Thursday, July 9, 2015

[Best of Batman] A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin

I first knew about Jason Todd through the story Under the Hood written by Judd Winick which turned out to be his resurrection story. I watched the animation film with Supernatural's Jensen Ackles as Todd's voice actor and then I read the collected edition a few months after. 

To explain briefly, Jason Todd was the second Robin who succeeded Dick Grayson shortly after the latter quit and then joined the Teen Titans instead. Bruce Wayne first met Jason in the infamous Crime Alley when he was on patrol as Batman and he found the boy dismantling his batmobile to steal his gears which understandably annoyed Bruce but he nevertheless felt sorry for the boy when he realized that he was an orphan, living off the streets.

A part of him also connected strongly to the boy upon discovering that his father was brutally murdered. Determined to help the boy and because he needed a partner, Bruce then recruited Jason and started training him to become the new Robin. Jason was a fast learner but he was highly temperamental and definitely have anger and ego issues. He is impulsive when it comes to handling criminals, often driven by rage during fights. Still, Bruce thought it will pass. Later on, Bruce realized that it was the villain Two Face who murdered Jason's father. Upon confrontation, Jason opted not to kill Two Face which made Bruce proud but he would soon see that the boy is far damaged than he could ever anticipated.

In A Death in the Family, we explore the extent of Jason Todd's emotional issues and the strained relationship he has with Bruce. The idea of killing the second Robin sprang from the publication's marketing move where readers themselves were asked through survey as to whether or not they still want Jason around as Batman's partner. Surprisingly enough, the people voted for Jason's death so DC had writer Jim Starlin conceptualize and deliver the story. I suppose many readers are just not too fond of Jason and may also think he is not as likable as Dick Grayson whom Bruce had a better chemistry and rapport with.

The story itself was composed of issues Batman #426-429 and it was a compelling closer look at Jason Todd's final moments leading to his death in the hands of no other than the Joker. This was published in 1988 which was also around the time when the entire Batman line-up of stories for DC took on a grittier tone. The narrative for A Death in the Family was straightforward and serious enough as it explored the growing distance between Bruce and Jason as Bruce decided that Jason needs to take a sabbatical from crime-fighting as Robin. Bruce does not exactly have the parenting skills to make Jason understand his point of view and have the boy open up to him. Since Jason also refuses to talk about it, he became further withdrawn and completely shuts out Bruce from there on. One day, as he was walking around his old neighborhood reminiscing about the happy past with his parents, a friend of his mother called to him and gave him his old stuff from his previous home. This is where Jason found out a shocking truth: that the woman who raised him was just his stepmother and his biological mother is alive and still out there. 

Aided only by three names in his father's notebook of contacts, he researched the three possible women who could be his missing mother. Naturally, he didn't ask for Bruce's help as he boarded a plane to go to his destination. Meanwhile, the Joker is loose and is looking for a way to finance his criminal activities so he basically decided to get into international terrorism. Batman has to stop him and coincidentally, both the Joker and Jason are heading for the same place.

What follows is a series of more convenient coincidences where each of the three women have some thin connection to the Joker's schemes if not entirely related to it. It became unavoidable for Bruce and Jason to meet and Bruce had no other choice but to help Jason alongside trying to apprehend the Joker with his latest nefarious schemes. It has to be said that it's pretty grim and humorous at the same time that the candidates for Jason's biological mother are a spy, a mercenary and a volunteer doctor for a relief expedition (the last one is the only optimistic choice).

I liked this story. It was an important installment concerning a character who eventually becomes a fan-favorite once he grew out of his Robin costume and became his own brand of vigilante. I have an ongoing love-hate relationship with Jason Todd. I softened on him only quite recently. A Death in the Family was the first time we see a Robin die and where Bruce has to grieve over the loss his partner. I thought the story was enjoyable although everything felt like a set-up especially the coincidences where the Joker is tied with the search for Jason's missing mother so it easy for Bruce and Jason to still be Batman and Robin and fight him while having that personal side-mission on the side.

Jason's death, I think, was only upsetting because it was an abrupt dramatic irony. He wasn't well-liked by the readers that much and the circumstances leading to his death could have been avoided if only Bruce was perceptive enough to communicate and open himself up to Jason since the boy doesn't even know that Bruce himself had a similar childhood trauma. I think if he was honest from the very start then Jason would have trusted him and listened to him more. But alas, it's not meant to be and Bruce ended up carrying a badly wounded Jason in his arms which became an iconic image in itself.

A Death in the Family is a prelude to the more superior follow-up Under the Hood. I suggest you read these two stories back-to-back to really get the sense of the drama, action and conflict that encompasses the entire character arc of Jason Todd when he died as a Robin and was revived as the Red Hood. 


No comments:

Post a Comment