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03/02/2003: about Batman: A Death in the Family

Today I found a collection of A Death in the Family for only $4.00 at a comic trading bourse, and instead of finishing the review of Batman Year 3 (Batman #436-#439) that I'd already started, I read this one (originally published in Batman #426-#429), and the comments I have about it just pushed to the forefront.

So about A Death in the Family, written by Jim Starlin, pencils by Jim Aparo, inks by Mike DeCarlo:

Okay, this one was rather awful. And I don't mean it made me feel awful because Jason died. Some parts, especially some of the relationship parts weren't that bad, but for me everything was tinged by the utter ludicrousness of the plot.

The crucial thing is that mixing real world politics into superhero comics doesn't work for me. The two just don't mix. There may be those rare exceptions (none of which I can currently think of) but as a rule of thumb, the two don't go well together. I think it's because the logic of the universes is just slightly different, no matter how "gritty" the superhero comic is (for example I think that Marvels is fairly gritty with its perspective from the ordinary people) it can't be realistic in a real world sense. I know that in the tradition of superhero comics these scenarios have been there probably from the start, like superheroes fighting in WWII, or whatever, but for me the "believability" of the superhero universe just breaks down at that point, and I loose every interest in reading it.

In the Batverse all those lunatic supervillains, mixed with a mass of organized crime make sense, they are "realistic" in that universe. They are the fitting counterparts for Batman. In a recent issue of Amazing Spiderman #32 -- The Long Dark Pizza of the Soul someone says to Peter "You know a man by his enemies." and then goes on to explain how the superheroes fight villains that match them on some level, that "One type attracts another, similar type. Gods against Gods, patriots against people who think they're patriots, mutants against mutants. The kind of enemy you get tells someone a lot about the kind of person you are. Now consider your situation. From the very beginning, more than anyone else out there, you have been beset by a series of totemistic pretenders. [...] The world is built on a series of checks and balances. [...]" He also mentions examples (vultures, crocodiles, octopi, scorpions, jackals...), and tells a lot of stuff only relevant to that story line, and of course Peter is not at all convinced that his powers have anything to do with totems, and btw the whole huge meta-plot about the nature of Peter's powers that is ongoing through the current version of Spiderman as JMS writes him, is a fascinating topic which I've been wanting to talk about for a while now, but that has to wait for another blog entry.

But I really think that it is true that this balance has to be there in order for a superhero comic to work. And when some realistic elements, persons and situations are taken and warped and the attempt is made to fit them into the other universe the balance that makes a superhero universe work for me just breaks down. Like a fragile house of cards. Of course other realistic things might work, and of course the style and the skill of writers and artists can change the range of what works and what doesn't as well, but the balance is fragile. And Chomeini hiring the Joker as an UN ambassador to kill the UN assembly with poisonous laughing gas happens to be one of the things triggering such a breakdown.

But even before that the plot was broken in other ways right from the start. The whole way Jason goes about finding his mother, for example. Unless US bureaucracy works totally different from any I've seen, the natural thing when his birth certificate is unreadable would be to get another copy of the documentation where the name is readable, not tracking down acquaintances from his Dad's address book whose names start with S through Lebanon, Israel and Ethiopia. Surely the authorities in the US keep the data of births as well as just writing it down in one copy of a birth certificate? Or what about hospital records? I mean if a birth certificate is damaged there has to be a way to get a new one and find out the name of Jason's mother without tracking down potential relatives on another continent. And it's not as if Jason wasn't doing research, he tracks down the women's whereabouts after all, so he doesn't run off without any clear thought.

A few parts worked for me. Batman cradling the broken body of Robin in his arms was a powerful image, no matter what contrivances led up to it, Alfred asking Bruce whether he should call Dick, and Bruce declaring once again that he'll work alone from now on, some of Batman's introspection on his relationship with the Joker (though of course it doesn't reach the intensity that The Killing Joke achieved with that)... But overall? Bleh.

Posted by RatC @ 12:32 AM CET
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Replies: 1 Comment

Yep, colour me agreeing. They don't handle the dichotomy very well in this comic. And what also got to me about ADITF was that they VOTED on it. Asked the fans to decide if Jason died or not. I know some people think it's a good thing, but if I were the writer that would have seriously f*cked me off.

Posted by Tosca @ 03/02/2003 02:24 AM CET