I killed Robin.
It wasn’t my idea and I didn’t do it alone. Nevertheless, I feel responsible.
In 1988, DC Comics decided to put the Boy Wonder’s fate in the hands of its readers, introducing two 900 numbers to call. If one was dialed, Robin would live, and if the other was called, Robin would die. On September 15, 1988, I risked getting in trouble for adding 50 cents to my family’s phone bill and dialed the number that brought the Grim Reaper to Batman’s doorstep.
Did I do it because I hated kid sidekicks? Nope! I always LOVED the character of Robin and wanted to be him when I was a kid.
Did I do it because it wasn’t the original Robin (Dick Grayson), but his replacement Jason Todd? Nope! I was thrilled in 1983 when Jason was introduced, because Robin was close to my age again instead of being an adult college student.
Did I do it because they changed Jason’s character after Crisis on Infinite Earths, making him an angry and violent street kid who smarted off at Batman? Nope! Despite popular opinion, Jason wasn’t that angry or violent after he was revamped. His character was – at best – uneven. Writer Mike Barr presented him as a total innocent who couldn’t even recognize a lady of the evening when he saw one. Writer Max Collins, who came up with the new origin, wasn’t on the book long enough to do much. Writer Jim Starlin gave us a Jason who was pretty much middle of the road, until DC decided to pull the phone stunt. Two issues proceeding Death in the Family, Jason MIGHT have killed someone who was abusing a woman. (It was left up to the reader to decide if he really did it or not.) Quite frankly, if you read Batman #425, Jason’s actions COULD seem justified.
So, why did I do it? Two reasons: One, Frank Miller introduced the idea of Jason dying in The Dark Knight Returns in 1986. The idea blew my mind, and I wanted to see that story. The second, and most important, was that I read Batman #427. Jason is beaten so brutally by the Joker with a crowbar that even the Clown Prince of Crime thought Robin was dead by the time he was done. Then Jason – and his mother – are caught in a bomb blast that vaporizes the building they were in. In my mind, there was NO WAY he could realistically walk away from that.
In the middle of October 1988, I walked into Larry’s Comic Book Shop on Chicago’s North Side and found Batman #428. I did not peak for spoilers. I remember walking down the street and turning the pages and seeing when Batman finds Jason’s mom and she tells him that Jason threw himself in front of the bomb to protect her, catching the brunt of the blast. Then, she dies. I remember thinking that he was dead before I found the pages that confirmed my theory. I remember reading the funeral pages and the ending with Superman.
A month later, the news media got a hold of the story, and it appeared in a bunch of newspapers. I discovered that Jason died by a 72-vote margin. SEVENTY-TWO VOTES! One of those was mine! I felt so guilty! What if there were other people out there who felt the same as I did and voted the wrong way, as well? What if we could have saved him?!
For years after, there had been talk of an alternate version of Batman #428. Some material found its way into DC Comics history books. One page even ended up in Batman Annual 26 (2006) as part of the Jason Todd / Red Hood resurrection story.
Well, DC decided to show us what the issue looked like with the Batman #428: Robin Lives! edition which was released this week. When it was announced, I wondered exactly how much the issue would change and had pretty much figured it out. With the exception of a couple of pages, the issue was exactly the same. Like the original, I did not peak ahead while reading it. Although logically I knew the outcome would be different this time around, I was still devastated when Jason’s mom told Batman that Jason jumped in front to shield her from the blast. Subconsciously, I remembered what was coming. Then, the page came when Batman found Robin’s body. I’m not going to say exactly what happens (for those who haven’t read it), but a chill ran down my spine and a smile split my face.
One thing is clear from reading this version of the story: DC was NOT expecting Jason to live. Whether it was cynicism on the part of editor Denny O’Neil and writer Jim Starlin or something else, the issue reads like they thought he was going to die. O’Neil had claimed for years that the deck wasn’t stacked in either direction, but someone didn’t have faith in the character.
I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if this alternate version had been the actual outcome. I imagine the Death in the Family storyline would have played out pretty much the same without the dialogue of Batman lamenting the loss of Jason. After that? Jason would have recovered and continued as Robin. There would be no Tim Drake or the things he brought with him. Batman would have been much different.
As great a character as Tim Drake is, I still wish I had voted differently and that Jason would had lived and remained as Robin.
Batman #428: Robin Lives! #1 is worth picking up. I loved reading this and hope you will, too. But if you are planning on picking it up, don’t wait! My comic shop was sold out on the day it was released.
Highly Recommended – 4 out of 4 stars
Creative Team: Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo & Mike Decarlo
Publisher: DC Comics
Click here to purchase.