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Joker finally wins!
on 4 May 2012
Joker busts out of Arkham Asylum (the place is useless, really) and heads to the Middle East to sell a cruise missile he's had in storage, and Batman follows to stop him. Meanwhile Jason Todd aka Robin is working through some emotional issues and finds out that the woman he thought was his mother wasn't his biological mother so he sets off to track down his real mum.
I know this book is always on peoples' lists of "must-read" Batman stories but, besides Jason's death, there really isn't anything particularly good about this story. There are too many coincidences - Jason's search for his mother takes him to Israel, Lebanon, and Ethiopia, to find each of the three women who could potentially be his mum; these places also happen to be where the Joker goes to sell his missile/make money, and of course Batman and Robin cross paths in each instance!
Then there's the Joker. First off I hate how he's drawn in the `80s, his face is ridiculously long like an Easter Island sculpture. Second, I hate how his entire motivation in this book is money. I realise the Joker of the 21st century is far cooler, just think of that scene in "The Dark Knight" when Heath Ledger's Joker burns an enormous pile of money, but did Jim Starlin have to make his Joker so pathetically hung up on cash? In one scene when Joker's money is destroyed he slinks away in the shadows whining "My lovely money... whatever will I do now...?" - so pathetic.
And then there are the strange nuances with Batman and Robin. In the middle of a desert Batman and Robin take down Arab guards and don their gear, but they manage to pick the guards that suit their superhero outfits so Batman gets a blue robes and Robin red robes. Then Batman says something about covering a large amount of terrain using something that will make them "invisible" - hang-gliders! He reasons that anyone looking at them will think they're birds. Yeah, birds have jets don't they? Robin's outfit too is really stupid. Those bare legs and little green scaly shorts look so daft it's a wonder they got away with it for so long.
When Jason dies, Batman gives a summary of his life and gives a lame reason for wanting to have a child as a sidekick fighting criminals at night - "I guess I was just lonely". But he vows to "never again" allow a minor to help him fight villains as evil as Joker and Two-Face. Right, except right after this he meets Tim Drake and trains him to become the new Robin. Sigh... I don't know why Starlin tried to reason Robin into existence, just accept that it's weird but it is what it is. He's a colourful moving target to draw gunfire away from the guy dressed in black (or blue in this book). Move on.
I'll give credit to Starlin for making the death scene very stark and brutal, though the events afterwards that keep Batman from attacking Joker completely negate any of the impact because you're wondering how on earth such nonsense made it into print. The Joker becomes ambassador for Iran, that bugbear of Cold War 1980s America. Yes, ambassador. What absolute rubbish.
This is such a bad `80s comic book full of poor dialogue and plotting and that cheesy comic book style of drawing that instantly dates it, that it's amazing it's held in the high regard it is. It's reputation must be held up by aging fanboys who look back on this era with nostalgia and ignore the fact that the Batman books of this time (barring a few exceptions) were mostly terrible and can't hope to stand up to the generally high quality of the Batman books being written today. I suppose every Batman fan must read this if only for the mythology aspect of it, but it's not even the end of Jason Todd. He comes back in Judd Winick's "Under the Hood", so that the book's sombre and dark cover underlines the silliness of superhero comics in general - characters come back all the time, there are never any real endings.
Anybody looking for a fun Batman read will not find it here, nor is it a deserved classic; "A Death in the Family" is just a book that happens to have an event in it that some consider to be important but really isn't. Definitely missable, this is ultimately a disappointing read.