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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Death in the Family

Batman: A Death in the Family
Writer: Jim Starlin
Penciller: Jim Aparo
Inker: Mike De Carlo
Colourist: Adrienne Roy
Letters: John Costanza
Publisher: DC Comics

Today's guest review is by Jimmy McGlinchey:
Posing as a mild-mannered accountant, the entity known as @JimmyMcG on Twitter is an enthusiastic DC Comics follower who has been collecting DC comics since 1989. Other interests include travel, cinema, television and trivia.  You can follow him on twitter @JimmyMcG.

What’s it all about?
In the 1980s, Dick Grayson had quit his role as Robin to Bruce Wayne’s Batman, moving on up to the persona of Nightwing. His role as Robin was taken over by Jason Todd, a young street orphan who Batman came across when finding Jason trying to steal the tyres from the Batmobile. Todd was a much darker incarnation than Dick Grayson’s Robin, prone to defying Batman’s orders and being rebellious.  In a comic before the “Death in the Family” storyline, it was implied that Jason caused the death of a serial rapist, who, being the son of a diplomat, would escape prosecution for his crimes.

Jason Todd as Robin was not popular with the readers and, with the availability of technology to poll readers, DC Comics decided to use this to promote a storyline whereby the readers decided if Jason Todd should live or die.

As “Death in the Family” begins, Batman makes the decision to bench Jason Todd, fearing his emotional state would cause him injury. Jason, while suspended, makes a discovery that his mother was in fact his step-mother, and that three possibilities of his real mother were located in either the Middle East or Ethiopia. Jason sneaks away to try and locate his mother. However, Batman is also on the way to the Middle East as a certain escaped lunatic has absconded there with a stolen cruise missile in tow….

Whats good about it?
There is strong characterisation throughout the book. Starlin and Aparo make a great team, highlighting the characters’ motivations throughout the storyline. Batman is a driven person, but this storyline shows him struggling with emotions following the events depicted therein. Jason, while brash and abrasive, comes across well here in places as he searches for his mother, and his death, while horrific, is presented as a heroic sacrifice by him. The Joker is a mixture of insane madman and savvy criminal.
The removal of the action from Gotham to the Middle East and Africa is a welcome change. Gotham is very much Batman’s turf and it makes a nice change to see him in more exotic locales.
While a self-contained storyline, Starlin’s writing through appropriate flashbacks gives readers the relevant backstory in a timely manner that does not slow down the telling of the main story.

What’s bad about it?
The plot is full of major coincidences, which is typical of most comics of that era. Jason flies off to Lebanon, and goes to a hotel which is the exact hotel where Bruce has gone to find a suspect associated with the Joker. Then, as Jason and Bruce go to Ethiopia, who should happen to go to Ethiopia but the Joker. There are other coincidences like this which are annoying if you happen to think too heavily about it.
The plot is very much a product of its time. Middle East Conflict, references to the Iran-Contra War and Reganomics, and a real life cameo that is very silly in the extreme!
For some people, the death scene may be quite extreme, especially the attack beforehand.
Finally, the ending of the comic feels very flat and echoes Batman’s final word of the storyline “Unresolved”.
What’s the art like?
For me, Jim Aparo is one of the pre-eminent Batman artists of the period. His Batman is dark, but human. Aparo’s characters are muscular but realistic and lean – no steroid musclemen or buxom women in Aparo-drawn comics. In these stories, he is inked by Mike de Carlo, who tightens up Aparo’s pencils and gives the characters a better definition than if Aparo did the inks himself.
The fight scenes in the storyline are very convincing. Aparo and De Carlo, along with Starlin, who was himself an artist, understood the choreography of fight scenes and you can feel every blow through the art.
There is also plenty of emotion coming through the artwork – even when masked, Aparo’s pencils convey Batman’s mood at all times, whether it is being worry over Jason, frustration and anger when talking to a surprise guest star or anxiety followed by sorrow when finally finding the titular “death”.
The only negative I would say about Aparo’s art is there is a lot of sameness about characters. Stock bad guys tend to look alike, while the faces of Bruce Wayne, Jason Todd and the aforementioned guest star looks exactly the same. However, this is a very minor quibble.
To conclude, I would recommend this book for its historical significance.  Aparo’s art is always worth getting and Starlin’s characterisation makes this an enjoyable enough read. With this being comics however, the “death” is subsequently reversed 20 years later, but that does not take away from the impact of this book.

Other Information:
Price: £11.68 (Amazon)
ISBN: 1848568592
(Note: This book also includes the storyline “A Lonely Place of Dying, a thematic sequel to Death in the Familywhich I hope to review later.)

Individual digital issues of Batman #426-429 are also available from Comixology at $1.99 per issue.  This works out at about £1.20 or £1.50 per issue.

Editor's note - We've classified this as in the age ranges for teen and mature.  It is most definitely not suitable for those under 12 and due to the violence is probably more suitable for the older, nearly adult, teenager, rather than the younger one.  We considered labelling it as as Age: general but felt that might mislead some readers.

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