benicio127: (Jason being badass)
[personal profile] benicio127 posting in [community profile] scans_daily
Since Under the Red Hood comes out on Tuesday, a few of us fans decided to get together and write a few essays, look at scans and even perfect moments of Jason Todd (you know, coincide with the theme week already going on!)

So thus begins the start of JToddz Appreciation Week.

For starters, I wanted to revisit A Death in The Family. Lots of text and about 11 scans under the cut.

For most new and old Batman readers, A Death in the Family is considered essential reading. It's listed in IGN's Top 25 Greatest Batman Comics of All Time at #15. It's considered seminal for two reasons: one, it involves the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd, at the hands of the Joker and at the hands of the fans: nearly 11,000 fans called a 1-900 number to vote whether to kill Jason. The death vote won by a margin of 72 votes: 5,343 to 5271.

But is A Death in the Family actually a good story? And just what (or who) made Jason so "unlikeable"?

The story begins with Jason jumping the gun on a kiddie porn ring Batman had been tracking for three weeks. They end up taking the ring down, but afterwards Batman reprimands Jason for acting recklessly. Batman notes Jason’s been moodier lately and asks him whether he thinks this is all just some kind of "game," to which Jason replies: "Of course. All life's a game."
One page from Batman 426. Thanks to [personal profile] shelleymaree for the scans!

As Robin, Jason had previously been shown to be increasingly violent towards criminals. He may or may not have pushed a serial rapist to his death. One page from Batman 424. It's been hypothesized by the amazing Weekly Robin blogger, it wasn't this event, but the meeting between Jason and Nightwing that may have pushed readers to dislike Jason much more, especially since this particular issue came out only two months before the start of A Death in the Family (Batman 426).

At the same time, Jim Starlin, the Batman writer charged with writing JasonRobin was not keen on the idea of Batman having a Robin.
In fact, in an interview with Adelaide Comics and Books, Starlin said he was pretty intent on getting rid of Robin, practically by any means necessary.
"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. At one point DC had this AIDS book they wanted to do. They sent around memos to everybody saying "What character do you think we should, you know, have him get AIDS and do this dramatic thing" and they never ended up doing this project. I kept sending them things saying "Oh, do Robin! Do Robin!" And Denny O'Neill said "We can't kill Robin off." Then Denny one night got this flash that “Hey, if we get this number where people call in and they can vote on it, they can decide whether Robin lives or dies" So that's how it started. I wrote up two endings and the readers came in and voted and I think it was 93 or something, it was this negliable (sic) amount, the difference for him to be put to death. And the death won out of course."

Does A Death in the Family warrant such a high ranking as a graphic novel? It came out around the same time as The Killing Joke (just after as Barbara is in a wheelchair in the funeral scene) and three years after seminal graphic novels like the futuristic Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One and The Watchmen.

In fact, it's quite possible The Dark Knight Returns set the stage for Jason's death a few years before A Death in the Family came out as Bruce already has Jason's costume memorialized in the Batcave with the epitaph: "A Good Soldier."

Yet, A Death in the Family almost seems subpar in quality when you compare it to other Batman graphic novels that were coming out around the same time, including Starlin's own The Cult. It is built upon a series of very conspicuous and coincidental acts: Jason's three potential mother suspects all happen to be in the Middle East the same time Bruce is headed there to see why the Joker is there. On top of that, there's the issue of the Joker (a known mass murderer and terrorist) having an alliance with and diplomatic immunity from Iran.

Over the years, it seems as though it's accepted truth that Jason's death was his fault. That he blundered into the situation and got himself killed. That he failed, rather than fell victim to the Joker.

In A Death in the Family, Jason recognizes the Joker and sees him go into his biological mother's tent.

The Joker threatens to reveal that she had been involved in a botched abortion back in the day and attempts to blackmail her for supplies.

Jason overhears this and follows the Joker and his kidnapped/blackmailed mother. Jason recognizes there’s more trouble than he can handle on his own and tells Bruce. Bruce gives Jason a direct order: to take no action against the Joker until he returns.

However, Jason decides to protect his mother instead.

He tells her he's Robin and she betrays him and hands him over to the Joker.

She tells him "I can't afford to have you stirring up trouble. I’ve been dipping into the medical funds myself. If you blow the whistle on the Joker, the ensuing investigation would certainly uncover my embezzling."

So Jason gives a couple punches to the Joker, but is overwhelmed by the henchmen and then the Joker starts beating him with the crowbar.

Despite everything that his biological mother has done, Jason still attempts to save her and tell her he loves her. Yes, he died a hero.

He tells her to run for it, save herself. It's a scene that's echoed in Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin #6, when Jason tells Scarlet to run away, save herself and demands the Flamingo come after him -- showing once again, he'd rather die than let someone he cares about be hurt.

