THIS WEEK: Take a glimpse into what could have been for A Death in the Family in Batman #428: Robin Lives!

Note: the review below contains spoilers. Also, it is a review of an alternate version of a very famous 35-year-old comic, so. Do with that what you will. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.

Batman #428: Robin Lives!

Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Jim Aparo
Inker: Mike DeCarlo
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Additional Colors: Marie Javins
Letterer: John Costanza
Cover Artist: Mike Mignola

A Death in the Family was a major turning point for Batman. Regarded in-universe as one of the dark knight’s greatest failures, the death of second Robin Jason Todd, as decided in the real world through a phone-in vote by readers which was decided by a margin of just 72 votes, would loom large over Batman and his world for years to come. But what if it had gone the other way? Back in 1988, DC produced two versions of Batman #428, the chapter of A Death in the Family in which readers learned Robin’s fate. In the version that went to print, Robin died; in the other version, Robin survived. For decades, the full alternate pages in which Jason Todd lived were only viewable to those lucky few who got a tour of DC’s archives, though they were eventually published, albeit in unfinished form, in a deluxe hardcover edition of A Death in the Family back in 2021. Now DC has done one better, producing a ‘fauxsimile’ edition of the alternate Batman #428, featuring finished pages and the alternate scripting for a comic in which Jason Todd does not die.

As a production, Batman #428: Robin Lives! is beautiful. All of DC’s facsimile editions include the original ads that appeared in the issue at the time of release, and this one is no different. It’s a very different experience reading this issue with ads breaking up Batman sifting through rubble than it is to read it digitally or in a collection without ads. The alternate pages themselves include one full page of art (the oft-seen “He’s alive!” page), a handful of patch panels and alternate scripting from writer Jim Starlin, and a nearly full-page scene between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. The differences may not seem like much, but they’re significant, and they’re perfectly presented. All of the alternate art in the issue, pencilled and inked in 1988 by Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo, respectively, has been colored by DC editor-in-chief Marie Javins to resemble the work of original series colorist Adrienne Roy. Even the aforementioned “He’s alive!” page, previously colored and published in 2005’s Batman Annual #25, has been recolored to better fit in with the original pages. Visually the ‘new’ pages and patch panels fit seamlessly alongside the originals, and the lettering on the handful of alternate script bits fits in nicely with John Costanza’s original letters. It’s an impressive feat given how much coloring and lettering techniques have changed over the course of 35 years, and it’s clear a lot of care went into putting this ‘fauxsimile’ together.

The elephant in the room, of course, is Jason’s survival. A Death in the Family was always kind of a clunky story, predicated on a lot of coincidences – Jason just happens to get a box of his father’s things that includes a birth certificate where only his mother’s name is mostly smudged out; his father just happens to have kept meticulous records of everyone he ever knew, including, somehow, Lady Shiva; The Joker just happens to show up everywhere Batman and Robin go looking for Jason’s mother; Jason’s real mother just happens to also be in cahoots with The Joker. Nothing seems to happen organically in this story, but, then, it didn’t really have to, as it was all just table-setting for that warehouse explosion and the decision of Robin’s fate. The wordless image of Batman carrying Robin’s dead body is about as iconic as Batman pages come.

So what happens when you take that iconic image out, replacing it with a jubilant Batman discovering that Robin is still alive? Honestly, this becomes just another comic. Robin’s death is a gut-punch after pages of build-up, Batman sifting through rubble, reflecting on Jason’s origin, discovering Jason’s mother and witnessing her final breaths, and then finally finding his body. It almost feels anti-climactic, then, to have him still be alive after everything that has come before. Yes, Jason still ends up in a coma, with no indication of how or when he’ll ever come out of it, but that information, relayed pages later in a small panel, doesn’t pack the punch of the wordless, full-page image that originally saw print. It feels safe to say that, from a storytelling perspective, the outcome of that vote went in the right direction.

The most exciting new material here, though, is the hospital scene between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Bruce and Dick had been established to have a strained relationship post-Crisis, and had had a tense confrontation a year prior in Batman #416. This new scene, in which Dick rushes to Bruce’s side to offer to help track down The Joker, an offer which Bruce declines, is rife not only with the pathos of what’s happened to Jason, but of what’s come before between the original dynamic duo. It’s a short scene, just six panels long, but it packs quite a punch. Editorial notes on the original art for this page, as seen in the A Death in the Family deluxe edition, indicate that Dick would have been replaced in this scene with Alfred, and Alfred appears in a graveside version of this scene that went to print in the original version of the issue. That makes what appears here almost an alternate version of an already-alternate scene, and all the more interesting.

Reading this alternate Batman #428 is extremely fun, if only for all of the What Ifs it raises. What if Robin had actually survived? What would the next year, two years, five years of Batman stories have looked like? How long would Jason have lain in a coma? How would Bruce and Dick’s relationship have been impacted differently? Would Tim Drake, who first appeared less than a year after Jason’s death, have still eventually been introduced? And what would have happened if and when Jason woke up? The outcome of A Death in the Family changed Batman forever, and it’s almost hard to imagine what would have followed had Jason not died. For now, all we have to go on there is this brief but fascinating glimpse into an alternate reality. Here’s hoping DC makes more items previously locked in the DC Vault available to readers in the future; this one was certainly worth the wait.

Final Verdict: BUY.


  • This week sees the finale of Tom King, Jorge Fornés, Dave Stewart, and Clayton Cowles’s Danger Street, King’s twelve-issue Black Label experiment to see if he could tell a coherent, satisfying story featuring the disparate characters of the ‘70s First Issue Special series. For the most part I’d say the experiment was a success, as this issue wraps up each character or group of characters’ arc nicely. I have to admit, I’ll probably miss the Dingbats of Danger Street the most.
  • Also wrapping this week is Mark Waid, Emanuela Lupacchino, Jordie Bellaire, and Steve Wands’s World’s Finest: Teen Titans miniseries. The team is joined by artist Mike Norton for the finale, which finds the original teen superteam up against wannabe hero Haywire and his Terror Titans. This series has been a blast, digging into the personal and superheroic lives of a sextet of classic characters with a modern storytelling sensibility. More World’s Finest spin-offs like this would be very welcome.
  • In present-day Titans stories, Titans: Beast World continues as Tom Taylor, Ivan Reis, Danny Miki, Brad Anderson, and Wes Abbott bring readers into the chaos that is gripping the world thanks to the mindless Beast Boy’s spores. In the midst of the action, Taylor, Reis, and co. still find room for some really nice character moments, with a focus on Nightwing and Batman in particular. Solid event storytelling.
  • And finally, for those already in the holiday spirit comes DC’s ‘Twas the Mite Before Christmas, the latest seasonal anthology one-shot from the publisher. This book features eight holiday-themed stories, including a number of stories parodying classic holiday movies and stories. Ethan Sacks and Soo Lee’s Lex Luthor-starring “Lex-tacular Christmas Carol” is particularly fun, as is Jillian Grant and Rebekah Isaacs’s Booster Gold tale “The Santa Copies.” The standout for me, though, was Michael W. Conrad and Gavin Guidry’s “Streaks in the Sky,” a Superman story that gets to the heart both of the character and of the season. It’s a powerful story about hope and kindness.

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