My first-ever Batman comics were Batman #439 and Detective Comics #604. While looking back I can remember how little “sense” Detective 604 made to me at the time, #606 (my second issue of the series, having missed #605) left QUITE a mark on me, as well as really informing my sense of the then-current Batman. The real sense of true time having passed somewhere between comics my Grandpa’d shared with me and these brand-new ones I was reading.
For one thing…Batman at a grave marked R.I.P. ROBIN…with a GHOST of Robin? Ok, from Grandpa’s comics, Robin was Batman’s buddy, his partner, whatever. He was like Batman, he was one of the main characters…but apparently between those comics and this, he’d DIED???
WAS only a kid.
Time had definitely passed. Stuff had HAPPENED. Whoever this Clayface Four was, she could only mimic Robin…who Batman obviously has regretful memories of. And the shadows to the imagery…that was truly effective!
Yeah…apparently Batman had been defeated, at least in The Joker having stabbed Robin to death.
As the issue progresses, a glimpse into the past…an event tragic, traumatic, hurtful, impactful, in Batman’s past…
More hurt, more violence that he couldn’t stop…
Obviously not the brighter, more “fun” Batman I’d seen in Grandpa’s comics. And sure enough…Robin–dead. Though at the time I had no clue who Barbara Gordon was, or that that was her, or The Killing Joke, etc.
Obviously…a number of villains in Batman’s life. Crazy, colorful madmen, all of whom wouldn’t mind hurting him, killing him, that he’d not permanently stopped. I sure did not know Killer Cros until years later, and probably was only vaguely familiar with Riddler and Penguin.
…and QUITE a cliffhanger. I had no idea who this woman was–Looker–but this image, of a mad/insane Batman, driven there by the sheer horror of everything he’s faced, of the violence and failures (and no references to Zur En Arr)…obviously I knew he “got better,” but it would be several years before I’d acquire the “missing” 2nd and 4th/concluding chapters of this story. Meanwhile, the main Batman title moved on to A Lonely Place of Dying, a new Robin, I let comics go for a short time, and then returned the summer before the Death of Superman stuff.
I was too young at the time to fully grasp deeper “meta” elements in comics…particularly ongoing, continuous stories with characters such as Batman, that will never–TRULY–be allowed to permanently change, die, etc. But at the time, this was a grave image, and I remember truly considering the danger Batman was in, and that there wouldn’t be a guarantee of his victory (particularly after seeing all his failures!). I also know at the time I had no sense of who this was, that this was a key, crucial character in the Batman story, as opposed to just some officer.
Over the years, I gradually filled in the gaps. I learned OF stuff, gathered more detail and confirmation of the Joker having KILLED Robin…and then got to read the story itself in a book from a nearby library.
It wasn’t until over a decade after this issue that I got to read A Killing Joke first-hand. Outside a backing-board “trading card” from a 3-pack of comics (ubiquitous-ish in the early 1990s at department stores like Hills), I didn’t even know of the Outsiders until a group the Eradicator was part of in a new title in the mid-’90s.
And the issue had an ad that also stuck with me through the years, showing that time had passed, and giving the far-younger me something else to chew on: more than one Robin? This one hadn’t died? That meant that the dead Robin was at least a 2nd one!
I would love to have a poster of this image. Along with The Mud Pack and A Death in the Family, the story this ad is for–A Lonely Place of Dying–is one of “the” Batman stories of my youth, in my introduction to comics, prior to Knightfall. I imagine I’ll cover A Lonely Place of Dying in the near future.