Since this is exactly what happens, why do you think there is now this idea out there that Jason was the one who "got himself killed"?

The end result was controversial. There was lots of mainstream press, and definitely some of it negative.

From the St.Petersburg Times in 1988, an editorial said: "Sure, Robin struck a lot of people as a repugnant little twit, but is that a capital crime? Where are the phone-in polls to decide whether we should kill Garfield? Or Charlie Brown? Or Batman himself, for that matter? He can be really hard to take when he launches into one of his sanctimonious speeches on the obligations of citizenship"

Canada's Globe and Mail even poked fun of the medium’s use of the 900 number in its editorial:
"Urgent appeal: call 900 and tell Shakespeare whether you want Regan
and Cornwall to put Gloucester’s eyes out. Vote on whether Robinson Crusoe
should be rescued. Victor Hugo needs your help - should Jean Valjean get
off with a suspended sentence or spend his miserable life wading through
sewers? Do you support the murder of Roger Ackroyd?"

Creators like Frank Miller said: "To me the whole killing of Robin thing was probably the ugliest thing I've seen in comics, and the most cynical."
Fabian Nicieza recently said on the DC Robin Message Board: "I was not a fan of how they'd turned Jason Todd into a jerk post-Crisis (nor was I too happy with original red-hair Jason as he was too much a duplicate of Dick).
I found the "call in to kill Robin" marketing stunt pretty distasteful."

What do other creators who frequent these message boards on here think about the death in general? Do they have an opinion on the use of the poll?
And Scans_Daily'ers, what are your thoughts?
Nine pages in total from Batman 427, a 45-page comic.
Edit ETA: and 1/4 of a page from BnR 6

suggested tags: char: batman/bruce wayne, char: the joker, char: robin/red hood/jason todd, creator: jim aparo, creator: jim starlin

Date: 2010-07-26 04:18 am (UTC)
magnetic_regina: Lazin' in a flower (He brings with him cookies.)
From: [personal profile] magnetic_regina
I'm going to fess up to the fact that I have never read beyond the "he's dead" page in that storyline. D=

But more generally, I really don't like the overall undertone that this has gained from Jason Todd being the bad Robin who was 'violent' and 'uncontrollable' is the one from the streets with the shitty upbringing.

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Date: 2010-07-26 04:47 am (UTC)
perletwo: kermit the frog (Default)
From: [personal profile] perletwo
I forget - what happened to Sheila in this arc? Did she not make it out alive either?

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Date: 2010-07-26 05:12 am (UTC)
mad: Jason Todd says a lot of things (Jason Todd)
From: [personal profile] mad
Reading that story, to me it seems the mistake that was made was always Bruce's, not Jason's. The moment he leaves Jason to get reacquainted with his mother--you see this look on Bruce's face, where he's just so happy for Jason. Because Bruce is nostalgically sympathetic and happy that Jason gets this chance to have a mother again, he leaves the boy he's supposed to take care of with a stranger who wasn't expecting him. I don't know if Bruce could have foreseen that she was involved with the Joker, but still. His leaving Jason that day, both right after he meets his mom and in the scans you have here, seem to me a big factor in how things played out.

'Cause at the end of the day, you have a kid who was a freaking hero, trying to save the life of the mother who just betrayed him, and you have the man who adopted him, who was in charge of him and supposed to protect him. Ultimately, Jason's safety was Bruce's responsibility.

I think a lot of the rhetoric about Jason being reckless and it being his own fault he got killed, was due to everyone (characters and writers included) wanting to make Bruce feel better, in a way. Making Jason the reason for his own demise (aside from the Joker), is ultimately a way of making Bruce look like less of an irresponsible dude who employs kids to do life-threatening work.

I mean, obviously the Joker is the one who murdered him, and while I do have oodles of sympathy for Bruce, I still feel like his nostalgic obsession with the idea of parents got in the way of protecting Jason. I mean, I think he should have at least been worried about Jason's emotional state in case Sheila rejected him outright, since they had no way of knowing how she'd react to Jason.

In any case, I think the most character-defining moment of Jason's life was that moments before he died, he tried to save the mother he'd never known and who turned him over to the Joker, and told her he loved her, even though he barely knew her. Especially given the state he was in, both physically and emotionally (there having been build-up of Jason not being well-adjusted and clashing with Bruce as a result), I think that makes him pretty unique as a person and a character. Like Dick, when he's loyal, he's deeply loyal, but that Jason was able to bestow such loyalty so quickly and easily onto someone so new to his life, that's really something different.

Date: 2010-07-26 06:14 am (UTC)
icon_uk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] icon_uk
I don't think you can remotely blame adoptive father Bruce Wayne for leaving Jason to get acquainted with his birth mother, it'd be a hideously sensitive/uncomfortable moment for all concerned.. Her public record was exemplary (though probably wouldn't have stood up to much applied scrutiny) and the notion that she would betray her son to the Joker of all people is not one that would occur to anyone.

