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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Batman v1 #408: The New Adventures begin

Batman #408 takes place immediately after Frank Miller’s Batman Year One storyline (Batman #404 - #407) which, as we all know by now, was essentially the post-Crisis reboot of Batman. DC wanted you to realize the continuity of this series had changed drastically, so they made sure to re-name it to Batman: the New Adventures starting with this issue. What’s interesting is that this issue re-introduces Jason Todd to the post-Crisis DCU.

If you were reading Batman during the 80s you are probably well aware that Jason Todd debuted in Detective Comics #524 (1983). Jason Todd was introduced back in 1983 because Dick Grayson (the previous Robin) had gone on to star in his own team book (The New Teen Titans) and didn’t really fit the 'youthful sidekick' role anymore. (Dick Grayson is first and foremost a Batman character, so any control over his characterization had to go through the Batman editorial team first. Somehow, Marv Wolfman [writer of New Teen Titans] managed to get then-Batman writer Gerry Conway to agree to Wolfman’s plans for Dick Grayson.) Jason Todd was introduced as a near identical clone of Dick Grayson (ex: part of a circus trapeze family, orphaned after parents were murdered, nice enough kid) when it was determined that the Batman series didn’t really work unless Batman had a sidekick to banter with. The pre-Crisis Jason Todd became a member of the Batman Family shortly after his 1983 debut, but he pretty much disappeared after Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985.

Batman #408 starts with Robin (Dick Grayson) and Batman fighting the Joker, and Robin getting wounded and left dangling for his life - the image of Robin hanging by his legs in the ad is an exact replica of a panel found on the second page of the issue. After all action is resolved, Batman tells Dick Grayson that it’s too dangerous to be Batman’s sidekick and that Dick should move on with his life (and we get a brief cameo of Dick as Nightwing). The rest of the issue goes onto to describe Batman’s first encounter with the new, younger Jason Todd. This issue is the first in a four issue story arc that concludes in Batman #411 - the end result is Jason Todd becoming the new Robin. Max Allan Collins wrote all 4 issues introducing the new Jason Todd. He wrote one final issue before Jim Starlin picked up the title and pretty much concluded the saga of Jason Todd. Starlin managed to resolve a dangling plot-line left open by Collins’ story arc, and included what I consider the epilogue of the re-intro to Jason Todd storyline: Batman #416. In Batman #416, Dick Grayson (as Nightwing) returns to confront Batman for kicking him out of his life and replacing him with Jason Todd. In this issue we get the summarized version of the origin of the post-Crisis Nightwing (remember, Nightwing was first introduced in 1984’s Tales of the Teen Titans #43). Crisis on Infinite Earths did not affect Dick Grayson/Nightwing THAT much, however his tenure as Batman’s sidekick had been shortened to 6 years and Batman booted Dick Grayson out when he was 18 years old. Immediately after this issue we go into Starlin’s Ten Nights of the Beast story arc.

Fan reaction to the new post-Crisis Jason Todd was not that positive. Collins’ gave us a Robin that was completely different from the status quo. After the Crisis On Infinite Earths there was a chance to reboot Jason Todd and make him his own character rather than a Dick Grayson clone, and Collins decided to take a chance and try something new. Jason Todd was brash, he was angry, he was excessively violent, he charged into battle without thinking, and he had none of the traits his previous incarnation had (ex: no circus background). Anytime you try something new there is always potential of a backlash from 'purists’ - and the fan reaction to Jason Todd was one of those examples.

Collins had already written two issues of Batman prior to re-introducing Jason Todd - he wrote Batman #402 and #403 (with some assistance from Jim Starlin). Collins had previous experience writing for detective/mystery comics (ex: Ms Tree, Mike Danger, Dick Tracy) which led to him being hand-picked by editor Denny O'Neil to darken the tone of the series to set it up for Frank Miller’s Year One storyline (both #402 and #403 have excerpts of an essay Collins wrote comparing Batman to Dick Tracy). I can’t imagine following up anything Frank Miller wrote would be very easy, since Miller was the fan-favorite at the time and would've been a tough act to follow. Fan reaction to Collins’ more traditional Batman stories didn’t go so well when compared to Miller’s newly established grim-and-gritty tone. Collins quit before DC could fire him. Toys R Us would later reprint the Collins' Batman issues and repackage them with Batman action figures they were selling in the early 90s.

Collins' essays from Batman #402 & #403. Click to enlarge and read.

For whatever reason, I completely forgot everything about this story arc, and it felt like I was reading it for the first time when I finally got around to re-reading it for this review. I was most surprised that Max Allan Collins wrote it, and if I had known, I probably would’ve waited a month or two since I just wrote an article about Mr Collins (see: Wild Dog) and I normally try to space things out a bit. I really enjoyed the re-intro to Jason Todd story arc and felt like the issues just flew by as I read them (as in: it was fast-paced, suspenseful and left me wanting more). Denny O'Neil mentioned that he had scheduling problems for that book and that a few issues fell behind schedule - this becomes apparent as you realize the Jo Duffy issue (Batman #413) was a fill-in. I don’t know why Jason Todd received such a bad rap, I liked where the story was going and was curious to see how things would resolve themselves. It seemed like the other writers after Collins weren’t sure what to do with Jason Todd - some would downplay his violent angst-y tendencies, and some would disregard them completely.

There were a few continuity problems with the story arc, but O'Neil quickly explained that issue #408 was a flashback tale that occurred 3 years in the past (at the time the story was written) - and if you do some DCU math, that kinda sorta syncs up with the post-Crisis Teen Titans continuity. A popular example of everything that was wrong with the Jason Todd character was a scene in Batman #415 (a mandatory Millennium cross-over story that disrupts the whole flow of the story arc - I can imagine Starling being pretty irritated that he had to include a story about Commissioner Gordon being a robotic imposter - but I digress) in which Jason Todd wields a shotgun and starts shooting at some armed guards trying to attack them. This was absolute Batman blasphemy, many Batman fans felt, as Batman never condones the use of guns - not even for his sidekick. Despite what the 'true' Batman fans felt, I think this was my favorite scene from the whole story arc and an indicator of the direction comics would be moving in the future - pushing things to the extreme even if they didn't make much sense for the character.

This article original published on the DC in the 80s tumblr in Nov 2013. 

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