A Lengthy Introduction by Dean Trippe.
By any measurement, Stephanie Brown got a raw deal. Initially introduced as a teenage vigilante who took up the cause in order to thwart her father’s criminal ventures, Stephanie chose the codename “The Spoiler” and frequently teamed up with fellow Gothamite hero and sometime boyfriend, Tim Drake, AKA Robin. For a short, but memorable time, Stephanie carried the mantle of Robin herself, and was mentored by the world’s greatest detective, Batman. She was the first girl Robin in continuity, and many new readers started picking up the Batbooks based solely on this exciting change.
I was reading Detective Comics when she was introduced, and her first appearance in 1992 by fan-favorite Batbooks scribe Chuck Dixon and artist Tom Lyle has always stuck with me. Spoiler was capable, self-sufficient, and like Batgirl, had entered the rooftop world of superheroes all on her own. Seeing her take up the Robin identity was definitely a moment of pride for all Steph fans, even if we suspected Tim might eventually return.
Sadly, this Girl Wonder faced the same heightened plot dangers that most female characters apparently do. It was suddenly revealed that as a child, she’d faced an attempted rape, sexual assault being an overused shortcut to female character development. She was then injured in the line of duty, allowing “the real Robin” to feel somehow responsible. Batman then fired her after she disobeyed a single order–a choice which previous Robins have often been lauded for. And finally, she was shown to have accidentally caused the largest city-wide gang war in Gotham history in a failed attempt to strike at the criminal underworld. She was captured by The Black Mask, tortured to near death, and was then denied medical treatment by another previous untarnished female character, Batman’s frequent aide, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who withheld treatment in order to teach other would-be teen crimefighters a lesson.
Since her death, Stephanie has not even received a memorial costume case in the Batcave, as we’d seen with the previous fallen Robin, Jason Todd (who incidentally, is alive again, and still has a memorial case in the cave). The Girl-Wonder organization is one fan/professional group that speaks out about how female characters are treated in comics, and one of their goals is to see this lack of remembrance rectified.
None of Stephanie’s costumes, however, have been that memorable, I’m sad to say. Her Spoiler design lacked an insignia of any kind, and her Robin costume was basically Tim’s costume with a skirt. So as usual, we at Project: Rooftop would like to present some alternatives. Joining us this week in reviewing these Stephanie Brown redesigns, is Rachel Edidin of Girl-Wonder, Darkhorse Comics, and Inside Out.
Joel: Here’s Dean, doing what Dean does so well: taking a poor, abused character concept and infusing it with dignity, vitality, and optimism. Doing away with green and toning down the yellow considerably, this costume has a somber palette compared to Steph’s canon costume. This is a Stephanie who is serious about her career as a crimefighter, and expects to be taken seriously. Nice little design detail on the utility belt, and I like the Alice-In-Wonderland hair band. Gotham is your rabbit-hole, Steph! I wonder about the yellow cape, however. Will it, when drawn in multiple poses throughout a narrative, cause visual confusion with the blond hair?
Dean: I never liked Stephanie’s Robin costume. It was based on the design Tim was wearing back then, but was overly complicated. I actually designed this costume for a new future girl Robin I’d made up (called Robin One) before Stephanie became Robin. The only change I made in applying it to Stephanie is that I’d originally given this design thigh-high boots and no tights, but here I wanted to use the skirt-with-tights idea I’d recently used on a Supergirl redesign, and I gave her steel-toed boots for extra crime-fighting toughness.
Vito: The reason why I choose this one over your other Robin design is that use of black. Particularly on the arms. The way it is broken up by skin…it’s kind of sexy (I know she’s a kid, everyone…it’s a freakin’ comic, move on!). Add to that the opera length gloves, and it is a really upscale look for a teenager…almost (ALMOST) dominatrix, which in a weird way has a place in the Batman universe (here come the letters). The think I don’t like? The use of black. I think that I mention it in one of the other pieces, but you have to have green in there. Have to. I know that the current OYL-Robin doesn’t have any, but I still want to see it.
Dean: For my design of Spoiler, I wanted to imagine a Steph that had returned from the dead, mixing elements from her time as Robin and her own identity as Spoiler. the thing I like most here is the hooded cloak and the ‘S’ in the place of the familiar Robin ‘R’, which I don’t think had been previously done with this character.
