Batman: A Death in the Family

At this point I don’t think it’s any real spoiler to talk about what happens in this comic.  Even before I had ever read a single comic book, I knew about this event.  Even if I hadn’t, the cover picture and back cover summary sum it up pretty clearly:

Jason Todd, alias Robin, dies.

What’s more, he dies at the hands of the Joker, because what other villain is formidable enough to be responsible for the death of such a main character?

The story arc collected in this trade centers around Jason’s increasing anger and violence while fighting crime as Robin, events troubling enough that Batman effectively benches him for the time being.

At the same time, Jason learns that the mother he knew was not his real mother, and he goes off on a worldwide search to find the woman who birthed him.  While all of this is happening, Batman is hunting down Joker who’s escaped Arkham for the zillionth time.

Yeah, there’s a lot going on in these pages.

Slightly unrelated to the main storyline, I was surprised as well to see how quickly Barbara’s paralysis was effectively accepted as canon, as it’s referenced in the panel below:

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I didn’t expect The Killing Joke‘s events to be so readily merged with the overall Batman continuity. Also, does Gordon know that Barbara is Batgirl?  How else could the above conversation have taken place, if Gordon didn’t know?  Perhaps I’m misreading, but it seemed like Gordon was acknowledging the fact that numerous groups would want to help capture a villain who paralyzed a fellow hero.  It’s amazing how many of these little details can slip through the cracks when you don’t read every single published issue.

The story setup results in a veritable goose chase, with Batman and Robin searching for Robin’s mother while simultaneously tracking the Joker, who just so happens to show up in the exact same cities and countries in which Batman and Robin are located.

The entire plot of this story is based on an insane series of coincidences, but I’m choosing to overlook that.

The story is interesting enough, although I admit to feeling a bit antsy while reading.  I knew where this all was going; I just wanted the story to get there already.

Eventually we get to the climactic scene, in which Robin, in a heroic move to try to save his birth mother (a ne’er-do-well who’s ultimately responsible for Jason’s death) takes the full brunt of a bomb blast that levels a warehouse.

By the time Bruce gets to them, it’s already too late:

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I admit to being surprised that there wasn’t a “tearful confession” scene, with Jason and Bruce having a few final words before Jason dies in his arms.

Although that’s what I expected, this method is far more moving.  Bruce doesn’t get the closure of getting to say goodbye, or saying he’s sorry.  He’s met with the unexpected cold touch of death.  This undoubtedly has a harsher impact on his psyche than had he been given the chance to have one final goodbye.

The story doesn’t end with Robin’s death.  Instead, the absurdity continues as Joker is somehow named the new Iranian U.N. Ambassador:

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Not only is he an ambassador, but he gets an unheard-of level of diplomatic immunity, essentially being given a free pass for any crimes committed in the past or present.

Look, I get it.  The whole point is that Batman wants nothing more than to beat Joker to a pulp and throw him in prison, but now he can’t.  He’s even got Superman protecting Joker, claiming an attack would “incite an international incident”.

Of course, being Joker, there’s always a plan in the works.  This time, he plans to kill the entire U.N. general assembly with his trademark laughing gas.  Finally showing his hand, Batman can swoop in and engage him in a vengeful battle.  As Joker’s escape chopper explodes, Batman urges Superman to locate his body, all the while knowing it won’t be found.

This latter portion of the story felt a bit rushed and more than a little far-fetched.  It’s clear what the writers were trying to do here, making Batman feel isolated, alone, and absolutely helpless.  The method with which they try to do this though just felt too forced to be believable.  It actually ended up taking away from the overall effect of Robin’s death.

I admit this comic had less of an impact on me than it probably did on contemporary readers, seeing as how I already knew the outcome going in. I get that it’s surprising that Robin was killed, but is it really all that shocking?  It’s not the first time a character has been killed, and let’s be honest, it’s not as though it was Dick Grayson’s Robin was died.  Although I don’t want to belittle the character’s death, I don’t think Jason Todd’s demise is the biggest deal in comic history.  I do think that, coupled with Batgirl’s recent paralysis, there will be a major shift in Batman’s persona, namely how he views sidekicks and anyone offering him a hand.  I have a strong feeling these events will lead to Batman becoming more of a loner, relying solely on himself as he tries to deal with all of these life-shattering events.

Robin’s death is over and done, but Batman’s journey through his grief has just begun.

-Jess

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3 thoughts on “Batman: A Death in the Family

  1. True this story has lost some of it’s impact over the years but it’s still great to read in context, after all the death of Jason Todd gave Frank Miller the jumping off point for the Dark Knight Returns.

    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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