Comicon interviews Jon Lewis (Robin #s 100-120)
Who is Spoiler?
She’s Stephanie Brown, about the same age as Tim Drake. She and Tim now know about one another’s “secret identities”. Stephanie’s father is the Cluemaster, a second-rate supervillain and perfectly rotten guy. Her Mom is a pharmaceutical addict in recovery, who has a good job as a nurse.
How has Spoiler’s relationship with Robin changed over the past few years?
I guess it’s sort of solidified– they both feel like they’re in it “for real” now. They’re in that unique teenager state of feeling like they’re discovering THE REAL THING for the first time. The fact that they know each other’s identities and even work together sometimes as Robin and Spoiler has been a good thing in some ways for Tim - for the first time he has someone in his line of work who’s like a peer instead of an older sibling or a Dad. It’s kind of unified his Robin life and his normal life. But not having those halves compartmentalized has its downside, too. There are reasons for keeping your work life and private life separate. As for Steph, Tim’s the first really good boyfriend she’s had, and the first person she’s come to trust so totally that she can talk to them about anything. But she feels like the rest of the “Batman Family” don’t approve of her being Spoiler, and she wonders whether Tim agrees with them deep down and isn’t telling her.
The subject of molestation and abuse is one that a lot of people shy away from and do not feel comfortable tackling. What, if any, reservations did you have about revealing this aspect of Spoiler’s past?
I just wanted to write it as well as I possibly could, and in a way that was really true to THIS SPECIFIC SITUATION - not a symbol for all instances of molestation, and not a “statement” on the issue. The story itself is very sensitive to Stephanie, but though nothing awful is shown it is an awful story emotionally to read - or I suspect it is. I know that after writing it I had a black cloud of depression over my head for two or three days.
Why is the time right now for Steph to talk about this childhood trauma?
Because there are certain questions about it that she now suddenly knows she will never get the answers to. Things she was putting off investigating that now she’ll never get a chance to know. I’m sorry to be so vague, but the catalyst for her thinking about this part of her past right now is an event I don’t want to ruin for the readers beforehand.
What inspired this story?
It just seemed very obvious to me, when I saw that Stephanie grew up with a small-time crook for a father and an addict for a mother, that this child would have been exposed to really inappropriate situations because of the world her parents were inhabiting, and the other adults they would have had around them. This is the kind of environment in which these things happen. The parents are too wrapped up in their own nonsense to look closely at the kind of “friends” they’re surrounding themselves with. Looking at the facts of Stephanie’s background, I just felt, unfortunately, that it was very very likely that this was part of it. You can see that this is not something I’ve just whimsically pulled out of a hat from the fact that I laid the groundwork for it in a brief flashback sequence back in issue 102.
How is Robin going to react to this news? How will this change their relationship?
At first it upsets him terribly, makes him ashamed to be male and makes him want to find and pulverize the person responsible. Then he starts to suspect that this might be what a real relationship is all about, this sharing of everything with one another. Ultimately he feels closer to her than before.
What are the biggest challenges to writing this issue?
Like I said, trying to be true to this specific situation with these specific people, and not “make a statement” about an issue. However, there are a couple things I did put in there for purely rhetorical purposes. I felt I needed to point out the depressingly high percentage of women and girls who have experienced something like this, that it is unfortunately not a rare phenomenon. Also, sometime early this year I read a bit in the entertainment section of the newspaper about how the season finale of that show “Felicity” had been scrapped, because it had Felicity being sexually assaulted. The producers asked for a totally new episode, and released a press statement saying, “we felt that after all this character has achieved for herself professionally and personally, to reduce her to nothing more than a victim of rape would be totally unacceptable.” I found that sentiment so utterly disgusting, this idea that rape strips a woman of her personhood and negates all her achievements. It stuck in my craw. Months later, when I wrote Robin # 111, I just had to put it in. There’s a scene where Steph and Tim are in a diner, and there’s a TV on in the background showing the equivalent of Entertainment Tonight, and there’s a newsbit where that press release is read almost verbatim. Obviously, that’s something that is in the story only because as the author I wanted to ridicule and revile it. But otherwise I tried hard to just tell the story, be inside the characters.
A lot of people are going to look at this as a publicity stunt instead of looking at the character and her past. Her father was a criminal, her mother used drugs, she was around an unsavory lot … This is reality, not publicity.
What problems, if any, did you have with the publishers of DC Comics in wanting to present this story? Did anyone try to persuade you not to go this direction?
No. When I was starting on ROBIN, after I’d absorbed all the backstory on the characters, I talked to Matt and Pete about what Spoiler’s family history said to me. So this was no surprise to them. I was slightly nervous though, when I finally got around to addressing it in my 12th issue on the book, that Matt might have forgotten all about it in the intervening time and would read the script and be totally horrified. But he wasn’t. And the pages I’ve seen from Pete on the issue are amazingly nuanced and effective. As usual for me, I myself had no doubts about writing the story until after I finished, at which point I totally freaked out. “How dare I try to write this experience? What was I thinking?” I know people are going to have major misgivings about the story beforehand, as to why I would write it, but I think if they actually read it, those misgivings will be allayed. Even though it won’t exactly be a pleasant read.
Why do you think people view a female who has lived through abuse as “less” or “damaged?”
Unfortunately there are these ancient traditions of ascribing any “filthy” aspects of sex to the woman, as if the supposed “spiritual damage” of sex all falls onto the woman. If you start from that attitude about CONSENSUAL sex, then obviously, FORCED intercourse is going to be seen as making a woman unretrievably polluted. Sadly, we’re coming from many centuries of several parallel traditions of viewing women as a kind of precious cattle. Sorting that baggage completely out will take time, and little ghosts of it linger in all of us, even in those who consciously and convictedly know better. To me, the worst is how echoes of these values can lurk in a woman’s own feelings about herself. That’s so awful and unfair and insidious. I don’t mean to condemn the great cultural and spiritual traditions of the world, they’re all full of profound and beautiful things, but every last one of them has this atrocious, disgusting blind spot when it comes to women.
Why should people check this issue out?
It’s an integral part of the series, continuing the paths of these characters in important ways, and there’s far more to the issue than just the part about the sexual abuse. It’s also a self-contained issue that’s constructed and told differently than any issue of ROBIN we’ve done yet. It has some damn funny parts, believe it or not. And it’s looking like it’s going to be one of Pete’s best issues yet, which is saying something. And it’ll be followed by the most ambitious story arc I’ve attempted. But people shouldn’t wait for # 111 to check the series out. They should run right out and get the current issue right now, which begins an arc about gross monsters and teenage dating problems.