Friday, December 2, 2011

Batman : Death in the Family

I heard a lot about Death in the Family before I even picked it up and I didn't even get it until sometime after Under the Hood. I'm not going to get into the poll too much because that was a lot of hype, only open for a day and even DC admitted they were pretty sure one guy cheated it anyway. I will say that I always thought it represented the worst of the fandom, things I still see with other characters like Booster or any number of characters for what their not. Jason Todd wasn't Dick Grayson (granted his pre-crisis self was damn close to it) and that couldn't be accepted. But how does the story hold up?

I recall getting into Batman through the animated show and thinking who would be a great Robin after Dick and this was back when I only knew the characters that were featured on the show. Their version of Tim Drake with Jasons' backstory hadn't appeared yet. I thought a street kid was perfect because he's the type of person that Bruce would want to help, that understood the affect of crime and let's face it that origin was more realistic than: a circus kid, a rich kid that stalks his heroes, a super villians' daughter or kids that were trained to be assassins from birth. I like all of the Robins so I never could understand hatred especially for a kid that's life was closer to the readers the others (besides Barbara I guess.)

There's a lot of things to cover with this one in regards to what's happened with this dynamic duo. Bruce took Jason in more or less to replace Dick and problems started to crop up. To sum up Jason was exposed to a lot of frightening things for a kid of 15 to deal with including a case with a woman that was raped who's attacker got off scot free and then gloated her into suicide. Like a couple other incidents Batman thinks Jason went too far (#1) but never actually confronts him on it, he just let's it go. Jason had a few hot buttons that got to him, he hated any violence towards women and anything that harmed children. And what are they doing in the opening of DITF? Their waiting for backup to take down kiddie porn ring. To the surprise of no one but Batman his Robin springs out early.

Batman knows he should have seen this coming because Jasons' been acting troubled lately. But what makes this even more messed up is that he's thinking of this as he tears through the men knowing what injuries he's giving them before throwing one to Jason so he can work out his anger. This is just the first of many times in this trade where he makes the wrong call so to those who said Bruce holds no blame I beg to differ but more on that later.

The most famous thing about this scene is Jasons' response of "All lifes' a game" which various writers would later use as "proof" that Jason was the bad Robin to excuse Bruce of his fault in the death. And really saying that is completely missing the point of the scene because the next page has Bruce worried because he sees Jason as "someone looking to die." He's a kid that's clearly going through a lot, that Alfred says he's still mourning his parents deaths. That line is Jason being flippant because right then and there he doesn't care about his own life. He takes things much more seriously later on with other people's lives on the line. But this is not nor was it ever meant to be his motto.

After hearing about Jason crying over his parents picture from Alfred it's decided that he's benching Robin. Upset over hearing this Jason goes out for a walk and it seems to allude that he's mad that Alfred revealed something so personal to Bruce. He comes across a friend of his mothers' who managed to save some of Jasons' things for him. Bringing the box home he finds photos and important papers only to realize that the woman he thought was his mother--Catherine--isn't listed as his mother on his birth certificate. He can't tell who his mother is as it's damaged by water but he knows it begins with a "S." This is the start of an investigation that's pretty spotty because it wasn't written well. I can understand Jasons' desire to find his mother clouding his judgement but not the adult that later joins his quest.

The clues are slim with Jason only having his fathers' address book to go on, using the three names of women that begin with "S" as a guide. He looks up there whereabouts of each women on the bat computer then decides to look for his mother. While it's not really explored I think that it's very telling that while Jason appreciates everything Bruce and Alfred did he still feels compelled to run off (#2) to find a total stranger. Not once does he (or Bruce for that matter) consider that perhaps she doesn't want a child in her life. I read this as Jason needing someone to put him first for once and Bruce clearly doesn't in this story. Which is why Jason, despite how he's treated, shows nothing but affection for a woman he doesn't know.

While all this is going on Batman is looking into another crime the Joker is involved in, which starts another story beat that drives me crazy. Returning home he finds out from Alfred that his adopted son ran away. He briefly broods over what choice to make before deciding going after the Joker is more important. At this point he was a member of JLI but even with the new timeline Batman knew Superman, which means he'd know the Justice League too. He could have asked anyone else to take over the Joker situation while he searches for his kid but he doesn't. Even when he finally finds Jason and hears why he ran off he reveals that the only reason he's there is to find the clown. Jason naturally takes this bad clearly wanting Bruce to be there for him, something the greatest detective can't seem to understand in this story. The only reason he agrees to help is because, as luck has it, their cases are linked.

