Of all the wards that Bruce Wayne took into his home as the sidekick Robin, the most hated would almost unanimously be Jason Todd. Originally conceived as a Dick Grayson fill-in with only slight differences, his character has been reimagined quite a few times. The version that readers are most familiar with is the angry, disobedient, and rebellious dark haired teenager that was beaten and then blown up by the Joker after readers dialed a number that called for DC comics to kill him off. In the last few years, readers have seen the return of this character and along with his resurrection a more refined characterization and skill.
When Jason Todd first appeared again in his own story arc it was by writer Judd Winick in the Under the Hood story line. In this story arc, Jason Todd reemerged as the Red Hood. As many readers already were aware, the Red Hood identity was originally used by the Joker before his skin-bleaching acid bath. It’s an interesting character revelation that Todd adopted the original persona of the man that murdered him. It begs the question: why? Why put on a mask at all to wage war on your former mentor because he failed to avenge your death? Instead of coming back with a new identity, he makes his return as the embodiment as an amended lethal enforcer version of the Joker’s original alter ego. It could be that this was some sort of hint to Batman as to Jason’s true identity. He knew that Batman was the world’s greatest detective and would be able to deduce that hooded figure was well-trained (which the story arc described as familiar) and the Red Hood would point at a connection to the Joker.
When Todd came back to Gotham, it was with a very specific and well thought out plan. This is not what a reader would expect from the Robin that was infamous for diving into a situation without any forethought whatsoever. What came back to Gotham was a more patient individual (well… as patient as Jason Todd can be, as he still retains the recklessness of his youth).
The current New 52 title Red Hood and the Outlaws has revealed that after Jason’s resurrection he took up with Talia Al Ghul who introduced him to various masters of various arts around the world. During this time period in which Batman thought his former sidekick was dead, Todd was actually honing his craft as a master assassin. This time period is very resonant of Bruce Wayne’s own journey around the world where he sought out the masters of detection and martial arts. The path that Jason Todd was walking could be considered a dark reflection of the son following the father. When he joins the All Caste the readers see in the flashback a mix of rash stubbornness and also a growing level of self-discipline that is eventually demonstrated by Red Hood honorably disposing of left over All Caste zombies.
While Winick retains the “jump in with both feet” attitude that Jason Todd is famous for, he has also developed the character to have an interesting allure. After the training and manipulations he has put the Bat-Family through in the Under the Red Hood, Lost Days, and the Nightwing: One Year Later story arcs, he has become a rebel without a cause version of Batman.
This idea of ‘being a better Batman” is one that has been lined through many of Jason Todd’s story arcs. We first see it in the original Under the Red Hood story and again in Lost Days (which is essentially a prequel of Under the Red Hood). The idea is put into his head by Talia Al Ghul, who in the Batman titles has shifted in recent years from being Batman’s version of a “Bond Girl” to a master manipulator, which works with her own characterization in a much more believable manner. It cannot be emphasized enough the role she ended up playing in the character development of Jason Todd into the Red Hood. In addition to financing all of his studies and providing a twisted sort of mother role (their sexual escapade aside, though the Oedipal parallels are present in that she is the mother of Batman’s baby and Jason Todd is an adopted son of Batman) she also provided him with his signature dual guns and dagger that accompanies a lot of the Red Hood imagery.
In the final confrontation between Red Hood and Batman in Under the Red Hood, Todd brings this idea of him as a “better Batman” up to Bruce as Todd is eventually defeated. Batman rejects this assertion by stating that Todd has never understood him. Todd was under the impression that killing the Joker (in retaliation for Todd’s murder and to save other future lives) was difficult. Batman points out to Jason that killing would be the easy part and he alludes to the whole “it makes us the same as them” cliché.
