The Joker beats Robin to death. (Batman: A Death in the Family)

Sometime in late 1987, DC Comics and Batman editor Dennis O’Neil became aware that Jason Todd had become unpopular with readers and decided to remove him from the Robin role. The question was how to do that. Seeking a new way to interact with fans, and perhaps inspired by references to a dead Jason in Frank Miller’s non-canonical future history comic book miniseries, The Dark Knight Returns, the company set up two 1-900 number 50-cent hotlines giving callers the ability to vote for or against Jason’s death. The call-in period started after publication of the issue in which Jason and his mother are trapped in the warehouse.

Over 10,000 votes were cast, with the final vote being 5,343 votes for Jason to die over 5,271 for him to live. DC published A Death in the Family to massive media attention, some of it critical. Over a decade later, in a Newsarama interview conducted alongside writer Judd Winick, O’Neil said: “I heard it was one guy, who programmed his computer to dial the thumbs down number every ninety seconds for eight hours, who made the difference.” If true, that would have amounted to over 200 votes (and 100 dollars), certainly enough to decide the count. There is no way to confirm that rumor, but it adds uncertainty to the question of whether the poll was an accurate measure of what fans wanted to happen to Jason Todd.

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The issue of Jason Todd’s death was often raised over the years in the mainstream Batman stories, becoming almost as important a factor in his life as the death of his parents. It intensified Batman’s feud with the Joker, making it even more personal. In the course of the Batman: Knightfall story arc, Batman is exposed to the Scarecrow’s fear toxin, causing him to hallucinate about Jason’s death. However, instead of fear, he reacts in rage, and brutally beats the Joker while screaming Jason’s name. He often visits Jason’s gravesite and raises his death as a factor in his reluctance to take on new sidekicks, such as Tim Drake (the third Robin and current Red Robin), Stephanie Brown (the fourth Robin, and third Batgirl), Cassandra Cain (the second Batgirl), and Damian Wayne (the fifth Robin). Jason is memorialized in the Batcave; his Robin costume is preserved under glass, along with the epitaph “A Good Soldier.”

In the Hush storyline, it was hinted that Todd is alive, as a young man who strongly resembles him is standing on his desecrated grave. However, in the end, Batman finds that it was Clayface mimicking the role. In the “Under the Hood” arc, it is revealed that it was Todd whom Batman had fought, but he then switched places with the shapeshifter in collaboration with the villains Hush, Riddler, and Talia al Ghul. Todd reveals himself to Batman as the murderous vigilante, the Red Hood. Jason cripples Black Mask’s criminal organization in Gotham, and kidnaps the Joker and beats him with a crowbar in an abandoned building. During the ensuing struggle with Batman, Todd detonates the building, but he, Batman and the Joker survive.

The details of Todd’s return are revealed in Batman Annual #25 and Red Hood: The Lost Years #1-6.

 

From: Batman Vol.1 #427, 1988

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