GAME CHANGERS: Scott Snyder on Harper Row

Welcome to GAME CHANGERS, an interview series at Comicosity looking at female protagonists in comic books from the last decade or two (or more!) — and the original creators who brought them to life.

Like Equinox of the Justice League United, Harper Row is a brand new creation for DC Comics’ New 52, making her first, very subtle appearance all the way back in launch month, September 2011. Growing quickly from Gotham street kid to a future as Batman’s newest costumed partner, Harper Row has exploded on the page under the pen of creator Scott Snyder — and the writer graciously spent some time sharing how she came about and what she means to the mythos of the Dark Knight for the future.

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Who is Harper Row?

Alter Ego: Bluebird
First Appearance: Batman #1 (2011)
Created by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Published by DC Comics

Children left more or less on their own without parental support, Harper and Cullen Row were prime examples of the 99% in Gotham City. Working for the city while also finishing high school, Harper came into contact with the Dark Knight when Cullen became a victim of gay-bashing, and subsequently was determined to help out Batman in whatever way she could. A master of electronics and city planning, Harper refused to give up, even when Batman wouldn’t see her. She even went so far as to contact Bruce Wayne to get his help reaching out to his “employee” in Batman Incorporated.

Ultimately, Harper ingratiated herself into Batman’s employ as Birdbird — spending time training and traveling with Red Robin — and is seen in a vision by Batman ultimately partnering with another new sidekick — Duke Thomas, with the alter ego Lark. Whether that development will ever actually transpire is yet to be seen.

 

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A few words from her creator

Matt Santori-Griffith: All the way back in Batman #1, Harper seemed like an embodiment of a certain part of Gotham City. Can you tell us a little bit about how that idea played a role in her creation?

Scott Snyder: There’s really two things. One part of that has to do with wanting to create a young character, someone who saw the city in a different way than some of the adults that were struggling there. But secondarily, it was about creating somebody who lives a tough life in the streets of Gotham and was incredibly brave. She saw a certain inspiration in Batman that gave her a bit more strength in her every day life. She takes care of her brother and they have a lot of adversity in their lives. They don’t have a lot of money.

The idea of being able to make Gotham real for myself, through the lens of a character who’s boots on the ground there, was really exciting to me. Not to mention, to be able to create a character that would end up having a longer story. To be totally honest, when I created her, there wasn’t a sense of “Is she going to become Robin? Is she going to become Bluebird? Is she going to become a figure more like Oracle? Or is she just going to be a person, in Gotham.”

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Interior art by Dustin Nguyen

As we moved forward, we decided that it would be fun to begin to elevate her a bit more, and get her into costume. To become a character I can use beside Batman that would give a different color and a different flavor than a Robin. But when we began with her, the impetus was just to create a strong character who represented a different way of seeing Gotham.

Growing up in New York City, it’s not like I had an incredibly difficult childhood, or that we were struggling all the time. We weren’t. I grew up pretty middle class. But for me, creating a character who was reflective of the experience of being a kid in a city where things don’t always seem hopeful at all — things can be scary and terrifying — showed in her why I loved Batman as a kid.

Now she’s a character with a really big role in the mythology — bigger than I expected when I created her. And I’m really excited about it. After Endgame, she gets a bigger role and Bluebird becomes a little more central to Batman for me.

Part of the fun is getting to do some of the stuff that someone like Grant Morrison did on the book. I admire him tremendously for how much he was able to get into the mythology, show its elasticity, and change so many things — create so many new characters and ideas. I don’t have the same extensive, acrobatic mind he has. That said, coming off of Zero Year, the Batman story I am probably most proud of, my goal now is to do that in the present. I want to bring characters like Harper, Cullen, Duke, Julia, and Leslie Thompkins closer in and really try to bend and change the mythology in a way that is exciting and will make it feel new. Harper is really central to that project.

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Interior art by Dustin Nguyen

MSG: How do you think Harper adopting a costume changes how she works in the book for you?

SS: Well, it changes certain things in a good way and in a way that’s a challenge. The good way is I can write her alongside Batman in a way that’s fun.

The thing that I hope people understand about Harper — and it will become more clear as the story goes on — is that she never wants to know who’s under the mask. She never wants to know anything about Batman. She only wants show up at a case, help, and leave. She really believes that people disappoint deeply, always. So, she’s someone who doesn’t have the same desire to become part of Batman’s world the way other people do who have had that role. She would never allow that to happen. She doesn’t want to go to the cave. She doesn’t want to meet anybody. And I love her for that.

So, she’s a very different flavor. She looks different. She acts different. And all of that makes Batman more vibrant for me.

