Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about the second Robin, Jason Todd.
In 1984, DC Comics had a problem on their hands. In the pages of the New Teen Titans, Marv Wolfman and George Perez were telling new and interesting stories with the teen vigilantes of the DCU. The Titans were starting to grow up and some of them began chaffing at the roles that they were currently playing. Among them was Dick Grayson, who had held the title of Robin since 1940. Realizing that, after 44 years, it was finally time to grow up, he declared that he was no longer Batman’s sidekick.
Knowing that this was scheduled to happen, the editors at the Batman line of comics had set up a replacement for Dick the year earlier. During an adventure at a circus, Dick Grayson stumbled upon a teenage acrobat named Jason Todd. Jason’s family had been kidnapped by Killer Croc, who would later kill them. To help calm Jason down a bit, Dick brought Jason to Wayne Manor and then headed out to track down Killer Croc. Left alone in the mansion, Jason stumbled across the Batcave and along with it, Batman’s secret identity.
When Dick’s retirement from the role of Robin became known to Bruce, Jason was tapped to becoming the second Boy Wonder. Jason’s red hair was dyed to black so that he would easily slip into the Robin job without a lot of questions being asked. Just like that, the second Robin, little more than a clone of the first Robin, hit the DCU.
Then, the Crisis on Infinite Earths happened. Realizing that a character who had a nearly identical backstory and skill set as Dick Grayson didn’t make for an interesting character, DC editors decided to change Jason Todd up a bit. Now, Jason was a hoddlum from the streets. He first met Batman when he tried to steal the Batmobile’s wheels.
Seeing something special in the boy, Bruce Wayne adopted him and immediately told him his secret identity. Just a few issues later, Jason got his own Robin costume and took to swinging through Gotham City alongside his mentor.
It was a rush job in the character development arena. At least this time, Jason’s hair color was his own. He didn’t have Bruce forcing him to dye it once a month.
This new, post-Crisis Jason Todd had some baggage. More aggressive than his previous version, Jason nearly strangled Two-Face to death when he first learned that the former DA was behind his parents’ death. A year later, another incident proved Jason to be unstable. When a criminal with diplomatic immunity slipped through the fingers of the police, Jason caught up with him on his rented apartment’s balcony. Suddenly, the criminal plunged over the balcony’s side. Neither Batman nor the reader saw what actually caused his fall, but it seemed pretty obvious that Jason had gone rogue.
Readers didn’t seem to like this new Robin. Three issues later, readers’ feeling were made manifest when a DC phone call stunt was set up.
In a quest to discover who his true mother was, Jason set out on a globetrotting adventure. In Ethiopia, Jason finally tracked her down. An aid worker who was skimming profits for herself from those who trusted her, Jason’s mother was also working for the Joker. After tricking Jason into coming to a warehouse alone, the Joker appeared from out of nowhere and beat Jason with a crowbar. His mother turned her back on him.
At the end of the issue, readers could call one of two 1-900 numbers to vote on whether or not Jason survived his Joker run in. The votes didn’t go Jason’s way. He was declared dead in the very next issue.
That wasn’t to say that the idea of Robin died with him. The following year, Tim Drake was introduced. He would eventually become the third Robin, but his pre-Robin apprenticeship was a much longer one than either Dick’s or Jason’s. Fans reacted very well to him and his reign as Robin held for eighteen years. But, this was all discussed months ago in DC Histories: Tim Drake.
At this point, Jason Todd held a sacred spot in the DCU. He was Batman’s one big mistake. He was the failure that continued to haunt Bruce and that failure made him try even harder. It also left him even colder to those around him. For Tim, Jason served as the ultimate lesson in what not to do. For example, when a time portal deposited a young Dick Grayson on Tim’s doorstep, it caused Tim to overcompensate in an attempt to impress Dick. Only thinking about Jason allowed Tim to reel in his actions.
That was Jason’s role for years in the DCU. All that changed with a single issue.
In 2003, Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee began a run on Batman that had everyone talking. Not only was it a tale told by two of the then-biggest names in comics, but it was also a story that forced Batman to face off against every one of his major foes. Near the end of this story, a man claiming to be a grown up Jason Todd showed up and fought his former mentor.
Fans flipped out. It was an audacious move. Remember, this was before the return of such characters as Barry Allen and Bucky Barnes. This was still when major comic book deaths could be thought to be permanent. Even though “Jason” turned out to be a shape-shifted Clayface, this was really a watershed moment.
Even though “Jason” wasn’t real, Batman discovered that Jason’s coffin was empty. Loeb and Lee had no plans to bring Jason back themselves but that coffin left the door open for future creators.
