which DC leaps at finding ways to insert male fan-favorites (once again, excluding Wally West) while excluding female characters who also have strong fanbases and well-developed and marketable personalities. In light of last summer's controversy over female characters (ironically catalyzed by a Stephanie Brown cosplayer) in addition to comments made just last week by female creators who stated that the female fanbase was being underserved, you have to wonder exactly why DC isn't leaping at the chance to further stock their portfolio with characters that can be easily marketed toward an unexploited demographic of readers.
 

batgirl3
We all wish this didn't happen.

The only other possible answer is that DC is simply trying to distance itself from characters that have passionate fanbases that would rather see vanilla, single-character oriented books that portray characters in a positive, well-rounded fashion but don't have much opportunity to serve as a jumping point for a major crossover event or advance DC's narrative at all. In an increasingly event-driven industry, solo books that feature anyone but a marquee character could be viewed to have limited marketability. One could also make the argument that the characters of Brown and Barbara Gordon are simply too similar and that many of the quirks used to make Gordon successful are the same quirks that would be relied upon to successfully write a Brown driven series. While I'm skeptical that these are the reasons behind Brown's toxicity, they're certainly easier to swallow than wholesale sexism or sketchy math.

At the end of the day, I find it baffling that DC has labeled certain characters as toxic, believing them to be the root cause of a book's failure as opposed to the creative teams that work on them. If one were to describe Rob Liefeld as toxic due to the immense criticism his books face and their inability to sell, I would understand. If one were to label Aquaman as toxic due to his status as a running gag in the greater realm of pop culture, I would understand. However, I'm of the opinion that any character, no matter how "toxic" or poorly regarded they might be, can be written well given the right creative team and direction. DC officially has a dangerous situation brewing, one that could well end up restarting an uncomfortable discussion about gender and sexism in comics that already tarnished their company once. It's time for Dan Didio and Jim Lee to come clean about why a fictional character with no discernible unmarketable traits and an active fanbase is considered to be toxic when poor writing, sloppy art and questionable creative choices are not.

Written or Contributed by: ThanosCopter

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Last edited by LOLtron on Thu Jul 19, 2012 10:42 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby Timbales » Thu Jul 19, 2012 7:49 am

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However, Liefeld is an enigma wrapped in a pouch-filled, muscular, footless conundrum.
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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby mrorangesoda » Thu Jul 19, 2012 7:53 am

This was rational and well written. I'm disappointed. More jokes please.

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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby Timbales » Thu Jul 19, 2012 7:56 am

I don't see the appeal. She's one, generic non-powered character. They have their quota of blonde white chicks in the DCNU and the Batverse doesn't need anymore hangers on.
However, Liefeld is an enigma wrapped in a pouch-filled, muscular, footless conundrum.
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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby 3MJ » Thu Jul 19, 2012 7:58 am

I don't think the sales or continuity arguments are given enough credence here. Sure other books sell less, but they might be around for different reasons. I'm sure books have got cancelled with higher sales before.

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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby BlueStreak » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:02 am

Jubilee wrote:I don't think the sales or continuity arguments are given enough credence here. Sure other books sell less, but they might be around for different reasons. I'm sure books have got cancelled with higher sales before.


I think that, if DC wants to just come out and say "we're okay with multiple Robins but not Batgirls", they need to come out and say it. I'm sure they can craft a better argument than base sexism in their explanation but that their silence is opening the door for more negative ideas to erupt.
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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby nietoperz » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:06 am

The biggest problem is not even the non-use of characters, it's the offhand and even mocking way in which DC treats fans' questions and concerns. They do it with Wally West as well. In the end, if fans are attached to characters and DC go out of their way to alienate these fans - not by benching the object of their enthusiasm, but by being outright rude and dismissive - they're being really short sighted.
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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby GHERU » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:09 am

well written
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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby Punchy » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:16 am

She's toxic because she's unnecessary. DC already has a Batgirl and a Batwoman, they don't need more.

And once again, her fanbase is not a female fanbase, most of her fans seem to be men.

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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby Grayson » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:23 am

Punchy wrote:She's toxic because she's unnecessary. DC already has a Batgirl and a Batwoman, they don't need more.


Ok but how can DC justify a statement like that when you have Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne? Stephanie Brown is as toxic to Barbara Gordon and Batgirl as Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, and the nuLantern are to Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern.

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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby Victorian Squid » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:25 am

Timbales wrote:I don't see the appeal. She's one, generic non-powered character. They have their quota of blonde white chicks in the DCNU and the Batverse doesn't need anymore hangers on.


Pretty much.

And when saying there is room in the DCU Batman stable for multiple Robins (who all look almost exactly alike but different in size when drawn half the time like Russian stacking dolls), one should really add the qualifier 'barely' room for them. Because when they are all in the same book together with Bruce like in the early new DC issues, I couldn't tell them apart in panels half the time--I just didn't care enough to worry about it much unless it was key to the story. And it almost never was, they are practically interchangeable and the Batman solicits already look boated as hell to me each month.

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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby Punchy » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:27 am

Sakie wrote:
Ok but how can DC justify a statement like that when you have Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne? Stephanie Brown is as toxic to Barbara Gordon and Batgirl as Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, and the nuLantern are to Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern.


Because those characters are more interesting and more different?

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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby Grayson » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:36 am

Punchy wrote:Because those characters are more interesting and more different?


But that argument won't work on the diehard fans that keep asking those types of questions. They'll list and quote all sorts of examples why they believe that statement is false.

On a completely unrelated note, didn't Kyle Higgins say that as far as he is concerned, Dick and Wally are still best friends? It seems like I read that in one of his interviews...
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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby Victorian Squid » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:36 am

They also exist as part of a space army with territory (both 'physical' and story-wise) much more expansive. In theory. Although GL comics suck and there's no way I would support the whole line of books as a reader, just like I wouldn't the current Batman line as it stands already.

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Re: OP/ED: The Toxicity of Stephanie Brown

Postby mrorangesoda » Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:57 am

She doesn't have to be Batgirl. The daughter of a super criminal who's dedicated herself to ruining crimes is a good hook.

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