BATMAN: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY - BATMAN #426 - #429 (DC COMICS, 1988)
Written by: Jim Starlin Pencilled by: Jim Aparo
Batman – “The kid’s losing it.He dived into those thugs like someone looking to die.”
Bad things happen; it’s a sad fact of life.But how exactly is fate decided? Is it with a toss of a coin?Maybe a roll of the dice?Or is it from a public phone vote?Nope it’s got nothing to do with a TV talent contest; instead it was the way destiny was shaped for Robin in the comic-book storyline A Death In The Family.The idea was simple, Jason Todd (aka the second Robin) was to have his future decided not by the flick of a pen, but instead by readers who picked up DC’s Batman comic.It may have sounded a bit odd as Robin was one of the most famous characters in comics, but Jason Todd was not.In fact he was as popular as diarrhoea in a swimming pool.Ok, so that maybe a little harsh, but it was safe to say that readers never quite warmed to him as he had a way of rubbing people up the wrong way and so he faced death.Always keen to shake things up a little, he was given one chance at redemption via a vote.So a Batman story was written that pitted Robin against his toughest challenge – the general public!
Appearing in Batman # 426 – 429, A Death In The Family saw Todd learn a thing or two about his past as he searched for his long lost mother.Unfortunately for the Boy Wonder, mommy dearest had gotten mixed up with Batman’s nemesis the Joker, who just happened to have been involved in the theft of some nuclear weapons.Neither of those situations was ever going to run smoothly for Robin, but that was the point, because the story was set up for him to be double crossed by his mother and beaten up by the Joker.If being betrayed and knocked around wasn’t enough the scene was then set so that by the end of Batman # 427 his fate was up to one of two options.There was a bomb, an explosion, the opportunity to survive or die and readers had 36 hours to pick up a phone and vote.Two possible outcomes were written and being the bloodthirsty lot that comic-book fans were (oh come on it’s true) the votes fell in favour of bumping off the Boy Wonder.
Bloodied, battered and crumpled, Robin died in Batman’s arms (well technically he died on the floor) and the people had spoken.In a statement that rocked Batman’s world, Robin had been killed off and for once fans couldn’t complain that it was an unfair move.They had been given the choice; they had the power and ultimately they had made the final decision. Of course with comics being comics, Todd eventually returned from the dead in 2005, but when he did he was a far more interesting character, that clearly benefited from an ‘early retirement’.It seemed that for once death truly was the answer, even if it was temporary and whether or not Todd was fated to die, it certainly helped him step out of the shadow of his predecessor.So maybe bad things do happen, but often unfortunate outcomes are shaped by the choices that other people make, which means your fate is always going to be in someone else’s hands.
AND SO THE END IS NEAR: *The telephone poll received a total of 10, 614 calls with 5,271 for and 5,343 against....so there wasn’t much in it. Editor Dennis O’Neil later admitted that a good proportion of the votes came from a guy who set his computer to redial the same number on his telephone for eight hours.
*Todd was resurrected in 2005 in the story Under The Hood, where he became the second Red Hood.
*The third Robin, Tim Drake, was introduced in 1989 but he had a slow build-up before he became Robin, so as not to run the risk of ending up as unpopular as Todd.