Any excuse to reuse that GIF I made back in 2006.

§ April 1st, 2020 § Filed under batman § 16 Comments

I’ve mentioned before on the site that one of, if not the very first, Big Event What Got Real World News Coverage I had to deal with upon entering the world of comics retail in 1988 was the Death of Robin. Or “A Death in the Family,” which was the actual name of the storyline.

In case you need reminding, that was the series where at the end of the second issue of the story (at least in the direct market versions) readers were asked to actually phone in and decide if Robin lived or died after having the Joker do this to him:

I wish I could remember more specific retailing shenanigans I experienced at the time regarding this event, aside from vague memories of phone calls and walk-ins wanting to know more about Robin’s impending doom, but this was a while ago, and “Mike writing about comic events on computers” was still a few years in my future after discovering BBSes.

But, I was reminded of all this after watching a recent episode of “DC Daily,” which is the weekday news/discussion show on the DC Universe streaming service. The topic of discussion was this very storyline, being discussed in the context of celebrating Robin’s 80th anniversary, and given that the guy on the panel that they usually joke about being the “old man” of the group is a decade and a half younger than I am, I think most, if not all, of the participants here, didn’t experience this story until well after it was published.

Which is fine, doesn’t make me feel old at all, no sir/ma’am/other, but it feels weird to me to have this just be something that was always an established part of the character. Like, it’s some odd bit of history that you have to unearth after the fact, rather than something that you and everyone you know that was into this same sort of thing experienced together as it was happening. “Yes, Mike, tell us more about the passage of time and how new things become old things,” I know, I know, but it’s always a strange experience to listen to people experiencing something (or describing experiencing something) for the first time after the fact, that you yourself lived through first hand.

(As an aside, I’m experiencing the same sensation listening to this very funny podcast where a couple of folks are experiencing the Star Wars movies and associated nonsense for the first time. Sometimes it can be immensely frustrating and I get all worked up over them calling Jawas “droids” or whatever, but that’s more a comment on my own obsession. It’s a good lesson in “not everyone is as overly involved in the same dumb things you are.”)

The one thing the DC Daily panel brought up, that I can’t really remember for sure from the time, is that general fan reaction to this particular Robin, who was the second Robin Jason Todd, was not positive. That for some reason people didn’t really like Jason and that putting him on the chopping block for the public to decide was pretty much proof that he was not liked.

My general recollection was that, in the issues leading up to his death, Jason Todd was being written in a way to make him seem…at least darker, if not less heroic. I think the issue just before the “Death in the Family” storyline had a bad guy fall to his death off panel, and it’s strongly implied (in other words, “straight up taken as read”) that it was Jason who caused his demise. It felt like he was being written in a way that would make readers glad he was gone.

But prior to that, I don’t recall much negative response to the Jason Todd Robin. I wasn’t a regular reader of the Batman titles at the time, so maybe there was some pushback against him in the letter columns, but I don’t have any memory of there being any open disdain for the character in the fan press. He was originally around for only, what, five years? Doesn’t seem like long enough for some kind of hate-campaign to build up around a character that I thought was a mostly indistinguishable replacement for another character in those pre-wide-access-to-the-internet days. Not like the hate that built up around Damian Wayne when he came on as the new Robin years later, before everyone realized he was in fact awesome.

So anyway, that’s what I’ve come to ask you all, if you’re old like me and actually read mid-1980s Batman comics. Did you dislike Jason Todd…I mean, before they were deliberately writing him as a jerk near the end there? Or were they writing him as a jerk prior to that? What was going on there?

16 Responses to “Any excuse to reuse that GIF I made back in 2006.”

  • Tim says:

    The Jason Todd as murderer thing was in Batman #424.

    I totally agree that DC loaded the dice pretty heavily in favour of Jason Todd is a loose cannon. I think if he’d survived they would have used as an excuse to make sure that he had ‘learned his lesson’.

    If he’d had that personality in the Liefeld-esque 90s, he probably would have been thought of as a bad-ass….

  • Tim says:

    AS a loose cannon.

  • Mikester says:

    Tim – yeah, that’s the one. I said it was off-panel, but there it is pretty much right on the cover!

  • Daniel says:

    I liked Jason Todd. For most of the time he was around he was a pretty likable character. I particularly liked him in Mike W. Barr’s and Alan Davis’ run on Detective Comics in 1986-87. Like you said, he was mostly indistinguishable from a younger Dick Grayson, and I was fine with that.

  • I liked Pre-Crisis Jason Todd well enough, but thought his backstory was a little uninspired — they made him Dick Grayson 2.0, another circus acrobat whose parents met an untimely end. There was a good story there, where Jason’s parents died because they were helping Dick with an investigation, but still, it felt like they’d just plugged in Jason to protect the “Robin” trademark after Dick’s character development in New Teen Titans left the short pants an increasingly poor fit.

    Still, I liked Pre-Crisis Jason better than Post-Crisis Jason; it seemed like they looked at all of the above criticism and said, “okay, fine, let’s retcon this kid so he’s EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of all that” — and then steered him into being as unlikable as possible.

    And he STILL felt uninspired.

  • Thom H. says:

    I remember this time period, and I remember this Robin — I even read that Barr/Davis run of Detective mentioned above — but I don’t remember having feelings about Jason Todd specifically. He was just sort of generically Robin to me.

    I do remember feeling a general antipathy toward the idea of Robin. Especially back then, before every comic book character gained the basic ninja skills they have now, I thought dragging a child into close combat with lunatics was a bad idea.

