Batman: A Death in the Family (Starlin, Aparo, 1988-89)

I think A Death in the Family was my first "serious" Batman comic.  Sure, I had read some of the murkier stories that had been made in the 1980's before it, but A Death in the Family was the first for me that brought in really dark tones, at least for me. Now, that I read it again, I couldn't help but feel that it's also a story that is trying too hard. And I didn't think it's actually even very well written. Sure, it still is a dark story, but in a bit like a blunt instrument pretending to be a scalpel kind of a fashion.

From the get-go, Starlin is hammering down, that this is an edgy Batman story: Batman and Robin are just about to bust a child porn operation. Not any two-bit thugs, but one of the most despised crimes someone can do in western society, so you know this is edgy.  Not that any bigger reflection is given to the heinous nature of the crime operated, as the whole thing is just a quick mention before it turns into a scene of Batman and Robin beating up a gang of generic thugs.

Bats is worried about Robin, Jason Todd, who's been rash and stubborn lately, not a sport like Dick Grayson always was. He's so worried about Jason's behaviour, that he ends up grounding him from being Robin for a while. Good for Bruce becoming a sound minded guardian for a moment, as it probably wasn't a smart move in the first place to get a kid beating up criminals in the first place.

What's eating up Jason is, obviously, dead parents. He ends up wandering the streets to his old neighbourhood, whereby a strike of luck, he gets his hand on old papers belonging to his parents. From them he realizes that his mother might actually be alive, as the name on the birth certificate begins with a wrong letter, so off to search he goes.

At the same time, Joker has escaped from Arkham again. This time he has the edgiest crime in mind: selling a nuclear warhead to some Arab terrorists. As luck has it both Bruce and Jason end up in Beirut, where Jason has followed mom candidate #1 and Bruce Joker, so together they manage to stop the maniac despite he does manage to escape and the candidate #1 isn't the mom at all, so bummer that.

Mom #2 is secretly training terrorists, so it was all good fortune, that she wasn't mom dearest, as that would have sucked balls, so after the 3rd and last candidate to Africa, where she works as a relief program,

Mom #3 is the ticket, but oh noes, Joker is there, blackmailing drugs from her, as she also has a secret past, that could end up costing her job, so succumbs to Joker's plans. Shit hits the fan when Batman hurries to save lives of hundreds of people before they're subjected to uncle Joker's laughing gas. Robin, on the other hand, tries to get her mother out of Joker's clutches only to end up betrayed by her when she leads him to Joker, who beats him up with a crowbar. And now we get to the point from where A Death in the Family has gained its reputation; Robin dies. Sorry for the spoilers, but this is the story, where the readers had a vote and they voted that the snivelling brat that was Jason Todd should be offed.

The finale of the story gets just plain silly in its attempt to up the ante. Joker is hired by Ayatollah Khomeini himself to be Iran's UN ambassador, thus granting him diplomatic immunity, which doesn't sit well with old Bat's, who's half-assedly looking for a revenge. In the end Joker, obviously, tries to kill everyone in the UN, but Superman inhales all the toxic gasses, while Batman goes after the Joker, as his diplomatic immunity has just been provoked.

Batman and the Joker end up in a helicopter full of terrorists and after one of them decides that a helicopter is the best place to shoot with an assault rifle, the chopper ends up exploding, with Joker inside. The body is never found so it won't come as a surprise that he didn't die.

A Death in the Family tries hard. It tries so hard, that it doesn't know when to stop for its own good. It tries to be edgy and it tries to root the narrative on the real world and real-world problems but doesn't really manage to do any of that well. I mean, I can see why a young me would have been sold on it, but now a bit older I can't really get past how clumsy it feels with how it handles things. As I said earlier, it's sharp as a hammer.

If you're looking for darker Batman stories, there are lot better stories out there, written before and after A Death in the Family. I think that the only reason why it's remembered at all these days it's the fact that Joker manages to kill off Robin in it, but as a whole, it's just not very well done story at all. In my humble opinion, it really is a story you can fully miss.

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