Secondarily, having her out of costume is great too. I love writing her life. I really do. In working on Batman and Batman: Eternal, her life is really interesting to me — her relationships, her past, her day-to-day.

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Interior art by Greg Capullo

Putting her in costume was a big question, but part of the reason why we leaned that way was because we thought she had a really different persona or psychology than anyone who’s worked with Batman that I’ve written before. She’s so against being brought into any kind of Bat-world, that there’s a certain recoil in that which is really exciting to me. She’s there to be a soldier, and then she’s done.

MSG: And that’s one of the major differences between Harper and what you might describe as the classic “Robin” in Batman’s world. Are there other differences for you?

SS: Yeah, I think they’re all pretty much loners, and she has a family. She has a brother that she cares deeply about. Cullen is younger than her and is a really smart, brave kid. But he’s not as capable as her in being on his own. He has a different sort of personality in that regard. I’m sort of like him, actually. He needs help. He’s young and he’s still finding his way. She has that in her life.

And he knows what she does, and there’s going to be fallout from that.

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Interior art by Andy Clarke

What I love about Harper, too, is she’s also a child of Gotham. She works in the electric grid and is very smart when it comes to mechanics and engineering. She’s been in the bowels of city and sees it as her home. She’s been all over the city and has seen its mechanics — how it works. That’s what Bluebird is to me. She’s the bird in the machine. She’s out to make the city a better place, in her own way, from the inside. Sometimes her path crosses Batman and sometimes it doesn’t.

MSG: How did the Bluebird name come about for you?

SS: Well, it came about two ways. I feel like there’s something romantic for me about having most of Batman’s sidekicks named after birds. Robin and Red Robin got me thinking about red birds. And then, what if there was a sidekick called Lark who was in yellow, or Bluebird in blue? I had this kind of general idea in my head. Maybe a Mockingbird, given Harper Lee’s name being similar to Harper Row’s.

Then, at San Diego Comic Con, the daughter of a woman who cosplays Stephanie Brown — @kyrax2 on twitter — came up and gave a lot of us her first comic. And it was called “Bluebird.” It was beautiful. She even made her own logo for a comic company on the back!

So, part of it was my thinking ahead of time — that I knew she was going to have a bird’s name. And I was leaning into the idea of something blue, different from the red of Robin. But then when I saw that, I thought it would be a nice nod to that comic. When I saw her the next year, I would be able to say that her idea lives in Harper in some way.

Interior art by

Interior art by Andy Clarke

MSG: That dovetails really nicely into the larger conversation about women and girls as fans and major characters in these books. What are your thoughts about the growing collection of women in Batman’s world and the role you’ve played in that?

SS: It’s hard to say. For me, from American Vampire on, I’ve always gravitated in my own work toward female protagonists. The Wake and Wytches both are led by women. American Vampire is pretty much Pearl Jones’ story. I think it might just be that I have a lot of strong women in my life — my wife, my mother, my sister.

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Interior art by Becky Cloonan

But I think with DC, the importance of pushing that is there for so many of us. It’s so exciting to go to a con or go to a shop and see the diversity that wasn’t there when I was a kid. It’s incredibly exciting to see people from different backgrounds — and women — that you just didn’t see. Maybe there was a diverse readership and I just wasn’t aware of it. But the goal is not to get them to buy comics, but to feel like it’s an inclusive culture. You should have heroes that feel like they’re reflective of the best parts of you and the worst parts of you. It’s an important thing to try to do.

With Gotham, Mark Doyle and I are both people who love a lot of the female characters that are already there, and want to create more. I really really think what’s coming post-Endgame is even farther along these lines than what you’ve seen so far. Mark’s vision for the line is so vibrant, diverse, and exciting to me, and not just for the sake of being so. It’s all story-based. Like with Harper, or Steph, or Julia. Spinning out of Eternal and Endgame, there are lots of opportunities coming, and Mark has a very good eye for what’s been overlooked or toward taking a chance on something. When you see what they did with Batgirl, or making Olive Silverlock the lead in Gotham Academy, I love him for that. As an editor, he inspires me as a writer to look at our book and find those opportunities.


“The part that finally made me actually shed tears was the portrayal of a sister so devoted to her brother, and so determined to stand proud for him, that she’d shave the word FAG in the back of her own head. And then she wanted to help Batman too. If she’s not a fricking hero already with one single issue, I don’t know who is.”

Matt Santori-Griffith, Comicosity

“Looking back, even in her cameo, Harper is self-possessed in a way that [other sidekicks] never were. Harper has a sort of self-deprecation, but she also used a car battery and jumper cables as a defibrillator. You have to admit, that’s kind of cool.”

Gavin Craig, Comicosity

 

Where can I read more?

 

For a full list of Comicosity’s Game Changers, please visit our index.

