Weâ€™ve all made choices that weâ€™ve come to regret. Decisions that either didnâ€™t work out the way weâ€™d hoped or expected, or that were made in such haste that we didnâ€™t fully understand what was at stake. Sometimes the results of these choices are an inconvenience, other times theyâ€™re profound, and on occasion they may be life shattering. In all cases, however, we think the same thingâ€”if I could do it again, Iâ€™d make a different choice. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.
But is it really?
Batman: Death in the Family is öčÓăÖ±˛Ąâ€™s latest animated feature and it boasts a unique twist. The Blu-ray release is interactive, allowing you to decide how certain events are going to turn out. Itâ€™s a 21st Century update to the original â€śA Death in the Familyâ€ť comic storyline, in which öčÓăÖ±˛Ą fans were given the choice to call two phone numbers to determine whether Robin lived or died at the hands of the Joker. Infamously, they chose death, forever altering the direction of Batman comics and the öčÓăÖ±˛Ą Universe and creating a pop culture moment thatâ€™s still discussed and debated to this day.
That decision, along with several others, is once again yours to make in the animated adaptation, giving you the chance to reverse that decision and let Robin survive the Jokerâ€™s attack. Doing that creates a sort of alternate continuity of what might have happened if fans had made that choice back in 1988.
As someone who came to comics after the 1980s, Iâ€™ve often wondered what I would have chosen if I had voted on Jason Toddâ€™s fate. I probably would have wanted him to surviveâ€”Iâ€™ve never been a big fan of death as a gimmick in comics. The fact that Jasonâ€™s demise didnâ€™t stick and resulted in a new Robin who has contributed to a current overabundance of Boy Wonders suggests to me that everything would have been a whole lot cleaner if weâ€™d just stuck with Jason in the first place.
The Death in the Family interactive movie makes a pretty good case that you should be careful what you wish for. Much like weâ€™ve been told by every time-travel movie or TV show weâ€™ve seen over the past 35 years, you never know what might result from going back and changing something in the past, even something innocuous. And the death of Robin definitely isnâ€™t innocuous. It had far-reaching effects that extended beyond comics into other media. Batman and the Bat-Family were never the same after Jason met his end.
Yet, Batman: Death in the Family reminds us that even if Jason had survived it, the Jokerâ€™s brutal attack on him was still a shocking, traumatic event. It was bound to have some profound impact on Jasonâ€™s life, even if it didnâ€™t cut that life short. Discovering those possible outcomes in Batman: Death in the Family is undeniably shockingâ€”and also a lot of fun.
One thing thatâ€™s worth knowing is that while Batman: Death in the Family stands alone, itâ€™s set firmly in the continuity of the 2010 öčÓăÖ±˛Ą animated movie Batman: Under the Red Hood. If youâ€™ve seen and enjoyed that movie, youâ€™re probably going to love this one. If you havenâ€™t seen it, you might want to check it out first. Batman: Under the Red Hood gives us our baselineâ€”itâ€™s whatâ€™s â€śsupposedâ€ť to happen with Jason Todd. Part of the enjoyment of Death in the Family is seeing how the interactivity subverts a lot of those events, something that lands better if youâ€™re already familiar with them.
Batman: Death in the Family is also arriving at a fortunate time. With the world entering its eighth month of a global pandemic, audiences are hungry for something fresh and different to be entertained by at home, and Death in the Family is certainly that. When watched start to finish, the movie isnâ€™t longâ€”the lengthiest variations run about thirty minutes. However, the point is to explore and make different choices, seeing what might result.
I can tell you that my first result wasâ€¦not good. While entertaining in a sinister way, it was so opposite of what I was hoping would happen if Jason survived that in my second attempt, I chose to let him die just to see some things play out in a way that I was familiar with. My third attempt is where things got interesting. It opened up further choices, none of which were easy to make, and landed me my favorite of the movieâ€™s seven different endings. (Iâ€™m not going to spoil it, except to say that it plays like a Grant Morrison-inspired take on Citizen Kaneâ€™s â€śrosebud.â€ť) Credit to writer, director and producer Brandon Vietti for making sure the endings each feel authentic and believable, while remaining dramatically different from each other.
Does giving audiences the ability to choose which way the story plays out make for a better movie? Itâ€™s certainly different, but Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™d say better. Thereâ€™s still a lot to be said about a singular story told well. However, â€śA Death in the Familyâ€ť is the perfect source material for an interactive movie like this. For all of the comicâ€™s notoriety, the storyâ€™s not really anything special. Itâ€™s infamous entirely because of the gimmick at its center. Batman: A Death in the Family largely gets rid of the story and fittingly doubles down on that gimmick, putting poor Jasonâ€™s fate in the hands of his fans againâ€¦and again and again.
Iâ€™d like to think theyâ€™ll treat him a bit better this time. Only, after experiencing Batman: Death in the Family myself, Iâ€™m no longer sure that treating Jason better is better for Gotham and the Bat-Family as a whole. Batman: Death in the Family reminds us that itâ€™s impossible to predict what might happen if you could go back and make a past decision differentlyâ€”thereâ€™s just no way to foresee all the possible outcomes. And if your eyes are closed to something like that, 20/20 hindsight isnâ€™t going to do you much good.
Â is nowÂ available on Blu-ray and DIgitalÂ (note that the movie's interactive experience is only available on Blu-ray).
Tim Beedle covers movies, TV and comics for öčÓăÖ±˛ĄComics.com, writes our monthly Superman column, "Super Here For...", and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column.