    I also briefly considered calling the number to vote for his death, but not because I had any strong feelings against this particular Robin. I just thought it would be naughty and rebellious. Also, kind of cool and grown-up, maybe? In any case, it cost money if I recall correctly, and that was enough to dissuade me.

    That Mignola cover is awesome and gruesome in equal measure.

    Also, LOL at “Yes, Mike, tell us more about the passage of time and how new things become old things.”

  • Tom Bondurant says:

    I do think that Batman #424 laid the foundation for readers to kill off Jason. Even post-Crisis, Jason was being written as fairly wide-eyed outside the Starlin-written Batman. He’s basically a totally different character in the Barr/Davis Detective – which, to be fair, was pretty much the tonal opposite of Starlin’s Batman. And in that New (Old) Teen Titans arc (issues #20-22 of vol. 2, I think), where Donna recruits Jason to replace Dick, he flat-out says he’s in over his head, and has no dark side to speak of.

    I almost want to say that after Dark Knight Returns, there was a general impression that Frank Miller had pretty much sealed Jason’s fate, and if the Bat-books needed to be just a notch grimmer, why not arrange a stunt around his possible death? If he lived, he’d spend some time recuperating and come back less dark; but either way it would be a bellwether of fan sentiment towards Robin specifically and the relative grimness of Batman generally.

    And I did (and still do) like the idea of Batman and Robin as frequent companions, which – speaking of being old – I know hasn’t been the case since Dick went to college some 50 (!!) years ago.

  • Tom Bondurant says:

    PS – apparently Starlin didn’t like the idea of Robin generally:

    “Well, I always thought that the whole idea of a kid side-kick was sheer insanity. So when I started writing Batman, I immediately started lobbying to kill off Robin.”

  • King of the Moon says:

    Without access to an LCS as a kid we didn’t get to participate in this in real time but man, I remember we got a digest with this story in in at a supermarket on vacation and my brother and I ready it pieces that week.

    Like so many comic books events before I got old and jaded this was a BIG DEAL and blew our little grade school brains

  • Robcat says:

    I never liked Robin, any Robin, as a character. It was the short pants. I HATE them.

    Take a kid to fight crime? Fine. In short pants? NEVER!

    Mind you, I was thrilled when I saw Earth 2 Robin and the Robin in Batman 300. And I love Damian Wayne, and not just because I think Ra’s is the best bat-villain ever.

    Nightwing/Grayson is kinda interesting. I kinda wish he was two people because I like him with Starfire and I like him with Oracle.

    Now that I think about it, I guess I like him better out from under Batman’s shadow.

    To sum up: Robin- meh. Tim Drake- shadow of meh. I voted for his death (only once!) just because I thought it would make for a more interesting story.

  • demoncat_4 says:

    if i recall the issue where jason caused the death of a guy before he bought it was because the guy was a drug dealer and had diplomatic immunity and robin and batman found his girlfriend who had filed charges against the guy wind up having committed sucide from fear and robin might have pushed the guy off a ledge but saying he slipped which is what led to fans deciding jason needed to die

  • David Forsyth says:

    Jim Starlin seems to have had a weird fear about the dangers of diplomatic immunity. Three major Batman plot points/dilemmas hinged on it: the above Robin story;the Joker in Death In The Family; the KGBeast storyline. Diplomatic immunity does not work the way he thinks it does.

  • Chris G says:

    Robcat, I feel the same way. Whenever I read the reprints of NEW TEEN TITANS I think, you know, I would be OK with DC just coloring Robin’s legs red and we can all stop wondering if Dick shaved his legs or what.

  • Ward Hill Terry says:

    I was a regular reader of the Batman titles up until just before this infamous story. The original Jason Todd was a well-developed character. He was a Dick Grayson analog, but so what? He was a carefully defined individual. Then along came the Crisis, and everything was new and fresh in DC land. Except Batman. (and Hawkman, and the Legion, and Power Girl, and…) Editor O’Neil apparently had no clear overarching goal for the Gotham crowd. He gave a lot of leeway to his writers to do what they wanted, even before Starlin. After the Crisis stuff, Jason Todd’s development was essentially ignored, and he was mostly written as Dick Grayson. Then they changed who Jason Todd was. Todd was re-imagined as a totally different person. (and the Batman timeline got hopelessly squashed) This new Jason Todd was highly unlikable, and even more highly improbable as a partner for Batman than any other Batman partner, including Ace the Bat-Hound. I think that this unlikable character, combined with his relative new-ness, allowed “fans” to load all their anti-Robin sentiments, the shorts, the costume colors, the age thing, onto the back of this Robin and send him out into the metaphorical desert to die.

  • I was 34 at the time, probably too old to be reading this stuff anyway. Ahem. I wasn’t a big fan of the original Jason, who was too much a clone of Dick Grayson to ever click as his own person…but I really hated the steal-the-wheels-off-the-Batmobile street thug he became post-Crisis. And yes, as I remember, I was far from alone in this: Fandom in general seemed to hate Jason 2.0, not exactly the Sensational Character Find of 1987. But I always thought DC did the infamous telephone vote to DARE the readers to vote yes, assuming they’d never actually DO it. And it was a pretty close vote, which I took as an indication that the irrational fringe got their way. Call it a harbinger of today’s social media.

  • Jason A Wheeler says:

    Thom: “I do remember feeling a general antipathy toward the idea of Robin. Especially back then, before every comic book character gained the basic ninja skills they have now, I thought dragging a child into close combat with lunatics was a bad idea.”

    you summed this up very well! I was just going to say Robin SUCKED, whichever one he was! A brightly colored costumed KID next to the Dark Knight fighting murderous sociopaths? WHAT??