All Life's A Game
Late 80's Batmania and the death of the second robin
I remember the summer of 1989.
Fun Dip turned my tongue purple, there was grass floating unappealing in the hard plastic kiddie pool, the slide at the park was metal and burned at the touch. The monkey bars were dome of mean steel that cost many a child a few teeth or a broken bone. There was a sand box in there that was never the same world twice, and Jason Todd was dead.
I was seven years old when my dad took my brothers and I to the Cineplex to see Tim Burton's Batman. At this well advanced point in my life I had already idolized and discarded a handful of heroes: He-Man, Hulk Hogan, Destro,Luke Skywalker, Mr. T, Thundarr the Barbarian...but not him, not the Bat. The Bat was always there. I sat in the ink with faceless strangers as Gotham City beared her streets and a new Batman far removed from Adam West and The Superfriends entered my imagination. If the Bat had lost any footing to Optimus Prime, Super Mario or Army Ants, he gained that all back and then some.
Summer fell behind the rose and marigold sky with a cool wind goodbye, leaving behind a new school year. We had seen the film twice, got the action figures and t-shirts, bought the trading cards with a mad fever and read every comic book our parents would buy to feed our fix. Me, my brothers, my friends, the kids at the park we didn't know and would look at sideways were all were certifiably mad for the Batman. Nothing else mattered, anything of mine-which included anything belonging to my little brothers-was up for trade if you had the right merchandise and that's how I got my mitts on my first collected trade paperback.
I studied it's size, it was thick as a phone book, grand and beautiful and meant to be treasured. On the inside cover I scrawled my name and phone number in child hand along with a plea for it's return should it ever go missing.That cover drew me in, that black cover with the black title; A DEATH IN THE FAMILY. There was a beaten Batman, his brow furrowed in grief, in confusion at how everything could have ended so terribly wrong, holding the ruined body of Robin. The Boy Wonder was broken and limp, his head slumped to his chest. He was bloody, his costume was mauled and ravaged, all this mess that was once Robin was cradled in the arms of a Batman who had fallen to his knees.
My hands were steady and sure as dipped them into the book, my eyes flowing over every letter soaking up every drop of ink. I followed Jason Todd, the Robin I never got know, on global search for his birth mother. This stranger Jason and I became closer on flight to Israel, while I followed the Batman tracking down the Joker and his nuclear missile. I honestly had no idea what nuclear missile was, but I knew enough to know that the Joker could cause a lot of trouble with it and I rather liked that idea. The dynamic duo met up by coincidence and their separate missions became one. There were three women who might have been Jason's mom, all living in countries that were questionable during the cold war. Again, I had no idea and really wouldn't have cared about the political commentary, I was going with Batman and Robin on an investigation. Everything was going fine untill Jason found his mom, the Joker found Jason's mom (friend of the family, years ago, funny story...) and Joker found Jason.
The world outside the panels fell into neatly stacked piles as I watch the Joker beat my new friend with a crow bar. I hoped for a rescue that I knew would never come, panel by panel I watched the nearly dead Robin try to save the mother he just met.
Their lives ended with a blue KA-THOOOOOM.
I knew this was coming, the cover promised me blood although I wasn't ready for it when it came.
I'd like to say I shed a tear for Jason Todd, the troubled Boy Wonder who was killed by the fans with a telephone, I wish I had taken the time to mourn my new friend. All I could do is stand a hill that may have existed in that cemetery in Gotham City watch them bury him and his mother.
Then it was red line, burning white knuckles and heart pounding in my teeth while I shadowed the Batman as he crossed paths with Superman while closing in on the Joker. I was the book, every page was a new breath all the way to the Joker taking a couple of slugs to the chest, thanks a henchman's trigger happy greeting for the Batman's sudden arrival aboard the Joker's helicopter. The same helicopter spun madly in the sky, the Batman dove into the river while the Joker bled out on the helicopter, which dove into a pier and left a fire ball draped in a big blue KAR-THOOOOOMM.
On the back cover I found about the 900 phone number and the fact that this was four regular comic books that told the whole story and now I had them all in book. There were little pictures of the covers and issue three focused on Jason Todd, bloody and at the moment in his life when he inhaled a final breath before that explosion. It fascinated me and gave me the creeps.
This was the single most brilliant story I had ever read and reread time again for the next Nineteen years. I would read it when I was supposed to sleeping, which I was doing the night I overheard my parent's decision to give our dog up for adoption. (He went to live on farm, a neighbor of a co-worker of my mom's.) I lost that copy a few years back, wrinkled and torn, a four coloured comfort blanket. I figured that some things you love just go back to that place in your history, that place when where you were both new and the first steps into the unknown ran wild in your chest. They stay in that place where they're just that elusive and you love them for it. I have newer printing now, it doesn't impose like my first did. It's smaller, a bit snappier, it's from it's own time and place.