By Will Barber – Taylor
Following on the previous editions piece of “A Death In The Family” we go even further back to the first appearance of Jason Todd and the last time Dick Grayson would wear the Robin costume in: Did Robin Die Tonight? (Batman 408 – 409)
After a fatal battle between The Dark Knight and The Joker results in Dick Grayson seriously injuring himself, Robin appears to be dead. While Grayson recovers, Batman begins to work solo again. While on his yearly pilgrimage to Crime Alley, the place where his parents died, he meets a young runaway called Jason Todd. With Todd’s help Batman hopes to uncover a dark secret at the heart of Crime Alley.
While, “A Death In The Family” is an international story, Did Robin Die Tonight? is set in Gotham with Crime Alley at its heart. Beginning with a great fight between The Joker and the Dynamic Duo the story follows a rather basic Batman structure, though oddly The Dark Knight doesn’t do much detective work (he’s told about what is going on and where the crime will take place by Jason Todd). Instead, it is a memory lane tale for Batman, featuring flashbacks to the childhood murder of his parents and also encounters with The Joker and memories of him working alone. It is a nostalgic tale but only because it is looking back to look forward. By reminding Bruce Wayne of his past and how he came to be Batman, this story almost shows The Dark Knight reclaiming his quest and is also a perfect demonstration of why Batman needs Robin. Without Robin, Batman becomes brooding and at some points careless. At one point he comments that he had “become over reliant on Robin” and that without him he didn’t feel as though he worked as a whole.
The introduction of Todd is brilliantly done. While Todd first appeared “officially” in Detective Comics 525, he was in essence a clone of Dick Grayson. It wasn’t until post Crisis on Infinite Earths, when DC revamped many of their characters back stories that the traditional version of Todd emerged. This Todd is unique and plays off Batman in a different way to Grayson. While Grayson was much more friendly and grateful to Wayne for taking him under his wing, Todd is much more aggressive and doesn’t overtly hero worship Batman. This means the tension between the characters is much more palpable and interesting than it had been with Grayson. Todd’s cynicism towards Batman also helps to give him some perspective in terms of fighting with The Caped Crusader. He questions his actions and makes Batman think more about what he is doing.
The problem with Did Robin Die Tonight? is that the villain of the piece is one of the oddest (and going off Batman villains that is something) adversaries The Dark Knight has ever had to face: Ma Gunn. Posing as a straight laced philanthropist who wishes to help the needy of Gotham, Gunn is in fact a chain smoking Australian crook who is teaching the young of Crime Alley how to be criminals. While it seems a perfect way to get Todd in on the action (Batman takes him to the school after promising the orphan Todd not to take him to social workers as he is afraid of being sent to a care home) the almost comical Gunn seems slightly at odds with the 80s more serious Batman.
Gunn is better suited to the 60s series, a madly dressed cigar chomping villainess who sends her goons to battle Batman and Robin (accompanied of course with typical Pows and Biffs). Gunn would have been more credible if she had been given better dialogue, at one point she exposits the evils of weed (which one of her young protégés is attempting to smoke) while advising the good qualities of alcohol. These comedic double standards fit more comfortably into a sketch from a sitcom or sketch show. In fact, Gunn would fit in very well to Royston Vasey; an insane beer swilling, cigar chomping, criminal posing as a kindly old lady.
Aside from the bizarre nature of the villain, Did Robin Die Tonight?, is a great Batman tale that manages to introduce the second Robin in style while also creating a strong story to surround the introduction.
In the next edition of The Dark Tales of The Dark Knight we look at the origin of The Outsiders in “Wars Ended, Wars Begun”.