Remember when the death of a superhero was a big deal? Seems like 100 years ago. I recently dusted off my old Death in the Family TPB and tried to give it a look with fresh eyes. My expectations were low, as I had never had much invested in Jason Todd and the whole democratization of storytelling had always rubbed me the wrong way a bit. I also recall thinking that the whole Middle East angle to the story was about as clichéd 80s as you could get.
You know what? I was wrong. The story really isn’t half bad, Jason Todd comes across as far more sympathetic a character than portrayed earlier, there was a good degree of pathos in his search for his mother, and the whole Middle East connection seems pretty topical today. His death – the sheer brutality of the Joker’s beating (much of it kept off-panel), his last minute heroism and the Batman’s reaction are all well present and retain a real impact.
I’ve always found Jim Starlin to be pretty hit and miss as a writer and he’s responsible for one of my least favourite Batman stories ever (The Cult), but he does an ok job here. I get the feeling like he wanted to introduce a bunch of ‘Big Ideas’ and make grand statements, but someone wisely suggested that he focus on the more human element of the story. All things, of course, are made better by Jim Aparo art and this story is no exception. Whenever I see an Aparo cape & cowl, it feels like a homecoming. He is able to convey emotion here, and I couldn’t think of an artist better suite to telling this story. We miss you Jim.
All in all, I think it holds up pretty well. It’s a shame that DC felt it needed a big stunt, and I sometimes feel as though this storyline (along with Crisis) helped to open some floodgates that should have remained shut. That being said, it’s really a pretty good piece of comic book storytelling and made me feel sad for the loss of Jason Todd. That’s quite an accomplishment.