Jason Todd continues to pursue this goal of replacing Batman to become a more violent, and in his own eyes, a more effective Batman. During The Battle for the Cowl story arc by Tony Daniel, the reader sees that in the apparent death of Bruce Wayne there is a power vacuum in Gotham. The underworld of DC’s dark city are getting wise to the absence of the Dark Knight and control over the streets have bad guy fighting bad guy and Batman’s remaining network of heroes are trying to stem the tide. During this time, sightings of Batman are starting to surface. But Batman seems to be killing and maiming the criminals. What the reader ends up seeing is Jason Todd in a metal plated face-masked batsuit and wielding two hand guns per his usual.
One of the conflicts in this miniseries is Dick Grayson’s resistance to become the new Batman. Tim Drake urges Dick that one of them has to take up the mantle and that only he or Dick has a right to it. After numerous refusals by Dick, Tim takes one of Bruce’s old uniforms and hits the ziplines. Tim’s first course of action is hunting down the gun toting faux-Batman. The confrontation of the two new Batmen is very interesting to see, as two former side-kicks are literally fighting for the mantle of the Bat. The fight ends with Todd stabbing Tim in the chest with an old batarang, which gets Todd closer to being the only ‘legitimate’ heir to the thrown of Gotham.
It’s worth noting that Jason Todd’s iteration of Batman is that his batcave is an abandoned subway station. The reader can see the apparent similarities to the original batcave. It’s underground, dark, and dank. The scenery is quintessential Batman. Todd even has a replica of Batman’s pointy chair. He attempted to replace Batman in even an aesthetic level.
Eventually, Dick Grayson defeats Todd and takes his place as heir apparent and becomes the new Batman (until Bruce Wayne returns from the dead as many comic book and soap opera characters have a habit of doing). But during Todd’s short stint as Batman, he killed many criminals in his characteristic jumping into gunfire manner. Todd does not often spend time investigating anything. He finds surface level information such as location and then cleans house in a violent “take-no-prisoners” strategy. Battle for the Cowl makes this apparent. It could be argued that in this miniseries, Todd is in his most reactionary stage (as well as in his Nightwing: One Year Later arc) in that he has entered into a killing spree-like crime blitz. We see more of a return to Todd the impatient boy wonder than the more refined rashness of Red Hood. Part of this anger and impetuousness could stem from the message that Bruce left for Jason Todd before his death which admits to Jason that his death and what led to it was one of Bruce’s biggest mistakes and urges Jason to seek psychiatric help. This would probably infuriate and depress anyone. To be relegated as a mistake and mentally unstable (even though one would think that such obvious anger issues would be self-evident) is a sore spot for a character that already has an inferiority complex in regards to his Robin brothers.
One of the issues that readers may have with the character is the near constant reimaging (before the New 52). When he first appeared it was as a biker style Red Hood, then he started to dress up as a Robin again when he attacked Tim Drake in the Titans Tower, then he attempted to take over the Nightwing identity from Dick Grayson, then he went back to the Red Hood biker style, and then he became the gun toting Batman, and then he returned the very original Red Hood tube-like helmet that the Joker wore amended with a cape and skull emblem and the return of his heavily debated red hair (thanks a lot for that confusion, Mr. Morrison), then a combination of skull emblem and biker jacket and his own original red hood helmet, until Judd Winick reinstituted the typical Todd-Hood gear with the addition of a red Bat-emblem (apologies for the disgusting yet purposefully grammatically incorrect run on sentence to demonstrate the utter chaos Jason Todd has undergone since his return to the DCU). The character has gone under tremendous changes by the various writers that have put, quite frankly, too much of their own spin on the character.
In the New 52, readers see a stabilization of the character and a slight return of sympathies for the Bat-Family. In one of the Red Hood and Outlaws issues, we see that Tim and Jason are on interesting terms and even sharing a meal together. We also see him aid the Bat-Family in the Night of Owls event as well as seeing him cooperate in the battle against Terminus in a recent issue of Batman and Robin. Once again, the combination of this issue and the humanization that is taking place in Red Hood and the Outlaws in relation to Jason Todd, the reader sees hope in the healing of the various discourses that plagues the Bat-Family’s estranged members.