From one-time hated Boy Wonder to arguably the second most popular DC anti-hero (Batman, of course, being the first), Jason Todd’s rise through DC Comics is both unprecedented and important. Over the years, Jason Todd’s history and origin have read like an out-of-date textbook. As new writers and creators draw up stories that include him, his past is changed to whichever way suits the story.
When we first met Jason, his story is eerily similar to Dick Grayson’s. Like Grayson, Todd belonged to a family of circus acrobats called the Flying Todds. Like Grayson, his parents were tragically killed by a criminal. And like Grayson, he was adopted by Bruce Wayne. Unfortunately, this similarity immediately set him down a path of hatred and disdain by Batman’s readers. And why?
They argued that his story was too similar and he could never live up to the standard that Dick had set. Probably fair. After all, Dick was the original Robin and the literal definition of a Boy Sidekick. So what did DC do? They changed his story.
Jason Todd origin story
In his new story, Jason is a street orphan who is caught by Batman attempting to steal the tires off the Batmobile. Bruce, seeing potential in the boy, takes him in and sends him to a school for troubled youth. Shortly after, Jason gives aid to Batman in catching a group of thieves. From this point forward, he is the new Robin. As Robin, Bruce quickly realizes that he isn’t as good as Dick but knows that he must help him or Jason will turn to crime.
Now, Robin, and Jason fell out of favor with readers. This was primarily because he was constantly compared to Dick. Dick’s Robin had been around for decades and became the gold standard for what a Robin was. He was the perfect acrobat. He was a brilliant detective. And worse yet, he was the original. Jason, while no one could argue that he had two of these qualities, wasn’t on Dick’s level. But it wasn’t just that that did him in.
Ultimately, Jason Todd’s Robin fell out of favor because readers saw him as an impetuous, angry, reckless, and uncontrollable teenager. Jason was that teenager you wanted to see beat up but never was. At the end of the day, readers were used to Dick and Dick was none of these.
The ironic thing was that Jason was everything that Batman should be but wasn’t. Batman possesses a code of honor by which he lives and Jason violated everything about that code. This meant that Jason had a sliding scale of what was right and wrong…a scale that would show up time and again. He wasn’t afraid to do whatever was necessary to protect the world around him. He’d even kill if he had to.
A Death in the Family – death of Jason Todd
The outrage was so strong that, during the four-part story A Death in The Family, DC created a poll that allowed readers to decide if Jason should live or die. The poll, which generated 1,000’s phone calls, was a monumental success. As much as it was about Jason Todd’s Robin, it instantly put the eyes of the comic world on DC. And how did it work?
You called in to cast your vote. Never had readers had so much control over the fate of a character.
- 1-900-720-2660 and he lives
- 1-900-729-2666 and he dies
It was that simple. And over the course of 36 hours, 10,614 people called in.
- 5,343 for his death
- 5,271 against his death
When it was all said and done, Jason Todd’s Robin was dead and his similar origin, terrible attitude, and the Joker were to blame.
Batman has, on more than one occasion, said that Jason’s death is his greatest failure. A Death In The Family has gone down in infamy as the story that killed Jason Todd. A Death in the Family showed exactly how much readers hated him. Of course, anyone at the time knew it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t.
Resurrection of Jason Todd
There was a period in DC when Superboy Prime spent his time altering reality. In one such moment, Jason is brought back to life. Shortly after he awakens, he breaks free of his coffin and begins walking. Of course, his wounds hadn’t healed so he ends up collapsing to the ground and is taken to a hospital. A year passed before Jason is recognized by Talia al Ghul. Realizing who he is, Talia brings him to the Lazarus Pit where he baths alongside her father, R’as al Ghul. The waters, coupled with Ghul’s presence in them not only heal Jason, but they also affect his personality.
Talia convinces Jason that his death was not avenged and because of this, Jason makes his return to Gotham to confront Batman. He does so not as Jason Todd but as Red Hood…ironically the name the Joker once went by. Batman explains to him that he has a “no-kill” code of ethics and therefore he couldn’t avenge his death. He then tells him that the Joker still lives…a moment that would define his life for years to come.
The Red Hood, for all intents and purposes, is the true definition of an anti-hero. While he protects the innocent from evil, he does so with extreme measures. Like Marvel’s Punisher, Jason is not afraid to use violence and death as a means to get his point across. The widely popular Under the Red Hood comic and animated movie perfectly demonstrate this.
What makes Jason Todd so important to Batman?
So why is he so important? What is it about Jason Todd that makes him so important to Batman? Simple. Jason does what readers wished Batman would do…kill. The problem is that prior to his death, he couldn’t do it. Not only did Batman forbid it, but his readers also didn’t want to see it. They felt that killing should be reserved for Batman and Batman alone.
Jason Todd, for all his flaws, asks the same question readers have been asking for decades. Why doesn’t Batman do whatever it takes to clean up Gotham? Why doesn’t go to the extreme to rid his city of the villainy that lives in it? Think about it.