Bruce points out another flaw in this search for his mother plan: that his mother might not even be one of those three women. Jason admits that he knows but he has a gut feeling. The first woman Sharmin Rosen is a spy and the brilliant way they find out if she's the mother? They ask her. Really Bruce? I can get Jason being too emotional to see this right but it never occurred to you to just find a way to print out a new copy of the birth certificate? Did they have DNA tests when this story was written? She's a spy who barely tells you anything she could have been lying. This also starts the first subtle signs that Jason is oh-so-reckless as he rushes at a man holding her hostage and if not for her disarming the man would have been killed. Batman finally catches a clue and sticks around for the other two attempts to find the mother. He thinks that finding her will calm Jason.

The next woman happens to be none other than Shiva although I'm not sure if she was supposed to be asian back then. Regardless she watches them take out the camp (#3) she was training before deciding to take Batman on one on one. Jasons' "recklessness" turns in their favor as he attacks her from the back distracting her from Batmans' attack. This time truth serum is used but this will prove a waste of time because of other Batman lore. (#4)

Upon arrival of their third candidate Bruce realizes (through no tests of any kind) that Sheila Haywood is Jasons' mother because he has her eyes. It's rather obvious that she's startled to see her son and a little uncomfortable but neither seem to notice. Instead of making sure Jason isn't hurt by a woman that voluntarily left his life Bruce decides to leave them alone even implying that he's leaving Jasons' future up to the kid by saying he'll come back to learn his plans. (Umm, you are his guardian Bruce. Shouldn't you make sure he doesn't rush into things instead of making him feel like he's unwanted?)

Sheila gives her backstory of her botched medical career (which the Joker implies was due to her assisting an abortion that resulted in a teens' death) and Willis falling in love with Catherine while she was away. It's hard to tell if Sheila truly cares for Jason but she is clearly unsure about being a mother. She excuses herself to meet with the Joker but Jason sees through the make up enough to know who he really is. Eavesdropping he discovers the plot and rushes off to tell Bruce.

"Someone upstairs is obviously looking out for me." You won't think so for long Jason, besides the writer obviously had it out for you poll or not.

Now comes the part that has many including the bat family blaming Jason for his own death. Batman tells him not to do anything but watch the Joker at the warehouse while he saves the relief workers the Joker has sent poison gas to. Here's the thing: all Robins disobey Batman at some point. And in this situation where a parent is in trouble? ALL of them would do the same thing, even Bruce. Besides Bruce KNEW Jason was hurting and not acting like himself lately. He knows Jason is attached to this woman and he thinks that he should have made Jason go instead while he stayed behind. He reasoning is that Jason wouldn't have wanted to leave her.

They say that he "challenged the Joker" but he didn't. What Jason does is approach his mother while she is alone outside and tries to get her to leave with him. That's actually a good idea. But she refuses to leave figuring he can't do anything. The one mistake Jason makes is in fact trusting the one person that he assumed would unconditionally love him: his mom. He reveals the costume and her whole demeanor changes as she tells him that the Joker is long gone. She leads him right to Joker and his two henchmen going as far as pointing a gun at her son. This is a huge part of the story that's usually forgotten/skimmed over to place the blame on the victim. Once the Joker starts beating Jason she does appear shocked but then she proceeds to smoke a cigarette. (#5)

One of the things that seemed rather absurd to me was the Joker deciding to blow up the evidence because he doesn't want Batman to know his part in it. Did he really care about such things back then? Even more baffling is Batman saying he wasn't sure until the Joker later reveals it anyway even though he knows the Joker did it. Of course this is the story that expects us to believe that any nation would suddenly make the Joker their ambassador and barely has Superman do anything useful in the story. (Not even able to find the Joker despite having various types of vision.)

