The Renegade Robins Club is back to fulfill your Steph-a-needs! As Chuck Dixon bows out of his Robin-writing duties, Jon Lewis steps in to take over the book, and he reinvents a familiar foe along the way! Also, tune in for a special Batgirl adventure!
Discussion Question: How does this version of Nocturna stack up against the Earth-One original? (Long-time members of this club should remember her from the classic Jason Todd Robin stories!) Or if you don’t know that version, what do you make of this New Earth Nocturna as a character in her own right?
What do you think of Steph’s alternate universe Robin costume?
In regards to my own question, I would say that the new Nocturna suffers not so much from her depiction in this particular story, but more from the lack of a proper follow-up to this story. I might have preferred if the original Nocturna stories had remained in continuity to some degree after the Crisis (or after Zero Hour – we’re never told which event actually removed the original events from the timeline). However, if they did have to be replaced, I’d prefer that they be replaced with a fully-formed new idea.
I don’t necessarily want to say that Jon Lewis failed to give her sufficient development in this first story. I think he assumed that he would have time to build on his ideas later, and he simply never got the chance. We learn that her past connection to an observatory is still present in this rebooted version of the character, but since we don’t get a proper flashback, we kinda have to fill in the gaps with what we remember from the Doug Moench run in the 1980s.
One positive aspect is that we don’t have the Thief of Night (aka Nightslayer) character coming back in this story. He was always rather annoying, and I’m glad he’s not here to drag down the proceedings. (Of course, he does end up returning after Flashpoint.) But on the downside, all connections to Jason Todd are lost!
Nocturna shows up again after Infinite Crisis in a few stories, often with little to do but stand in the background. (I’m looking at you, Salvation Run.) It seems that this particular soft reboot to the timeline might have reverted the character back to her pre-Crisis self . . . or, at the very least, it made the post-Crisis Nocturna harder to distinguish from her original version.
So, now Steph not only has a nemesis (Cluemaster), a fatal enemy (Scarab - the villain who gets her fired as Robin, and then who Fabian Nicieza hires to make Steph into a semi-villain in an arc that everyone should forget, and then Tim Seeley brings back as Stephanie’s Gauntlet in Robins), but now Nocturna! I know the vampiress is more known for her Batwoman connection, but I’m claiming her (at least some versions) as a Stephanie Brown rogue!
One of the issues I have in my collection of Steph as Robin! I really wish she’d gotten a bigger role in the crossover - she basically completely disappears as a character in the rest of the story.
I know a lot of Steph fans (Stephanites on the reddit!) really love the Jon Lewis run from Robin 100-120, but while there was some very cute art, and a lot of nicely emotional moments between Steph and Tim as characters (and even Steph as Spoiler), the plotting that Lewis penned was WEIRD. Weird in a forgettable yet annoying way, rather than weird and wacky that you either love or hate. In my view, Nocturna really falls into that category for me.
I really like how it combines elements of Cluemaster’s costume with the classic Robin look - she has full pants like Tim, but higher boots (though not heels, thankfully!) This was during the Pete and Rebecca Woods era of art for the Robin series, and Steph had a very cute bob haircut (very different from her hedgehog hair when she became Robin in main continuity! I love both hairs, but the hedgehog hair a bit more).
So, onto the issues themselves!
Batgirl #26: another comic that’s in my collection! Love the way editor (and Denny O’Neil protege, sadly didn’t take his mentor’s place when O’Neil resigned/retired) Scott Peterson writes Steph - she has the self-confidence issues that are very characteristic of her (see also her arc in the current Batgirls run, coming soon to DCUI, but already in my Stephanie Brown collecting hands!), but also is able to overcome them to have a victory. Cass is also very important to her, even though she’s unconscious the whole issue (a shame what happens next issue, which still makes me so annoyed/mad). Guest artist Vincent Giarrano does a pretty solid job mimicking Damion Scott’s pencils and cute appeal, and this issue is definitely a highlight for me in Cass’s Batgirl series. Really wish they referred to it more in general, but…sadly, Steph’s victory over the Shiva cultist is mostly forgotten except by us! A shame - it really is a delightful issue that fits in with Steph’s first arc as Batgirl (with her visions of herself and her close friends encouraging or berating her) quite well.
Batgirl #28 - the classic Steph and Cass are friends story! Much, MUCH better than issue #27. I do feel like Steph still comes away from the issue a bit diminished - her victory over the cultist two issues ago isn’t brought up, and though Cass does develop respect and affection for her, Steph comes across as “inferior copy of Cass” in the “I can’t beat you at anything” conversation. To be fair, this is Cass’s book, and Steph is a borrowed supporting character from Tim’s book - but still. I dunno. I like the issue, I just wish Steph had a bit more of a win. (I do have a hard copy of it in my collection, though! I don’t reread it nearly as much as #26). This issue is probably the biggest foundation for the Steph and Cass friendship in fandom, and is followed up in Batgirl #38, but that issue is VERY bad for Steph, despite a sort of fun callback to the conversation about Cass beating Steph at everything.
