How DC COMICS Learned the Bloodthirsty Fans Had Killed JASON TODD

Batman #428: Robin Lives! is out this week.

One of the year’s most intriguing releases is out this week: Batman #428: Robin Lives!, a “Faux-simile Edition” reprinting the third chapter of 1988’s A Death in the Family — except in this version, Jason Todd survives the Joker’s brutal attack.

The issue utilizes the material by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo that would have been published had fans voted to spare Jason’s life in DC’s infamous phone-in poll.

As I’ve said before, I voted for Jason to live and this is an interesting “what-might-have-been” exercise. But it’s also fascinating to read a behind-the-scenes account of what actually happened, how DC learned of Jason’s fate.

Editor Denny O’Neil pulled back the curtain in his From the Den column, reprinted below, from Detective Comics #595, a few weeks after Batman #428 was published.

Since the type is pretty small, even blown up, a transcript can be found farther down:


Well, we were wrong. Everyone was predicting a landslide, though we disagreed about which way the landslode would fall. But when the final tally was in, only 72 votes of the 10,614 cast decided it.

I’m referring to our Great Robin Experiment, of course. On September 15 and 16, we asked readers to vote, by telephone, whether Jason Todd –Dick Grayson’s successor as Robin — would survive an explosion shown in Batman #427. Those chhoising survival were to dial one number, those choosing the opposite were to dial another. Dick Giordano predicted that Jason would come through the ordeal healthy; he felt that our readers were weary of the funerals that have jolted our little universe over the past few years and would react accordingly. I disagreed. Cynic that I am, I, and most of the rest of the DC staff, thought our audience would vote negatively if only to see if we’d dare go through with killing yet another major character. We would, if that’s how the vote went, That was never in doubt. For months, I’d had two completed versions of Batman #428 in the cabinet, awaiting the verdict.

A very busy two-day vigil began at 10:30, on the morning of the fifteenth. That’s when Dan Raspler first checked the voting by using a touch-tone telephone to reach a predisignated number and then, when cued by what sounded like a computer with laryngitis and a Polish accent, to enter a five-digit code at that point, things looked good for Jason, with 243 callers wishing him well and 199 wishing him ill. Dan continued to check every 90 minutes until 7:30 Friday evening, when he had to leave to attend a Grateful Dead show at Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, I played celebrity, giving radio interviews and talking to reporters, and keeping other DC staffers with an interest in the project informed.

Oh, yes, in between Robin-related activities, we managed to get some editorial work done, too.

By 8:00 Thursday evening, Jason’s ill-wishers had gained an edge; the count was 2,104 to 2,195, thumbs down.

But at 1:15 Friday afternoon, Jason’s situation had gotten a bit better: his friends had registered five more calls than his enemies. The count: 3,451 to 3,446. I began to hope I’d been wrong. My editorial duties would be much, much simpler if we could continue the status quo, with a Robin swinging through Gotham alongside the Batman.

Marifran arrived at 5:00 to help with the last-minute chores. I ordered turkey sandwiches and fruit platters from the deli downstairs; clearly, none of us would get a proper dinner that night.

I thought: This is weird. Jason Todd isn’t real. He’s something some writers and artists made up a few years ago. Yet we’re behaving like the family of accident victims in a hospital waiting room. At times like this, the line between fantasy and reality is very blurred indeed. 

Dan made his final check Friday at 7:30, and it was bad news for Jason. 5,081 for 5,148 against. But with 30 minutes left, and a margin of a mere 67 votes, there was still hope for the kid. And at 7:45, he looked like he might make it, with 5,221 for him and 5,259 against. Only 38 calls’ difference.

There must have been a last-minute surge of Jason-haters. When, at 8:30, I finally spoke to a human being instead of that semi-articulate computer, the final count was 5,271 to 5,343. Rest in peace, Jason Todd.

Nobody real had died. But still, Marifran and I decided to walk downtown instead of taking the subway.

Several times during the vigil, I was asked, “Why are you doing this?” I had a couple of answers. First, this “telephone stunt,” as we called it, was simply an extension of our policy of reading all the mail we receive and talking to fans at conventions at stores; we’ve always been sensitive to our audience’s wishes. Second — and this I really relish — we did it because nobody had ever done it before. That’s always an excellent reason to do something. You never know what will happen until you try.

Okay, what did happen? The most obvious result is that the Batman storyline will be changed. For the foreseeable future, he’ll be what he began as 50 years ago, a fearsome loner. We’re a bit worried about that: since 1940, Robin has been an integral part of the Batman mythos. He is, arguably, one of the reasons for Batman’s half-century popularity. I’d like to think Robin’s absence constitutes a challenge, a figurative slap in the face, and we’ll become excited and stimulated and creative as we deal with it. Another result of the telephone stunt is that we may do it again sometime, if we get an idea that seems suitable for it or if readers deluge us with requests for some sort of repeat performance. We now know it can work, and that fact gives us a new tool.

So the Great Robin Experiment, the telephone stunt, was a surprise and a success. We’ll rest on our laurels for a minute or two and then get busy with whatever comes next.

— Denny


— ROBIN LIVES! DC to Publish ‘Faux-simile Edition’ That Reverses DEATH IN THE FAMILY. Click here.

— REVEALED! New Details of the BATMAN #428: ROBIN LIVES! ‘Faux-simile’ Edition. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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1 Comment

  1. Yes, I’ve felt a sense of guilt over the years, having voted for Robin’s demise. We were not expressly dealing in multiple universes anymore (or yet again at this point) so it felt more like fulfilling prophecy set out by Frank Miller?

    I suppose I would have felt better if the vote hadn’t been so dang close.

    Jason Todd’s later resurrection never helped alleviate my guilt since he was essentially buried in the pet sematary.

    I suppose I will continue to have to live with it.

    I’m a murderer!

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