A Death of the Family, obviously a clever play on A Death in the Family, is one of the most disgusting and vile stories in Batman’s history. It is not for the faint of heart. The story follows the age-old battle of Batman and the Joker but with a twist. This Joker is more demented and deranged than any from the past. A Death of the Family doesn’t just tell a good story, it tells what has become one of the definitive Batman stories.
A Death of the Family picks up with the world wondering where the Joker is. It’s been over a year since anyone has seen him and for him to disappear is unusual. But that’s about to change.
As Harley Quinn waits silently in the dark room the Joker summoned her to, his voice breaks the silence. He tells her to strip down and put on a very particular suit. She exclaims that she looks just like him to which he replies that she does, albeit for one small thing…her face. You must remember that this story occurs after he removed the skin off of his own face. He proceeds to explain how much cutting her face off would hurt. As she begins to panic, he flips the light on to reveal that he has begun to wear the Red Hood helmet again. Crisis averted.
The Joker is back and he’s here to wreak havoc.
With news spreading that Gotham is set to become under siege, the entirety of the Batfamily calls to Bruce explaining that they are here to help. Of course, Batman shuffles them aside telling each that all is well and the battle is between him and the Joker.
The scene shifts to the Ace Chemical Factory…the birthplace of the Joker. Batman arrives only to find a man wearing the Red Hood mask. He immediately jumps at the man and yells that he isn’t the Joker. The Red Hood tells Batman that, as always, he is one step behind and due to this, has never been able to rid Gotham of the virus that plagues it. He finishes his monologue by letting Batman know that he will rid the world of all that makes Batman slow…his friends.
The first of the Joker’s victim’s, Alfred Pennyworth falls quickly. Batman returns to Wayne Manor only to find a cassette tape that details exactly how Alfred was caught and tortured. The tape ends with the Joker explaining that he aims to have a celebration and that he needed someone to serve his guests…Alfred. As Batman holds the tape in his hands, he notices a name on the backside…Gordon.
He rushes to James Gordon and implores his friend to come to his safe house. Gordon replies that he cannot and that he must do everything he can to apprehend their common enemy. As the two continue to deliberate, Gordon falls over with blood dripping from his skin. Batman rushes him to the hospital and the scene shifts again.
Tell no secrets
He meets up with Nightwing and begins to explain that the Joker is targeting all known allies of Batman. Alfred, James Gordon… He asks Nightwing to keep this to himself as he doesn’t want to worry the other members of his family. When asked how he could possibly keep this from the others, Batman tells Nightwing that he must and that he is barely able to keep it together himself. Nightwing begs to go with Batman but, of course, Batman declines.
He meets up with the Joker at the Waterfront and tells him that it’s over. The Joker responds by proclaiming “quite the contrary”. He lets Batman know that he has killed all the people around the Waterfront and that they are being held down in the water by concrete blocks. Enraged, Batman jumps forward and grabs the Joker by the throat. Unfortunately, he had laced his skin with his toxin and Batman now finds himself paralyzed. With nobody to stop him, the Joker simply walks away.
Next, we see Batman he is back in the Batcave accompanied by Damian Wayne, Jason Todd, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Barbara Gordon. The five allies pepper Batman with questions. They ask him why he didn’t tell them about Alfred and whether or not the Joker actually knows whom each of them is. He tells them that he didn’t want them to become emotional over Aflred and that there was zero chance the Joker knew their identities.
He leaves the Batcave following a lead that he has on the Joker. His lead takes him to Arkham Asylum where Joker has taken the entire staff hostage. This means that he now controls the entire compound. As Batman enters he immediately notices that things are not as they should be. He sees that the guards and staff are dancing and dressed in Batman and Joker costumes. They cry out for his help but before he can do anything, the Joker activates the electrical current going to their feet. Batman is able to prevent many of the deaths and after doing so, leaves for the next room.
After multiple rooms, he finally arrives in the last room where he sees The Joker, Two-Face, The Riddler, and the Penguin all awaiting his arrival. Further to this, he sees some Arkham workers dressed up as members of the Justice League. Batman lunges towards his foe but not before tripping the power to the room. He believes that he has won but the Joker proves otherwise. Joker flips on a screen and shows Batman the apprehension of each member of the Bat-Family. Joker then electrocutes Batman rendering him unconscious.
Batman wakes up in a room at a table set with plates and covers for the plates. And at the table with him is each member of his family. He quickly notices that each has a mask over their face and wonders why. Batman screams at him looking to know what he the Joker done. Before the Joker could answer, Alfred, all drugged up on Joker Toxin, comes out to serve their guests. The masks are then removed from each face of his family revealing a series of wraps and bandages.
Each member gasps in horror and they speculate what could be on the plates in front of them. Could the Joker have done the same to them as he did to himself? Could each be being served their own face for dinner? Alfred removes the covers from the plates and reveals that yes, their faces are on the plates.
Before anyone could even think, the Joker ignites the table on fire thereby burning all that Batman holds dear. Batman, however, has a plan. He realizes that he is in a cave around the Batcave and knows that there is a water supply just outside. He quickly jumps up, releases the water and extinguishes the flames. Batman runs over to his son Damian and begins to peel back the bandages. As he gets closer to the end, he begins to smile. He learns that this was a clever rouse and that each member of his family was actually safe.
A Death of the Family – a story all to itself
Batman takes off after the Joker but is unable to catch him. The Joker knew this would happen and planned for it. A bomb goes off in the room, infecting each member of the Bat-Family with Joker Toxin. He finally catches up with the Joker and begins to pummel him into the ground. While the Joker tries to convince Batman to go back to his family to prevent what the Toxin may do to them, he simply keeps punching him. Joker tells him that his family makes him weak but Batman retorts that they actually make him strong.
The Joker frees himself and as he begins to jump over a waterfall to his death, Batman catches him. Batman tells him that he knows all his secrets. Who he was. Where he came from. What his family was like. And just as Batman begins to whisper his real name, the Joker frees himself and falls down the waterfall.
The effect of A Death of the Family was widespread. At its conclusion, the entirety of the Bat-F
Aside from being a great story, A Death of the Family had far-reaching repercussions. It affected Batman stories and its mythos for years. More than that, it continued to prove that Batman is one of the deepest, darkest, and well-developed anti-heroes that DC has to offer.