Hey everybody, welcome back to another edition of Ye Olde School Café! In this week’s column, I’ll be taking a look at a classic DC story with Batman: A Death in the Family! I’ll be using this book as a primer to get ready for next week’s dive into another Batman book, but for now, I’ll keep that one a secret! For those of you that don’t know, at this point, Batman has taken on a new Robin, and he’s quite a handful for Bruce. Jason Todd is a character that didn’t seem very important at the time, but as we know now, his death has had ramifications that are still being felt to this day! Well, enough banter, let’s get right to it.
In chapter one, we’re shown a typical night of patrolling for Batman and Robin. The dynamic duo find some hoods, but while Batman seems cool, calm, and collected as usual, Robin is anything but. He disobeys Batman, and jumps right into the fire by knocking out a few of the crooks. After they take care of business, Batman scolds Jason for jumping the gun, but Jason doesn’t seem to care. Batman tells him that he had a deal with Commissioner Gordon to let him in on the bust. Later, Bruce and Alfred are discussing what to do about Jason. They decide it’s best for him to take a break for a while, but before they can do anything, Jason, who was listening, yells at them and leaves.
Meanwhile, the next day Commissioner Gordon and Batman are checking a crime scene where the Joker has escaped after murdering eight people. While they talk, the Joker meets up with one of his goons and tells him he’s going on vacation because Gotham is too hot right now for him to even show his face. You see, recently the Joker maimed Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), so the heat is on to find him, and put him back in Arkham Asylum. Before he leaves, though, the Joker opens a big garage door that is housing a truck with a cruise missile on the back! He then tells his buddy Rupert that he’s going to sell it to some “Arabs” to replenish his depleted funds, and start a career in international politics. While this is going on, Jason finds out that the woman he thought was his mother really isn’t. He goes off half cocked to find her on his own.
Next, we see that the Joker has stolen an airplane, and Jason is on a flight as well. Batman has since located the Joker’s hideout, and deduced that he has some kind of nuclear device in his hands. As he returns home, Alfred tells Batman that Jason has left, and doesn’t plan on coming back. Batman then follows the Joker’s trail to Lebanon. Jason knows that one of the women in his father’s address book is in the area, so he starts to look for her. While searching for any sign of the Joker, Batman runs into Jason, and after a quick talk, he agrees to help find this woman. It doesn’t take long before they do see her, and she’s with one of the Joker’s goons. As they follow them into the desert, little do they know, but she’s actually an undercover agent for the government. When they arrive, Batman and Robin see the Joker talking with some Arab about buying the missile. He buys the missile, but wants the Joker to stay until he fires it to make sure it works. As the Arab pushes the launch button, it explodes and kills him. The Joker sneaks away and heads straight for the airport. He’s heading to Ethiopia, and Batman and Robin aren’t far behind.
Once in Ethiopia, the Joker locates his next victim, who turns out to be the woman that Jason is looking for. The Joker threatens to tell her employers about how she used to perform illegal “operations” on teenage girls in Gotham back in the day, unless she’ll give him medical supplies he can sell to get some quick cash. As this is going on, Batman and Robin, who are still in Beirut, have subdued some locals, and gone undercover to find the Joker. As they make their way to the desert area where he is located, it takes a few minutes for them to take out some guards, then they find nothing but an empty tent for their efforts. As Batman looks around for some clues, Robin is knocked out by Lady Shiva. Batman then engages her in combat. At first, Shiva gives Batman a beating, but then Robin wakes up and helps him subdue her. By using Sodium Pentothal, they find out that Shiva isn’t Jason’s mother, and the search continues as they make their way to Ethiopia.
Once they get to their destination, Bruce and Jason find where Dr. Sheila Haywood is practicing medicine. As Jason and Bruce enter her tent, she’s shocked to hear that the young boy with Bruce is Jason Todd, her son. After they talk for a while, Sheila tells Jason that they can talk more later. After he leaves her tent, he notices a truck pull up. He sees the Joker get out and go into his mother’s tent. He eavesdrops and finds out about the Joker blackmailing his mother. As the Joker leaves, Jason commandeers a motorcycle and follows him. He finds out the Joker’s plan and then alerts Bruce. Batman and Robin then make the plan to stop the convoy that is now heading out on the main road. Batman tells Robin to wait for his return before going in the warehouse after his mother.
After Batman leaves, Robin heads inside anyway, and finds his mother. She tells him that everyone else has left and to come with her. She then leads him right into a trap with the Joker. She tells him that she’s been dipping into the medical funds herself, and can’t afford any trouble. And thus begins a beating of epic proportions. The Joker savagely beats Robin with a crowbar until he’s unconscious. Then the Joker double-crosses Sheila and ties her up and tosses an explosive to tidy up the loose ends. As Sheila is sobbing, Jason crawls out of the corner. He tries to untie his mother and escape, but time runs out, and the entire building blows up. As Batman drives up to the scene, he’s horrified by his instincts that Jason disobeyed him again. He searches through the rubble and finds Sheila. She dies in his arms telling him that Jason tried to save her. Batman then finds the lifeless body of his partner underneath part of the building.
The Joker has his medical supplies, though, and sells them to some terrorists. As he’s completing the deal, some Iranian Secret Service tell him that someone wants to meet with him. The Ayatollah then makes him an offer to become an ambassador to the U.N. for Iran. Later, Bruce has the body of Jason Todd brought back to Gotham for burial. Afterwards, as Batman is figuring out his next move, he’s approached by Superman. Supes tells him that the government asked him to talk to Batman about the new “ambassador” from Iran. Supes tells him that he can’t do anything to the Joker because he has diplomatic immunity. Batman then punches Superman in the face, and tells him that he’ll find a way to get the Joker after what he did to Jason. Batman goes to the Joker’s hotel room and tells him that he has one more chance to turn himself in and go back to Arkham. The Joker laughs, but when he turns around to try and shoot Batman, he’s already gone.
The next evening, the Joker’s plan to kill everyone in the assembly hall is going according to plan. He’s got all the assemblymen there, and then he pulls off his coat to reveal two canisters of Joker gas that he’s going to unleash on the crowd. As he starts to open the canisters, one of the American ambassadors starts to inhale the gas. It’s Superman in disguise, and he safely disperses the gas outside. However, the Joker has a backup plan in the form of an explosive that he detonates. Batman searches through the foggy air and the Joker shoots at him but hits a delegate instead. As the Joker rushes outside, a helicopter picks him up. As it takes off, Batman jumps on and gets inside. He proceeds to kick the crap out of the Joker and his henchmen, although one manages to squeeze off a couple of rounds. One of those rounds hits the Joker in the chest and drops him. The pilot gets hit as well, and Batman bails out just before the helicopter crashes into the nearby docks and explodes. Batman is then picked up by Superman, but realizes that the Joker is long gone.
Well, there you have it. The story that was the first of its kind. No, not because someone died, but because you the reader decided on Jason dying. Yep, back in the day, DC decided to put a 1-800 number in the last comic before the end, and the fans got to call in and vote on whether Jason would live or die. Well, we all know he didn’t die now, but back then it was a pretty interesting idea and I think it was really cool.
Come back next week for more exciting Batman adventures, as I’ll be going back to the early days of Batman and the original Robin, Dick Grayson!