In 1988, DC Comics made the controversial decision to kill off Batman's second Robin, Jason Todd, a character disliked by some fans as well as members of DC's creative staff. To generate publicity and gauge fan sentiment, a 1-800 call-in line was established (at a small fee for customers) to decide Robin's fate. At the end of one of the issues, called 'A Death In The Family', callers were to decide up or down on whether or not the Joker managed to kill Jason Todd after a cliffhanger beating followed by explosion. The decision went against this Robin, but ever since, the legitimacy of the vote's integrity and indeed the existence of the alternate outcome comic have fallen into question.
In 1983, DC decided that the Dick Grayson Robin, Batman's perennial sidekick for over four decades, should become his own man. In a series of stories in The New Teen Titans, Dick set aside being Robin to become Nightwing. This left Batman without a Robin, so it was decided that Jason Todd, an orphan with an origin very similar to Dick Grayson's, should take on the role as he aided Batman in bringing in Killer Croc (then a deformed mobster rather than the monster-man he would become), his parents' murderer. Dick wholeheartedly approved, and for a time, Jason was a breath of fresh air in the comics, bringing back the youthful enthusiasm of a bygone era. He even joined his 'older brother' as a member of the Titans. After the Crisis On Infinite Earths, the history alterations of that event were used to craft Jason a new origin separate from the similarities to Dick Grayson. Now, he was a street kid living on his own since the death of his mother and the loss of his father to his psychotic employer, Two-Face. Batman took him in, and trained him to be the new Robin. But from the start, this Jason was wilder, more rebellious, and at times directed by anger, as when he likely caused the death of a man escaping his crimes through diplomatic immunity. The fans and the staff began to dislike him as a whiny poor replacement for the iconic Dick Grayson. In the 'A Death In The Family' storyline, Jason learned the woman he believed to be his mother had been his stepmother, and sought out his birth mother working at an aid station in Africa. Sadly, she turned out to be in the thrall of the Joker, and betrayed him, naturally also being betrayed and killed herself. In an infamous sequence, the Joker beat Jason near to death with a crowbar, then blew up the room he and his mother were in. Batman arrived in time to see the explosion. The vote followed, and in the next issue, Batman found the mother before she expired, regretting her actions, but Jason was already dead. For a time, this left Batman both grieving and without a counter to his darkness, till a boy named Tim Drake, who had learned the ID's of the former Dynamic Duo, stepped up to become the third Robin. Jason's death was later retconned (in an event controversial all by itself) but the event that decided his death remains well-known in DC's history 25 years later.
The Vote called into question
It has been claimed (and denied by DC from the start) that the vote was pure theater, and that Jason Todd was to die no matter what. While the vote's outcome was close (no outside vetting has been done, and now seems unlikely), Batman veteran writer Denny O'Neil has posited that this was due to some readers thinking they were voting on the fate of Dick Grayson, and that the vote absent this would have been heavily in favor of killing off Jason Todd. Others say that, wishing to nudge the outcome their way, DC staffers flooded the phone banks in favor of Jason's death. Whatever the truth of these rumors and speculation, DC may have ended up feeding this frenzy by how it has handled things since then.
The Alternate Ending?
In more than one comics' event, when the outcome seemed uncertain, pages of the outcome that wasn't chosen later become available for intrigued fans to see. Unused artwork is a perennial of trade paperbacks, and sometimes, even the entire alternate issue is published for separate purchase, as in the case of X-Men's The Dark Phoenix Saga and others.
No such issue or artwork has ever emerged in the case of 'A Death In The Family', from the first trade paperback to today, with one arguable exception. Comic book publication deadlines are tight, particularly during an event such as this one, and the lack of even a glimpse of the other outcome is odd. In short, simply to be ready for the vote's outcome either way, some pages of both versions would have to be made well in advance to meet press times. Some DC sources have said that they were so confident of the outcome as it happened, no effort was put out to make the alternate one, while the vote being rigged is also mentioned, both of which DC continues to firmly deny, insisting that the alternate issue was made but never used (Dennis O'Neal said in the post-script to the story's first trade paperback I had two versions of Batman 428 in the drawer, awaiting the verdict), and now, after countless continuity shifts, would simply confuse newer readers.
In an annual comic tied to Jason's 2000s return and a later coffee-table hardcover edition, one page has been shown with Batman exulting over Jason being alive. Some cynics have further alleged that this scene was crafted well after the fact to kill the endless rumors. In any event, neither the initial existence, the intent to make it exist, or the continued existence of a full issue or at least some significant amount of pages of artwork confirming the alternate outcome can be confirmed. While the outcome, bringing in the popular Tim Drake, has been well-recieved, mistakes or worse in the process of how this transition was handled seems to have been one of several events to deepen fan cynicism about their story and character desires meaning anything.