Judd Winick would be the person who walked through that door. Two years later, a new vigilante arrived in Gotham City with an agenda. Calling himself the Red Hood, this figure began waging a war against Black Mask, a criminal who controlled most of Gotham’s gangs. Red Hood was shown to not hold human life in high regard. He killed those who opposed him. After several bouts with Batman, the Red Hood was finally unmasked and an older, completely alive Jason Todd stood before Bruce Wayne.
Even though Jason was back, the question of how he had come back loomed in many readers’ minds. When the story came out that it was Superboy-Prime punching reality at the very beginning of Infinite Crisis that had raised Jason from the dead, it was a less than satisfying moment. It was a weird, confusing plot point that really had no place in this sort of Batman tale. Adding a cosmic, tangential piece to this very personal betrayal against Bruce was jarring and incongruous.
It was now revealed that Jason was buried shortly after his death. Make no mistake about it, the Joker had killed Jason Todd. Thanks to Superboy-Prime’s punches, Jason suddenly came alive again, trapped in his coffin. After managing to dig his way out from his grave, Jason was mostly comatose. His muscle memory remained and allowed him to keep his fighting skills, but his higher brain functions were gone. Found by Talia, Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter and the mother of Batman’s son, Jason was nursed back to health but his brain remained damaged. To fix him, Talia shoved Jason into one of her father’s Lazarus Pits, where Jason regained all of his senses.
Jason spent the next several years traveling the world, improving his skills and becoming angrier and angrier at Bruce. When he finally returned to Gotham, Jason decided to take on the persona of the Red Hood to mock both Batman and the Joker. Jason wasn’t the first person to use that name. The Red Hood had been Joker’s alias very early on in his career, before his skin and hair had become permanently altered. Bruce and Dick had stumbled onto this fact years after the Joker’s career had begun.
So, that’s how Jason came back into Bruce’s life. The first several confrontations between the two made for interesting stories. Unfortunately, other writers didn’t quite knew what to do with him as a character outside of Winick’s initial introduction. But that didn’t stop them from using him anyway.
Shortly after appearing before Bruce for the first time, Jason tracked down Tim Drake. Enraged that Bruce had seemingly forgotten about him and had cavalierly replaced him, Jason got back into a Robin outfit and went one-on-one with with the third Robin.
Tim explained why Jason would never be forgotten by the Bat family and Jason eventually left.
At the end of Infinite Crisis, Bruce, Dick, and Tim went on a year-long worldwide trip together. They needed the time to bond and remember that they were a family. During their absence, Jason felt hurt that he wasn’t invited along. So, to point out to Dick that he belonged in their little club, Jason took over Dick’s Nightwing persona, showed up in New York City, and began killing people again. Dick wasn’t thrilled with the idea.
The tone of this particular story was all over the place and Dick didn’t seem all that upset the Jason was once again killing people.
To further prove that editors didn’t quite have a handle on Jason, he got roped into being a character in Countdown, a yearlong weekly series that lead up to Final Crisis. In that book’s pages, Jason discovered that a group of multiverse policemen called Monitors wanted to kill him. They felt that his life was the result of Superboy-Prime’s unnatural meddling.
Shortly thereafter, Jason, Donna Troy, and the Green Lantern Kyle Rayner began jumping from universe to universe looking for Ray Palmer, the former Atom. This, too, was discussed at length elsewhere. Somewhere along the way, Jason ran into a Batman from a different world who convinced him to dress up as Red Robin, that world’s version of Robin. Jason agreed for some reason and spent the rest of the series in that getup.
It wasn’t until the last few issues of the series that the writers and editors seemed to remember that Jason was a murderer and a bit of an asshole. With little provocation, Jason suddenly ditched the Red Robin costume and ran away.
The next time that Jason fought with Batman, it was Dick Grayson under the cowl. Bruce had died at the end of Final Crisis and Dick had taken over the role. In a desperate attempt to create his own family, Jason had gotten his own sidekick in the form of Scarlet, a young girl scarred by one of Batman’s enemies. But it was Jason’s look that caused the most confusion. Once again, Jason had red hair and he claimed that he’d been dyeing it for years at Bruce’s behest. That hadn’t been true since 1986 but Grant Morrison tended to play fast and loose with this type of continuity.
Jason’s characterizations were a bit of a mess during the last few years of the pre-New 52 era. He seemed to be a bit all over the place with his motivations changing depending upon who was writing him. In one story, he’d be a cocksure, brazen murderer and in the next he’d be a whiny overgrown kid. Things didn’t really add up after his resurrection.
In the New 52, Jason is one of the main characters in Red Hood and the Outlaws. He’s still in his guise of the Red Hood and he’s still related to the Batman family but he’s now off in his own little corner of the DCU. It seems likely that he’ll be popping up in other titles sooner or later. Here’s hoping that everyone has a better handle on him when that starts happening.
Jeff Reid thinks that there haven’t been enough good Jason Todd stories to justify bringing him back from the dead. There. He said it. Jeff also says things on Twitter.