Robin #100 - Chuck Dixon bows out and Jon Lewis steps up in the same issue - an odd choice, especially since it goes right into a weird crossover, but…shrug. I really like the details Dixon puts in about the cost of being Batman or a Bat in Gotham. It’s really interesting seeing Tim being a pessimist and Steph being an optimist - a change in roles that Dixon had carefully engineered through the 100 issues of this run, plus his use of them in guest spots like Birds of Prey (referenced here). Steph’s growth from a primarily anger driven character to one who views things through the lens of hope is a nice one, and one I’m glad generally continues through today from Bryan Q. Miller’s Batgirl. Steph’s thoughts about her outsider status, and her guarding against thinking like her father are a very complex little bit of characterization - which I’d expect from Dixon, her creator - but one that is often forgotten! Also, Tim is a Buffy fan!
There’s a real melancholy to the end of this isssue, as Dixon’s structured it to have Tim say goodbye to all he’s built for the last few years, and even puts in a cameo as the cab driver who drives the Drake’s former housekeeper to the airport.
We then shift to Jon Lewis’s section, and the stylistic shift is a bit jarring - Tim gets REALLY wordy in his monologues, and we recap a lot of what’s happened in the past few years (and this issue). This comic immediately also gets weird. The elevator attendant is…very odd (and off putting), Steph has a cold (plot important!). Tim’s monologue about Steph being great is very sweet, though! But…the whole investigation is deeply confusing, and the stakes are never clear (not to mention the art and dialogue/interaction don’t really make it clear who is who half the time). Ah, the Lewis run and my deeply ambivalent reaction to it. I don’t miss it.
Robin #101 - A very characteristic Humberto Ramos cover, featuring Steph’s Robin costume (with long hair, unlike the interior, though). Again, I cannot get over just how weird Jon Lewis’s writing is. This is SUPPOSED to be part 3 of a crossover, but it’s mostly just more of Lewis’s Nocturna plot, with a LOT of very strange indie art scene stuff thrown in for “color” that really doesn’t appeal to me or (I believe) advance the story or characters. The domestic stuff with Steph and Dana is great, if extremely wordy. An interesting bit of NML lore about “townies vs. deserter (DZ)” that Rucka developed a few years before. The transition between the (finally humorous and moving) Nocturna plot (Steph can’t smell, so she thinks Nocturna is hilariously bad, while Tim can smell, so he is enchanted) and the World Without Young Justice storyline is abrupt and very silly. I really wish Lewis had given a whole issue to the crossover world - more Steph as Robin would have been cool, especially with weirdly nude Cluemaster (in this reality Crypto-King)!
Robin #102 - now that the crossover is resolved in another few issues, we’re right back to Nocturna mesmerizing Tim and the crowd, while nose-blocked Steph is puzzled. There is a nice Odysseus and the Sirens analogy here, but it’s still just too weird for me to really enjoy it. Steph saves Nocturna from an obsessed fan (and Lewis has been seeding the “Steph was molested/threatened as a kid” plotline since last issue, with the piano stuff, so that’s decent craftsmanship), and then we get some more sweet Tim/Steph stuff, with Tim paging and then Steph calling, and Tim asking Dana to help him make soup for Steph while she’s sick.
Robin #103 - Nocturna is very smexy on this cover, goodness. The plotting here is a bit better, with the soup/cold/Nocturna plotline starting to actually come together (Tim being somewhat smart in figuring stuff out, Steph having continuity with her Birds of Prey training), but…it’s still weird, and the stakes just don’t feel very strong. Plus, Tim needs to tell Steph things about the case, rather than just playing experiments with her. Steph saving the day with Nocturna and the fire is an interesting adventure.
Robin #104 - Steph makes the cover again, as Spoiler this time, and lots of assets on display between her and Nocturna, which do not appear in the interior at all. Sigh. Why didn’t they talk about consistent character design (and appropriateness) with the cover artist? Steph’s been mesmerized by Nocturna into taking the…whatever she is to her own house (while her mom’s out), and Tim gives her clay to stick in her nose, too. Meanwhile, Steph has picked up multiple stalkers - Tim’s elevator attendant, and a homeless man who calls her “purple girl” (will be important!) Two very interesting pieces of worldbuilding for Steph - she’s known as Spoiler by Rev. Knutland, a local priest, and her suburb is apparently called Widowstone Creek (a name which is interesting, doesn’t fit much with Gotham, and is only used in this run - but for all that I don’t like Lewis’s run very much, there is a nice level of detail to it that I appreciate). Steph detectiving with Nocturna is a nice scene, though she still makes some rookie mistakes.
Robin #105 - the conclusion! And one creepy cover! Lewis drops a HUGE amount of exposition on the first page…I feel like it should have been dramatized a bit better so this exposition wouldn’t be as necessary. I also feel like a lot of this information was learned off panel…oh, Lewis. And the whole “homeless man has a Bat-tracer” plotline doesn’t really seem to have a real explanation. Sighhhhh. We get the famous (to Steph fans) line “It’s eggplant. Purple would’ve looked stupid”. Which is silly, because Steph is colored purple way more than she’s colored eggplant, and she looks awesome! But people do love that line. And the Nocturna plotline is resolve with a LOT more random exposition that really should have been developed more in dramatic form rather than put in narration boxes. Maybe instead of the interminable indie music scenes…
Anyway. I really am not a huge fan of the Jon Lewis run, and this arc is no exception. There are definitely solid pieces here, though, many of them centering around Steph!