To hunt a cape killer

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’
(Fuck ‘em.)
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.

*or whoever

**or whatever

60 Responses to “To hunt a cape killer”

  1. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    is it way-too-much-meth of me to think that an American Thatcher is exactly what The Global Apocalypse needs right now?

    Not to say distressing things to me, pls

    I very much like Ice-2′s song though, reminiscent of some of the hits in the old Top Ten, and I’ve begun special operations to round up suspects already.

  2. G Says:

    I remember being four or five years old, reading through it, and, not realizing that it was a year old back issue at the time, trying to call the number to kill Robin. It was the novelty.

  3. Aaron Strange Says:

    I didn’t read Batman at the time, but a pal of mine did. At age 14, he voted to end the Boy Wonder’s life. His rationale: “It’s a fictional character!” He wasn’t voting to kill a human being, & he wasn’t voting out of a sense of bloodlust. Instead, he voted from a fairly sophisticated sense of narrative interest: having Robin die made for more interesting stories. It had ramifications, it had stakes. Unlike many comic-book deaths even in those golden days, it carried the strong possibility of permanence.

    On the other hand, hundreds of issues later, he’s finally quit reading “Batman” because he can’t follow & doesn’t like Grant Morrison’s treatment of the character. So take his opinion with a shaker of salt.

  4. Zom Says:

    I for one think a devil may care, reckless Robin is a lot more fun that the Tim Drakes of this world, but I suspect I would have voted Jason out of existence had I been living in America at the time. The possibility of affecting change in the world of superheroes had quite a pull.

  5. Zom Says:

    But count me amongst the 73

  6. The Satrap Says:

    It’s a noble endeavour, that of the Secret 73, but…

    “I will never forget Jason. He was a good soldier. He honored me. But the war goes on.”

    and

    “He’s dead. He’s just too damn dumb to know it.”

    and

    “Will that bring you satisfaction, my son?”
    “Killing? No. No satisfaction. Everything up until the killing, will be a gas.”

    On the other hand…

    “Can’t kill a man unless you know for sure you ought to.”

    The Tank = More Quotable than Jesus?

  7. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    This could/should be massive you know.
    (I’ve been reading Bill Drummond’s ’17′, so I’m all fired up about pointless quests)

    One thing – looking at those images. I fucking love Aparo. Didn’t use to so much, but now = dinner!

  8. Apodaca Says:

    Why do you spell tires with a “y”?

  9. Zom Says:

    Because Bobsy is British and that’s how we spell it over here

  10. captain trips Says:

    ice 2 (ice t of earth 2) is hilarious. now i love the mindless ones forever

  11. olsenbloom Says:

    Count me in as one of the 73…

  12. bobsy Says:

    Okay, so after day one of the campaign to save DC history itself from itself, and we have a rollickingly crap total of three certified member signed-up for life membership of the Seceret 73: Me (but of course); Zom (stay strong brother); and The Satrap (not that he’s offered to join or anything, I’m just going to take the liberty).

    Pathetic.

    So let’s do what anyone with a poor idea doe when they’re desparate. That’s right – time for a rebrand:

    Who wants to join The Silent 73!?!

    We basically do the same as the Secret 73, i.e. campaign for a time-travel intervention to prevent the death of Jason Todd at the merciless hand of the Batman readership of 1988. It is a way, the only way, for those of us too young, too late, too poor, too well-adjusted, or just too not-in-the-USA to have used our inalienable right to democratic representation, to help save the life of the coolest Robin. (Electio Fever! Is this how black Floridians feel!?!)

    We are not the Secret 73, hiding from our human responsibility to retroactively preserve edgy sidekicks, but the Silent 73, disenfranchised, disenchanted, but never, ever disempowered. Join Us!

  13. bobsy Says:

    Sorry Olsenbloom, I crossposted with you there. Now we are Four! Good to have you on board, o my brother.

  14. Linkblogging for 23/09/08 « Thoughts on music, science, politics and comics. Mostly comics. Says:

    [...] Bobsy at the Mindless Ones wants to hunt down Jason Todd’s killer [...]

  15. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    I’m part of the 73.
    I think I’ve always been part of the 73.

    73 till I die. (at 73)

  16. bobsy Says:

    That’s more like it! We are 5! Come on!

  17. amypoodle Says:

    Uh, me too.

  18. Apodaca Says:

    Wow. I’d never come across “tyre” before. Interesting.

  19. Papers Says:

    I came to Batman too late. Or rather, I was all over the place with my early comics consumption so, you know, I may have read a Jason Todd story and not made the connection, being wee. Dick Grayson -was- Robin as far as I knew, you know, because of the TV show and the comics I found. And when I was old enough to process or really care, it was Tim Drake.

