As I stated last time, my first foray into comics was Batman #427, right in the middle of the “A Death in the Family” story arc. At this time, my only reference point for what Batman was came from the terribly campy television show from the 1960’s. With that in mind, I picked up this issue of Batman expecting it to be as cheesy and lighthearted as the Batman portrayed by Adam West. I was in for a shock. Imagine my surprise when I start reading a grittier, more intense story that was very far removed from the over-the-top schtick I had expected. But nothing in that comic could have prepared me for what would happen in the last few pages: The Joker, who in the show had always been more concerned with silly puns and pointless crimes than causing actual mayhem, beats Jason Todd (who took up the mantle of Batman’s sidekick Robin after the original, Dick Grayson, became Nightwing) with a crowbar. Then after The Joker leaves, the warehouse they had been fighting in explodes! The Joker had just killed Robin!
Robin’s fate was actually left ambiguous at the end of the issue, allowing the fans to vote on whether he lived or died. So I had to wait until the next issue to discover what would become of the Boy Wonder. Ultimately, the fans voted to kill Jason Todd by some 70 votes.
From my limited knowledge of superheroes, and admittedly from my own childish naivety, I understood that the good guys always won, the bad guys always lost, and nothing bad ever really happened. Superheroes, I thought, were supposed to be above us, to show us a better way. I think that’s why so many people like Superman, and why as a child, I did too. He is so far above humanity, that he can’t even be compared with them.
Suffice to say, this experience turned my view of superheroes upside down in an instant. Here I was, thinking that bad things don’t happen, and they kill off a major character in brutal and terrifying fashion! I found out that heroes could do everything right, and still terrible things could happen. The villains could win, even if only temporarily. And in doing so could cause irrevocable damage. You would think that for a 6 year old kid, this would have horrified me and made me never want to read a comic book again. Instead, it actually made me want to read more. Maybe it was the thrill of being surprised like that, maybe it was a sense of feeling more grown up by reading more mature stories, or maybe it was just a twisted side of me that enjoyed the violence. Whatever it was, my life would never be the same. I was addicted to this world of flawed heroes, psychotic villains, and real world tragedy. Where going to the grocery store with my mom had always been a torturous, boring chore, it had now become my monthly vision into the world of the Dark Knight’s one-man war on crime. My love and appreciation for the Caped Crusader has only grown as I’ve gotten older and started to actually understand his motivations and flaws, but it all started with a kid randomly picking up a comic book.