Joel: Not to give short-shrift to the Robin design–it’s lovely, and did, after all, inspire this whole cascade of costumes–but taking the same design and making it a Spoiler costume adds so many layers of character interest that it completely overshadows the Robin version. This is a design that would, I think, be very exciting to write for. Here we have Stephanie, back from the dead and looking slightly necro-hottie, reclaiming the Spoiler identity, but still acknowledging her brief tenure as Batman’s plus-one. The hooded cloak is a nice echo of a funeral shroud, but the kicky little cat’s-ear elements on the mask let you know that this is no angst-ridden muser-upon-gravestones. She’s a little more jaded, a little less prone to hero-worship, back among the living and ready for adventure. One assumes Stephanie will crop up again at some point–comics being, you know, comics–and this would be a pretty great direction to take her in.
Rachel: I’m with Joel on this–I think using recognizable Robin elements in a Spoiler costume adds a lot of visual depth to the character. The pale cloak gives her an almost ghostly appearance–appropriate for that back-from-the-dead feel; I could see her haunting Batman in this–but otherwise, the costume is no-nonsense–it’s visually really sharp, and it’s a great nod to Steph’s history. I also really dig the skirt-over-leggings look in both this and the previous design.
Vito: I’m particularly fond of the colors. Spoiler’s costume, in and of itself, was, in a word, awful. It was unexemplary (I just made that word up, I think) and therefore unmemorable. She looked like a purple ghost, and there’s only one person that should look that way…Lee Falk’s Phantom. But what Dean-o Machine-o did here was take those colors, and use that awesome complimentary white hooded cloak. I like the lipstick too. My only criticism on the Deaner’s design is that lackluster “s.” You can do so much better than that, Dean. That’s an in the park home run as far as I’m concerned!
Chris: Like Joel said, the final Spoiler costume seems meant to be. I don’t know if Dean intended as such, but the various Robin designs leading up to this new Spoiler design is story-telling and I could easily see those Robin costumes in a story where Stephanie evolved her identity out of the shadow of the Bat and into her own thing. I’d lose the “S” on the Spoiler outfit, though.
Vito: Losing it is an option, but I’d rather see something iconic. Why shouldn’t the Spoiler be her own brand?
Joel: I vote for keeping the “S,” but giving it some more consideration.
Rachel: What about a more stylized S? It’s pretty comic-sans-y right now. Having her own symbol would also be a pretty powerful visual break from her identification as Robin.
Dean: Check this out, Joel’s basically just adapted Dick Grayson’s original uniform! There are some very clever modernizations going on here, and some elements from Tim’s costume (like the reversible cape), and I dig the split in the cape (I believe, a nod to the Robin on The Batman cartoon). This design strikes me as being downright functional, which is awesome considering the clear grounding in a 70 year old design. Plus, these and Bannister’s Flash shoes are the two best pairs we’ve run on P:R in my opinion. I want them on my feet now.
Rachel: Ooh, see, this is exactly what I want in superhero costumes in terms of the functional-and-iconic. That slightly armored top rocks my socks, and the longish shorts are both totally unexpected and totally awesome.
Joel: Okay, I don’t know what Joel Carroll does for a living, but I hope it involves designing costumes for somebody. His designs are always one of the high points here on the Rooftop, and should really be put to professional use. This great costume has a lot of contemporary detail (reinforced seams, high-performance sneaks, Tim’s two-toned cape), but a distinctly old-school vibe (is it because of the shorts? Few modern superheroes inhabit the sartorial middle-ground between full leg coverage and crotch-floss). I love the little folding Robinrangs, although tucking them into pockets at the bottom hem of the shorts looks a little awkward to me.
Chris: Joel again has hit all the points I wanted to hit. The only thing I’d recommend to make this A- into an A+ is some knee pads of some sort.
Rachel: Ooh, yeah. Robin does way too much hard landing on rooftops to fight bare-legged. I’d also like to see some protection on her ankles, snazzy as the shoes may look alone.
Vito: What I like most about Joel’s design is how much he put into it with those smaller designs, as if he was trying to find that perfect angle. I like the cargo shorts-as-utility shorts. It’s practical, which is key. I don’t think this design plays enough to her femininity, though.
Robins by Joel Carroll
Dean: Nice to see some variations! I think I lean towards the last one of the top row, though I’d like to a lighter or more saturated green, I think. Either way, I love the mask and hair style. The vest as a nice toughness to it…it looks protective and a little formal. Very uniformy. I like it. I’d like to see the Batman that goes with this Robin.
