Batman: A Death in the Family
Collects: Batman #426-429
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artists: Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo
By Doran Murphy
A Death in the Family was a first for comic books. Long before it hit newsstands readers of the Batman series were asked to call in and decide Robin's fate. Each call cost $0.50, which was slightly less than the $0.75 cover price of comic books back then. DC received 10,614 calls: 5271 were for "Robin lives", and 5343 wanted Jason Todd (the current Robin) dead. For those of you not mathematically gifted, that was the death knell for Robin.
So, writer Jim Starlin had to go about killing Robin. A Death in the Family is the product of that labor. The tale starts off with the impetuous young Jason Todd not following proper procedure when going about busting up a kiddy porn ring. He's grown short tempered and often flies off the handle. The loss of his parents caused him a lot of grief, and he seems to be taking it out on criminals. At the same time, he finds out that his mother is not who he thought she was — which means she may still be alive. Todd, like usual, jumps the gun and heads across the globe with a short list of names — women who could be his mother. One is an Israeli spy, one is the deadly assassin Lady Shiva, and one is a woman giving food to the underprivileged in Ethiopia.
Eventually (as soon as he finds out) Bruce Wayne heads after Jason, his ward. Once he discovers why Jason is in some godforsaken part of the world, Bruce agrees to help him track down his real mother — sometimes having to use their alter egos as Batman and Robin to get the job done. Along the way, they take out terrorist camps, break up deals for nuclear weapons, and run into the Joker — who manages to separate The Dynamic Duo. Shortly after meeting his mother, Robin is captured by the Joker and viciously beaten within an inch of his life. Concerned about the vengeance Batman will rain down upon his head, the Joker decides to destroy the evidence — with a bomb.
The loss of Robin drives Batman to the breaking point. He resolves to do what he has been putting off for years — kill the Joker. This leads him through a path to New York — the UN building in particular. Batman's exploits put him at odds with the state department, and eventually Superman. (But I'm going to make you read it to find out why.)
This is the book that got me hooked on Batman. It hits on so many emotions, yet it still shows Batman as so extremely calculating. He had to be 100% sure that Joker was behind Robin's murder before he goes nova on him. He actually has to hear the words from his mouth before he goes crazy.
The artwork here is above the standard of the time (1988) and a precursor to the art we see today. The scale of the book means that there has to be some immensely dramatic scenes, and the team of Jim Aparo, Mike DeCarlo, and Adrienne Roy rose to the occasion. The scenes where Batman finds Jason Todd dead, and some following his death will remain imbedded in my mind.
Overall, I'd recommend this book to all Batman fans. Yeah, at this point, it's really, really old, but it still shows a side of Batman that most of us have rarely, if ever seen. Batman is always calculating, almost cold and dispassionate and very rarely is he as emotional as he is here. When he dons the cape and cowl, he's almost robotic and mechanical. Nowhere else in Batman comics — with the possible exception of when Bane snapped his back — have I ever seen Batman so decidedly human.