In preparation for the Batman vs. Superman (BVS) movie, I read Death in a Family, the Batman story arc that was published in Batman #426 – #429. This story arc is a huge part of Batman history because *spoilers* Jason Todd, the second person to don the Robin costume, dies at the hands of the Joker. As we saw in the BVS trailer, Bruce has a Robin costume (or statue) in the Batcave that was desecrated by the Joker. In the comics, after Jason’s death, Bruce keeps a glass-encased Robin costume hanging in the Batcave as a memorial to Jason’s service.
So it would seem that the movie, in some ways, is paying homage to the Death in the Family story arc. And because I’m a geek, I decided to re-read Death in a Family to see what, if any, other events of the comic may come into play in the movie.
Like I said, Death in the Family is a huge part of Batman history, but also, a huge part of comic book history. Readers were given the opportunity to call a 900 number to vote for or against the death of Jason Todd. Pre-Internet, this was the most influence a fan could have other than writing a letter. Just think, by placing a $0.50 call from your ‘80s styled rotatory telephone you could decide the fate of Robin. Wow, pretty bodacious, right? Of course it was – this is pre-internet trolls people.
Leaving the fate of Robin in the hands of the fans was green lit because, at the time, Jason was not well liked by the fans. You got to hand it to DC here, by giving the readers the choice to let him live or die was fan-favoritism at its best. I may have read somewhere that the decision was regretted because by a small margin of 72 votes, the fans decided to kill off The Boy Wonder.
I have to be honest, although Death in the Family is a historic moment within Batman comics; it’s not one of my favorite Batman stories. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good and deserves to be a part of your Batman comic book collection, but it’s not great like Hush or The Long Halloween.
Writer Jim Starlin was tasked with a heavy (to use an ‘80s term) work assignment – write a story about the death (possibly near-death) of Jason Todd. Of course this type of story lends itself to involve the Joker. However, the way in which the Joker, Batman, and Robin crossed paths “coincidentally” more than once throughout this story arc was, well, a bit much. Let me explain.
While going through a box that belonged to his dead parents, Jason discovers that his biological mother may still be alive. Jason pieces together that three women have the potential to be his biological mother. Using the Bat-Computer (a plot point right out of the Batman ’66 show), Jason is able to locate the whereabouts of the three women.
Unbeknownst to Bruce, Jason leaves for Beirut to track down one of the three women. Meanwhile, Bruce is also headed to Beirut to disrupt Joker’s sale of a missile to a terrorist group. While in Beirut, Bruce and Jason cross paths because the bad guy Bruce is chasing is working with the women Jason thinks could be his biological mother. Bruce and Jason prevent the sale of the missile as Batman and Robin, which results in the Joker going broke. And, not surprisingly, it turns out the women thought to be Jason’s biological mother is not.
Coincidentally, the second women identified as a potential to be Jason’s biological mother is living in Beirut. Batman and Robin chase her down and discover that she is not Jason’s mother, but is involved in training terrorist. Weirdly, Batman let’s her off the hook because, well, I’ll let him explain why.
Um, ok Batman, I guess.
Coincidentally (seeing a pattern here), the Joker ends up tracking down Sheila Haywood, a famine relief worker in Ethiopia who is the third women on Jason’s list. Turns out the Joker and Sheila had a criminal past together and the Joker uses that to his advantage to blackmail her into providing him medical supplies he can sell for profit.
Bruce and Jason end up tracking down Sheila and it’s revealed that she is Jason’s mother. Bruce finds out about Jason’s mother getting blackmailed by the Joker and decides to intervene as the Batman. I guess blackmailing is a crime in Ethiopia.
While Bruce is off being Batman, Jason reveals to his mother that he can help her because he is Robin. Shocked by the news, Sheila leads Jason into a trap sprung by the Joker (a noteworthy twist). Turns out, Sheila was always working for the Joker, but (and make a mental note of this) never revealed to the Joker that Jason is Robin.
In James Bond villain-esque fashion, the Joker turns on Sheila and traps her and Jason in a building set to explode in ten minutes and then leaves. The building explodes and both Sheila and Jason die, but not before Sheila makes amends with Jason.
While trying to track down the whereabouts of the Joker, Batman comes across this message left for him by the Joker. If you noticed, in the BVS trailer, the Joker seems to be egging Bruce on with multiple messages about the death of his parents and Robin. So the movie seems to be following the classic protocol of the Joker.
Batman deduces from the message that the Joker means 42nd and 1st in New York City and travels there to find…Superman waiting for him. Superman is assisting the U.S. government to prevent Batman from causing an international situation. What could possibly cause that, you ask? The Joker becoming a protected diplomatic representative of Iran, what else?
As you’d imagine, Joker tries to use his newly appointed position to kill everyone in the U.N. and Batman and Superman save the day. Of interest is that the night before the Joker makes his move, Batman pays him a visit to confirm that it was the Joker who killed Jason (since Bats wasn’t around when it happened). I found it odd that after Batman determined it was the Joker who killed Jason, Batman actually says the following.
Why Batman didn’t say Robin instead of Jason, I have no idea. From what I gathered, the Joker didn’t know Jason Todd was Robin. There are some hints in this story arc that the Joker might know that Bruce is Batman; however, these hints come after Bruce outs Jason as Robin to the Joker. Maybe Bruce suspected that the Joker recognized Jason because when Bruce finds Jason, Jason’s domino mask is off. Mind you, Bruce didn’t say I know you killed Jason Todd, he just said Jason. Regardless, it’s a muddy plot point that confuses the reader.
Now I know, the artist of the story arc, Jim Aparo, has his fans. But, I just can’t get into his art. That’s just me though.
I totally forgot that Superman was in this arc and for a brief moment he and Bats go at it. We know that in the BVS movie the same is going to happen. The question is why though. Is it because Superman destroyed most of Metropolis while fighting Zod? I think that has something to do with it, but there has to be something more to it than that. In the BVS trailer, we see that Superman has armed military serving alongside him so it would appear that just like in this story arc, Superman is working for the government. Maybe, the military and Superman get compromised by Lex Luthor in some way and Batman tries to straighten it all out which puts Batman and Superman at odds, momentarily. Time will tell.
As for Batman: Death in a Family Consume. Review. Repeat. gives it a rating of 7 out of 10 bloody crowbars.