I was trying to figure out how to explain what it means to me to have a girl be Robin. I thought, Well, white male heterosexual non-impoverished Protestants won’t understand this sort of thing. And then I thought, Oh, wait, maybe they can.
Because I think all of us love to see that our favorite fictional characters have something in common with us. (“She likes waffles? I like waffles!”) It makes us feel connected to the characters. (“He’s from Iowa, like me!”) It could be something small, like a hobby or a favorite book. It could be something about our past, like a hometown or a family situation. (When my parents were getting divorced, my favorite character on a show was a kid whose parents were divorced.) And of course there’s the big ones, like being female or gay or a person of color.
Some people aren’t interested in characters that are too far from their own experiences. I have a friend who doesn’t like a lot of the male-centric fiction that I read. She can’t get into a story if there’s not a strong female character. I can’t get into the girly teen movies that are her guilty pleasure because I’m not all that interested in high school hijinks unless it involves vampires, ancient prophecies and lots of asskicking. I did not do any asskicking in high school, but I did hang around with the theatre kids and wear a black cloak, so I guess I identify with being the weird kid.
My favorite superhero legacy is the Robins. My first superhero crush at a very young age was the Robin played by Burt Ward on reruns of the old 60s Batman and Robin show. (You are free to speculate what this says about my psyche.) Maybe it’s just that Robin is the kid sidekick and I was a kid, too. I’m grown up now, but so are most of the Robins. I love that Dick Grayson has become Batman now because it’s like watching a kid you grew up with become President or a movie star.
Having a girl become Robin was such a fantastic thing to me because it meant that this club which I had loved and admired since I was a little kid would let me play too. Sure, there’s Batgirl, but Batgirl isn’t Batman’s partner. Robin’s the one that hangs out in the cave and slides down the Batpole and rides in the Batmobile and gets tied up next to Batman. (My psyche: a study for another time.) Little girls like I’d been could now dress up like Robin without the other kids saying, “You can’t be Robin. Robin’s a boy.”
Some people don’t understand why Stephanie Brown’s death was such a big deal to people like me. She wasn’t Robin for very long, after all. It was just a stunt the editors cooked up to make her death more dramatic.
I hate that she died, even though it’s been retconned now and Stephanie’s returned. I hate how she died and how her death and memorial was handled. But you cannot take away the fact that she was Robin. I have the cover above framed on my wall, because it’s proof that there was a Robin, the Girl Wonder. That someone like me was once Robin.
I give DC credit for responding to the fans and bringing Stephanie back. I love the new Batgirl series. Now Stephanie’s an adult who’s dealt with a lot of shitty stuff in her life, some of it due to her own bad choices and yet she’s still strong, she’s still kicking ass and she’s not letting anyone tell her what she can or can’t do. She’s not perfect but she’s not giving up. Once again, she’s someone I can identify with. This doesn’t fix what happened to her previously, but it’s a step forward and I appreciate that.
I would love it if Stephanie Brown came to the DCAU. The animated series have a different continuity than the comics, so Stephanie could start fresh and this time it could be done right. We could have a girl Robin on Saturday morning cartoons and on the lunchboxes, backpacks and t-shirts of millions of kids. A whole new generation of girls could see one of the most popular superheroes in the world and know she’s someone just like them.