I’ve found it tough to locate actual fan responses to A Death in the Family, the 1988 Batman story that included the death of the second Jason Todd. As I noted last week, the major newspaper coverage quoted industry insiders. Apparently DC Comics editor Dennis O’Neil did a bunch of radio interviews, but those aren’t preserved. Internet fandom was just getting started.
The “Bat-Signals” letters column in the Batman magazine is a prime source, but not all issues from the period included letters, and the editors chose which to run. There are, for example, few missives lambasting Jason Todd in 1987-88, even though fan response was harsh enough that the company had decided to remove him from Robin role even before A Death in the Family.
In the issues that I’ve been able to peruse, only two letters comment directly on the death of a Robin. Batman, #433, contains this letter from Jenna Loughlin, age eight:
When I was four years old I saw my first Batman and Robin show. I loved it. Then I pretended I was Robin one Halloween. It was the first super-hero I was.The response, probably written by Assistant Editor Dan Raspler, provided the narrative justifications for Jason’s death and then passed the buck to the people who had actually decided on it:
I am very, very sad that you made Robin die. I have been crying for a whole day. Why did you make him die? That’s what I can’t figure out!
He was a hero. You don’t kill heroes, you save them!
Please change your comic book!
I’m sorry, Jenna, but we just can’t change the story. Robin died in “A Death in the Family” for many reasons. He didn’t listen to Batman when Batman told him to wait. He was captured by the Joker and threw himself in front of the Joker’s bomb hoping to shield his mother from the blast, even though she lied to him and betrayed him. I’m also sad that Robin died in “A Death in the Family,” but more readers wanted him to be dead than wanted him to be alive.Three months later, in Batman, #436, Eric Martinson of Florida wrote:
Maybe if those readers thought about what they were doing to Batman when they voted to let Robin die, they might have changed their vote. Now Batman is all alone.
I’m sorry you cried for a whole day.
I love Batman comics, but why did you kill Robin? I liked Jason a lot. I got all his comics. I found out in a magazine that Robin was going to die. I miss him. But why did you kill him?Though Martinson did not state his age, this letter also looks like it came from a kid.
Those two letters suggest a couple of conclusions. First, for all of Jason Todd’s flaws, he had continued to fulfill Reason for Robin, #3: Younger readers can identify with Robin.
On the other hand, these letters don’t offer evidence that their writers were fans of Jason, the angry, rebellious kid from the streets. The letters don’t mention that character’s individual traits. They didn’t discuss details of A Death in the Family. Loughlin conflated the Robin on the TV show and the Robin of the late 1980s. Instead, those kids were fans of Robin, the DC Universe’s symbol of youth, and were upset at news that he had died.
But, Jason’s detractors would have replied, he hadn’t lived up to the role of Robin. Batman had already sidelined him before A Death in the Family. DC was removing him from the magazine. Even the New York Times headlined its report “The Real Robin Fights On”—in other words, Dick Grayson Lives!
COMING UP: And death turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to Jason Todd.