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.