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Jason Todd's relationship with Batman turned sour as a result of his battles with criminals, which were almost suicidal. Batman decided to relieve Jason from his duties as Robin in order to allow him to mourn the death of his parents. Jason rese

A Death in the Family is a four-part storyline written by Jim Starlin and illustrated by Jim Aparo. Published in 1988 on Batman (Volume 1), the story provides one of the most shocking developments to the Batman mythos as Jason Todd, the second Robin, is killed at the hand of Batman's archenemy, the Joker.

The story is controversial in more ways than one, as it was the result of a social experiment by the producers of the Batman comics and their audience, in which people would have the last say regarding Robin's ultimate fate. The audience chose the Boy Wonder to die and thus, a legendary figure in comics was eliminated, bringing shock value and darker elements to the comic book industry as a whole.


Jason Todd's relationship with Batman turned sour as a result of his battles with criminals, which were almost suicidal. Batman decided to relieve Jason from his duties as Robin in order to allow him to mourn the death of his parents. Jason resented this and stormed out, refusing to discuss the issue of his parents.

While walking through his old neighborhood, Jason met a friend of his parents, Mrs. Walker, who gave him a box containing his father's old papers and other documents, including photos and articles relating to his family. Among them, Jason found his birth certificate and a gut-wrenching surprise: the name of the mother has been almost blotted out (the contents of the box are a little water-damaged due to Mrs. Jackson's landlord failing to have the roof fixed), but the initial is "S" — not "C" as in Catherine Todd, the woman Jason knew as "Mom".

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Reckless Robin

He concluded that she was in fact his stepmother and resolved to find his biological one. Searching the box, he found his father's now out-of-date address book which gave the name of three women whose first name started with "S", and he tracked their present whereabouts using the Batcomputer. However, all three were based in the Middle East and Africa. Jason therefore ran away from home to find them.

Meanwhile the Joker had escaped from Arkham Asylum, leaving a trail of death behind him. Batman discovered that he somehow obtained a nuclear weapon and would sell it to terrorists. He tracked him to civil war-torn Lebanon where he and Jason met. They foiled an attempt by Arab terrorists to destroy Tel Aviv using a nuclear missile sold to them by the Joker. Sharmin Rosen, a Mossad agent who was at the scene, and whom Jason was tracking, denied ever giving birth in Gotham City.

Another of the suspected "mothers" was none other than Batman's old acquaintance Lady Shiva, whom they tracked down to a terrorist training camp. It is only with Robin's help that Batman overcame her in a fight that proved almost fatal for him. Using a truth drug they got her to admit that she is not the mother.

Finally, they go to Ethiopia, which was in the middle of a famine, and met the third "suspect": Sheila Haywood, an aid worker. She proved to be the right one and she and Jason had an emotional reunion. However, unknown to Batman and Robin, Sheila used to perform illegal operations in Gotham and had been recently blackmailed by the Joker into giving him the medical supplies her agency had in a nearby warehouse.

Joker denied the medical supplies to the starving in order to sell them on the black market and also replaced them with his laughing gas which, once set off, would've killed thousands of people.

Jason Todd meets Crowbar

Sheila herself had been embezzling from the aid agency and, as part of the cover-up, handed her own son (now in his Robin costume) over to the Joker. The Joker brutally battered him with a crowbar. Robin was soon lying unconscious in a pool of blood, which the Joker complacently remarked is "a bit messy". He then left him and Sheila in the warehouse with a time bomb.

Sheila and Robin tried desperately to get out of the warehouse but were still inside as the bomb went off. Batman arrived too late to save them as he was stopping the Joker's venom to reach the city and they died from their injuries.

The bodies were taken back to Gotham for burial. Since none of their relatives could be found, the only people attending the funeral were Bruce Wayne and three friends, butler Alfred Pennyworth, Commissioner James Gordon and his wheelchair-bound daughter Barbara, herself a victim of the Joker (see Batman: The Killing Joke).

Blaming himself for Jason's death, a guilt-ridden Batman resolved to carry on alone. He even turned down Alfred's suggestion to involve Dick Grayson, his original partner.

