September 22nd, 2008
I got my black shirt on.
I got my Black Gloves on.
I got my ski mask on.
This shit’s been too long.
Cape killer, better you than me.
Cape killer, fuck superhero brutality!
Cape killer, I know your whole league’s grievin’
Cape killer, but tonight we get even.
- Cape Killer, by Ice-2 (the Ice-T of Earth-2)
A thought caught me, late last night, and it won’t let go. So let’s kick it around a bit, and see what we get out.
If you’re reading this you probably know the deal, but if not you can find the story on these pages here and here, which give you a pretty good run-down of what’s at stake. In the Autmn of 1988, 20 years ago today, Jason Todd, the second Robin, was killed. Although it seems obvious to name The Joker as the culprit, the truth is more terrible by far.
After this sweaty beating from the Clown Prince of etc., issue #427 of Batman finished with a classic cliffhanger: the warehouse explodes! Will Robin live or will he die?! Following the usual ‘Next Issue’ hyperbole with a literalism that may be surprising to find in a group of grown adults, DC Comics decided to actually pose the question to the audience . A special phone-line was set up, and the readers were given the choice to call one line for thumbs-up, and another for thumbs-down. It was a close poll – 5,343 to 5,271 – but the executioners won it, like some bizarre five thousand-headed Roman Emperor.
Does this not strike anyone else as incredibly fucked-up? Even in those pre-internet days, the fan horde was bitter and nasty enough to push a button, literally, on the Boy Wonder himself. I know it was the eighties and everyone was all about out-grittying each other, but what was up with those fans, who were keen enough to see the death of this brightly clad teeny do-gooder that they actually took the time out of their lives to pick up a phone? Was that treatment from The Joker not enough?
It’s important to remember that this wasn’t just any Boy Wonder, but the cool one. Since his (post-Crisis) appearance, Jason had been very much a Robin for the burgeoning Dark Age – troubled, angry, rebellious and a natural brawler. Because of these things, Jason Todd is easily the coolest Robin. His wilfulness and tendency to question the unwritten Bat-code, especially, maybe the one about killing rapists with diplomatic immunity, apparently incensed readers so much that they wanted him gone for good. I just can’t get my head around that – I remember the Jason who was tough enough to try ripping the tyres off Batman; who on Superman’s birthday was resourceful enough to defeat Mongul by himself; and who rescued a drugged and broken Batman from Deacon ‘Arm the Homeless’ Blackfire, later returning to Gotham packing major gunnage, in the Dynamic Duo’s war to reclaim the city. That’s my Jason Todd, and he didn’t deserve no killing.
More importantly, and as I said yesterday, in this era when the minutiae of comic fandom is blogged to death by people like me, clogging up the wickywilwilddweb with their childhood reminiscences and their ‘more superfan than thou’ bullshit, there is a deafening silence when it comes to this utterly unique moment in history. Are people too ashamed, perhaps? After all, what were they thinking that day? Did they really want to kill Robin? Did they not care how this would hurt Batman’s feelings? I want to know. It’s a shame he died – if he had lived, the status quo would have been so interesting – an injured or comatose Robin, providing actual questions of responsibility for Bruce to deal with; a Robin with a parent – loads of scope for good stories. O for a universe where the alternative version of issue #428 made it to the printers…
ALL POINTS BULLETIN!
Readers, thirty-years plus, where were you on the day Robin died? What number did you call? Would you be willing to break your silence and offer your memories up for the Mindless Ones and the assembled blogs of comicdom? Get in touch with us here at Mindless Ones Dot Com and offer yourself up for an interview, where we may take you to task. Where were you when you made the call? Did your mum mind about the no-doubt hefty call charges? Which way did you vote? What did you hear on the end of the line when you rang (was it, as I suspect, Jason’s cheyne stoking, the death rattle slowly ebbing away to a strangled and bomb-shattered nothing)? Were you swayed by Frank Miller’s hint about Jason’s sticky end in DKR? Are you Denny O’Neill? What do you think of the recent Return of Jason – do you want your money back? Most importantly of all, if you were one of the five thousand who called to order Jason’s demise, explain yourself, and your hatred of the finest sidekick to grace a skyscraper, wearing only his pants. You may achieve redemption through the confession of your sins. Or, if you are shameless, come boast at us – you have killed a superhero, something few people ever do, and you deserve your dark and terrible fame. Please get in touch. Reach out. Share your story. We want to hear from YOU.
If you have a blog, please please spread the word and link back to this post – we need to hear from those hiding among us who committed this great and fateful act.
JOIN THE SECRET 73!
EDIT: The Secret 73 is dead – LONG LIVE THE SILENT 73!
By the time I cam to Death in the Family it was already in trade paperback – 1989 or so, in the UK shops to coincide with the first Burton film. I loved it instantly, Ayatollah Khomenei, Iran-Contra, Superman, Lady Shiva, the whole thing. Even if I had been getting the monthlies at the time, I still wouldn’t have been able to cast my vote – American comics would arrive in indiscriminate bundles at the local newsagents three or four months after they had come out in the States. To get an up-to-date comic meant a trip to a specialist shop, a far rarer and smellier beast than they are today, kept away from we country folk in exotic far off locales like London, Bristol or Glasgow, far beyond the agency of most ten year-olds. The lines had closed. Call it election fever (and, btw, is it way-too-much-meth of me to think that an American Thatcher is exactly what The Global Apocalypse needs right now?) – still I want my voice to be heard.
There was only seventy-two votes in it. If you feel like me and want to register your love for Jason – or at least your bemusement at the means of his passing, join me and become a member of THE hot new young superteam on the block – the Secret 73. That’s all it will take, seventy-three votes, and we will have won it. Leave a comment on this post and pledge your loyalty to the cause of wishing Jason had never died (please note – not ‘brought back from the dead’, no Superboy Prime bollocks, but ‘NEVER DIED in the first place’). When we have the necessary votes, we will approach DC and demand they commandeer Rip Torn*’s time travel bootees** to return to those dark days of 88 and make it never-happened, so we can have the sleek and sexy, tough and troublesome Robin we all deserve. I might even start one of those online petition things that everyone ignores. Probably won’t, though.