Book Review: Batman: A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo

Hi all! I hope everyone is doing well. Today is Friday, and time for another review. Today I am reviewing the graphic novel Batman: A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo.

Batman: A Death in the Family by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo was first published in 1988 by DC and (my copy) is 144 pages long.

Batman: A Death in the Family tells the story of Jason Todd, the second Robin, who falls victim to The Joker’s cruelty while searching for a long-lost family member.

Batman/Bruce Wayne
Bruce is worried about Jason. He knows what it’s like to grieve the loss of one’s parents and worries Jason hasn’t done so yet. He has been noticing over time that Jason has been becoming increasingly reckless when fighting criminals and decides to bench him for a while. Jason does not take kindly to this and ends up storming off.

Meanwhile, Batman discovers that one of his greatest enemies, The Joker, who has escaped once again from Arkham Asylum, plans to sell nuclear weapons to terrorists in Asia.

Tracking The Joker to Lebanon, Batman discovers that Jason is also there.

The Joker
The Joker, having escaped from Arkham Asylum, has obtained a nuclear cruise missile which he plans to sell to terrorists so he can fund his lifestyle. This plan is foiled by Batman, Robin and a Mossad agent named Sharmin Rosen.

Since that plan fell through, The Joker heads to Ethiopia to blackmail an aid worker into giving him medical supplies.

It is in Ethiopia that we see him commit a brutal attack against a beloved Batman character.

In previous Batman comics, The Joker always appears as a comical and mischievous character who sets up capers to amuse himself. Here, however, The Joker is unhinged, evil and shown as a man who would stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

Robin/Jason Todd
Jason is suspended from his crime-fighting duties because Bruce feels he needs more time to process and come to terms with the death of his parents, which is hurting his mental stability. He has become too reckless when confronting dangerous criminals, forcing Batman to step in.

Jason disagrees with Bruce’s decision and storms off. While walking through his old neighbourhood, he is spotted by an old neighbour and friend of his mother, who gives him a box of photos and documents she has saved. One of the documents, his birth certificate, shows that the woman who raised him, Catherine Todd, is not his biological mother. His real mother’s name has faded due to water damage, but he can tell that her name begins with the letter ‘S’.

Also in the box is his father’s address book containing the names of three women whose names begin with ‘S’. Using the Batcomouter, Jason traces their whereabouts to the Middle East and Africa and leaves Gotham to find them.

In Lebanon, where he tracks the first of his potential mothers, Jason runs into Batman, who tells him about The Joker’s plans to sell dangerous weapons. Agreeing to help one another, they find the first woman, Sharmin Rosen, a Mossad agent who denies having ever given birth. She helps them thwart The Joker’s plan.

The second of the women turns out to be an old acquaintance of Batman’s, Lady Shiva, whom they find at a terrorist training camp. At first, they think she has been kidnapped, only to learn she is training the terrorists. After a fight, Batman and Robin manage to restrain her, and after Batman administers some truth serum, she confirms that she is not Jason’s mother.

In Ethiopia, Batman and Robin track down Jason’s third potential mother, Sheila Haywood, where she has been living and working as an aid and relief worker. While at first, it’s an emotional reunion, Jason soon finds out that his mother, who has been blacklisted as a medical practitioner in Gotham for performing illegal surgeries on teenagers, is being blackmailed into selling medical supplies to The Joker. On top of that, Sheila has also been stealing money from the aid agency.

To help cover her tracks, she hands Jason (dressed as Robin) over to The Joker, who brutally beats him with a crowbar, and restrains Sheila, leaving them both to the mercy of a time bomb. Robin manages to struggle to the bomb, throwing himself on it to shield his mother (even though she has revealed herself to be a less-than-stellar human being), but the bomb goes off, killing them both anyway.

Batman returns to Gotham to bury Robin and Sheila. He is grief-stricken and blames himself for Jason’s death, deciding it would be better to carry on alone in future.

As for The Joker, he strikes a deal with the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini who gives him a role in the Iranian government as an ambassador.

He is sent to kill everyone in the UN assembly hall with his Joker venom.

A vengeful Bruce Wayne tracks The Joker down to the UN Embassy to hash things out. However, Superman shows up and warns Bruce that harming The Joker could lead to a war with Iran because since being an ambassador, he has diplomatic immunity. He forbids Bruce from harming The Joker.

When The Joker gives a speech to the other assembled delegates, he releases his Joker venom, but luckily, Superman is there and safely inhales all the gas.

The Joker, meanwhile, escapes in a helicopter pursued by Batman. During the ensuing struggle, one of The Joker’s cronies accidentally shoots the pilot, and the Helicopter crashes into the sea.

Superman manages to rescue Batman, but there’s no sign of The Joker…

Writing Style
Written by Jim Starlin, A Death in the Family is a graphic novel that should carry powerful and emotional weight. Not only does it showcase the brutal murder of a beloved character, but it also significantly impacts Batman’s character. Unfortunately, though, it felt very predictable. For instance, I saw the whole thing with Jason’s mother being a crook coming a mile off.

I would have liked the story to have been bigger, somehow and more dramatic. Don’t get me wrong, even though the story is predictable, it isn’t terrible, and there are some great themes to be found within, such as the fragility of life and the great responsibility that comes with being a hero. It also delves deep into the psyche of Batman and his relationship with his sidekick, something we don’t always get to see.

One of the most significant elements of A Death in the Family is that readers got to play an active role in its development, specifically its ending. Batman fans were invited to vote for Jason Todd’s fate by calling a premium rate number to vote on whether or not Robin lived or died. Out of a total of 10,614, 5,343 were for Robin’s demise. 4, 271 voted for his survival with a margin of only 72 votes.

The artwork by Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo is the best thing about this book. As is true for most Batman comics, the visuals are iconic, adding complexity to the story, bringing it to life and capturing the emotional turmoil of Batman while showing the sheer brutality of The Joker at the same time. The colours used throughout the story are rather bleak and quite repetitive in each sequence, which only highlights the darkness of the plot. With all of this combined, it makes for an impressive visual showcase.

Final Thoughts
Although intriguing and entertaining, this is not one of the best Batman stories I’ve read; it’s a bit contrived in that many coincidences occur to have all the characters be in the same place and time. For instance, The Joker happens to be in Lebanon selling a nuke, and Batman arrives to stop him – only to find Robin has already turned up to track down his potential mothers, two of whom also happen to be in Lebanon. Then, The Joker happens to be looking for the same woman in Ethiopia that Batman and Robin are looking for.

This story certainly made it difficult to suspend my disbelief.

With all things considered, I am giving Batman: A Death in the Family a 4/10.

Have you read Batman: A Death in the Family? What did you think?

As always, thanks for stopping by to read my review!

Until next time,


© 2023 GLT

Categories: Book Reviews, Reading

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2 replies

  1. Fab
    Great review, George! I appreciate the attention to detail in the plot and characters. My question is, do you think the voting aspect for Robin’s fate added to the overall impact of the story or detracted from it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Jessica! The voting aspect got fans excited because they were able to feel like they were a part of creating the story. From what I’ve read, many people had issues with this version of Robin, so I think those who voted would have felt the writers were taking their thoughts on board. In that regard, I think the interactivity of the story would have made it just a touch more enjoyable, being that the fans felt they were being listened to and thought about.


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