Joel: It’s great to see a bit of Joel’s process as he hashes out some variations on this Robin design. If I had to choose one, I’d go with the skirt-plus-green-tights version, but I’m a big fan of the idea that superheroes would have a variety of costumes, for seasonal comfort if nothing else. So, I choose to think of these not as design permutations, but as representative of Stephanie’s Robin expanded wardrobe. The cape looks like a swallow’s tail, which is an interesting, if slightly off-species, motif to bring into the costume. Or is it meant to refer to bird wings in general? I’m not so sure about the mask, however. It looks a little too big, too bug-eyed.
Vito: These are feminine designs! Even with the shorts and tights, I think these say “Girl Wonder.” I’m really into that mask though. It’s a radical departure from what Tim wears, and I really like the way it blends in with the rest of the costume. Joel, I’m with you as I also pick the skirt+green tights version. But shame on you Joel! Where’s the “R” logo?
Rachel: The cape has to go, or at least change significantly. It’s way, way too tightly tailored at the shoulders–enough that it would significantly restrict her arm movements. Stylish, yes; practical; no. The swallowtail back is cool, though.
Chris: The mask has made me awestruck. I could see kids wearing that.
Robin by Ming Doyle
Joel: This Robin is just so Rock. I love it. Look at those boots! This looks like the Stephanie who stuck around as Robin long enough to reach adulthood and mature into an independent crime fighter, like Nightwing, but without the Oedipal hissyfit/costume change. The colors are lovely and subdued, and the costume breaks them up in a way that is dynamic without being busy. As cool as the boots are, they may stand out a bit too much: nothing else in the costume is at all like them, which makes them a bit discordant. But, ah, who cares? A little discord can be very invigorating.
Rachel: Props to this Robin for actually being robin-colored. I think the black at the shoulders makes the shirt a little too busy–it makes me think of a bike-racing jersey–but the color is so sharp that I’d probably let that slide.
Vito: Those Robin colors are well represented. For me, this says Pre-Crisis Earth-2 Robin for some reason…as if this were his and Helena’s daughter. Again, I have to say something about the footwear. It looks cumbersome. I don’t know how anyone could walk in those. I’d go with one layer.
Joel: This is the story that I’m telling myself about the boots: Bats provided Steph with a Robin costume, much like the one we see here, but with sensible footwear. But Stephanie is not senisble, she is full of derring-do! She rejected the shoes and liberated a pair of experimental Batboots that use special Waynecorp @!-Kicker technology ™. These become her signature weapon, like the batarangs and batons that preceded them.
Rachel: I dunno. I mean, I’m a huge fan of stompy boots, but Stephanie is a fighter who’s always depended on agility, and those look like plate mail. I think they might work better if they kept the height and basic design but lost a little of the bulk.
Vito: I always point out the shoes, huh? You’d think I had a thing for shoes, but that’s not the case, I can assure you.
Joel: We are lucky enough to be living through a genuine Renaissance of Superhero footwear design. Nearly every superhero comic I grew up on got by with those ambiguous flat-soled footie things that bore absolutely no relation to anything anyone has ever worn. It is such a relief to have those dark days behind us. Comics artists have realized that there is so much that can be said by a heroes choice in footgear: combat boots? tabi? high heels? sneakers? shoes that look like a pump but feel like a sneaker?
Vito: You’ve really thought this through, haven’t you?
Joel: We all have our passions. That’s all I’ll say on the subject.
Joel: As much as this color scheme grates upon my personal notions of taste, I can see it being character appropriate, and I love how bold Jemma has been in allowing Stephanie to claim a completely original look as Robin. The colors are bright, but no less reasonable for a shadow-stalking vigilante than the original red-yellow-green costume.
Rachel: It’s what would have happened if Misfit had wanted to be Robin instead of Batgirl.
Dean: Ha! Yes.
Vito: This so East Village by way of middle America. I like the idea of components and pieces of clothing making a costume or a uniform. It’s as if Jemma looked at Robin and looked at Jubilee from the X-Men and found a way to reinterpret what a female Robin could look like. I kind of wonder what Jemma’s version of the Teen Titans would look like now that I see this and her Impulse from a few weeks ago.
Chris: Jemma’s Robin costume for Stephanie is so infectious that I’m almost at a loss for words. Almost. She’s like a young Natasha Lyonne with alot of attitude. And yes, I see the Jubilee in it that Vito does too.
Vito: I think it’s the shorts, Chris. Jubilee had those cargo shorts on before they even made the term “cargo shorts.” That’s Jim Lee for you.
Joel: Don’t you want to read the scene where Bats in first presented with this outfit? Also,speaking of cargo, I like that the belt is all utility pouches.
Rachel: I can’t shake the idea that it’s full of office supplies. Anyway, that’s what I’d put in it. Rachel Edidin: Two-Fisted Editor.