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Paul T said:

    I really, really like Harper Row as a character, but the talk of “inclusiveness” and so on is always on shaky ground. It’s a little silly, there’s a title out there with a black batman, one (two!) with women Batmen. I dunno. As long as it’s done well, I guess it’s good, but have Batwoman or Batwing really justified their existences? Not to me they haven’t. Batgirl is great.

    I’d take issue with Snyder’s description of Cullen Row. “Brave”? I’m sorry, I’m sure he’s a nice kid, but so far, as written, that is one of the least brave characters ever. He’s a punching bag. All we’ve seen him do so far is get beaten up by bullies for being gay, (literally) cry about it, then beg for mercy the next time he encountered them. Oh, and we’ve seen him get sick. Just being in a tough situation doesn’t make you brave, reacting to it a certain way makes you brave. It’s not brave to be openly gay if you go around, openly gay, being a coward and getting beaten up and begging for mercy, and just generally be a victim whom his tiny sister has to physically defend all the time. So. I’ve read that Cullen is going to get an increased story role, and that’s fine – but it’s like the first paragraph – it’s fine IF it’s narratively justified. So far, this character isn’t much at all, and there’s precious little sympathetic about him. It would be fascinating to see Batman interact with this character as we’ve known him so far. Properly written, Batman would be kind but I think he would have very, very little respect for Cullen Row, or how he faces the hardships of life.

    As for Harper (who is wonderful), I hope her character arc involves a thawing, and becomes a desire to know Batman and the family, and really be a part of it. She has a brother but I don’t think she’s really a part of a ‘family’. Two people isn’t a family. She constantly brings up her father and mother to Batman, always in the context of talking about how they’re both basically lost to her (one dead, the other not really a parent). So it clearly sets up for a character arc of her letting her personal guard down and becoming part of the off-duty side of the Bat-family, just as Batman’s arc with her was letting his professional guard down and letting her into the on-duty side. Also of course she’s already palling around with, and there’s mutual interest with, Drake, which also stresses the ‘no behind the scenes’ resolution.

  2. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    Two things that I have to take serious issue with in your comments.

    One, two people can absolutely be a family. My husband and I are as much a family, in and of ourselves, as any couple with a team of kids. And we’re not alone. A single mother with a child, a sister and brother taking care of each other… even a little boy being raised by a guardian who so many people just write off as “the butler.” They’re all families.

    Two, as someone who didn’t come out until long after high school, I absolutely think of Cullen Row as brave. Being able to fight back or defend yourself isn’t bravery. Being honest about who you are, no matter what the consequences. That’s bravery.

    If you have come to Comicosity to say that black characters or lesbian characters have to justify their existence any more than a straight, white male character, then you have likely picked the wrong website. Inclusiveness or diversity — in comics or in life — is not on “shaky ground.” It IS the ground.

  3. Paul T said:

    No, bravery is bravery. We don’t know anything about the character, whether he ‘came out’ or it was just obvious he was gay – considering the context in which he exists and the neighborhood, it’s very likely he was just obviously gay, and there was no coming out. His neighborhood bullies all seem to know he’s gay, and we never see him with anyone – meaning it’s unlikely they saw him going around being openly gay, dating people, etc, and figured it out that way.

    Just existing is not brave. If it is, everyone’s brave. And that’s just not true, obviously. Cullen Row, as written so far, is a weak and cowardly character. He’s actually extremely pathetic, if you think about it, perpetually victimized and doted on as if he’s an invalid by his sister even prior to his getting sick.

    And yea, any character has to justify his existence. Especially characters that I think only exist in the first place BECAUSE of their race or gender. That’s the key difference. I don’t think a white male superhero has ever in the history of the genre been created and published solely because he was a white male. But I think that’s happened and is now happening more than ever with female, minority and homosexual characters in comics.

    Sorry I don’t subscribe to PC orthodoxy or accept the assumptions you seem to accept. I call it as I see it, and I see it just as it is.

    Also, it may be semantics, but two people can be ‘family’, but they cannot be ‘a family’.

  4. Matt SantoriGriffith said:

    This is all a very privileged perspective. I don’t know whether or not you’ve ever been in a position where everyone around you is one way (heterosexual, for instance) and you are not, but trust me: not hiding who you are in that instance is brave. If you can’t see that, I suspect you’ve not had the experience, particularly at as a vulnerable age as Cullen is.

    This would be a good time to remind commenters that Comicosity is a website that has a deep commitment to expanding the voices of all fans — especially those who have not been heard previously, such as women, persons of color, and the LGBT community — and celebrating the expansion of characters who are representations of those groups. If you consider this PC orthodoxy, you’re likely not going to enjoy our site.

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