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.