Joel: This Girl-Wonder looks more Carrie Kelly than Stephanie Brown, to my eyes. She’s a little punky, a little day-after-tomorrow, and a little, well, odd in a way that fits with the world of The Dark Knight Returns. My favorite part is the unbelt, complete with buckle and utility pouches. The same mask that bothered me in Joel Carroll’s second design works for me here. I think it’s because the hair goes over it, and it can be balanced out with a hood. The high-waisted jacket, with its pointy-structured shoulders, creates a nice layered effect over the black torso. The gold piping on the glove fingerholes might be a smidge too much, however. Unless the intention is to make this the Glam Robin. Which, for the record, I am not opposed to.
Vito: I agree that this is better suited for Carrie Kelly and the DK world. And like Joel, I’m a fan of that buckless belt. I also like that cape…the one they’ve incorporated in the one year later costume. It’s funny that no one thought to do that sooner.
Dean: It’s no secret I have a soft spot for Paul’s superhero redesigns. I dig the yellow piping, especially on the hood. And it’s nice to see artists who can handle feather jags in a Robin cape. I’d kind of like to see this with sleeves, but I’ve gotta agree with Joel here, the un-belt is rocking.
Vito: All right, I’ll go first. It’s a stunning piece, that’s for sure. Design-wise, it’s one of my top three (with Daniel’s and Dean’s Spoiler). There’s not much wrong here. Cargo belt w/ pouches; bared, but protected with some kind of kevlar I’m sure, midriff; hooded cape…it’s a solid design all around. What separates this from Daniel’s, and the other top Stephanie-Robin designs is the lack of green in the costume. It’s a small thing and with a solid design, like this one, it’s easily omittable, but call me a stickler. All Robin costumes should have Red, yellow and green in them. I know the current OYL Robin doesn’t, but, as readers, we have to accept that because that is what Robin is wearing. In this piece, I would have tried it in the tights and the under armor (if that’s what it is…but hey, knowing Batman, that’s what I’d do).
Joel: The hooded cloak, combined with the aforementioned lack of green (and, for that matter, the way she’s holding the grappling line) gives this design a distinct Little Red Riding Hood feel. The gloves and boots look a little busy to me. What are those things at her wrists and ankles? Bracelets/anklets? The pleated skirt has associations with either cheerleaders or Catholic school girls, which, I suppose, is no more inappropriate than the little green shorts Robin sported for so long.
Rachel: This is a design I could see working on Super Girl, but not Robin. Robin has always been about fairly clean, sleek lines, and the loose skirt seems impractical for a gymnast (or anyone with that many belt-based gadgets); it also says “flier” to me, which Steph ain’t.
Dean: There’s seriously no substitute for the fun world of Mike Maihack costume designs. I think Mike took a few nods from my Robin redesign, but he’s made something totally his own. The double-sided hooded cape is wicked, and the black tights under the red make this costume seem incredibly functional.
Dean: Ladies and gentlemen, Daniel Krall. I met this dude at the Baltimore Comic-Con a few weeks ago, and his art has been rocking my face off ever since. I don’t think there’s anything here I’m not loving. The tunic-dress RULES, the ‘R’ belt is wicked fun, and the bold red mask really rocks. I love this Robin.
Vito: Sweet Jeebus, this is no slight on anyone else’s that we’ve seen, but I might have to marry this design. From top to bottom…That tunic is classic, but see what he did with the “R” logo? He moved it. That to me is a deliberate move to set this Robin apart from any other Robin. That, my friends, is smart design! Using black as the complimentary color is a good tried-and-true way to go, but I’d like to see a dark green. However, with that said, I like how on the sleeves, the black is broken up by her flesh, like Dean’s above. The best part of this design has to be that cape. It’s very modern looking, and you can see that it too, like all the others presented here, can become a hood. Those buttons are so damn dynamic and really set this apart from other cape/hood/tunic combos. And yes, Joel, I even like the shoes!
Rachel: My eyes just STOP at those spats. Why the Hell don’t more superheroes wear spats? Also, does anyone else think this would look kickass in purple and black, in the vein of Dean’s Spoiler?
Joel: Wow, yeah, this something special. There are those design that scream to be adopted into the DCU canon, and those that demand their own Elseworld. This Robin, along with Jemma Salume’s Impulse, and Ross Campbell’s Supergirl, falls into the second category. Great cape construction, and boot/spat combo. The half-gloves send off alarms, though. I don’t see any advantage to having gloves end halfway down the palm, not even aesthetic ones, and I’m pretty sure that they’d make it tough to hold onto a grappling line.