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From the DC Vault: Death in the Family – Robin Lives! #1
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‘From the DC Vault: Death in the Family – Robin Lives!’ #1 review

A great beginning to a ‘What If?’ variation on the classic ‘A Death in the Family’ story.

1988 was quite a year, wasn’t it? Glasnost was at a fever pitch. Reagan’s presidency ended and hair metal left with it, setting the stage for the invasion of grunge music. In the ’90s, Generation X would roar and rage, counter-attacking against the excess of the ’80s. In hindsight, maybe 1988’s “A Death in the Family”, a story where DC left it up to their readers to vote on whether Jason Todd would be killed by the Joker or survive, was an omen of the grim times to come, because brother, the fans gleefully sentenced Jason Todd to death like they were ordering a stack of pizzas for a frat party.

With this week’s From the DC Vault: Death in the Family – Robin Lives! #1, written by J. M. DeMatteis, with art by Rick Leonardi and Lettering by Taylor Esposito), DC tells a “What If?” type story where we see what would have happened had Jason Todd NOT been killed by the Joker.  The story’s as much about Batman as it is Jason. While Jason struggles with PTSD, Batman struggles with rage at the Joker and the other members of his rogues gallery.  He also wrestles with guilt over having put Jason into a position where he was nearly killed. Everyone he talks with, from Superman to Commissioner Gordon to a beat cop on the street reminds him that he brought a kid into his world, into combat and danger, and it eats away at Bruce.

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I guess I was one of the few people who liked Jason Todd back then. He was the antithesis of Dick Grayson. Where Dick was brilliant, confident and even-tempered, Jason was unsure of himself and had a temper like a volcano.  He was how I always imagined a real-world Robin would be: far from perfect, raging at the villains he had to fight and making lots of mistakes because he was impulsive. Jason’s a bit more reserved here, suffering from the deep anxiety caused by the Joker’s assault.  We get a few great scenes between Bruce, Alfred and him as Bruce and Alfred desperately try to get Jason to open up about his PTSD and let them help him.

It puts Bruce into a deep crisis, because how can he help Jason when he can’t trust anyone outside of his inner circle to know his secrets? It’s not like he can dial up a therapist to have weekly sessions with Jason, where Jason can tell them everything about being Robin, as well as the secrets of the Batcave, Bruce, and Alfred.  I have to confess that I was hoping Dr. Harleen Quinzel would show up at some point to probe Jason’s mind, though.  I know she didn’t make her first appearance until 1992 in Batman: The Animated Series and wasn’t even a concept in 1988, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

When Bruce isn’t at the mansion trying to coax Jason into communicating, he’s going after the Joker, and it leads to a wonderfully grim encounter between Batman and the Joker.  Here, the Joker’s still puttering around in his Joker-Boat and using all his gizmos he used decades ago.  He almost seems like a Golden Age character compared to today’s version.  He’s all bright colors, corny gags and whimsy, which makes it startling when he encounters a furious Batman determined to get even for what he did to Jason.  It’s like seeing the Joker from the ’68 TV series facing off with Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight” version of Batman.  Batman’s not playing around now and his rigid self-imposed “no kill” rule has suddenly gotten a lot more flexible.

Rick Leonardi’s art is as great as ever, making some horrific scenes (thanks to an appearance by another member of Batman’s rogues gallery) even more terrifying.   He always has a way of making you feel as off-balance as the characters in the story with his panel layouts and nightmarish versions of certain characters.

This is a great start to this miniseries, showing us an alternate timeline where Jason surviving the Joker may not ultimately lead to a happy ending for anyone involved.

From the DC Vault: Death in the Family – Robin Lives! #1
‘From the DC Vault: Death in the Family – Robin Lives!’ #1 review
From the DC Vault: Death in the Family – Robin Lives! #1
DC tells a fascinating story of an alternate timeline where Jason Todd survived the Joker's attack in the 'Death in the Family' tale.
Reader Rating1 Votes
9
The book has the perfect balance of action and deep psychological moments.
The contrast of the Silver Age Joker facing off against a much grimmer Batman is fun to read.
The story takes off in unexpected directions.
More time is spent with Bruce Wayne/Batman than Jason.
8.5
Great
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