Back in 1988 DC gave Batman fans the chance to choose the fate of one of its most divisive characters – Jason Todd; the young man who Batman takes under his Bat-wing after finding him trying to steal the tyres off the Batmobile. Well… apparently Jason wasn’t as divisive as it initially seemed after an overwhelming majority voted to have him killed off by the Joker.
However, that wasn’t the end of Jason’s story in comic book lore – he was to crop up again as the Red Hood in 2005’s Under The Red Hood and has now become a bit of an anti-hero with his own comic line.
Five years later in 2010, Under The Red Hood received the Warner Brothers animated treatment, becoming an animated movie directed by Brandon Vietti and starring Vincent Martella as young Jason Todd (alongside Bruce Greenwood, John DiMaggio, Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Isaacs).
Now, Vietti and Martella are back with Batman: Death In The Family (as well as Bruce Greenwood and John DiMaggio reprising their roles as Batman and Joker respectively) with the former taking on writing and directing duties.
An interactive offering, Batman: Death In The Family allows viewers to yet again choose Jason’s destiny as we go back in time to the moment Joker decides to kill him – will he receive the same fate this time around? Viewers will also have the chance to do much more than decide whether Jason lives or dies, with the opportunity to shape the story in a multitude of ways.
Over 30 years since his future was decided, and with a whole host of new technology to allow viewers to become storytellers of their own, Jason has another shot at winning audiences around, and the fact that it is this particular story that has been chosen for this new format isn’t lost on Vietti: “It was the perfect story to open up into this Blu-Ray format to allow viewers to make that decision again plus many more,” he tells us.
This new interactive format stops the story at certain crossroads and gives viewers a multitude of choices with where the characters goes next, creating a complex web of differing storylines and character fates: “I had to map things out,” Vietti laughs as he describes putting the story together. “I had to put a lot of little cards on walls and track different pathways. It looks like a subway map or something like that when you see how I charted it out. That’s how I had to pitch it. It was very difficult to explain to my bosses I was pitching to how to follow the paths. It was a very interesting story pitch experience and one I haven’t done before, but I had great fun doing it. I hope we can do it again.”
On a personal level, for Vietti, Batman: Death In The Family gave him the opportunity to revisit the characters from 2010’s Batman: Under the Red Hood: “To have the opportunity to go back into that story but find new ways to use it and then, of course, tell more story is a real privilege,” he tells us. “That’s the beauty of this project – it’s sort of a sidestep from the original story that allows us to tell these alternate histories that could have happened for all of these characters. That’s such a great DC Universe kind of story to tell with the DC Universe having the multiverse as such a part of its fabric, it was just the perfect story to embrace all of that that DC history, that DC vibe with the multiverse.”
It also allowed Vietti the opportunity to fulfill some of the paths he had wanted to take the storylines to back then: “There were things in Under The Red Hood that I wish had more screen time to provide clarity for. With this project we were able to re-present Under The Red Hood in a slightly different format to get a point of view on that story, that was unique.
“In [Death In The Family], we get to hear more of how Bruce Wayne felt about that story as it was transpiring and with the original movie, you didn’t always see that. There are multiple points of view to consider. So this really delves into how that story affected Bruce and so that was kind of a nice thing to go back into. The number one goal for me was to make sure that I respected Judd Winick, who is of course the writer of the Under the Red Hood story for the comics, and he did the script for the movie. So I really tried my best to make sure I was honouring what he wrote and what his intentions were.”
Vietti isn’t the only Under The Red Hood alumni in Batman: Death In The Family, ten years ago Vincent Martella was cast as young Jason Todd and now – with both he and the character all grown up – he has the chance to revisit the character as an adult: “This is really exciting for me because I played Jason Todd about ten years ago and I was never sure if I was going to revisit the character,” Martella tells us. “He’s such a complex, interesting character who’s never really been explored too much in the animated visual format and so getting to explore this character in such a specific way this time around it was a real pleasure.”
This time around, with the obvious opportunity for viewers to choose the option of Jason living after his encounter with the Joker, Batman: Death In The Family goes deeper into the character and his relationship with Batman: “What’s great about Death In The Family is that you get to see obviously a lot more Jason Todd,” Martella says. “You get to see the trauma and his relationship with Batman prior to [his interaction with the Joker]. You know how all of those things affect him as a person and how they affect him going forward in his life, so it was definitely a more in-depth look at the character.”
The interwoven storylines in Death In The Family do, at times, go beyond Jason and his story, bringing along a who’s who line-up of famous Batman characters. This may have been a daunting job for many writers, but Vietti has worked on a lot of different Batman shows for Warner Brothers Animation over the past 16 years, and is first and foremost a Batman fan. So he relished the opportunity to create a complex story. “I wanted to bring all the Batman knowledge I’ve got, what I like from Batman history, into this story,” he tells us. “[I wanted to] tell stories that echoed, if you will, different points in Batman’s history or Jason’s history or the history of the collective Robins.
“I wanted to bring all of that into this and show how even if different choices were made, it might have had similar repercussions down the road for these different characters. Almost as though fate was having a hand in these characters’ histories no matter what path you choose. It lets us see the characters from a different point of view, handling situations that are now upside down. They’re situations fans will hopefully enjoy because they’ll find the resonance of the history that they know, presented in a new and completely different way.”
This interactive element also threw up a few interesting scenarios for Martella, who had to understand at what point in the story his character was at any given time – better get out Vietti’s subway story map again… “When I started working with Brandon Vietti (as well as Wes Gleason who was directing me in the booth), they did a really good job of mapping out how the interactive component would work with the storylines, what each decision and choice would mean for my character and my performance. They were really helpful in directing me in a way that would hold true to those choices that the audience was making, so it was definitely a challenge as an actor but it was really worth it because I think it pays off.
“I thought it was a lot of freedom. As an actor, you always get excited when you get to do different things and I was doing a multitude of different things just with one character in every session. I got the explore a ton of different things about this one person, so I thought it was exciting.”
Indeed, there are some choices to explore within the movie that seem to have obvious outcomes but that’s where the real joy in Batman: Death In The Family lies – you never really know the outcome of your choices and those outcomes can, at times, be very surprising: “The number one goal for me was to make sure that every outcome was unexpected,” Vietti explains. “I wanted to present the questions in a particular way so that you feel you’re making a choice and make you feel like you know what you’re going to get, but then make sure that the story does not necessarily go where you think it’s going to go. I mean, just as back when fans voted to kill Jason Todd, did they think back then that that would result in him returning as the Red Hood? Nobody saw that coming but what a great outcome that we’ve got this great new character.”
With a range of comic books to his name, Jason Todd as the Red Hood seems to be more popular with fans than he ever was as Robin but, hey, it wouldn’t be DC if they didn’t give us complex characters who we can’t help but love or hate (or usually both in equal measure). “I discovered that when I worked on Under The Red Hood, the fans are so incredibly passionate,” says Mertella. “These characters have made such an impact on so many people’s lives and getting to be in a universe where people have such a strong reaction is amazing. So I’m glad to be back in the fold and being able to play a character that means something, whether that’s good or bad to a lot of people.”
Now with his own interactive story, Jason has the chance to change people’s minds on his fate. Has enough time passed for fans to be more forgiving of him? Well, that’s down you dear viewer… “I’m excited to see what choices viewers enjoy now with more of a variety of options being presented other than just ‘live or die’,” Mertella explains. “There are a lot of different places you can go to. So I would say, take your time with it and really play around the choices. There are some twists and turns in this film that I’m excited for people to see…”
Live or die? The choice is yours (again)…
Batman: Death In The Family is available on Blu-ray now from Warner Bros Home Entertainment.