Jason Todd over the years

How Jason Todd went from Robin to Red Hood – Comic Book Writing explained

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Jason Todd has been a character in Batman comics and a member of the Bat-family since 1983 and in almost 40 years, the boy seems to have changed more personalities than clothes.

It’s not a secret that comic book characters change depending on the people who write them, but the fascinating thing about Jason Todd is that he has changed A LOT since his creation. And most of those changes have nothing to do with the events of the stories he was part of.

Here I want to take a look at why Jason Todd changed, and how he ended up becoming the iconic Red Hood.

What’s Jason Todd’s backstory?

Jason was first introduced in Batman #357, he was meant to be a “replacement Robin” for Batman, since the first Robin, Dick Grayson had moved on and become his own vigilante (Nightwing).

The first draft of Jason Todd

Origin of Jason Todd

He is… Dick Grayson but ginger.

He comes from a family of acrobats named the “Flying Todds”, he goes to live with Batman after his parents die at the hands of a criminal, he uses his athletic skills to fight crime. Also, he is not angsty or angry.

It’s pretty obvious that the writers wanted to make sure that the transition for readers from Robin #1 to Robin #2 was as smooth as possible. So they made a copy and paste with Dick’s backstory and personality.

The final draft of Jason Todd

This Jason is largely considered to be the “real” one (since the last Jason was retconned away by Crisis on Infinite Earths).

Now he’s not as nice or as innocent as before. He meets Batman because he got caught trying to steal the tires of the Batmobile. He was an orphan but this time his parents weren’t acrobats.

He gets adopted by Batman not long after meeting him and immediately becomes Robin. 

However, over time he became more aggressive and impulsive than the previous Boy Wonder, something that would make fans dislike him. But this would also become one of his most important character traits of his future identity: the Red Hood.

Batman: A Death in the family

This event changed Jason Todd forever, in a way that even the writers didn’t predict.

Everything starts with a conflict between Batman and Robin: Bruce is having trouble keeping Jason in his place. The kid is aggressive and impulsive, hard to control, and disobedient.

After talking to Alfred, he comes to the conclusion that the kid hasn’t come to terms with the death of his parents yet, so he decides to “suspend” him from crime-fighting.

Jason doesn’t take this well, obviously. He decides that instead of following Batman in his mission, he is going to solve a mystery on his own: the real identity of his mother.

Following clues (and also stealing intel for the government), Jason manages to track down the first woman who might be his mother (there are 3 possible candidates).

She is (conveniently) tied to the same case that Batman is working on, and the Dynamic Duo decides to put their problems aside to help each other.

Neither she nor the second woman (who just happens to be Lady Shiva)  are Jason’s birth-mother. So the last woman, Sheila Haywood, is the one… too bad she’s also a criminal on the run who is being blackmailed by the Joker.

Once they find her, they have a heartwarming reunion, where she tells them her backstory, and how Jason was born, and why she couldn’t stay with him. However, as soon as she finds out that her son is The Boy Wonder, Sheila doesn’t waste half a second to throw him under the bus.

That’s how Jason ends up in the (now infamous) warehouse where he gets beaten by the Joker with a crowbar and killed by the bomb that made the building collapse.

Jason Todd as the Robin that died

Well, reading this comic while already knowing how it ends is really sad. Most of the time, Death in the family gets summed up with “Jason wasn’t popular enough with fans, so they “killed him off”, and it wouldn’t be so bad if this was all there is to it.

However, the way he gets killed seems… really, really, REALLY cruel.

Characters getting killed off because they’re not popular or well-liked enough is not something new. Many characters have met this fate before Jason, and the same happened to many more after.

Nevertheless, not everyone gets a death as spectacular and sad as his:

  1. Meets long lost mother and gets betrayed by her
  2. Gets beaten by a madman who laughs at him the entire time
  3. Has a building fall on top of him after an explosion

Some depictions of Jason’s death (like the opening scene in Batman Under the red hood) tend to leave out this detail, but he wasn’t alone in the warehouse when he died.

Sheila (his mother) was there as well, and she did a great job not giving a f- about her son getting beaten (seriously, she reacts really coldly to the whole “crowbar thing” and then gets double-crossed by the Joker who locks her in with Jason).

So yeah… it’s sad.

During this arc, Jason shows that he is more than a rebellious teen.

In the beginning, he refuses to listen to Batman and goes away on his own. But when the two meet again, Jason agrees to help Bruce with his case, showing that doing the right thing is still the top priority to him.

