Retro Geek: Out of the Bin: Batman – A Death in the FamilyJuly 3, 2014
“Crime hasn’t been all that good to me as of late. I’ve been spending more time in Arkham Asylum than out.” – Joker
The Batman Death in the Family story arc appeared in issues 426 through 429 and was originally released in December, 1988 and concluded in January, 1989. For many, this book is not only a ‘must read’, but a collectible if only for the story it tells.
Not only did this issue see the death of Robin, but it allowed fans to call in and vote for whether or not Todd would meet his end at the hands of the Joker. In just thirty-six hours, 10,000 people paid .50c to call in to seal Todd’s fate, though the polling results were skewed as one person had programmed their home computer to call the hotline every 90 seconds for eight hours, prompting a ‘die’ vote every time. I’m sure many voted for Todd to die just to see if DC Comics would go through with it and well, they did.
Jason Todd wasn’t always a very liked character in my opinion, so it wasn’t surprising that in the end, people chose to have him killed, and killed by the Joker no less. In this series, though, this is the first time that we see Todd as more than just an obnoxious, arrogant child who did as he pleased when he pleased, including running away from Wayne Manor in search of his birth mother. There are three possible birth mothers, and after ruling the other two women out, he heads to the Middle-East to find the third and final woman. During the story arc Todd develops a couple tolerable qualities, but they aren’t enough to redeem him for everything that readers have had to put up with.
During the story, readers find out that the Joker has stolen a cruise missile and is in the market to sell it to the highest bidder, bringing him to the same location as Todd. Batman follows to stop the Joker and happens to run into Todd, who work together to try and stop the Joker’s plans and find Todd’s mother. The two manage to track Sheila Hayward down who is working in Ethiopia as an aid worker. She proves to be Todd’s mother and they have an emotional reunion.
Of course, it wouldn’t be such an interesting story without Hayward being blackmailed by the Joker for her work performing illegal abortions in Gotham a time back, and she’s been embezzling from the aid agency in attempt to cover up the fact that Joker has been taking medical supplies from people who desperately need them and selling them on the black market. On top of that, Hayward hands Todd over to the Joker to do as he wishes in order to avoid being found out.
In front of his mother, Todd is brutally beaten with a crowbar and left bloodied and unconscious on the floor. Hayward is tied up and left in the warehouse with a bomb. Todd manages to regain consciousness but is too weak to aid in an escape from the locked warehouse as the bomb counts down the seconds the pair have left. Batman is too late to save the pair and they die in the blast. Batman goes through the rubble to find Todd already dead, and the full page image of Batman carrying Todd’s dead body has resonated deeply with readers.
I chose the Death in the Family story arc as my throwback because it was the first I ever remember reading as a child. Perhaps not the best reading material for someone who was only about seven at the time, but the story always held a place in my heart despite it’s violence and brutality. I liked that fans got to choose the fate of the ill-mannered Todd, but the story reminds us that not all heroes can live forever, and it’s a death of a hero instead of one of a villain that tends to stay with us. (Regardless of the fact that they now kill characters over and over again and find ways to resurrect them every time…)
If you’d like to pick up the graphic novel and read about the immediate aftermath of Todd’s death, how Superman manages to get involved and what happens with the Joker, you can find A Death in the Family just about anywhere for about ten dollars.