Have you ever hated a character so much you wished the writer would kill the off? Have you ever imagined writing to that writer asking them to do so? Imagine so many people doing so that the author puts the life of the character in your hands with a telephone vote. That’s exactly what happened in 1988 to Jason Todd, the second Robin.
After Jason Todd’s character got rewritten to be more reckless people started to change their opinion of him. Especially after one issue where Jason confronts a rapist who then falls to his death. The reader does not see how he falls and Batman questions Jason if he caused him to fall and Jason does not answer him.
This gray area about his morals caused many to believe Batman was better off without a sidekick, or at least without Jason. Jim Starlin, the writer for Batman at the time, had a personal disdain for Robin and said “In the one Batman issue I wrote with Robin featured, I had him do something underhanded, as I recall. Denny had told me that the character was very unpopular with fans, so I decided to play on that dislike”. He has said many times he disliked Robin so would avoid using him unless specifically told he had to and he tried multiple times to kill him off, including trying to give him AIDS. In a recent interview Starlin was asked about Jason Todd’s death and he said that he “always sort of felt that going out and fighting crime with a teenager that you dress in primary colors while you’re in the shadows wearing black and grey, well, that could only be termed child endangerment. So I was never big on using Robin. And when [my editor] Benny [O’Neil] came up with the phone-in gag about voting whether he lived or died, and they said, “Well, let’s do Robin” (because I had been pushing for it) it just sort of fell into place. And it worked out well”. Fans called one of two telephone numbers to vote on the outcome, funnily the last three digits for the number to have the Joker kill Jason were 666, and with a vote of only 5,343 to 5,271 Jason’s fate was sealed. There is a controversy surrounding the vote as it’s been proven a single person set up there computer to call the number to kill Jason every 90 seconds for 8 hours, adding over 100 extra votes without which Jason would have lived.
Not knowing about the rigged vote the writers went ahead with the plan to kill off Robin. Jason was tortured by the Joker, beaten with a crowbar, and finally blown up. Despite fans and writers both choosing this fate it is still considered one of the darkest and most controversial moments in the entirety of the Batman comic history and even in all of DC. The debate over Jason Todd still continues today and some fans blame Jason for his own death though claiming it was his own reckless behavior that got him caught in the first place. Batman’s character mourned Jason in the comics for decades.
At the turn of the century fans once again changed their opinion on the second Robin and Jason was revitalized in the comics in 2002 and his return arc was also made into a movie in 2010. When he comes back it is under the name Red Hood and he maintains his questionable morals from before as now he is anti-hero. He claims he is going to do what Batman never could which is to finally get rid of crime in Gotham by killing those who commit serious enough offenses. In the movie, Under the Red Hood, the main conflict between him and Batman is Jason’s sense of betrayal that Batman would let his murder, the Joker, live.
Jason Todd is a prime example of how writers can manipulate how an audience feels about characters but at the same time it shows the power the audience can have. Both Jason’s death and return were a result of the shift in audience affection for his character. Jason also stands in stark contrast to the rest of the Bat Family and forces the audience to ask themselves what’s worse: killing a criminal or letting them live and continuing to hurt more people? With the return of Jason Todd the gray area between which of the two of them is morally correct is blurred even more.