26 September 2010

Sometimes a Crowbar Is Just a Crowbar

How did the Joker kill Robin, the second Jason Todd?

If you’re like most comic-book fans, or this drunk guy, the first picture in your mind is a crowbar. Because the Joker beat Jason with a crowbar in a series of horrific panels drawn by Jim Aparo. But that wasn’t what killed Jason. In fact, he was still able to function after that beating. The Joker killed Jason with a bomb. (A bomb that somehow left his body intact, but that’s another story.)

There are moments in later comic boos when the Joker refers to that bomb: “I blowed him up real good!” he explains to young Impulse in Impulse, #50. But more often, especially since Jason Todd’s return from the dead in 2004-05, the violence of his murder is symbolized exclusively with a crowbar.

That shows the power of the graphic panels above. An off-screen, single-panel bomb just isn’t as affecting as what we see, over and over. Furthermore, a crowbar doesn’t have other connotations in superhero comics, leaving its symbolism pure.

As a result, there are Joker figurines with crowbars, and Joker cosplayers with crowbars. And there are Batman stories—so many stories—that play off the symbolism.

In the retrospective Batman, #683, Grant Morrison merely had to script a crowbar in a purple-gloved hand for readers to know what event in Bruce Wayne’s personal history that page alludes to.

In Battle for the Cowl, writer-illustrator Tony Daniel had skinny-replacement-Batman Tim Drake happen upon a crowbar during his fight with vicious-replacement-Batman Jason Todd. Given his history, it’s a bit odd for Jason to keep crowbars lying around. It’s even odder for Tim, a most cerebral and less evil Robin, to get that murderous. But this being superhero comics, he starts swinging.

Most recently, the little latest Robin, Damian Wayne, brought a crowbar into an interrogation room to use in “interrogating” the Joker. So far that’s turned out to be a poor idea. But at least everyone is speaking the same symbolic language.

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