Batman A Death In The Family
Batman A Death In The Family is a monumental moment in both Batman lore and Comic Book history. This chapter in the dark knight’s life is a hugely controversial moment that marks the death of Jason Todd, the second, highly unpopular, Robin.
The decision was decided by a public vote. Enthusiastic readers could ring two 900 numbers, one which would allow him to live and the other which would force him to die.
I’m sure you know that lead to the sidekick’s untimely death. For God’s sake he was only a lad! You people make me sick!
If you’ve read my review of Batman Second Chances and Batman The Cult then you’ll know I am extremely mixed on the character. Second Chances has received my lowest score whilst The Cult gained my highest so I am interested to see how these issues decide the character in my own mind. I have of course read this book several times and know of it’s standing within many top 10s but still…I’m being analytical now. So! Let’s dive right in and see how Batman A Death In The Family ranks!
Dark From The Start
The book opens with Batman and Robin taking down a child pornography ring (it’s dark from the start). Jason is brash and rushes ahead, disobeying the caped crusader (that’ll get you killed by the fanboys Robin). From here on out it’s clear that a wedge is developing between the two teammates, Jason longs to discover the identity of his true mother and Batman, going through losing his, does his best to aide the boy even if he wishes to find her his own way.
Their relationship is similar to Anakin and Obi Wan in Attack Of The Clones…but not as poorly written. Jason can’t see that his acts of rebellion are pointless and woeful and his snappy remarks are only showing his immaturity instead of independence. It’s a fascinating look at teenage anxiety that subtly comments on how a parent only wants what is best for their child, even if they go about it in a strict and perhaps oppressive way.
The book really picks up when The Joker escapes from Arkham, they need to stop operating that revolving door policy! The police, still angry at his crippling of Barbara Gordon, are in hot pursuit and because of this the Clown Prince Of Crime flees to Lebanon.
The mission of finding Jason’s mother and stopping the joker intertwine quite naturally throughout the book with a process of elimination on the mother end padding out the issues. There are three that Jason suspect and obviously, it is the last one. Whilst this sometimes feel like filler the fact that it supports the Joker story as it goes a long means that it doesn’t drag the book down too much. Instead adding a certain weight to the story.
Batman Beat Down
I love the way that Batman describes how careless criminals with a gun are. He states that they are overconfident and therefore don’t rely on their wits. It’s a brilliant way of presenting to an audience something that is often wondered about the character. How is he able to fight armed men? Because of how much of a psychological tactician that he is.
One of the most thrilling moments mid-book is the face down between Batman and Lady Shiva. She is suspected to be Jason’s mother and when confronted in her training camp she and Batman engage in combat. Batman bests her with help from Jason and drugs her to find out the truth. It’s interesting that in order to be the hero Batman knows that he cannot always be one. This juxtaposition adds to the darkness in Batman and is potentially the reason why Bruce never joined the Police. He is a rule breaker that wants to work within the law but knows that the system is broken.
Jason Todd’s Mother
When Jason meets his mother it is a touching moment. However, we already know that she is in cahoots with The Joker and it’s a bittersweet because of this. Shiela (Jason’s sole surviving parent) is a complex character, she is not a Disney princess, she fled to Ethiopia after botching a surgery on a teenage girl and is still wanted by American authorities.
She, of course, doesn’t tell Jason this because at heart she is a selfish person, who will do anything to save her own skin. In the end, it is her who sacrifices Jason in order to try and save herself, which is as futile as any alliance with The Joker.
It’s hard not to feel for the boy and I’m sure that readers have either seen something similar in their own life or a friend’s where their parent shows nothing but self-interest. It’s a subtle note on parenthood that due to the fact it is in a comic book is slightly more bombastic. Her ultimate betrayal is a huge turn in the book that really grounds the piece in tragedy. Upon revealing himself as Robin, Sheila immediately hands him over to The Joker as a bargaining chip. Announcing that she has been embezzling money and that this could be uncovered could he dig deeper.
The beating that follows is one of the darkest moments in comic book history.
The Death Of Jason Todd
The Joker, of course, betrays Sheila and upon the realisation that Batman will be angry at the discovery of Jason decides to destroy all evidence. He ties Sheila up, arms a bomb and leaves her to suffer a terrible fate.
Jason awakens, decides to try and help his mother escape, even after the betrayal, and the two die together in the warehouse. It really is a gut punch to the reader and clearly one of the standout, darkest moments in the Dark Knight’s rich history of despair. Sheila is offered some redemption at least when she tries to help Robin up but it is short lived. Jason dies in an aura of betrayal and disappointment.
There is no deus ex machina, no last second save from Batman. Just death. It’s heartbreaking and shows that the creators really were taking an adult look at Batman’s carelessness and perhaps naievity of bringing children into his war on crime. This section of the book will truly shake you to your core, if not for the death of the world’s most famous sidekick then for the fact that Jason was still willing to help his mother even after displaying her selfish nature.
It’s difficult to imagine how comics would have gone had the public vote concluded in Jason’s favour. I imagine that overall they would not have gained the popularity amongst mature audiences had this been the case so the book leaves me with a bittersweet taste.
Of course we know that Todd comes back so this moment is slightly lessened, I wish he hadn’t though. This is the first time that Batman is truly, truly accountable for his actions and potentially his biggest failure. The Dark Knight is shrouded in tragedy and unfortunately, needs this so that he will continue on his path to end crime. It truly is the moment that Batman had to grow up and accept responsibilities for his actions.
One of my favourite moments in The Dark Knight Returns is when Batman stares at the memorial for Robin in the cave. Promising to never go back to a life of crime fighting. Moments like this are now gone, but I will save my full thoughts for my Under The Red Hood Review.
Whilst all of this weight negatively on my soul, the panel in which Batman discovers Jason’s body is amazing and will be burned into the back of your mind every time you mention his death. It truly is an iconic moment signalling of the change in comic books and The Dark Knight himself.
Unfortunately, after this moment the book sort of diverts from it’s serious tone into a hamstring political plot that involves The Joker getting appointed as an ambassador for Iran and therefore receiving diplomatic immunity
YES DIPLOMATIC IMMMMUNITY
I hope you’re old enough to get that reference.
If you don’t it means that even though Batman is a ‘lethal weapon’ he can’t touch The Joker without inciting a political war. Puns galore.
It’s a bit ridiculous and I don’t think that Batman would really abide by this, especially since he has once again accepted that this cross is now his alone to bear. It devolves into Joker trying to blow up the UN, Superman gets involved and Batman STILL doesn’t lose control and kill The Joker.
The book ends with a helicopter crash and obviously, no one finds The Joker’s body. It’s all a bit anticlimactic and overall feels like it lacks the impact that was in the earlier chapters. I really wish that Batman had’ve struggled with whether to kill The Joker in those last moments but unfortunately, there is no real inner turmoil.
One thing I don’t understand is how Superman is able to inhale all of the Joker gas in a room but not the oxyge…what do you mean it’s only a comic book?
Batman A Death In The Family is overall a triumphant end to the second Robin’s life. It has a few negatives due to pacing and filler that could have been cut in order create a punchy ultimate appearance, however, it’s not too bad. The book is still a great send off for comic book historians and first-time readers alike. I recommend picking this up if you want a classic tale that shows the first time that the Dark Knight truly failed a friend.
Leave a comment whether you agree with my ranking or not.