Batman finally chooses Jason over the Joker (perhaps the only time he ever does) and switches back and forth on whether this was Jasons' fault or his. There's a short retelling of their story together (#6) before he finds the mother dying then finds Jason. Despite knowing it was coming and seeing the images beforehand it's still gut wrenching to see Batman reacting to his Robins' death. But the tone is still odd with the aftermath. The Joker gets his attention much like the wicked witch of the west leaving a message in the sky for him. Then the small depressing funeral with only Bruce, Alfred, Barbara (in her wheelchair) and her father in attendance. (#7)

I have to say that Bruces' grief isn't written that well. He seems to go back and forth on whether to do things by the rules or get the Joker. It doesn't really fit. The rest of the book is rather ridiculous with only three good/interesting bits. Bruces' need to get the Joker (which should have been written with him acting more vengeful) being one of them. What's odd is that Batman actually refers to Jason by name not as Robin in front of the Joker something he will continue to do in later stories (even calling him "Jason Todd" repeatedly while punching him.) This leads the last good part in the story where Bruce Wayne stares at the Joker who stops to stare at him. He wonders if the Joker knows and the Joker laughs as he walks away leading me to believe this is when he put the pieces together. The Joker simply doesn't care about Bruce Wayne, Batman is the only one that matters to him.

A rather disappointing read. I'm not even going to touch the cultural problems this had but as a Batman book the main character is rather dense. He has no idea how much Jason needs him to be there for him and as a result makes a lot of bad choices. The whole premise of having the villain become an Ambassador is, well, laughable. It takes away from the seriousness of the tone. If Batman is grim and gritty he shouldn't be this much in control, if Superman HAD to be in this he should have acted more as his conscience that simply a reminder of something Bruce was sort of thinking about. I can't understand it when people say Jason "deserved" his fate as he was only trying to save his mother, the woman who betrayed him. His story was and still is tragic. Filled with people who don't understand him and his need for people who care about him. I'm glad he's back but he should have had a better send off.

#1 Gloria was the victim of repeated sexual attacks by an ambassadors' son that couldn't be touched by the law. Jason was the one who uncovered this and wanted to see justice done. The attacker, Felipe, taunted her on the phone in front of the heroes after he found out he was ordered out of the states. Jason finds Glorias' body and rushes over to Felipes' place to face him on the balcony. When Batman arrived Felipe was falling to his death. Although Batman asked if it was an accident or not (Jason said Felipe slipped) it was never confirmed. I did hear the writer intended for it to be an accident. Personally I think it should be an accident because it makes Batmans' skepticism all the more tragic.

#2 In issue #2 of Red Hood and the Outlaws writer Scott Lobdell seemed to give a nod to the scene where Jason is taking a flight by himself and receives a coke from the flight attendant.

#3 Bat kids seem to know a lot of languages. To my knowledge Jason knows at least three different languages besides english. I might have to start a list once he uses more.

#4 Shiva looks shocked at the inquiry if she had a baby before lying about having litters of them. After she's injected Batman asked if she ever had any children. She eventually says,"No." Although it's revealed she did have a daughter, Cassandra Cain. This story was even referenced when Cass did her own search for her mother. Batman mentioned them thinking she was Jasons' mother at one point then says that Jason and Cass are close in age.

#5 There is a interesting twist to the story in Deadman: Dead Again #2 where it's revealed that Deadman was there during the crowbar/bomb scenes in DITF. Boston has a hard time stopping the Joker from hitting Jason due to his insanity but finally manages although it weakens him for awhile. The part with Sheila having a change of heart is given a twist as Boston takes over her to try to get Jason out. While the victim blaming message still comes out through Jason himself it's notable that Boston blames Batman.

#6 Another notable screw up with raising Jason was not telling him that his father was dead for months. Jason only discovered the truth by looking it up on the bat computer and was furious. Two-Face killed his dad (who worked for him) but Jason does let it go. In Under the Hood Jason even mentions him as one of the people he's willing to give a pass as he just wants the Joker dead. Catherine Todd, revealed to be his step mother, was originally said to have died of a drug overdose where it is implied that she died of an illness here.

#7 Dick doesn't find out that Jason died until the Titans come back from a mission. He takes it hard and Bruce doesn't react well when he confronts him about it. He actually blames Dick for not showing up despite not knowing what happened.

Did You Notice?: After the beating a good portion of the Jokers' outfit, his hand and the crowbar are cover in blood. Jason is lying in a pool of his own blood.

Questions Raised?: Besides how Batman can be the greatest detective if he's this dense how does Willis Todd know Shiva and a spy? That's a random set up for this search that's never addressed. Willis was a thug for Two-Face, so it's iffy if Shiva would bother with him in most cases as she might see such a person as beneath her. Both ladies seem too far beyond him to be the type to be on good enough terms to give him their addresses. But I don't think they were ever specific on what Willis did for Two-Face. He could have followed them for his boss I suppose but it still doesn't add up.

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