A Death in the Family

As a huge Bat-fan, I have a confession. Until this past weekend, I had never read A Death in the Family, the storyline that sees the death of Jason Todd/Robin.

I started reading Batman comics religiously shortly after this story appeared in Batman issues 426 through 429 and shortly before Tim Drake came in as the new Robin.

When I found a collected edition at the flea market for $3 I figured 'what the heck' and 'why have I not read this yet?'

Upon reading it, I remembered why I hadn't. I never wanted to in the first place.

You see, I'm one of the people who believes superheroes shouldn't die. Especially the non-super powered ones. Because they're human, and death is serious business with them. And although I love a good Batman solo story as much as anyone, I have always liked Robin.

I have always seen Robin as Batman's son. Sure one of them may be more of an asshole than another but that doesn't stop them from being important to Batman. Which should make them important to the reader. That doesn't mean you have to love every Batman/Robin team-up, or that they have to do everything together always. But that also doens't mean you gotta kill the poor S.O.B. and force Batman to carry out his lifeless body!

And besides, Batman is supposed to be one step ahead of his villains - always - at least when it comes to protecting others. Protecting children.

So to kill a Robin, even if it's Jason Todd, is low.

I always felt that way, and so I pretty much just didn't care to track the story down. Knowing it had happened was enough.

But I finally decided to read it, if nothing but to say that I have done so.

Then I read how they killed Robin, and it's actually pretty sad.

You have to get past the oddness and political datedness of the story that finally sees Joker become ambassador for Iran's Ayatollah, but once you do you find a story of a boy who lost his parents, only to discover his real birth mother is still alive, only to discover she'd just as soon sell him out to the Joker. Which leads to a savage beating that is actually quite out of character even for the madman Joker. I mean, the Killing Joke is hard to read, and Joker brutalizes Barbara badly, but he does so with a flair that only the Joker would. And he doesn't kill her, because he understands that letting everyone who loves her and herself live with what was done to her is worse than killing her. But with Jason Todd he just beats him to near-death with a crowbar and sets a bomb. Where's the panache at least?!?!

The whole story reads like it straddles the line between what comics were in the seventies and what they became towards the nineties. And it straddles it without the grace of the leaders in the field at the time; without the flair of a Miller or Moore to guide it along. It feels forced and graphic for graphic's sake.

It was a stunt, for sure. Not a well realized stunt, and the harbinger of many stunt storylines to come and many still running today.

Did the death of Jason Todd add pathos to Batman for years to come? Yes, and one may argue this alone made his death a valuable story. Did it prove that Batman didn't need a Robin? No, if anything it proved the opposite, since he wasn't without a Robin for more than a couple years before Tim Drake, a hugely successful and popular Robin, hit the scene. Now Batman even has his own biological son cavorting around rooftops as Robin!

Did it prove a grouchy insolent Robin was a bad character to have at Batman's side? Well, with Damian Wayne running around, Jason Todd's brashness, impulsiveness and intensity seem almost quaint today.

So what did it prove? If you ask me, it proved that there were trolls before the internet and that they were willing to call a 1-900 number and spend fifty cents just to be assholes.

But that's my opinion.

Of course as with all things comic-book, Jason Todd is alive and well again nowadays in some form or another; depending on if your Bat-universe looks like the one Grant Morrison is painting or the one the DCnU has created for the masses. Honestly, I'm not sure what his storyline even is now, with so many re-boots and re-tellings. Was he re-born of the Lazarus pit, or of Superboy's cosmic fit? Is he Red Hood? Wingman? Skippy the Wonder Sidekick?

Who cares - he should never have been killed in the first place.

At least he died a hero.


  1. I myself a Bat freak have never read this or any other Bat book. With a few exceptions, mainly Kightfall and Prodical Son. I am leaning more towards getting into Long Halloween or Hush. Not sure.

    1. I recommend 'Long Halloween' first. HUSH was pretty cool too but not in my top ten.

  2. I loved it as a kid. Thought it was bold etc. But I DO see your point...Kinda boring death scene. Not worthy of the Joker.

  3. Well the Joker seemed to enjoy it...

  4. I remember reading it a looong time ago and I remember liking the fact that it was an edgy storyline for the time. There may be some holes but for a kid, it was different.

  5. I get it. Reading it as a teen, I realized the weight of the event, and though it was sick thing to vote the kid dead, I thought it was well written. Still do. Don't get me wrong- it was brutal and morally ambiguous, and editor Denny O'Neill probably regretted it immediately. I read Miller's Dark Knight Returns around the same time, which eerily foretold Jason's death 2 years prior- Batman got really dark in the eighties. Writer Starlin killed off Capt. Marvel as well, so he probably didn't care. Aparo's art has a nice fluidity to the figure work- he was slick.

  6. I know the store but never read it and I agree it was a important thing and laid the groundwork for many things to come. Your like me Eric in the fact you have a "old school" sensibility about your comic book characters with the heroes all ways win at the last minute and no one dies at the end. I think killing off major characters is just a cheap way to boost sales or draw attention and it does work from this comic even to todays Spider-Man but isn't it funny that most of our favorite heroes(or villains)find there way back to the land of the living? Makes me wonder why even kill off a Johnny Storm or other one for them to come back if we are going to miss them so much.

  7. As for the Joker's Motives (i.e.,... Where is the "punch line"... ??)
    the tainted medication that he sent in place of that which he was stealing to sell on the black market... That was the "joke"... always leave them "smiling"...