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Robin

Batman: A Death in the Family

I’ve never been a fan of the morose Batman, but I recently read the excellent Three Jokers which is built upon this book that killed off Jason Todd who was the second Robin, and the trauma that Batgirl endured at the hand of the Joker in The Killing Joke. This book collects the six-chapter A Death in the Family and the five-chapter A Lonely Place of Dying that introduced Tim Drake as the third Robin.

This 1988 book was groundbreaking in that it killed Jason, and he truly didn’t return as the anti-hero Red Hood until 2005. On top of that, it was up to readers to decide if Jason would live or die within a three-week period in which they could make a 50-cent call to a 900 number. Alas, his character wasn’t as popular as Dick Grayson who was now Nightwing, and his death was sealed by a slim margin.

A Death in the Family

This storyline occurred in the later years of the Bronze Age of Comics, so it still had the superhero look of past decades, but more mature themes were being explored. Jason Todd is shown pushing boundaries, by being petulant and too violent, and Batman and Alfred feel he hadn’t properly grieved his parents before becoming the new Robin. When told he needs to take a break from crime-fighting, he heads back to his old neighborhood and a former neighbor gives him a box of belongings from his parents. He discovers a birth certificate that shows he had a different mother than he thought, so going off a few clues heads to the Middle East to figure out which of three women she could be. But in an improbable twist, both Batman and Joker are there too. This part of the story has not stood the test of time, for the era of the 80s with Reaganomics is mentioned and the Iranian Allatoyah is shown in a very uncomfortable plot point in the story. The woman who was his mother (now retconned I believe, and no longer viewed as his mother in his bio) is perfectly awful and lets Joker attack Jason after they have been reunited. Spoiler alert- he is killed- but everyone knows that. The concluding chapters bring in Superman and yet another improbable plot twist with the Joker.

A Lonely Place of Dying

Can Batman be any more emo than usual? Of course, he can! He is now taking bigger risks as he feels guilty over Jason’s death. Nightwing who is now part of the New Titans comes to help his former partner deal with new threats from Two-Face. We are introduced to a brilliant and earnest teen, Tim Drake, who has pieced together clues and figured out Batman and Nightwing’s secret identities. He convinces them that Batman still needs a Robin, and who better than him?

An afterword by writer Marv Wolfman was interesting and gave context to the story. The art and layouts were good but rather standard for the time period. Joker’s face was so exaggerated that it was distracting for me and hard to take him seriously as a villain. While this book hasn’t changed my opinion of Batman, I’m still glad I picked it up for it is considered a classic and fills in some gaps in my DC knowledge.

Batman: Three Jokers

Three Jokers have emerged in Gotham- the Criminal, the Comedian and the Clown.

In this strong Batman story, author Geoff Johns has pulled together threads from A Death in the Family and The Killing Joke, that ties in Jason Todd aka Red Hood and Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl, the two from the Batman Family that have been most affected by The Joker.

When a crime spree occurs, with video evidence, showing The Joker in three different places simultaneously, Batman realizes there is more than one. Jason Todd, the second Robin who was thought dead by the hand of The Joker, has reappeared as Red Hood who is now an avenging hero. But his brand of justice goes against the code of most heroes, who do not kill. Bruce and Barbara risk outing their secret identities if they reveal Jason killed the Joker that had so brutalized him, and Bruce feels great guilt for not being there for his former partner. There are several nuanced conservations about where to draw the line on justice, for Barbara has an equally valid reason for hating the Joker that had put her in a wheelchair for awhile, but why can she control herself and Jason can’t? The entire storyline was very interesting for all three characters and really added some gravitas to how all three have evolved over the years.

And we need to touch on the possible romance between Jason and Barbara- I read it at two different times and had two different reactions. On my first scan through the graphic novel, I saw the note and thought it was so romantic, and I wanted the two of them to be together. But then I read the graphic novel thoroughly and realized a relationship between the two would be toxic and one-sided. Barbara can’t save Jason- he needs to do the work on himself. He is looking for connection so when Barabara offered him kindness he morphed it inappropriately into love. Once he has healed, perhaps they could try, if they both want to.

The art by Jason Fabok is fabulous. With white borders, the vivid coloring stood out, and every panel was drawn with precision. I think the faces were especially well-done, with an almost photo-realistic approach. My only criticism is the absolute skin-tight costume that Batgirl wears. While there were some typical 9-panel layouts, there was also a lot of variety on the pages with different panel placements. I love Fabok’s work, but this was the first I’ve seen of his art since he works mostly for DC which I don’t read a great deal of.

Although this book came out in late 2020, it is still going strong and I’m so glad I purchased it for my library and read it myself. This is a Batman story not to be missed!

Batman Forever: The Official Comic Adaptation

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O’Neil, Dennis, Michal Dutkiewicz, Scott Hanna, and Adrienne Roy. Batman Forever: The Official Comic Adaptation. 1995.

I have a confession to make.

Batman Forever is my favorite pre-Nolan Batman film.

Most of it is sentimental. I grew up watching this movie. I have fond memories watching it with my sister and my father. We had a bunch of merch from this movie, including a Hot Wheels Batmobile that was my sister’s favorite. Now that I’m older it’s still a bit of a guilty pleasure watch. I like the neon Gotham aesthetic, like the city is vibrant and beating and glittering – yet hiding some very sinister things. Even I will admit that 1989 Batman and Batman Returns are better crafted movies, with more accurate atmosphere and characterization – but I have to be in a specific frame of mind to watch them. They aren’t movies that allow you to jump right into them.

Given that I love the movie, I thought I’d grab the comic and see how it is. If you have seen the movie, skip this plot paragraph. If you haven’t: Two Face has escaped from Arkham Asylum and is out for revenge on Batman, whom he blames for the accident that created him. He attempts to rob the Second Bank of Gotham on the second anniversary of the day Batman captured him. Batman manages to stop him, but he gets away. Edward Nygma, an employee of Wayne Enterprises, is working on a special project: a box that can transmit any TV signal into a viewer’s brain to make them feel they’re inside the show. He shows off his invention to his idol, Bruce Wayne – who turns it down. Nygma swears to make Bruce understand. He becomes the Riddler, takes his creation to Two-Face, and proposes to help him figure out who Batman is in exchange for the funds needed to mass-produce the box. When Bruce Wayne takes in newly orphaned Dick Grayson, who has a vendetta against Two-Face for murdering his family, he slowly realizes Batman may need all the help he can get against the two villains. But Bruce Wayne may need something else – someone else to share his life with. Can Bruce Wayne and Batman peacefully co-exist?

Basically, it’s just like reading the movie. The comic closely follows the script, not the final cut of the movie, in which some scenes were rearranged. It’s pretty close though, so if you’re curious as to what scenes were originally supposed to go where, it’s kinda fun. The art is similar to the art of the movie: bright neon colors, stark shading and contrast. If you’re not committed to the time it’s gonna take to watch the movie, pick up the comic. It’s quick and full of action. Not a must-have for your collection, not even anything special unless you’re picking it up for sentimental value, but fun nonetheless.

– Kathleen

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