Batman #638

(Caution: contains spoilers)

Out of long habit I will read any comic which cover-features the magic words “N-No! It can’t be…YOU“. The shock revelation (be it ever so bogus) is meat and drink to my somewhat jaded brain.

This time the Cantbeyou is indeed a shocker. If you’re not a comics reader you may remember a bit of press back in the late 80s when DC decided to kill Robin, then set up a premium rate phone line to allow readers a vote to let the lad live – or confirm his fate. They voted for death, causing much outcry and hand-wringing, not so much over the death of Robin but over the corruption implied in encouraging people to waste their money on frivolous phone votes (how little we knew). The Robin in question wasn’t the Robin who is currently – comics time – hanging around with Batman, or the Robin who you may remember from the films, though he looked broadly the same. He was Jason Todd, a snotty 80s street-kid Robin, created and written as an irritating caricature who the fans never took to.

Because of his semi-democratic fate Jason Todd has always been regarded as one of the untouchable comics dead, immune to shock return. Until now, when he’s back, in a thoroughly entertaining story – violent, slick, promising much convoluted explanation in the future (if you like that sort of thing – I tend to thrill on the shocks and try to ignore their doughy justifications). He’s posing as tuff new hoodlum the Red Hood, whose exchanges in this comic with Gotham City kingpin the Black Mask are a lot more entertaining than Batman’s dialogue with Robin. The other Robin. Todd comes across as a likeable, if nasty, type, much more so than he did in his first life.

At the same time though I have to laugh. The Todd story was big hot news a few years after I started reading comics: it was the hype, the buzz, the change-everything storyline. It makes me feel a little bit old – seventeen years ago? In 1988 I didn’t care about them killing Jason Todd – a sophisticated 15-year old I had decided to give up superhero comics – but a lot of people cared a great deal. I’m not sure what the moral for fans is: don’t be upset about anything, or be upset about everything.