Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Batman: A Death in the Family Review
Something I did not realize prior to reading was that "The Killing Joke" actually predates this story, since Batman mentions, "Everyone's going to want a piece of the Joker, after what he did to Barbara." To me, I see a bit of an interesting writing inconsistently. The Joker in "The Killing Joke" was written more like a modern incarnation, less mentally insane and more collected. Yet here he's written and drawn more like his classic wacky silver age persona. This doesn't affect the story, just an intriguing observation. Jim Starlin now of Thanos fame crafts an engaging story. Jason Todd is easily unlikable, but not to the point where readers should want him to be brutally murdered. The way the plot unveils the backstory about his parents and Batman quickly training him to be Robin gives him some credibility. The writing is far different than Starlin's work at Marvel. His Batman is a perfect combination of the ultra serious one we're used to seeing today and the more cheerful, "punny" one of the silver age.
This being a major Batman/Joker story, it's interesting to see how things were then and how they relate to today. At this point in time Batman doesn't seem to think Joker is in full control of his actions, since Bats dubs him legitimately "mentally insane." Nowadays, he just considers him a calculating monster. This story seems to be a bridge to that point, as Batman realizes that the Joker is insane, but fully aware and enjoys doing what he does. The infamous scene where he bashes Robin with a crowbar still sends chills today, no matter how bright the art by Jim Aparo looks. The artist perfectly captures the glee the Joker has as he uses the crowbar, which is easily one of the most defining Joker moments in history.
Starlin delivers some fantastic Batman/Joker moments.When they finally meet for the first time in the arc, Joker says,"What are you going to do about it...let your assistant handle it!?" (which was after he had bloodied the Boy Wonder) which is some fantastic writing for the Clown Prince of Crime. Not only that, but it appeared Joker had some idea who Batman was. It's subtle and gives the reader something to think about as he looks at Bruce Wayne, then walks away laughing, fantastic moment. Superman's arrival was a surprise, but welcome. Interestingly, it seems the story borrowed the fact that the government is using him from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. There's some intriguing political commentary present throughout the story. As Batman travels through the Middle East, he runs into Lady Shiva, (well-drawn fight scene) whom he can't arrest because "it is legal to train terrorists in this country." Not only that, but Iran's leader gives Joker a position in office. It's a pretty wacky concept amidst such a serious story, but it's handled well and delivers some fun entertainment and lines. ("Now isn't this touching! My old pals Superham and Batpest, have come to congratulate me!")
With the story having Batman and Robin traveling to the Middle East in the first three issues, there are quite a few unique settings. Gotham City actually rarely appears. The climax instead takes place in New York, which is rare in DC Comics. Batman's narration throughout, from the beginning to the climax is great as we see him become angry after the death of his sidekick. The final showdown in the helicopter could have been longer, but was well-done nonetheless. Batman shouting to Superman, "Find his body! Find his body!!" and then in the final pieces of narration saying, "That's the way things always end with the Joker and me. Unresolved" was a great finisher and echoes just about every single Joker story to come up until Endgame.
The death of Jason Todd remains a pivotal point in the Dark Knight's long comic career, despite the fact the former was brought back nineteen years later in a retcon. Part of the arc was adapted in the animated movie, Batman: Under the Red Hood. (Perhaps the best animated Batman film.) The original 4-part story however still stands the test of time. It gives Batman a whole new outlook on the Joker from this point forward. The crowbar scene might just be one of the most brutal scenes in comic history. (I'm willing to bet some fans while reading regretted having Todd die such a painful death.) Much like in Seinfeld where Kramer somehow gets into all these strange gigs such as working for a big company and becoming a fireman, the Joker somehow becomes Iran's ambassador. It's crazy, but somehow it works and is just another reason every Batman fan -and comic fan in general- should read "A Death in the Family."