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Title: A Death in the Family
Series: Batman/Robin #1
Author: Jim Starlin
Artist: Jim Aparo & Mike Decarlo
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Format: Digital Scan
Batman has taken Jason Todd under his wing and trained him as his new Robin. Unfortunately, Jason lost his mother to illness and his father to crime and so he’s got a lot of anger and he lets it out while on the job.
Going through some papers of his parents one day he comes across his birth certificate where he finds out that his “mother” was actually only his step-mother and his birth mother is still alive and either in the Middle East or Africa. After “quitting”, in a note no less, Todd runs off to Israel to check on the first of three possible “Mom” candidates and then ends up in Lebanon.
At the same time the Joker has broken out of Arkham Asylum, again and with most of his secret funds being not so secret and impounded by the US Government, heads to Lebanon to sell off a nuclear cruise missile. Batman is tracking him down and runs into Todd. It turns out the people they each are looking for are connected. So they team up, foil a bunch of arab terrorists who want to launch a nuke into Tel Aviv and find out that the Israeli Secret Agent isn’t Jason Todd’s birth mother. The Joker is out a million dollars with no more missiles to sell and a large grudge.
While Batman and Robin go after Candidate Number 2, the Joker makes a run for Ethiopia and blackmails Candidate Number 3, who is in charge of large amounts of medical supplies from the UN. The Joker doesn’t know she’s Candidate Number 3 of course. Candidate Number 2 turns out to be Lady Shiva and she wants nothing more than an all out, one on one fight with Batman. After defeating her and doping her up with sodium pentathol, it is revealed that she too is not Todd’s mother.
The Joker not only blackmails Candidate Number 3 but drops off a load of his lethal laughing gas in the place of the supplies he takes. This will kill off whole camps of refugees. Bruce and Jason discover that CN3 IS Jason’s mother and there is a tearful reunion. At least until Jason discovers what the Joker is doing and informs Batman. Batman chases down the tainted supplies and Robin goes in to rescue his mom, against Batman’s express orders, only to discover that she’s been dipping into the medical funds and is as dirty as a sewer herself. She delivers him over to the Joker who beats him bloody with a crowbar and leaves him and his mother to die in a bomb blast.
Batman is devastated and returns home, vowing to never take on another apprentice. The Joker is caught by the Iranian Secret Police and given the job of UN Ambassador for Iran by the Ayatollah. As such he has immunity for all past crimes and Batman can’t touch him without setting off WWIII. Superman delivers the bad news to Batman and keeps him from going thermonuclear. The Joker has his time at the UN Assemblage, sets off a gas bomb and when that is foiled by Superman, a regular bomb. Batman chases him down and it ends in a fight in a helicopter, which crashes. Batman escapes but the Joker’s body is not recovered.
My first thought on starting this was “What a jerk Jason Todd is”. While he’s angry about his parents being dead, how does that excuse his going against Batman’s direct orders to wait on the police to break up a criminal ring? And then his actions in going after his birth mother? Leaving Gotham, stealing credit cards, breaking into secret bases, compromising secret agent identities? And then again ignoring Batman’s direct order to stay away from the Joker because he’s too dangerous? You would have thought that being taken out so easily by Lady Shiva would have shown him some of his limits, but no, Jason Todd was a selfish, arrogant jackass who brought his death upon himself. I have NO sympathy for him and was rather glad he died. He’s the kind of person that leads into the Watchman universe and the fear of Superheroes/Vigilantes. Jason Todd is a Taliban Fighter to Superman’s United States Marine.
My second real issue is the handling of the Joker as the Ambassador for Iran. I’m sorry but that is NOT how Ambassadorship works. It would be like saying that Osama Bin Laden could have become Afghanistan’s Representative and gotten off scot free. We still would have put a bullet in that bastard’s head. I realize this is a comic book and played up for drama, but come on!? My real issue is that I can see the kind of attitude that allowed this to happen in the comic book happening in real life. It makes me sick because it could happen for real.
Now I’ll talk about why I still liked this story and gave it 4 Stars.
Batman. With the recent movies, Batman has become just another vigilante. Willing to kill if it’s convenient. In this book Batman is back at his “I won’t use a gun and I won’t kill people” attitude. When he goes after someone, he drugs them, cuffs them and then lets the Authorities dole out the justice. That ethos is sorely tested here and I found that inner battle quite well displayed. It was fascinating to watch Batman realize that Law does not equal Justice and how that tore him apart. Batman is a Hero with strong internal ethics and not just doing whatever he wants because he can.
Superman. He played a very small part but it was interesting to see how he was portrayed in the late 80’s. I didn’t really get into Superman until the mid-90’s and by then some things had changed. Here he’s portrayed as acting upon the orders of the United States Government. Not quite what I’d call a government Stooge, but only one decision away from that status. His decision to side with the “Law is the Law and so it is Right” way of thinking was a bit disturbing. Yet at the same time how many people in the nation thought that way? Today, with the scads of laws promoting perversions, that are knee jerk reactions to special interest groups, that are passed with no intention of ever being enforced, I find myself being cynical. It simply wasn’t quite that way 30 years ago. It was eye opening to be reminded of how much of a sea change in attitude has gone on in our nation and in the whole world.
Lady Shiva. I simply liked seeing her because I recognized her from the Knight Fall/Quest/End storyline from later in time. Just one of those interesting tidbits.
Finally, I like the cover a lot. At a time when Superheroes did not die, but simply stopped having their stories told, seeing a Robin undeniably dead is shocking. It shows Batman being vulnerable, it shows just how murderous the Joker truly is and it gets at the pathos of the human factor in a Superhero story. Much like the iconic cover for the Death of Superman years later, this cover will always mean more to me than just the story.
On a side note, I read the original 1988 edition that JUST had the 4part “A Death in the Family” storyline. Later editions of A Death in the Family do include a A Lonely Place of Dying. I’ll be reading and reviewing that next.