The Joker himself, meanwhile, met none other than the Ayatollah Khomeini, who offered him a position in the Iranian government. The Joker left a warehouse filled with the dead bodies of his discarded henchmen and a clue in the form of a message painted on the wall in red paint reading B, See you at 42nd and 1st. J., which Batman realized refers to city street corners. After eliminating Gotham City and Metropolis as possibilities, Batman discovered that on the corner of 42nd and 1st in New York is the United Nations building, which had to be what the Joker's message refered to.

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Joker Ambassador

While waiting outside the building, Batman met Superman, who was sent by the State Department. Superman tried to convince him to leave, and his evasive attitude and refusal to answer questions led Batman to punch him across the jaw; fortunately, Superman rolled with the punch, leaving Batman with only badly bruised knuckles. Superman asked Batman about Jason, and at this point a limousine pulled up at the curb. The Joker steped out, revealing to Batman and Superman that he had become Iran's representative at the UN.

Ralph Bundy, a CIA contact, told Batman to keep away from the Joker since it could start a diplomatic incident, which the government would rather avoid. The Joker had diplomatic immunity and every crime he had ever committed was swept under the carpet.

That night, Batman talked to the Joker in order to confirm his suspicions about him being Jason's killer and he left learning the true. The next day, Joker was due to give a speech to the General Assembly and Bruce Wayne used his high-level contacts in order to get in as an unofficial observer. The Joker appeared dressed in Arab clothes and as he walked to the stage, he stopped for a moment and exchanged glances with Bruce. Did he recognize Bruce as Batman? The question is never answered.

The Joker made his speech claiming that he and the Iranians were treated with disrespect by the rest of the world. He announced that they will not take any more of such treatment and released his deadly laughing gas over the Assembly.

However, a security guard broke up the Joker's weapon and inhaled all the gas, clearing the hall. It turned out to be Superman in disguise. He flew out of the building in order to get rid of the gas while Batman and the Joker fought.

The Joker got out of the building and into a helicopter sent to him by his sponsors. Batman got in and, during the fight that followed, one of the Joker's henchmen opened fire with a machine gun. The bullets flew everywhere, hitting everyone, including the Joker and the pilot, who lost control and crashed into the sea.

Superman saved Batman, who told him to find the Joker's body; unsurprisingly, the archcriminal's corpse is nowhere to be found. Batman lamented that everything between him and the Joker ends that way: unresolved.



  • Jason Todd would actually reappear alive 20 years later, briefly during the events of "Hush," and more extensively during the events of "Under the Hood," in which he took up the identity of the Red Hood, the original mantle of the Joker. He was resurrected by Superboy-Prime changing the fabric of reality when he punched it.[1]
  • On December 12, 2023, DC release a "Faux-simile Edition" of Batman #428 which shows an alternate version of the story if Jason lived.


A Death in the Family Advert

Original call-in advertisement from Batman #427. (The telephone numbers shown here are no longer valid.)

  • A call-in advertisement was printed on the inside back cover of Batman #427, headlined ROBIN WILL DIE BECAUSE THE JOKER WANTS REVENGE. BUT YOU CAN PREVENT IT WITH A TELEPHONE CALL. This actually asked Batman readers to call in to one of two 1-(900) telephone numbers and vote on whether or not they thought Jason Todd should survive or not. The first number was labeled The Joker fails and Robin lives, the other The Joker succeeds and Robin will not survive. DC Comics had two versions of Batman #428 prepared, awaiting the verdict. Fans were skeptical about whether or not DC Comics would actually go through with it, and many were surprised when the young hero did actually die. However the final poll results were inconclusive, as apparently a single person had voted for Jason to die more than 100 times — having programmed his home computer to dial the Joker succeeds number every ninety seconds for eight hours.
  • Interestingly, the last three digits of the second telephone number (Joker succeeds) are 666: the number usually associated with the Devil.

Recommended Reading

Links and References

Batman Blind Justice TP
Batman Family Storyline
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This event or storyline is specifically related to Batman, or to members of the Batman Family. This template will automatically categorize articles that include it into the Batman Storylines category.

A Death in the Family
Book One: Batman #426 Book Two: Batman #427 Book Three: Batman #428 Book Four: Batman #429