Batman’s teen sidekick Robin was created in 1940.
The dude donning the domino mask was Dick Grayson
until in 1983, he got replaced by Jason Todd.
Todd sucked, and the comic books’ editor
was looking for a way to get rid of him.
He came up with a plan in 1988.
It involved the Joker, Ayatollah Khomeini, a crowbar,
a mother MIA, a few thousand toll calls, and a proto-hacker. You could call it “The Day the Laughter Died,”
or “Die Robin Die,”
or “A Death in the Family,”
or “What The Fuck?”
Here’s the deal:
Denny O’Neill, Batman editor for DC,
remembered an SNL skit
where Eddie Murphy told the public,
if they wanted to save a lobster from getting boiled
on the air,
they should call in.
O’Neill thought comic books should copy comedy shows
and came up with a plan to deal with the unpopular Todd.
Robin’s in danger. The public gets to vote.
Does he survive? You decide!
Jim Starlin wrote the story.
He’d already killed Captain Marvel and the Milky Way in earlier Marvel books, so O’Neil knew he could off the kid.
The villain? Only the archest of the dark knight detective’s enemies. The year before, he’d crippled Batgirl,
and best, he first appeared in the same issue where Robin was introduced.
After forty five years as Batman’s best nemesis, the Joker was going to up the ante. The story involved the Brat Wonder Todd running away,
then getting captured by the Clown Prince of Crime.
The Joker beat the boy bloody with a crowbar,
abandoning Todd in a building demolition with his newfound mother. The story was explosive.
But did Robin survive? Up to us.
DC provided two toll 1-900 numbers, each costing fifty cents per call: Dial 720-2660, Robin lives.
720-2666, and Robin’s toast.
Some creators thought it was a cynical promotion.
Some fans thought DC would never follow through.
10,000 calls were tallied in 36 hours.
In the end, the difference between Life and Death was seventy two votes. They say one industrious kid, hating Jason Todd,
got his computer to auto dial the 666 number one hundred times. The public had spoken. Robin must die.
The news had a field day, saying, apparently,
that comics weren’t just for kids anymore.
Jason Todd was killed, the Joker took refuge in Iran,
and became Khomeini’s ambassador so he couldn’t get charged for murder. It was all pretty sordid.
The deed was done
and no one was punished.
The comic sold out. Repeatedly.
It didn’t last, of course. Nothing ever does in a comic.
When telling a serial story, every character is in service to an ever-changing plot, and no one stays dead for too long.
It took about fifteen years for Jason Todd to be resurrected. He’s not Robin, though. He’s the Red Hood,
which had been The Joker’s secret ID before he got all pale and white and crazy. Just about every other Robin, serving by Batman’s side,
has since been killed
and subsequently returned.
It’s the cycle of death
the curse you take on
when you dare to wear that domino mask
(and just so happen to be fictional).