    As if someone’s torn out a whole section of my life.

    I like Tim for the same reason, roughly, that I like Barbara’s Batgirl — they’re super-citizens. Jason seems like a bit of a jerk or barely differentiated at all in the stories I’ve read, but that could be worked to his advantage. Sure, why not, make me a 73 member. Change is illusory at best and it might make for some interesting stories, as long as we get Batman and his secret platoon of child crusaders in some form or other.

  20. BubbaShelby Says:

    Had I been reading the comic at the time, and had I felt the urge to call a 900 number that did not breath heavily back to me, I would have voted to not kill Robin.

    So here’s my vote. Don’t kill him.

    Now stop with the heavy breathing.

  21. HitTheTargets Says:

    If there’s one thing I love about comics, it’s the willingness to take the question What If? seriously. It’s such a primal, nerdy response to liking something, but both sides of the funnybook industry just go “Alright, let’s do it.”

    So with that said, I am so down for this you can just sign my name as Cave Carson.

  22. Thrilltone Says:

    I think the only Jason Todd appearance I have read is in Alan Moore’s Superman’s Fake-Familial Sadness Birthday Adventure. Robin stares at Wonder Woman and Batman says “Clean thoughts, chum”. I think.

    To me, Jason Todd will always just be one of the triggers that sends Batman into Grief Rages. And he has enough of those triggers, already, so I think maybe the
    ‘Our Jase’ should have lived.

    COUNT ME IN, 73.

  23. James Says:

    “I may have read a Jason Todd story and not made the connection, being wee”

    Yeah, I’ve read “For the Man Who Has Everything” and I thought it was Dick Grayson.

    You make a compelling argument for Jason, but I think I just prefer Nice Boys like Dick and Tim, y’know? And if we do this — if we change history — what becomes of poor Tim?

  24. Zom Says:

    HE GETS TO LIVE A HAPPY LIFE WITH HIS FATHER (WHO DOESN’T DIE)!

    Would you deny a boy his dad?

  25. captain trips Says:

    i’m a little confused…isn’t jason todd running around alive? don’t the silent 73 already have what they want? high five guys, you did it.

  26. The Satrap Says:

    The problem with the business plan of the Gang of 73 is the current lack of means to implement time travel in our continuity. So I’d suggest the use of available technologies to bring about a bifurcation of the temporal continuum of the DCU.

    I other words, we pick up the ball where DC dropped it, and start publishing a slew of Batman titles, as if it were 1988, with proper numbering and shit. Dan can do a good job handling the art chores, but if the workload gets too heavy I think I can do some colouring. I mean, I think I have some crayons somewhere.

    Digression time: 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?) If you’re thinking of Sarah Palin, I wouldn’t call her an American Thatcher. She appears to be a bit of a Pentecostal nutter whose questionable charm disappears in the absence of a teleprompter, whereas Maggie, while deeply mediocre, was well capable of coming up with catchy imbecilities like “there’s no such thing as society” of her own accord.

    More Digression: a Gallic Maggie is/was what France needs, though, at least according to the Economist. They said it before the last election over there, on one of their covers and everything. Ah, the Economist, icon of hammy, phony Oxbridgeness, paragon of middlebrow Anglo prejudice.

  27. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    “i’m a little confused…isn’t jason todd running around alive? don’t the silent 73 already have what they want? high five guys, you did it”

    The Silent 73 don’t recognise Countdown, in the same way that Sarah Palin doesn’t recognise Darwinism.

    (although the Silent 73 most definitely believe in Dinosaurs)

  28. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Zombie Dinosaurs at Gotham Aquarium. Jason Todd was actually resurrected during Judd Winick’s momentous tenure on one of the Batbooks, I’ve not read it, he was a total penis on The Real World, eh?

    Jason is the best Robin, but I’m – I think it’d be dubious for me to join the secret 73 because I totally would’ve voted for his demise age 9.

  29. Zom Says:

    We are large, we contain multitudes. Live the hypocrite dream!

  30. Zom Says:

    (If we fail to bag a time machine, I say we go with Satrap’s plan)

  31. Thrilltone Says:

    Oh, in the absence of a time machine, I was just going to use tipex and a biro to change Robin’s dialogue in all my Batman comics to something a bit more Jasony.

  32. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    The thing – I think I maybe only read part two or three of ‘Death in the Family’ (a title that rather foretells its, apparently up in the air, premise) and abreacted to it because of the Joker in Jim Aparo’s notion of Jokerized Iranian national dress, being the ambassador to Iran. The time of Reagan and GHW Bush, I know, but doesn’t that strike anyone else as basically appalling, oddly manifested, racism?