The cycle of violence is repeating and never-ending. The Joker, The Penguin, Bane, Mr. Freeze, and every other enemy of Batman commit crimes that usually include murder. After the said crime is committed, Batman catches and throws them into Arkham only to have them escape and do it again. Lather, rinse, repeat. The chain of events is as predictable as a clock. Jason questions exactly this.
He questions why Batman doesn’t kill them thereby bringing an end to the endless cycle. Of course, we all know the answer to this. Batman, for as much fear as his strikes into his opponents, is fearful of stepping over the line. He doesn’t kill because he fears that he may never be able to return from it. This is why the Joker still lives. While this somewhat makes sense, Jason Todd doesn’t see it that way. He sees it as yet another reason that he wasn’t a good enough Robin. That is, he was so poor at the job that Batman wouldn’t kill Joker and avenge his death.
Jason Todd’s Robin is important to Batman’s mythos because he allows the reader to see exactly what’s wrong with Batman. He forces the reader, and possibly Batman, to understand that Batman needs his enemies as much as they need him. Without his enemies, there is no need for his existence and as such, Batman becomes unnecessary.
This may seem like an “out there” statement but don’t underestimate its truth. Batman and his enemies have a symbiotic relationship. One cannot live without the other. With Batman, there would be no Joker. Without Joker there would be no Batman. Without Batman, there would be no Ra’s al Ghul. Without Ra’s al Ghul there would be no Batman. With Batman, there would be no Poison Ivy. Without…you get the point. He and his enemies are like a circus in the sense that they need one another to have a full act.
But that isn’t the only reason he’s so important. Jason Todd’s death, more than his life became a sticking point for Batman. After the fallout of A Death In The Family, readers from around the world fantasized about how Batman would cope with his loss. As a stereotypically brooding character, would Jason’s death plunge Batman further into the depths of sorrow? Would it change Batman in a way that he hadn’t before? And would it force him to change how he operates? All good questions. Sadly, the way that DC chose to handle Batman with Jason’s death left something to he desired.
Jason Todd’s comic book death
For everything that comic books do, they haven’t dealt with death particularly well. Jason’s death perfectly exemplifies this. Anger is a natural reaction to loss. However, anger lashed out as violence, is not the way. Case in point, in The New Titans #55 the former Robin returns after being off-planet only to discover that Jason is gone. He confronts Bruce Wayne and asks him why he let Jason become Robin before he was ready. Batman retaliates with a punch across his chin and tells Dick to return his key on the way out.
As opposed to using the opportunity as a way to develop the Batman character, DC squandered it by keeping Batman’s status quo. By doing this, they drove the fact that he was and forever will be a stereotypical brooder unable to come to terms with life. It happened with his parents and it happened with Jason Todd. Eventually, however, DC started to get it right.
In 1989, during Batman #436, we see Bruce Wayne realizing that his house has done everything it could to forget that Jason even existed. This is interesting because Bruce never did too much to wipe the memory of Thomas and Martha Wayne from his home. He still had pictures, decorations, and memories everywhere. But with Jason it was different. It was as though he never lived there.
By wiping Jason’s memory, DC began to realize that Bruce Wayne needs character development. Remember, both anger and acceptance are mechanisms of recovery. We all know that Bruce Wayne was plenty angry. Showing acceptance, however, was a side of the character we hadn’t seen before. By showing acceptance, DC had smartly found a way to humanize him. Before you get up in arms about what I just said, I know that he keeps a Jason Robin costume in the Batcave. He didn’t get rid of everything…Know this.
The costume may seem like a step backward but I assure you it isn’t. The costume became a symbol for Batman. It was the object that tied him to the reality of being a superhero…and superheroes aren’t invincible. More than that, it became a memory and reminder of his greatest failure. If this seems strange, remember that Batman is a perfectionist at heart. The costume was a way to remind him that even he makes mistakes. Perhaps subtly, it was a way to remind the reader that our own choices have consequences, and we must live with them.
Jason Todd’s questions
For Jason Todd, his death was more important than his life. His death symbolized a new age of comics and readers, all the while forcing questions about the most basic aspect of Batman. Jason Todd is responsible for the biggest change in both Batman and DC Comics since the Daughter of the Demon story. Jason Todd’s Robin endured prejudice, discrimination, hate, and abuse and stood tall. He died a fiery death, yet came from the ashes and became one of, if not the most important character in Batman’s history. He is the medicine that Batman didn’t know he needed.
Although nobody could’ve predicted what would happen after introducing a second Robin, the world is better off because of it. And now that he stands not against, but beside Batman as the Red Hood, his legacy only grows stronger. As the Red Hood, he has been given the opportunity to change Gotham in the way that we’ve all wanted it to be changed…through violence and death. Jason Todd does kill and has no remorse for doing it.
Whether or not DC continues to explore the dynamic Jason Todd’s Robin brings to Batman remains to be seen. No matter what they do, however, one thing is certain. His transformation from hated Boy Wonder to respected and loved vigilante is remarkable. This may never happen again in the medium so if it doesn’t, let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.