Batman: Hush

In this story, Batman finds himself pit against a mysterious opponent that calls himself Hush. This person seems to know everything about both Bruce Wayne and uses this knowledge to destroy the Dark Knight.

Every clue seems to point to Jason being resurrected and coming back for revenge. This seems to be the case when he makes an appearance in issue #10, holding the new Robin (Tim Drake) hostage and calling him a “pretender”.

In the very next issue, it’s “revealed” that this was not Jason at all, but Clayface who had taken on the boy’s appearance to trick Batman.

Then in Batman Under the Red Hood, it’s “revealed” that AU CONTRAIRE! that was actually Jason and he switched places with Clayface at the last minute.

And if you’re thinking that this is a confusing mess… you’re right.

Under the Red Hood implies that Jason switched places with Clayface after he and Batman left the cemetery. But during that same even in Hush Batman says that he deduced his opponent was not Jason because there was clay on the cemetery’s ground.

So the two stories contradict each other and end up not making much sense. Well, at least we get to see Jason with his cool white hairstreak.

Jason Todd in Hush

Jason Todd as “Hush”

In Hush, Jason’s presence is more symbolical than anything. He doesn’t actually kill Tim, and he wasn’t the one orchestrating the plan to take Batman down. He appears, not as Robin or Red Hood, but as “Batman’s greatest failure”, the boy that the hero didn’t manage to save.

The idea that Red Hood is the result of Batman making a mistake will carry on in almost all of the stories that center around Jason Todd.

Red Hood: Lost days

Lost days is meant to fill the gap between Jason’s death and his return as Red Hood.

It starts right when Ra’s Al Ghul and Talia rescue him and ends right before Red Hood appears in Gotham, basically it’s about the story of Jason’s training and his decision to become the new Red Hood.

The best way to describe this version of Jason Todd is with the words “ticking clock”.

A Lazarus Pit can cure any disease (and maybe bring the dead back to life), but it has the side effect of altering the mind of the person who bathes in it. Basically driving them to madness.

So it makes sense that in this period Jason would be a little more brutal and psychotic since he’s still experiencing the effects of the Pit.

He keeps going back and forth about his decision to kill Bruce and his anger towards him, he’s lost and lonely but always in control of himself. Also, this is the only story so far where Jason’s famous quips and sense of humor don’t come up at all.

Fortunately, with the help of Talia Al Ghul, he learns how to fend for himself and how to survive in the criminal world. Essentially becoming a lethal version of Batman.

Here he also makes the decision to “reunite” Batman and the Joker instead of killing the clown in cold blood.

Red Hood Lost days provides some clarity over Jason’s past: how he learned to use bombs and lethal weapons, how he got the money to start his criminal organization, and how exactly the Pit affected his mental state.

Jason Todd's teacher

Also, this story gives Jason the mother figure he deserves in Talia Al Ghul, Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter, who takes care of him and helps him in his training.

Of course, everything is ruined when she (yikes) sleeps with him.

Anyway, this story gives us an insight into how the Red Hood came to be and on who the “new” Jason Todd really is.

Jason’s (many) resurrections

Jason Todd's resurrection

Just to get this out of the way… there are a few different versions of Jason’s resurrection:

  • in the comic – Jason is resurrected when Superboy-Prime shatters reality by punching the walls of his multidimensional prison (yeah… if you’re confused it’s ok everyone is. It ties into a larver event that rebooted the DC universe)
  • in the Under the Red Hood movie: Ra’s Al Ghul, feeling guilty for unintentionally causing Jason’s death, tries to resurrect the boy using the Lazarus Pit
  • in other stories where Jason’s death is mentioned: the building where Jason died was built on a Lazarus Pit that kept him alive/resurrected him

If you’re confused, it’s ok. Everyone is. Bottom line: Jason Christ Superstar is alive and crazy.

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Finally we get to the best part! The gruesome, tragic, and depressing best part…

Batman and Black Mask (an extremely powerful and rich mob boss in Gotham) are both threatened by the arrival of a new super criminal: the Red Hood.

This mystery man has crippled Black Mask’s drug trafficking empire. First by forcing his dealers and goons to leave Mask behind and work for him. Then by straight-up killing everyone who refused to join him and destroying “the goods” that they were selling.

Batman is also in a tight spot because Red Hood seems to have replaced him as Gotham City’s most beloved angsty vigilante. Just like the Bat, he has a code and it forbids: selling drugs to kids, human trafficking, killing civilians.

However, unlike the Bat, Red Hood has no problem killing and getting his hands dirty with drug dealing.

