DC Comics’s decision to invite Batman fans to vote via 900-number calls on whether Jason Todd lived or died got a lot of attention within the comics industry, much of it unfavorable.
The fact that fans voted for Jason to die and DC was going through with it got attention outside the industry, particularly a 10 Nov 1988 New York Times article headlined “Holy Bomb Blast! The Real Robin Fights On!”
Reporter Georgia Dullea’s unfamiliarity with her subject surfaced in her repeated reference to Frank Miller’s portrayal of Batman as “The Black Knight.” For quotations, she relied on people within the comics industry.
Sylvia Lamar at the Forbidden Planet store explained fans’ preferences: “Dick Grayson they liked, but Jason Todd was not as popular.” Don Thompson of the Comic Buyer’s Guide criticized the telephone poll itself: “It smacks of the Roman arena, with thumbs up and thumbs down.”
Dullea dug up the requisite voices on either side of the Jason Todd debate. Here’s the pro-Robin statement:
“I voted 10 times to save Robin, and I’ve got the $5 phone bill to prove it,” said Robert Ingersoll, a 36-year-old assistant public defender in Cleveland. “If I had known the margin would be only 72 votes, I would have voted 73 more times.”Bob Ingersoll wasn’t just any public defender who happened to like Robin. He was writing a column on legal issues in superhero stories for the Comic Buyer’s Guide. Eventually he got into scripting comics himself, and also cowrote the prose novel Captain America: Liberty’s Torch. A year ago, Cuyahoga County basically bought out Ingersoll’s contract to lower its budget. He’s active on cowriter Tony Isabella’s website, but hasn’t resumed his “The Law Is a Ass” column, even as a cranky blog like this one.
On the anti-Robin side was “Rick Schindler of White Plains, who voted to ‘waste’ the Boy Wonder,” but also suspected that Jason would come back from the dead. Is this the same Rick Schindler who wrote for HBO, TV Guide, and now Todayshow.com? If so, the Times reporter interviewed no one outside the popular-culture media.
Finding non-professional opinions of Jason Todd from the late 1980s isn’t easy since that was well before the web made everyone’s opinions available everywhere. Last week I quoted one letter published in Batman, #424, criticizing the character. For the Times comics editor Dennis O’Neil cited others that called Jason a “twerp,” a “wimp,” and a “vindictive, vengeful little brat.”
Other coverage of this controversy in such papers as the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, and St. Petersburg Times used those same quotations, leading me to suspect they were written off the Times article, not additional reporting. Which leads to the question: what did comics readers from outside the industry say about Jason Todd’s death in 1988?
COMING UP: Two letters from young readers.