Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections #12: The Painful Tale Of One Jason Todd
by Scott Redmond
They say the only three certain things in life are birth, death, and change. When it comes to comic books those things are also certain as they come in the form of retcons, reboots, and resurrections.
For our purposes retcons are elements that are retroactively added into a character’s history after the fact, reboots are either big full change revivals of a character/title or are extensive changes to their canon, and resurrections are characters making the return from death or character limbo.
Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.
There was once a time in comics fandom where people could regularly say “No one in comics stays dead except for Bucky Barnes, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben” and they were correct. Those were generally three deaths that stuck for quite a long time, outside of the occasional not counting alternate reality version showing up.
And then came the 2000s where just about everyone started to rise from the grave once more. Bucky Barnes became the assassin and later reformed hero Winter Soldier. Jason Todd became the brutal vigilante turned later somewhat still brutal anti-hero Red Hood. Uncle Ben is still dead though, so Peter Parker still has all that guilt.
This week we delve into the tale of one Jason Todd which includes a revamp, a fan vote, a convoluted return, a convoluted reboot, and a lot of rough years.
What Was It?
When Dick Grayson took off to do his own thing, there was a Robin-sized hole in the world of Batman. Most would assume this is where we then talk about the orphan Jason Todd coming in to steal the Batmobile tires and impress Batman, but that wasn’t the first version of Todd. No, the original Jason Todd was introduced before Crisis on Infinite Earths as a basically red-headed copy of Dick Grayson in Batman #357.
He was the son of circus acrobats, the Flying Todds, who were killed by a villain, Killer Croc, and ends up fighting crime cheerfully in his old circus costume. That was until Dick Grayson gave him the Robin costume and then Todd dyed his hair black and kept fighting crime alongside Batman.
Then came the crisis revamp (Batman #408–409). Jason Todd gets a whole reboot here where he is the version that folks generally know. His father Willis Todd is a petty crook who ended up in prison and then left his family while his mother Catherine Todd was addicted to drugs. Jason ripped off car parts in order to make cash to help her. Unfortunately, she died and he was left alone and kept doing what he had been doing to fend for himself, which led to crossing paths with Batman.
As mentioned before, he tries to steal the Batmobile tires and impresses Batman when he pushes back. This version of Todd has anger issues and Batman enrolls him in a school for troubled youths, which unfortunately turns out to be a criminal organization. Instead, Batman decides that Jason’s rage might be better suited if directed to help clean up Gotham’s streets as Robin, but he has to go through six months of training before he can wear the costume. Batman hopes this will help him channel his rage and not end up as a criminal.
That rage got the better of Jason as he used excessive force on criminals regularly and might have actually murdered a man. As Batman became more concerned, Jason found out his mom wasn’t his real biological mom and he ran off to Ethiopia where he found his real mother Sheila. That rage and fans would prove to be both of their undoings.
Turns out though that Sheila was embezzling funds from her aid group and Joker was using that to blackmail her for medical supplies, and she turned her son over to the clown villain. Joker savagely beats Jason with a crowbar, then leaves him near death in a warehouse with Sheila and a ticking time bomb. This is where fans came in.
The fandom was very divided on Jason Todd, so Jim Starlin and Batman editor Dennis O’Neil decided to harness that. They set up a call in vote system in order to decide whether Jason Todd would live or die in the next issue.
Two versions were created of the final pages, one where Batman arrives and Jason is still alive and one where Batman arrives and Jason is dead. The fans who disliked Jason won the vote by a slim margin, and the infamous ‘Death in the Family’ image of Batman holding a dead Jason became official.
For decades Batman had Jason’s costume up in the cave as a memorial and as a reminder of his greatest failure, not training Jason well enough and not being able to save him from the Joker.
Then came the 2003 storyline ‘Hush‘. There a figure is tormenting Batman and tearing his life apart piece by piece. In the story, the current Robin Tim Drake is kidnapped by a bandaged figure. This figure is then revealed to be a grown-up Jason Todd, back for revenge. Except after the fight it turns out to just be Clayface. The real Hush – Bruce’s childhood friend Tommy Elliot – had just known what buttons to push through Clayface.
DC Comics decided to keep playing with this thread though as soon after the storyline ‘Batman: Under The Hood‘ officially brought Jason back as the violent anti-hero Red Hood. Long story short, reality-altering punches from Superboy-Prime brought Jason back six months after he died and he crawled out of his own grave. After a year in a coma, he was out and found by Talia al Ghul, who pushes him into the Lazarus Pit of her father which restores his memories and health but also amplifies his rage.
Jason spent a number of years taking on various Bat-family members, pretended to be Nightwing, went on interdimensional adventures, and even tried to replace Batman when he was believed dead. All while still being like Batman but just more brutal and willing to use guns and other weapons in his crusade.
The big New 52 reboot in 2011 made quite a bit of big changes to a lot of characters, Jason among them. While he was still in the anti-hero mold his costume changed and had a bat symbol as while he was at odds with his “family” over methods he wasn’t on the full outs. This new era relied more on casting Dick, Tim, Damian Wayne, and Jason as brothers who have squabbles and differences rather than Jason being their enemy like the old continuity. That change is very subtle at first but over the years (even though more continuity changes) grew stronger and is now the ultimate default for the Bat-family dynamics, which includes him having a better relationship also with Batman, the various Batgirls, and others.
With 2016’s DC Rebirth Jason’s origins, detailed in the second volume of his title Red Hood and the Outlaws, are returned to a form similar to his post Crisis orphan version. This adds in some new details and then reorganizes his return in the Pit and war against Batman while not bringing back all the very aggressive things that he had done to the family before the reboot.
Scott Lobdell, a creator who was accused of and admitted to sexual harassment, wrote Jason for almost the entire decade since the reboot and kept him in a rage/anti-hero bubble. That’s because, as he somewhat revealed when he finally left the book in 2020, Lobdell saw Jason as his self insert into comics and referred to the character as “tragically flawed” and “in search of redemption.”
Since Lobdell’s departure and since the latest continuity change event, the new Infinite Frontier era sees all continuity ever essentially being canon in a way, there are new stories that actually put Jason in a better light and fully explore his rage and his place in the Bat-Family and better contextualize his relationship with Batman.
Was It Good?
In the long run, Jason’s return was a good thing as the character deserved better than what he got. Especially now that he has a much better relationship with his brothers and can fit easier into Bat stories without sticking out like a sore thumb.
The execution of it though and the subsequent years were a gigantic mess. Being stuck written by the same terrible creator for over a decade did not help one bit. The character, like all characters really, has a lot of potential and there are a great number of stories that will likely come that will benefit from his being back.
Just like the previously mentioned Bucky Barnes though, both of them have been back for a great number of years though and are still waiting for their “big story” in a sense. Their story that just resonates and can be pointed to as a defining story. They have more potential than being the flawed former sidekicks of Captain America and Batman.