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Date: 2010-07-26 05:31 am (UTC)
lucean: (Default)
From: [personal profile] lucean
Personally, I've also never been a great fan of DEATH IN THE FAMILY qualitywise, as I do agree that is quite poor when compared to the majority of the seminal works listed. Although I do disagree about THE CULT belonging there, but that is another discussion.

What I do however appreciate is what it allowed for the Bat-mythos as a whole, even though the intents of the original story wasn't that. For the Joker it was a really important story, even though I thoght that he was rather poorly written in it, as it really cemented his position as someone who could hurt Batman, someone who was a genuine threat to the Bat-family as he had killed one of them and physically crippled another. It also brought a new sense of consequence and tragedy in to the mythos, as it allowed following writers to establish Batman's war as something with casualties on both sides. And most importantly it made Batman someone who could utterly fail, as I do disagree that the responsibility for the death was somehow thrown on Jason, but rather that it was portrayed as Batman's greatest failure for a long time.

I would argue that the change in Todd in later stories was not to make him unlikable, that had been actually before the death, but rather to set the stage, unintentionally in some cases, for a change in how Batman failed with Jason. How it was not simply that Batman failed to save Jason's life, but that he failed to save Jason's soul by bringing him in to the Bat-family, which again is something I really like, even though it is pretty hammily dealt with by some writers.

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Date: 2010-07-26 05:32 am (UTC)
arysteia: (Default)
From: [personal profile] arysteia
I think the "got himself killed" rap follows fairly directly from the fact that Batman, as you say, gave Jason a direct order not to engage in his absence. It's a disobedience that leads directly to a negative outcome, and therefore is presumably different from the various heinous beatings (Dick and Two Face?) that could easily have gone even worse but have less "blame" attached. This in no way, of course, implies that it's a deserved outcome, and it's the latter perception/interpretation that is problematic. How can earth can the poor boy deserve it?

True confession: when this came out I wasn't actually a Batman reader, I was more a Superman girl. A friend told me what was going on and I was outraged, because I thought it was Dick Grayson she was talking about. When I realised it was in fact "some noob", I no longer cared. Not because of any negative portrayal, which of course I hadn't seen, but because it wasn't a "cherished part of my childhood". I no longer feel that way, now that I've gotten to know Jason as an actual character in his own right.

Date: 2010-07-26 06:18 am (UTC)
icon_uk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] icon_uk
Except Jason doesn't really engage, he's showing off to his mother (as one might) and he's then engaged BY the Joker. Chances are the Joker would have killed Jason anyway even if he hadn't been in Robin gear, or perhaps used him as leverage against Sheila (Where she could still have betrayed him by blatantly not caring what the Joker did to Jason as Jason) or to gain a ransom from Bruce Wayne.

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Date: 2010-07-26 03:54 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] whitesycamore
I think the "got himself killed" rap arises partly from the fact that most of the characters in-story honestly believe that's what happened. The entire batfamily thinks that Jason directly disobeyed Bruce's instructions not to tangle with the Joker - no one knows that Jason thought the warehouse was empty because his own mother lied to him. No one knows that she tricked him and led him to his death

Could be an awesome moment if Jason ever decides to set them right on that score.

Date: 2010-07-26 06:19 am (UTC)
icon_uk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] icon_uk
I'll go on record again as saying that A death in the Family is a genuinely BAD story, and not just for it's unpleasant themes. It's poorly structured and hideously OOC for most of the cast and just plained filled with wince-worthy moments.

Date: 2010-07-26 06:22 am (UTC)
irrelevant: (Jason Todd: terrible things)
From: [personal profile] irrelevant
Amen. *bows head*

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Date: 2010-07-26 08:09 pm (UTC)
janegray: (Default)
From: [personal profile] janegray
I still can't get over the freaking Joker trying to cover up Robin's murder.

Date: 2010-07-26 08:04 am (UTC)
irrelevant: (Jason Todd: terrible things)
From: [personal profile] irrelevant
Why do some people -- and I say some, not all -- cling to the idea that Jason "got himself killed"? Because just as in real life, it's easier to blame the victim than to look at the whole mess that led up to A Death in the Family head on. The "kill number" was, I think, something a lot of people didn't take seriously, or thought of as a joke. Until it actually happened, imagining the death of Robin was simply an amusing way for people who didn't care for the character to blow off steam.

The horror that was the death of a fifteen year old boy didn't seem to hit home until Jason was getting beaten with a crowbar and subsequently blown up. After the fact, Batman readers actually had to think about what they'd been party to. And DC had to deal with the fallout of its ill-advised actions.

