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The Allan Keyes Classic Comics Creview: Batman, A Death in the Family

10 Jun

June 1o, 2013

keyes

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I had occasion to re-read this last week (in other words, I was out of books and needed to grab something off the old pile to read in the bathroom) and a few things about this “classic” really smacked me that never were noticed back when I first read this as a kid.

As you all know, this is the book that is famous because they killed Robin. And there’s precious little else to recommend this outside of the snuff film factor.

THE BAD:

Load of Crap #1: The entire story! Moody, pre-menstrual Jason Todd (Robin) finds out that his mother was really his step mother, and sets off to find his true parent. Ok, fair enough. But we find out that his mother is one of three people:  An Israeli secret agent, Lady Shiva (one of the deadliest assassins in the DC Universe, a Batman-level fighter) or some broad running famine relief in Ethiopia. So let’s get this straight: We’re to believe that Jason Todd’s father, who was a minor skell working for Two Face, not only knew but bagged an Israeli secret agent, the worlds’ deadliest assassin (pre-Deathstroke) and some other broad whom the reader with a functional IQ of above 15 immediately pegged as the mother by page 3 . And we didn’t have the benefit of the Bat-Computer. WOW, being a two-bit henchman really helps you put up numbers if you know what I mean and I know that you do!

Mr. BTR ADDS: Amazingly, and this is true, all those women are listed under “S.” I’d love to see some of the other pages, like “P” with Diana Prince listed, “K” containing Selina Kyle, and I’d bet “L” featuring Lane, Lois and Lemaris, Lori.

Load of Crap #2: By an amazing ko-inky-dink, we find that all three women are in the same part of the world- the middle east!  How convenient for young annoying Jason, who goes running off on his own. And it turns out to be convenient for Batman too, because due to Load of Crap #3, the Joker escaping Arkham and running off to the mid-East to sell a nuke to terrorists, he amazingly runs smack into Robin, because the terrorists the Joker is selling his missile to are the SAME terrorists prospective mother #1 (the secret agent) is infiltrating. HOW ABOUT THAT! And those very same terrorists are being trained by prospective mother #2, lady Shiva. HOW ABOUT THAT! Gimme an effing break, eh effendi? The Middle East is millions of miles of land, and everyone on the planet is congregating in the same tiny dinky town in Lebanon.  Um……………..NO

Anyway, Load of Crap #4– Not only does the Joker know prospective mother #3, but she’s also as crooked as an IRS worker (hey, I can do topical also!) and has a shady past the Joker can exploit! So when Batman and Robin go to the family reunion, guess who’s waiting! Note to Jim Starlin: A CONTINUING SERIES OF COINCIDENCES IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR A GOOD STORY. Anyhow, you know the rest – Robin’s mother pulls a patented NWO Swerve (Mr. B will explain) on her little boychik, and  the Joker clubs the little b*tch like a baby seal. Explosion cliffhanger, he finally dies THANK GOD, setting the stage for thousands of issues of bat-angst.

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Mr. BTR EXPLAINS: In the old WCW, there was a huge group of wrestlers called the NWO and they were insanely popular. However, they were also as predictable as a Mets loss. Seemingly every week, they would come out to the ring and talk about how they were pissed at one of their own teammates and were going to kick the crap out him during his match and help his opponent and invariably, not only would they not kick the crap out of him, they would join him in beating up his opponent. And EVERY WEEK the opponent thought this would be the week where the NWO would actually turn on one of their own guys. It NEVER happened yet FOR MONTHS people expected it. So Robin’s mother turning on Robin was something we could see coming two miles away.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the art:  IT SUCKS.  I mean look at this:

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The Joker’s face is drawn like an inverted isosceles triangle. It’s asinine. He’s clearly not a human.

THE GOOD!

Robin gets snuffed. LOVE IT! But this is also the Joker at his most out of control homicidal. At the time, in recent continuity he had just shot Barbara Gordon and crippled her, and this storyline was a great escalation of that. Besides racking up a body count and killing Robin, he has bigger plans:

1)      He sells a nuke to terrorists to pop off at Tel Aviv

2)      To replenish his funds, he steals Ethiopian famine relief and replaces it with cases of his laughing gas.  Hundreds of crates, each w/ enough lethal poison to spread over four acres. HE’S PLANNING THE GENOCIDE OF THE ENTIRE ETHIOPIAN PEOPLE!!! And he smirks and tells the aid worker to look on the bright side, there will be less mouths to feed. WOW. Note the tan makeup he’s wearing to blend in. Looks like a demented George Hamilton.

3)      He tries to murder the entire United Nations General Assembly.

Mr. BTR EXPOUNDS: (!)! Go back to Allan Keyes' previous point about the art. Now that he is a more normal color, you can see how ridiculous the Joker's anatomy is. What's up with that chin? Even Plastic Man is usually drawn more realistically.

Mr. BTR EXPOUNDS: (!)! Go back to Allan Keyes’ previous point about the art. Now that he is a more normal color, you can see how ridiculous the Joker’s anatomy is. What’s up with that chin? Even Plastic Man is usually drawn more realistically.

Though the story is weak, it does contain one of the greatest end issue splashes EVER.  A rage-filled Batman is goaded to meet the Joker for a final confrontation at the UN, and what does he see? Joker is the fricking Iranian Ambassador!!!!! And not only that, Superman is there to make sure Batman doesn’t get him, because diplomatic immunity. AWESOME cliffhanger.  It’s so over the top insane I can almost forgive Starlin for the rest of this story.

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Mr. BTR rants: Keyes should have also included the next page in which Batman cradles his fist like a ragdoll and whines “I think I broke a couple of knuckles” in the most uncharacteristic Bat-manner you’ve ever seen. Totally ruins the impact of this otherwise cool page.

What the heck, I did it for him. Is this Batman? Batman would not show any weakness in front of Superman even if a badger had gnawed off his wiener.

What the heck, I did it for him. Is this Batman? Batman would not show any weakness in front of Superman even if a badger had gnawed off his wiener.

Still an awesome cliffhanger.

Still an awesome cliffhanger.

On a bit of a social note, it’s kind of refreshing to read a comic that treats Middle East terrorists as……villainous scumbags.  You even have Batman referencing the Iranian Embassy takeover as a reason to ignore Iran’s international rights! You will very rarely see this kind of moral clarity in comics today, if we ever really have.  The industry is wussified (except for Garth Ennis) and you’ll see the likes of Captain America fighting the greatest threat to the world today: the Tea Party http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2010/02/captain-america-vs-tea-parties/20207/, or Superman indulging in nonviolence vs. these same Iranians:

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Effing stupid wusses who populate the industry today. They’re under the impression the S on his chest stands for “Sally” </rant > 

Finally…..to my knowledge, this is the only comics appearance of Ayatollah Khomeini (outside of his own Iranian-published title, Jihad-Joe. See what I did there?)

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I had forgotten they put him in. I reflexively spat on the page when I saw it.

Anyway, you know the rest of the story.

The verdict: A good bathroom read, but massively overhyped.

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