Comic Fodder

Bringing Back Jason Todd

It's now been over two dozen issues of the Batman title, a Crisis and One Year Later. And Jason Todd is back. For good, one could guess.

I'm not sure how long I'd been reading Batman when, in 1988, they killed off Jason Todd (or, rather, WE killed off Jason Todd in comics' first and last bit of this sort of interactivity). I believe that I only have a handful of issues of Batman before the "Death in the Family" storyline hit the stands. What many folks neglect to mention is that Robin's death wasn't chosen by the direct market Comic Shop dwelling thirty-somethings. In their wisdom, the editors let a bunch of dumb kids call in.

And here's the thing: Babies drop stuff from their high-chair not because they're stupid. Babies drop stuff because they like to see how they can affect their environment. And so do kids with a phone number and the fate of a superhero in their hands.

The vote to kill Jason Todd occurred during the era of the omnipresent comics spinner rack in grocery and drug stores, and even THEN I was never able to find a single issue of the entire run. Instead, I read the whole series about four months later when a friend told me he'd picked up all of the issues. Of course, by then, the voting was done. Jason Todd was dead.

Some aspects of the "Death in the Family" comics date the story (Khomeni? Do the kids even know this was a real guy?), other elements have cycled back to seem all too current (Iran. The World's Problem Child). But for a lot of readers, the death of Jason Todd was as seminal an event in comics as any other. DC had raised the stakes, Batman's relationship with the Joker was now completely different, and when the memorial housing Jason's uniform became a staple of Batcave illustrations, no reader ever had to ask why. So close on the heels of Dark Knight Returns, it wasn't too difficult to imagine Batman's reassurances to Carrie Kelly spilling over to his now-dead ward. "Good soldier."

Jason's death provided some good fodder for subsequent comics as Batman grieved his protege, and a new generation saw the rise of their own Robin in Tim Drake. While the occasional cover suggested the return of Jason Todd, somehow DC made the decision that Jason had truly passed on, and that the character was genuinely retired. He would now serve as a reminder of Batman's fallibility and the possibility of mortality for any of the Bat-Cast. Serious stuff when you're thirteen.

In 2002, Jeph Loeb teased us first with his 12-issue story-arc "Hush". Clayface impersonates an older Jason Todd, luring Batman into a chase. At the time, it almost made sense to see Jason Todd re-emerge, but readers may have breathed a sigh of relief when Clayface revealed his game. Did anyone really want Jason back, as tempting as the idea seemed? Sure, it fit within the context of the mysteries of "Hush", but the death of Jason Todd had become as core to Batman's mission and inner-monologue as the death of his own parents. The death of his parents had not been, after all, something he could blame himself for.

Judd Winick was handed the Batman title in the wake of the best-selling run of "Hush", and, no doubt, was looking for a way to make a splash in sales and make a name for himself as an architect of the DCU. The tease in "Hush" had generated no small amount of serious fanboy internet chatter and a million "what-if's?" to a question few had bothered to float. The clunky "Scare-beast" storyline had a hint or two of Jason's return, and anyone who ever read a comic now knew it was just a matter of time before Jason Todd made an appearance.

In an interview with Newsarama, Winick dismissed reader concerns this way:

"A lot of readers fall into the category of wanting a story, but hating conflict. They love the characters, but hate when things happen to them. But that’s what these stories are about – we create these obstacles and put them through these terrible things, and they’re supposed to survive. It’s never about ‘Batman would never allow this to happen.’ Things happen, and that’s what this is about. Jason’s return is one of the best impediments that we could come up with. It’s one of Batman’s living nightmares.”

True enough. Seeing the animated corpse of a loved one hopping about and shooting people is probably not high on anyone's "must-see" list. But a seemingly-dead-friend turned masked villain with a detailed memory of Batman's past and the ability to get inside his wheel-house was sort of the domain of Hush, wasn't it? Hadn't we just covered that territory?

Last year's Batman Annual finally revealed how Jason had come back to life, a mystery not yet revealed. And while it tied into the events of Infinite Crisis, did it work?

Where the Superman books have always been the sort of science fiction, high-flying fantasy, the Batbooks have always been a bit more mired in nitty gritty of humanity. The Joker works because, at his core, he's merely a human with no boundaries. The Riddler is twisted intellect. Catwoman is sex on wheels with a bullwhip. And when Jason died, it was an ugly, brutal, conceivable death.

Again, it's not always the idea that's bad. Sometimes it's the execution. And sometimes it's the lazy, BS, deus ex machina excuse Winick pulled out that takes a mystery and makes it sort of dumb. Yes, the same guy (me) who fully supports the notion that a flying dog should wear a cape, thinks glasses are a reasonable disguise and buys the idea that Wonder Woman's outfit is somehow "armor" just can't buy a Superboy Prime punch fits with the big picture.

Couldn't DC have come up with something we could actually buy?

The Red Hood played out his role in the Batman comics in issues leading up to Infinite Crisis and the change in hands of the Bat-Office. At the time, the mystery of Jason Todd's resurrection remained.

Stories continue to abound that Dick Grayson was scheduled to die alongside Superboy during Infinite Crisis as mentioned, again, at Newsarama:

It was again explained that Nightwing was originally intended to die in Infinite Crisis, and that you can see the arc that was supposed to end with his death in the series. After long discussions, the death edict was reversed, but the decision was made that, if they're keeping him, he would have to be changed.