Red Hood quickly starts to get on Black Mask’s nerves (he’s not famous for his patience as he himself will tell you) and decides to get the help of an organization called The Society to kill his new enemy.

Meanwhile, Batman starts to suspect that Red Hood might be Jason Todd because of his skills and knowledge of Batman’s weapons. He finally gets the confirmation when Jason takes off his helmet, showing his face for the first time (in the animated movie this happens at the end, but in the comics, he does this much earlier).

After investigating how someone might come back from the dead (in this version he doesn’t visit Ra’s Al Ghul), Batman is conflicted. He doesn’t know whether he should arrest his adoptive son or let him keep doing what he’s doing.

A Batman/Red Hood team up and an epic fight with Black Mask later, Jason reveals that he has kidnapped the Joker and that he wants Batman to come and “save” him.

In an abandoned building, Red Hood and his former mentor have the chance to confront each other.

Jason tells Bruce that he is not angry because of his death, he knows that Bruce did anything he could. The real reason why he came back for revenge is the Joker. He explains that he doesn’t understand why Batman would let him live after what he did, and that now he’s going to avenge himself.

Jason Todd's philosophy

Bruce tells him that if he had to cross “that line” he wouldn’t be able to stop. So even if he wants to kill the Joker, he can’t.

The confrontation ends with Batman stopping Red Hood as he is about to shoot, and Joker blowing up the building they were in. In the final issue, it’s revealed that Red Hood is still alive.

So, what is Jason Todd like in this story?

Jason Todd as Red Hood

The first thing you notice while reading this story is that Red Hood is basically a “darker” version of Batman. He’s a mix between a vigilante who wants to keep the city safe and a gangster.

Red Hood has managed to create his own drug dealing empire, and he makes criminals do his bidding. But, unlike Black Mask, he has limits. He’s not willing to go as low as to sell drugs to kids or kill innocent civilians for no reason.

Much like Batman, he’s doing what he can to keep the city safe. Only he doesn’t approach the problems of the city through “war on crime”, he wants to control crime and claims that this is the only way to establish some order. Also, he doesn’t have the same rigid approach to killing, as he believes that the only way to prevent the Joker from killing again is to end him.

In a way, Jason is the “missing link” between a criminal and a vigilante, but there’s something holding him back: revenge. Jason is so blinded by his desire to avenge himself that this nearly costs him his life.

He could have taken out Black Mask and eliminated one of the biggest threats to his criminal organization. Or even managed to work undisturbed by simply hiding his activities from Batman. But he did neither of those things. His desire to confront Bruce and punish the Joker was too intense and ended up costing him everything.

This obsession with revenge and injustice is so integral to his character, even today, that every comic where Jason appears seems to hint at it. There’s actually a very cool panel in Three Jokers that shows Jason grabbing a crowbar on his way to kill one of the three clowns. Suggesting that Jason brings a crowbar with him wherever he goes which is… like… 50% badass and 50% psychotic.

Jason Todd in Three Jokers

My favorite part of this story though is the fact that it shows Jason’s skills and potential.

Bruce immediately starts suspecting someone familiar when he sees that the man he was chasing was easily able to free himself from his rope. Black Mask ended up giving into the Red Hood’s requests after realizing that this “new guy” was a real threat to him.

Under the Red Hood gives us a Jason who can go toe to toe with the Batman himself, use strategy to ruin a powerful crime boss, and even plant some doubts into the reader’s mind about wheater or not the “Batman doesn’t kill” ideology is good or just an excuse. All of this with some cynical humor sprinkled on top.

Jason todd's humor

Jason Todd through the years

I think that it’s fascinating to see how one character can change in the hands of different writers who are portraying him across different mediums.

The case of Jason Todd specifically it’s interesting because it also involves the interaction between creators and fans.

In the beginning, the Dick Grayson copycat was mostly a neutral figure that didn’t pose any threat to the status quo. Neither beloved nor hated. Then, when someone decided to shake things up a bit by making him more bratty and rebellious, fans didn’t appreciate it.

Then again, when he was brought back to life (and to the Batman comics), the rebel side of his personality was amped up so much that he became an antagonist of the Dark Knight. And this time… this time fans loved it.

Ironic isn’t it? The very thing that made this character a nuisance in the past is what made him successful in the future.

Now Red Hood has his own adventures in the comic Red Hood and the Outlaws and his character has become an essential part of the Batman mythos, all because the Joker killed him that one time. So… thanks I guess?


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