Celebrating Batman’s 500th appearance, Detective 526 (May 1983) is a forgotten, but worthy, anniversary issue. Crisis on Infinite Earths would remove this story from continuity, and the origin of Jason Todd radically changed, but this work by Gerry Conway, Don Newton and Alfredo Alcala stands on its own merit.
The Joker calls together a mass assembly of Batman’s enemies. Croc is out to kill Batman, but he’s a newbie, and not worthy of the honour, the Joker insists. So he lays out a plan that will give them all chances of killing Batman that night.
The line-up includes the regulars: Penguin, Riddler, Two-Face, and Scarecrow. Cat-Man, Killer Moth, Mr. Freeze, the Mad Hatter, and Matt Hagen as Clayface had all appeared within the last few years. The Cavalier had not been seen since an issue of Batman Family in the late 70s. Tweedledum and Tweedledee had not been seen since the 1940s! Technically, this is the first appearance of the Earth-1 versions of the characters, but with Crisis looming that scarcely matters.
Some of the newer villains are included as well: Black Spider, Captain Stingaree and the Spook. Talia is there, without her father being involved in the story, which is rare.
The Gentleman Ghost is a Hawkman villain, but had fought Batman twice in his own book. This is the only time he appears in a line-up of Batman villains.
Catwoman watches, but takes no part in the meeting. Talia also has no interest in killing Batman, but has to fight her way out.
Both Catwoman and Talia head to the Batcave to warn Batman of the plans against him, but get involved in a cat fight of their own.
Meanwhile, things aren’t going so well for Dick Grayson. His great plan to use the Todds against Croc simply put them into his hands, and he has Jason driven to Wayne Manor to keep him safe.
Barbara accompanies her father as Commissioner Gordon checks out the abandoned theatre where the villains met, and finds evidence pointing to a gathering of their enemies.
Barbara goes to find Dick, and they suit up as Batgirl and Robin and head out to fight the villains, as Batman does the same, with Talia and Catwoman as back-up. No one is at home, so Jason is left to explore Wayne Manor, and guess where he winds up?
The Spook manages to get the drop on Talia, if only for a moment. But with so many fighting against them, the two women and Batman get taken.
Robin is the one to find the remains of the Todds, fed to his namesakes by Croc.
Jason, unawares, has found an alternate Robin costume in the cave, and suited up. He heads out to join the rest of the heroes.
Batgirl and Robin fight well together. There is no hint of romance, as there had been in their Batman Family team-ups. Robin is in a budding romance with Starfire in the pages of New Teen Titans, but their ease with each other reminds one of the bond between them, the best duo of Batman’s supporting cast.
Jason happens upon a group of the villains, which gives him the information he needs to find out where everyone else is.
Finally the big climax, as the Joker gloats over his captured foes.
Croc had been working behind the scenes with the Joker, using all the other villains to wear Batman down. He makes his move, but Batman manages to duck at the right time, and Croc takes down the Joker.
Jason Todd arrives just as Batman has beaten Croc into submission, and delivers the final blow. Only afterwards does he discover his parents bodies.
The epilogue sees Bruce sending Catwoman and Talia off together in a car. Where is he sending them? Why did he stick these two women in the same car together? How far did they get before their fight forced the car off the road and into a ditch?
The issue ends with Bruce and Jason Todd, who is looking relatively ok for a boy whose parents were horribly murdered the night before. But he is to be the new Robin, and there is a sense of hope.
Which is all kind of weird now, because Jason Todd was given such a different origin, and made such a different character, in the post-Crisis reality.
But for a couple of years, this was the origin of Jason Todd, Robin.