  33. The Satrap Says:

    The Joker trying to pass himself off and/or camp it up as an Iranian (by looking like a stereotyped Saudi or Kuwaiti), that was really some industrial-strength shite indeed.

    Never a subtle guy to begin with, even when he used to be good, Starlin’s attempt to leave his cosmic stomping grounds and follow O’Neill’s approach to Batman as a globetrotting, topically relevant character failed somewhat miserably.

  34. Zom Says:

    I want to say that with the distance afforded by time the sting has gone out of it, but that’s not really true is it?

    Love me some Aparo, though. Glad TBMD’s come round to my way of thinking.

  35. Thrilltone Says:

    Waaaaaiit. The Joker was the ambassador to Iran?!?

    Seriously, though, is there any 80s Batman worth reading apart from Dark Knight and Year One? Or is the whole ‘Joker beats Robin to death with a crowbar while being the ambassador to Iran’ thing worryingly representative?

    To the library, me! Not the local one, though. The local library is shite.

  36. bobsy Says:

    Starlin had obviously just heard about diplomatic immunity and had big jones for getting it into as many stories as poss. You mean I can’t hit you without brteaking international treaties? D’oh! etc.

    I dunno – not wanting to be an apologist for anyone’s idiocy or prejudice, things always worth drawing attention to, but superhero/action comics as crude political propaganda is just one of the inevitable and original side-effects of the genre. It was the eighties, and America, and stupidity ruled the sphere of foregin affairs like never before or si… – oh. Batman comics were (and I expect many still are) shoulder to shoulder with Stallone films at the forefront of the stupid zeitgeist, right where they should have been. Besides, I feel the poorly researched (unless it was meant to be The Joker joking) Iranian stereotype is mitigated somewhat by Batman’s obvious distaste at having to deal with a Company man.

    Btw, Trappers – those things you mention make her MORE ‘the American Thatcher’, don’t they?

    Thrilltone – The Killing Joke is drawn really, really well, but generally the Tank cast too long a shadow over Batman – everyone else tried too hard to copy that formula. For dinner dineer dinner dinner Batman, aim for the seventies – Denny O’Neill, Steve englehart, Len Wein all doing some of the best work the character’s seen.

    To CapTrips and his eloquently raised objections to the propriety of the Silent 73′s mission, I say this: We of the 73 have 5 archenemies – would you like to become 5,344? I feel our mission ought to be primarily an idealogical/idealistic one, rather than be concerned with anything practical or unduly influenced by other considerations arising from reality-as-it-is-experienced. To repeat, the aim isn’t ‘Jason ain’t dead’, but ‘Jason Never Died’ (that shall be our ‘It’s Clobberin Time’)

    Just to keep a tally – now we are 10.

  37. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    I’ll tell you what’s bloody good, spooky as pre-Miller 80′s Batman: Brave and the Bold 182, that’s what. ‘S written by a guy called Alan Brennert, who I’ve never really heard of at all(?), and obviously caveats – it was the first Batman comic, the introduction to the concept of Earth-2 (done brilliant, btw, therein) for me, reading a reprint slyly on the newsagent stand c.86-87, not buying it of course for it was not Marvel… but I torrented it (uuop, no-one phone po-po) the other week and abiding affection aside, I still found it pretty darn great otherwise I think. The villain reveal is a bit poo I suppose, but the set-up, it’s just so – I dunno – numinous, significant.

  38. Jog Says:

    I was seven years old when this action went down, and they printed that very Jim Aparo panel above right in the newspaper and it freaked me right the fuck out. Like – holy shit, Robin (THE Robin!) is bleeding and DEAD!!

    A few days later I was at some friend’s house and the old Adam West show was playing on the television… it was one of the cliffhanger episodes, with Burt Ward standing on a alowly plank over a pool of sharks. I got really scared, because I knew that comics and television shows always had to do the same thing or everyone would get confused, so I became totally convinced that Robin was going to die a gory, campy death right on screen… never had the Adam West stakes been so high.

  39. Zom Says:

    I got really scared, because I knew that comics and television shows always had to do the same thing or everyone would get confused

    And so continuity was born

  40. James Says:

    Zom: Oh, alright then. Count me in.

  41. Zom Says:

    Good.

  42. Tucker Stone Says:

    Fuck it. I like watching Jason Todd icecap gangbangers and carrying heads around. I like his gritty jack boots, I like the way Doug Mahnke drew him like a sexed up Ted Bundy, and I like watching him fight Batman in an alley in the chuck-chuck rain. I’d rather read that shit then read about Tim Drake do anything. Sign me up, as long as he doesn’t go back to wearing the suit. Even if my Malcolm McDowell issues of Jace go out of continuity, I’ll always have Brooklyn.

