REVIEW: Batman: Death in the Family
900 numbers for polling purposes, charging users for each call placed, was a 1980s fad that seemed perfect to employ in comic books for some sort of stunt. Editor Denny O’Neil and DC’s Marketing team, led by Bruce Bristow, conceived of the stunt and Jim Starlin wrote the four-part “Death in the Family” storyline to accommodate the stunt. Jason Todd, the second Robin, never was accepted by fans, either under his father, writer Gerry Conway or the post-Crisis writers Max Allan Collins and Jim Starlin. Callers got to say he would live or die.
It went on to become a media sensation, and a closer than expected vote. It also brought down the wrath of Warner Bros who was unaware of the event and the press attention because, back then, DC was a pimple on the conglomerate’s butt and no one considered telling them.
Still, the strong storyline and fine art from Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo turned the story, post-event, into a seminal tale that has been collected and referenced ever since. It sadly also gave rise to the nonsensical “Under the Red Hood”, which somehow resurrected Jason Todd, turning him from a mid-to-late teen into a muscular adult. We know the Lazarus Pit can bring back the dead, but the physical changes seemed arbitrary/ Nor was his resurrection necessary. But that’s me.
The twin stories have been compacted into the newly released Batman: Death in the Family, containing a first for the DC Animated Universe: interactivity. Much like the original story, once the Joker beats Robin with a crowbar, viewers get to pick what happens next: Robin dies in a fiery explosion or Batman save Robin. Later, viewers get other branching options, so the 86 minute run time covers all the variations while each iteration runs about 20 minutes each.
Some make more sense than others, and there’s reused footage from the Under the Red Hood animated film, both of which were directed by Brandon Vietti.
As a stunt, it’s fine with fun branches and keeps you engaged. As an adaptation of the Big Event, it leaves a lot to be desired. In truncating the story, we lose Robin’s motivation, which was seeking his birth mother, leading him to accidentally encountering the Joker. Here, he’s a brat, defying Batman’s orders to not go after the Clown Prince of Crime by himself. Meanwhile, very little of the Judd Winick story about Jason’s resurrection and reinvention as the Red Hood survives in this adaptation.
It’s interesting for this to come out just after the animated universe was rebooted in the recently released Superman; Man of Steel disc, since this stands alone.
The disc is available only as Blu-ray and Digital HD code option. Please be aware that the Digital version does not offer the branching options so you get one story called Under the Red Hood: Reloaded.
The 1080p presentation is in keeping with the usual high standards from Warner Home Entertainment and retains the color palette well. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio keeps pace so the overall home experience is a strong one.
The adventure receives audio commentary from DC Daily’s Amy Dallen and Hector Navarro, touching on the source material and the animated adaptation.
The disc comes complete with the recent run of DC Showcase shorts, which have been scattered elsewhere overt the last few years. As with the previous releases, these tend to be more satisfying than the stories they accompany. This time around we have Sgt. Rock (14:55), first appearing on Batman: Hush; Adam Strange (16:05), which can also be found on Justice League Dark: Apokolips War; The Phantom Stranger (15:07) from Superman: Red Son; and Death (19:08), which first appeared on Wonder Woman: Bloodlines.
The shorts also receive new commentary from Dallen and Navarro, adding some additional background and detail.