There was a time when things were very predictable. In either television or comics, the heroes always overcame the villains. Sure, there were some tense moments, and you might even have held your breath during a cliffhanger when it seems that evil might triumph in the end after all. But there was always this nagging voice in your head that told you things would be fine. And they always were. When you look at television and modern media things sure have changed. Where in the old days character deaths were unheard of, especially the ones that had been around for years, nowadays things aren’t so predictable anymore. Hell, look at shows such as The Walking Dead or Game Of Thrones where not even the actors themselves were sure if they would still have a job the next day. I think it’s something that has made things much more interesting. It really ups the tension when you aren’t sure that your heroes might survive an ordeal. In comic books recent years have shown us, that things have changed there as well. No longer are heroes so sure of the fact that they will be saving the day, much less come out alive. Many famous characters have all died at some point (and have miraculously been resurrected as well) and usually that resulted in a very thrilling and tense story.
In 1988, it was the 50th anniversary of one of the most famous characters in comic book history: Batman. Unless you have been living under a rock, it’s someone who needs no introduction, nor does his sidekick Robin. In order to do something special to mark this momentous occasion, DC comics gave readers one of the most creative influences they would ever have on a story, by giving them a choice. A very simple one at that. For years Batman and Robin had been a Dynamic Duo and were inseparable. Whether that would remain that way, was going to depend on what the readers eventually decided. When the comic came out, and was given the title A Death in the Family, I think it becomes clear which choice was made. Continuing my journey into DC comics that I started with DCeased this time I went back into the past, to read a story that had always left me intrigued, but that I never experienced fully. I was twelve years old at the time of this release. I did flip through the pages of this book in the store back then, and was actually shocked they would kill off such a well known character. But I never read the full story, until now that is. This collection contains the original four part story of A death in the family, as well as the five part A Lonely Place of Dying that would introduce a new Robin.
So aside from the fact that this is of course a landmark event when it comes to the world of comics, is this is a story that is worth your time, or spending your hard earned cash on so to speak. I can only say that without a doubt it very much is. In A Death in the Family we have Batman again taking on his arch nemesis The Joker who has just escaped from Arkham prison. As if this weren’t enough to keep the Bats busy, we also have Robin going through a crisis of a much more personal nature. Having recently found out that his mother who has died, shockingly wasn’t his real mother, he begins a quest to find out the whereabouts of the woman who really gave birth to him. The boy recently had a falling out with Batman, who accused him of being too emotionally involved in fighting criminals since the death of his parents. As such he has ample time to go on a search for her, a path that will eventually lead him to the Middle East. Little does he know that Batman who is trying to track down the Joker is also heading there. Eventually their paths will cross, and both heroes will have to combine their forces if they are to stop the nefarious plans of the criminal mastermind. However this time, things might not end up so well for one of them….
To say this was one heck of phenomenal read, is probably the understatement of the year. A Death in the Family was a highly emotional rollercoaster from start to finish. It addresses quite a number of issues, but I was also very surprised at how mature this comic book felt. At one side we have Robin’s quest for his real mother. To make it clear, this isn’t the original Robin that Batman started out with, but a second one called Jason Todd, who filled the original’s shoes when he left Batman’s side. I found his arc to be incredibly well handled in this book. Since both his parents had died, the hope that shone in his eyes when he finds out his real mother might still be alive is heartbreaking, especially knowing what’s going to happen to him in this book. Whether or not he eventually finds her, I will leave for you to discover. Hey, can’t give away everything now can I? But Batman’s struggle is also terrific as he faces off with his arch nemesis. For years Batman has kept his emotions in check when it comes to killing off his enemies, and even as heinous as the crimes of The Joker have been throughout the years, he has never crossed the line by taking his life. Seeing as The Joker is simply put, totally insane, and not fully in control of himself.
Here though Batman realises that to stop his reign of terror he might have to do just that. It’s really fascinating to see how Batman struggles with this throughout the entire four chapter arc. As the story dates back to 1988 I was also surprised to have them include the powder keg that was Iran during those days. We even see Khomeini himself encounter the Joker, once again demonstrating the matureness of this storyline. The art that accompanies the story is also very good, even though it’s now over 30 years old. The second story contained in this volume was also terrific, though not as powerful as the first one. In this we see a Batman who has become reckless after losing his friend and partner, and in this way puts himself in ever more dangerous situations. The criminal Two Face wants to once and for all take Batman out, something he might succeed at seeing how conflicted the Dark Knight has become. It also introduces the world to a character who will eventually become the new Robin. This collection was an incredible read, and it’s one that can be read by everyone, even if you aren’t really familiar with the world of Batman.
I give a Death in the Family a 9 out of 10 score.