As I recall, DC took a lot of flak, much of it not from the comics community, for not only Jason's death, but also the manner in which they went about bringing it about. Nicieza got it just about right. Distasteful is the nicest thing I can think of to say about the kill vote. I found it frankly tacky and incredibly insensitive while it was happening, and I was still a kid at the time. As an adult I can only think, what the hell were DC's editors thinking? I mean, it seems like such a blatantly bad idea that you'd think killing it at the inception would be a no-brainer, right? Well...

Frank Miller said: "To me the whole killing of Robin thing was probably the ugliest thing I've seen in comics, and the most cynical."

Now see, why does that not ring true? Maybe because Frank killed the hell out of a Robin, no less than Dick Grayson, in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and did it in the most tasteless way possible. As well, his fait accompli killing of Jason in The Dark Knight Returns in '86 set the stage for Jason's death in canon continuity in January '89. Dude framed the bloody Case and coined "a good soldier". He built Robin's death into the common comics reader's consciousness. Hypocritical much, Mr. Miller?

As for A Death in the Family itself... tacky and OOC don't begin to cover it. Starlin wanted to get rid of Robin. In the interests of covering his ass, he created the flimsy excuse of Jason's "bad seed" tendencies -- and hoo boy were they flimsy, and also insulting and badly written. But then, the whole storyline is a straw hut waiting to get blown down. That's comics for you.

These days, I think the consensus view places the lion's share of blame for Jason's death on Batman's head, when in fact, the blame within the context of the story lies where it always has done: on the Joker and on Sheila Haywood. Jason was their victim, as was Bruce (if only indirectly). Bruce's failure, if you can call it that, was the failure of being human and fallible, and not omnipotent. Did he blame himself? Of course he did. Bruce blames himself for every death he isn't able to stop; that's why he's Batman. But was he truly at fault? No, I don't think he was. Jason wasn't guilty of anything more than wanting first to find his mom and then to help/save her, and even he doesn't blame Bruce for his death. He blames Bruce for leaving him unavenged, which is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

So, who really bears the blame for Jason's death, aside from his mom and Joker? Well, I guess you could say a lot of the comics community at the time it happened does. Miller, who initially glorified the idea; Starlin, who wanted Robin gone; the editors who gave the idea the go ahead; whoever came up with that stupid kill vote; everyone who voted for the kid's death; everyone else who thought they didn't care and ignored the proceedings until whoa! Robin's dead! What the fuck?

What the fuck, indeed?

Date: 2010-07-26 09:39 am (UTC)
btravage: (Default)
From: [personal profile] btravage
What about the alleged guy who programed his phone to dial the kill number continuously?

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Date: 2010-07-26 08:21 am (UTC)
ulf_boehnke: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ulf_boehnke
Damn, the Joker looks even freakier with a normal skin color.

Date: 2010-07-26 01:39 pm (UTC)
jkcarrier: me, at my old office (Default)
From: [personal profile] jkcarrier
The Joker's presence here doesn't make a lot of sense. I have always suspected that Starlin plotted the story with some generic arms dealer or terrorist in the role, only to be told that Jason's killer had to be an established villain instead.

Date: 2010-07-26 04:05 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] whitesycamore
Starlin may have tried to make Jason unlikeable, but he obviously didn't try hard enough, because I liked him just fine.

Yay for JToddz appreciation week!

Date: 2010-07-26 04:51 pm (UTC)
sistermagpie: Classic magpie (Default)
From: [personal profile] sistermagpie
This story really just isn't good. And in a way, the very thing that people defend in the story is one of the problems--Jason's recklessness and anger doesn't get him killed, but everyone acts like it did later because it gives the story and character a meaning that's more interesting. Not because it was Jason's fault he got killed--Bruce has responsibility either way--but if he had died because of recklessness Bruce's culpability would have been more specific. Instead as others have said okay, you can blame Bruce for having a blind spot in his paranoia when it comes to mothers (like Jason does too) and that's just not as interesting or meaningful.

Date: 2010-07-26 05:11 pm (UTC)
colonel_green: (Default)
From: [personal profile] colonel_green
This is such a weird story - despite its reputation as a really gritty moment, a ton of it (like all the Iran stuff) is insanely over-the-top, and not in a Gotham way.

Date: 2010-07-26 10:22 pm (UTC)
dimwit90: Robins Together! (Default)
From: [personal profile] dimwit90
I bought Under The Red Hood Saturday, I was wondering why nobody was talking about it yet and then I realized it hasn't been released yet lol weird

Anyways, totally loved loved loved the movie. Not as much as the comic mostly due to so many changes to the original story of his death and the fact that it was too much plot not enough heart but whatever the animation was awesome and the action was badass. I was in tears by the end of it


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