October 12, 2020
Street Date 10/13/20;
Voices of Bruce Greenwood, Vincent Martella, John DiMaggio, Gary Cole, Zehra Fazal.
For this fun experiment in interactive storytelling, the Warner Bros. Animation team has taken a cue from one of the most seminal stories in DC Comics history, as well as revisited one of the more popular movies inspired by the same source.
The short film Batman: Death in the Family, based on the infamous 1988 “A Death in the Family” storyline from the Batman comics, serves as a companion to 2010’s Batman: Under the Red Hood, featuring most of the same voice cast as well as director Brandon Vietti at the helm.
The most notable aspect about “Death in the Family” in the comics was that the editors held a phone poll to determine whether Batman’s sidekick, Robin, would die at the hands of the Joker. This, however, wasn’t the original Robin, Dick Grayson, who had moved on to become Nightwing in the comics, but his replacement, Jason Todd, a streetwise but hotheaded kid who had grown unpopular with fans. So, by a slim margin, they voted to kill him off, and the writers of the comic obliged.
And since hardly anyone stays dead in comic books, Jason Todd eventually returned in a 2005 storyline that served as the basis for Under the Red Hood, a movie that began by briefly touching upon his death in the earlier storyline, when Joker abandons him in a warehouse filled with explosives.
The Death in the Family short, however, is not so much an adaptation of the precursor storyline to Red Hood as it is an expansion upon the death of Robin elements already used by that movie. In fact, after a striking opening title sequence, the first scenes of Death in the Family offer reused footage from the opening of Red Hood, interspliced with some newly created flashbacks to show how Jason Todd ended up being tortured by the Joker, with Batman speeding to try to save him.
So, for about five minutes, Death in the Family serves as the prequel to Under the Red Hood a lot of fans might have been expecting. Then, however, it gets to the point where, just like the comics, fans can choose to see whether Jason lives or dies.
The movie is only interactive on the Blu-ray, and through various branching points can arrive at seven different possible endings. The digital presentation of the short offers four pre-assembled versions of the story. And here’s where things get tricky.
The primary version of the Death in the Family short would seem to be based on the version where viewers allow Jason to die, just as he did in Under the Red Hood. This version is dubbed Under the Red Hood: Reloaded, and is basically just a half hour of Bruce Wayne narrating the events that unfold in Under the Red Hood, with a nice surprise at the end involving who he’s telling the story to.
In the interactive version, the other options viewers have at the first decision point are to have Jason merely survive the explosion, or to have Batman save him at the last moment. The more interesting “what if” scenarios come with having Batman save him, as that leads to more alternate possibilities down the pike, and take advantage of a lot of references to various developments in the comics that happened in the wake of Jason’s death. This is the aspect of the short that comic book fans are likely to derive the most enjoyment from, rather than just the rehash of Under the Red Hood.
In its digital presentation, these alternate realities are represented by pre-edited shorts called Jason Todd’s Rebellion, Robin’s Revenge and Red Hood’s Reckoning.
To round out the presentation, the Blu-ray includes four additional DC Showcase animated shorts that were originally released as extras with other recent DC animated movies.
These include Sgt. Rock, an Army hero battling Nazi zombies story that came with 2019’s Batman: Hush; Death, which came with 2019’s Wonder Woman: Bloodlines and is based on the character from Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”; the 1970s mystery The Phantom Stranger that came with 2020’s Superman: Red Sun; and Adam Strange, a tale of a space adventurer remembering his heroic past, which came with 2020’s Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.
Interestingly, while a plot thread of the comic book version of “Hush” inspired the “Under the Hood” story to resurrect Jason Todd, the movie versions of each are not related and are set in separate continuities.
The only extras on the Blu-ray are enthusiastic commentaries on all five shorts by a pair of former hosts of the DC Daily talk show that used to be presented by the DC Universe streaming service. They’re essentially fans reacting to seeing the adaptations of the source material and providing a bit of comic book history for the benefit of viewers. For their Death in the Family commentary, the Blu-ray plays it with the Under the Red Hood: Reloaded version of the short.