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Continuing the guest reviews of my esteemed Comic Book Teacher friends, I present to you an amazing chunk of graphic novel reviews by my main man Jason Nisavic. Jason is a Social Studies teacher in my district. He has used graphic novels to great success in his classroom, he runs our school’s improv team, and he also heads the Gay/Straight Alliance; I tell you this because Jason is a busy dude, so I appreciate it when he comes through with some top-notch reviews!
Title: Batman: A Death In The Family
Author(s): Jim Aparo, Mike Decarlo, Adrienne Roy, and John Costanza
Publisher: DC Comics (1988)
Age Rating: 17+
(Warning: spoilers for a 30-year-old comic ahead…)
As jaded as modern comics fans have become by the temporary “deaths” of numerous heroes, it’s difficult to imagine a time when a major character’s demise was more than of passing interest. In 1988 DC tried to stir up controversy by allowing readers to vote on whether or not to let the Joker kill off the 2nd Robin, Jason Todd. Regardless of the outcome (they killed him, but don’t worry, the character came back) what DC delivered was a positively odd journey from Gotham to the United Nations General Assembly by way of the Middle East and also there’s a death in there too!
When it comes to great Batman books, you’ll probably never find A Death in the Family on the top of anyone’s listicle. The 80’s was a strange time for the caped crusader, and this story reflects the odd transition that Batman was experiencing between the campy Adam West era and the grim hero embodied in Christopher Nolan’s films. Comic works such as this are just as much historical primary source as they are entertainment. This story is positively dripping from its immersion in the 80’s zeitgeist, with references to Reaganomics, a surprise appearance by Ayatollah Khomeini, and the occasional shoulder-padded power-suit.
What I do like about the book, especially since any gravitas it brought has been nullified by Jason Todd’s later resurrection, is that the book is ridiculous! How did the Joker sneak a nuclear warhead from Gotham to Iran?! Why would the Ayatollah make Joker a UN ambassador?! When Batman tells them that the world-renowned mass murderer is trying to kill the UN, why do they treat him like he’s the jerk?! And what, no one notices the two fire-extinguisher sized canisters on the Joker’s person?! A Death in the Family is worth a read if you’re into taking deep dives through Batman’s continually traumatic past. Just don’t expect the tone to stay entirely in the noir, semi-realistic place to which modern fans of the Bat are accustomed.
-Thank you, Jason, for this review, and I look forward to featuring your insightful take for the next chunk of days! Please give Jason a follow on social media @teaching_humans
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