One of the cool things about being ‘an old guy’ is that I have been buying comics since the 70s. I got to see the final days of the greats and a birth of a new generation of legends. As a lifelong comic book reader there are certain events that stand out in your mind as the BIG ONES. When I think 1980s, I think of some great stories. The original Secret Wars, Days of Future Past, The Dark Knight Returns, and Perez’s New Teen Titans were all some of the stand out stories of the 1980s. One story that was particularly interesting and ground breaking in my opinion was ‘A Death in the Family’. The story that showcased the murder of Jason Todd at the hands of the Joker and created a unique yet historical event in the comic book timeline.
The year was 1988 and Jason Todd has been Robin the Boy Wonder for several years. To many fans, he just didn’t fit. He simply was a different person then Dick Grayson. I always felt looking back this was an early instance of fanboys digging their feet into the sand to resist change. Was he different? Sure! I mean his first interaction with Batman was trying to steal his car and hit him with a crowbar. But Jason had real teenage angst. He was an angry young man and like most young men in that stage, they tend to need someone to rein them in. And as expected that was Batman. For some reason, some fans really didn’t gel with Jason’s attitude and rejected him.
Editor Dennis O’Neil has even gone as far as saying “They did hate him. I don’t know if it was fan craziness—maybe they saw him as usurping Dick Grayson’s position.“
DC Comics had decided that they wanted to create a new level of fan interaction and influence by allowing them to vote on story details via the 1-900 dial-in system. The president of DC Comics at the time, Jenette Kahn, decide that this should not be some low level event and should not be wasted on something that was inconsequential. Since Jason Todd has such an apparent high level of unpopularity at the time, it was decided that the fate of our second Robin would be put up for a fan vote.
The story developed was ‘A Death in the Family’ and it was pushed by DC in Batman issues #426-#429. Although not the primary antagonist in the story, issue 427 ended with Jason Todd being beaten badly by the Joker with a crowbar. Once satisfied with the beating, the Joker leaves Jason (and his mother) in a warehouse with a ticking bomb. The issue closes with Jason nearly at the door with his mother as time ticks away and an explosion leaving Batman agasp.
At this point DC left it up to the readers. You could vote to save Jason or have him die in the explosion. The poll was only allotted 36 hours but got over 10,000 votes. Each call was 50 cents, but people could dial in as many times as the wanted. The final vote was a very small margin, only 72 votes, but the call for Jason’s death was clear and DC responded. In the next issue, Batman #428, Batman is seen in that famous panel, carrying the lifeless body of his partner from the wreckage of the warehouse.
Several years after the publication of the book, Dennis O’Neil, Batman Editor at the time of Jason’s death admitted there was some funny business with the voting system. Like the modern online poll, the voting was influenced. While thinking that the basic 50c charge per call (per vote) would deter multiple votes by the same person, but according to O’Neil it didn’t.
If we do the math, this means that person alone voted 320 times over the 8 hour period of calling. One person killed Jason Todd, and it wasn’t the Joker. No one knows who this person is. O’Neil later said that it was a person in California using a Macintosh but had (or refused to give up) any other details.
Who is this mysterious “murder” and should we be angry? Maybe not. I liked Jason Todd as Robin, but seriously I LOVE Jason Todd as the Red Hood. The resurrection of Jason in the comics was a great story, and the Under the Red Hood animated movie is easily in my top 5 of all DC features. This will remain one of those comic book mysteries probably never to be answered. If it was you and you are reading this, let us know. This is another comic book mystery that deserves to be solved.