Life After Family

batman429.jpg

By By Matt Allegretti

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9. Looking back, I feel somewhat selfish that I mourned the death of Robin the way I would the loss of a family member. My world was turned upside down. I was grieving for months. Robin was part of my family. As a child I thought the Dynamic Duo protected me from evil. Why had I turned my back on Robin? Why did I vote to kill him? Jason’s death had a more profound effect on me than the death of some people I knew. Even now, twenty-five years later, it’s hard for me to look at this comic without feeling somewhat sickened by the content. The death of Robin is brutally violent and this comic is not meant for kids, certainly not a six-year old with an overactive imagination. I remember I used to write letters to Robin asking for his forgiveness, I drew comic books where he survived the Joker’s punishment, which I called The Further Adventures of Jason Todd.

10. A few weeks ago, I went through my old boxes of comics stored in my grandparent’s  basement. It was like I was going through a time tunnel to late eighties, early nineties. The years when my father and I went to Dragon’s Lair every Wednesday for new comic day. Anytime I revisit these comics, say Superman 75, the death of Superman, (which I don’t do very often because it’s not a very good comic), I’m reminded of the day I stood in the long line at Dragon's Lair in 1992, in the pouring rain with my father to get a polybagged copy. When I reread the double size Uncanny-X-Men 275, I remember sitting in a park on a jungle gym in Albany, New York, near my grandparent’s house, trapped in the Savage Land with Magneto, Rouge, and Kazar.  There’s a purple stain on the front cover. Next to that park is a Little League baseball field.  Did I spill a slurpy or maybe ice cream on the cover?  When I reread Neil Gaiman’s classic Sandman series. I’m reminded of my father’s mature Vertigo comics, which were off-limits to me. I used to sneak into his box and skim issues of Hellblazer or Sandman for the salacious material.

11. Traveling through time, in my grandparent’s basement it occurs to me that I remember more about my life by reading old comics than I do by looking at photo albums. Comics have helped me cope with depression, anxiety, and writer’s block. They’ve been more effective for my anxiety than Lexapro, Xanax or any other serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

12. As I write this essay, surrounded by a library of graphic novels, twenty five years after the death of Jason Todd, DC has just killed Damien Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s ten-year old son, the newest incarnation of Robin. Over the years, I’ve learned that comic characters never stay dead. Whenever a book isn’t selling well the publishers of Marvel and DC kill off a character. I realize DC’s controversial decision in 1988, to have their fans decide the fate of one of their characters was nothing more than a marketing ploy to try to get more kids to read Batman. It’s always a marketing ploy.  On the back cover of the graphic novel addition Dennis O’Neil is quoted as saying, “It would be a really sleazy stunt to bring him back.” By the time DC resurrected Jason Todd in 2005, I was so tired of superheroes dying and being reborn that the six year old in me no longer cared. Here today, gone tomorrow, here the day after.

13. I spent my time mourning in my bedroom, reading past adventures of Jason Todd and reminiscing on his life. I held a funeral in our backyard with super hero action figures and placed my Robin toy in a shoe box which I buried in my mother’s garden. I had never been to a funeral, so I based the service from cartoons or television shows. My Dad helped me write a speech for my Batman figure to give, which he delivered without choking up, because Batman rarely shows emotion.

14. I still have my copy of Batman 428.  It’s yellowed over the years. The book opens right to the splash page, the picture I endlessly stared at as a six-year old. The Caped Crusader is holding the maimed Boy Wonder in a bombed-out city. It looks like an image from the Middle East (which is where the comic takes place), something you’d see in the news, a devastated father holding the remains of his son. In the picture, most of Robin’s flesh is visible. His clothes are tattered. He’s missing a shoe, lost somewhere in the rubble.

15. Comics have taught me a lot over the years, but as a kid I learned about death one page at a time, caught in an ink-stained world, searching with Batman for the charred remains of a boy still in his costume.

 

Matt Allegretti get his comics at Earthworld Comics, in Albany, NY.