    Get the Terminus guy to do shirts. Squizad activate.

  43. The Satrap Says:

    Re: Thatcher vs. Palin, or the mother of all inappropriate digressions.

    OK, it’s certainly possible to argue that Palin is as far to the right along the American political spectrum as Maggie was in the UK. In that sense the comparison is valid, far be it from me to quibble about semantics et cetera.

    OTOH, there are so many variations of the Thatcher template around the place –Friedmanites of the Chicago Boyz variety; I’m-a-Democrat-but-that-don’t-mean-I’m-not-a-Verry-Serious-Person “flat-earth” Friedmanites i.e. fans of the other Friedman, the dumb, moustachioed one; life-affirming, rave-starking-mad Randites; Austrians of Hayekite or von Misesite persuasion–that they are in a category all of their own, tribes inhabiting a distinctly secular Land of Canaan where pecunia non olet and all that.

    In general, I’d say that the glibertarian wing of the American and Western right has provided justification for or diverted attention from the kind of corporate welfare (aka socialism for the wealthy) so ably embodied these days by former Wall Street aparatchik Paulson, whereas the fundies are the neocons’ very own useful idiots. Different kinds of simpleton, different masters, often in uneasy alliance.

    Disclaimer: If a libertarian were to come down on this thread like a ton of bricks (which is not unconceivable, them being the ultimate online gadflies and all), he or she would probably point out that they dislike cronyism, corporate welfare and “moral hazard” as much as the next guy.

    However:

    since focus matters, and libertarians are more likely to rant against handouts for negroes than about things like the Paulson plan;

    since said corporate welfare is in fact easily accommodated with such perennial glibertarian shibboleths as the starve-the-beast thang;

    and

    since glibertarians’ prescription to change current “corporatist” practice back into an idealised version of Victorian capitalism involves the use of copious amounts of time travel and pixie dust;

    said expostulatin’ libertarian would be asked, gently but firmly, to STFU.

  44. The Satrap Says:

    “rave-starking mad” = stark raving mad

    I’ll shut up now.

  45. Neon Snake Says:

    I’m in.

    If no other reason than annoying everyone who hated Under The Hood for the plot-holes but holds A Death In The Family up as one of teh great bat-books of all time.

  46. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Neon – can you have a punt round the DC boards or anywhere else to drum up s’more unphoners/death-defiers, pls?

  47. Neon Snake Says:

    Hang on. You want me to ask on the DC Boards for people who’d rather Jason had lived?

    Bots, have you been on the DC Boards??

    I mean, sure, I’ll do it. Sounds like an evening’s entertainment, certainly.

  48. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    um. a bit.

    not really.

    I just thought… maybe? It might work? You are the best Silent.

  49. bobsy Says:

    Well, I’VE been to the DC boards. I’M committed!

    (See here: http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000163782&start=15&tstart=0 – my ears still ringing from the deafening silence.)

    Snake, if you have any special suction over there you just gotte weigh in. Jason Needs You!

  50. Where were you when Robin died? « The Daily P.O.P. Says:

    [...] The Mindless Ones have put an APB on the Secret 73 voters, asking who voted for which fate. [...]

  51. amypoodle Says:

    You should start a thread, Bob. Just cut and paste the entirety of that one. Don’t be teh coward.

  52. Neon Snake Says:

    http://dcboards.warnerbros.com/web/thread.jspa?threadID=2000167830&tstart=0

    Ok, I’m on it, in my ‘other’ guise.

  53. Zom Says:

    Brave man!

  54. bobsy Says:

    GREAT man! Hail King Snake! He Might Save Jason Yet!

  55. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    By sheer gargantuan perversity of will, we WILL make this stupid thing happen. Logo coming soon (I promise…)

  56. Join Us! « Mindless Ones Says:

    [...] SPREAD THE WORD [...]

  57. Interview with a Cape Killer (part 1) « Mindless Ones Says:

    [...] To catch a cape killer [...]

  58. He’s Known As Batman, With Robin The Boy Wonder By His Side… « Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! Says:

    [...] there used to be another Jason Todd. One that we in the Silent 73 [...]

  59. peake Says:

    Count me in! I know if I had been reading the comics back then I would certainly have voted for him to live. The idea of voting for a teenage boy to be brutally murdered by a psychopath utterly sickens me. Silent 73 for life!

  60. Matt M. Says:

    A cowardly act, perpetrated by cowards.

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