This lends a different weight to what the plans might have been for jason Todd and the Nightwing title for OYL. OYL, Todd had usurped the Nightwing name from Dick Grayson and was operating in NYC, but that avenue wasn't really pursued. We'll never know what the intentions might have been. Did DC plan to somehow redeem Jason Todd? Was Jason Todd not working as the Red Hood for editorial?

And, surely, that militant wing of Dick Grayson fans were set to have a conniption when Dick took the dirt nap.

What to do if Dick Grayson's death caused sales to slump on Nightwing? Can you bring back two Robins? And how much did the editorial decision to keep Grayson alive affect Winick's plans for his creation?

A few issues into the OYL Nightwing relaunch, and Jason Todd had once again more or less disappeared from the DCU radar. One thing DC must know: There's no going back. Whether they want him or not, Jason Todd is supposedly free to walk the DCU again.

Not that other creators seem interested.

The Red Hood has as of yet to make another appearance in the current Batbook output (or Hush for that matter). There has been no "find Jason Todd" effort by Batman or any assemblage of DCU characters. Minimum, it seems, Superman would be interested. Or even Tim Drake.

Stuck with a Red Hood that was brought back without a lot of thought as to where this would go... DC has chosen to do nothing. Sure, Winick couldn't leave his creation alone and he's now kicking up trouble in Green Arrow. But as a creator other than Winick, wouldn't you feel a bit robbed that you now had to deal with a second-rate super villain with a convoluted back-story rather than the legacy of Jason Todd's death?

There may yet be a great Red Hood/ Jason Todd story to be told, but it's unlikely Winick will be the person to tell that tale. Winick seems to deal fairly well with stories told from a straight-forward-action sort of tale, but his imagination seems somewhat limited when trying to deal with a larger picture, or even understanding the value of the loss of Jason Todd as a key to the modern Batman mythos. Further, Winick's characterization of Jason Todd to this point has been less than thrilling. Now more gadfly than villain, more annoyance than actual threat, Jason Todd is an ill-defined mess.

Winick was right: it will always be a bit horrifying to see someone you believe to be dead returned and out for your blood. That's why we have zombie movies.

With the can of worms of logical problems in merely having an "evil" Jason Todd to deal with, coupled with the absurd method of Jason's return has sucked any of the excitement out of any appearance of the Red Hood. Contrary to Winick's assumptions regarding how readers see their characters... Perhaps it is the readers privilege to know when an idea isn't going to work before it hits the page.

It's time for DC to do right by it's readers and find a way for Superboy prime to punch the wall again and put Robin back to rest.

So you probably love The Red Hood. We've got a comments section. Spill it.
Questions? Comments? Come on, I can take it.

Ouch, a better rundown of how convoluted DC has become, I've not read. Requiring a degree in history to read a superhero comic is just plain wrong!

-- Posted by: John at February 21, 2007 8:41 AM

I'm not sure if the convoluted nature of Jason Todd's history and current status is something unique to DC, or if it's the natural progression of fifteen or twenty-plus years of multiple Batman comics. Especially when editors are letting writers run with any spur of the moment idea they have to boost sales.

Remember, this same editor (Bob Schreck) also made Leslie Tompkins into a murderer to win a debate with Batman.

It is certainly unfortunate so much back story is required to "get" Jason, and worse, there's so little payoff for the reader if they do know.

-- Posted by: ryan at February 21, 2007 10:02 AM

I kind of like the idea of bringing him back as a morally ambiguous character. Like a DC equivalent of Magneto- former friend who's taken a lethal rout to achieve his goals.

There's also the whole psychological aspect of Jason taking the former identity of the man who killed him.

I thought he was interesting when he was killing drug dealers who sold to kids because thats something that readers might not see as "villainous" despite Batman's no kill policy. It could be something debated about how bad he was up until after a longer arc he could maybe turn on Batman and the JLA making him more dangerous.

I didn't care for the Superboy Prime "retcon punch" way of bringing him back, why even explain it- let it continue to be a mystery.

Jason died, was buried and then much later resurrected only not with Christ-like results. It would keep him the dark mystery that is Bat material instead of the sci-fi version that is more suited to Superman titles.

-- Posted by: Timothy at February 21, 2007 9:17 PM

I don't disagree that a vigilante operating in Gotham with a non-Comic Code Approved policy on killing might be an interesting counterpoint to Batman. And certainly Jason Todd's tendency toward a more "permanent" solution was evidenced prior to his death. But I don't know if Jason Todd needed to return from the grave for Batman to have that sort of conflict on his hands. I can even see where you're going with the Magneto angle, although I think a peek through Batman comics over the years will give you a pretty good idea of Batman's reaction to vigilantes doling out a death sentence (see the conclusion of the Sacrifice storyline in Re: to Wonder Woman).

"Jason died, was buried and then much later resurrected only not with Christ-like results. It would keep him the dark mystery that is Bat material instead of the sci-fi version that is more suited to Superman titles."

I disagree completely. I don't think there's much a dark mystery here at all, with the Batman Annual #25 spilling the beans. It's not unprecedented for Batman's seemingly dead villains to make a return (see Joker taking machine gun fire to the chest at the end of Death in the Family). However, these resurrections were seldom met with almost divine intervention as an explanation.

Any allusion to the Return of Superman storyline I can appreciate, but as far-fetched as the explanation was for Superman's return, that fell within pre-established logic of the Superman comics.

If nothing else, there is almost nothing being done with Jason Todd in the current comics that couldn't have been accomplished with a different character, while maintaining the integrity of the original Death in the Family storyline.

-- Posted by: ryan at February 21, 2007 10:39 PM