Back in 1983, DC Comics wanted to mix things up a bit.
They did so by introducing a new Robin to take over from Dick Grayson who was getting tired of shaving his legs to wear the silly costume. Jason Todd, the loose cannon, was introduced and fans were none too happy with him. Whatever the reason, the reckless Robin II was killed off by the Joker and all was well with the world again.
… until 2002 when Jeph Loeb penned a surprise twist in his epic ‘Hush’ storyline with Jim Lee. The bandaged villain was revealed in issue to be none other than a grown-up Jason Todd, and boy was he in a mood.
The revelation was short-lived as it turned out to be Clayface messing with Batman‘s head. Years later writer Judd Winick took over Batman and decided to mix things up a bit himself.
Winick introduced a new villain named the Red Hood (the Joker’s title before he took a dip in the chemical bath). The Red Hood terrorized the gangster the Black Mask, killed anyone who got in his way and posed a very real threat to both organized crime and Batman at the same time. In a dramatic fight across Gotham rooftops (isn’t it always?) The Red Hood removed his mask and the reader clearly saw Jason Todd under the crimson cowl.
The story (collected in Under the Hood I and II) is a high water-mark for Winick‘s writing and it is a shame that the initial run was interrupted by a cross-over that made following the story almost impossible. To add to the injury, essential clues were revealed in an Annual that few picked up on. Rest assured, the trade paperbacks contain all of the much-needed material.
Throughout much of the first half of the story, Batman struggles to find an answer to how Todd came back from the dead. Thanks to several second thoughts by DC Editorial there are plenty of back-from-the-dead characters to consult but strangely none can offer Batman an answer that makes sense to his detective mind. Added to this mystery is Batman’s suspicions that there is a conspiracy of heroes holding secrets from him. As we would later see in Identity Crisis, this hunch was well-founded… but the pay off was for a later story.
Jason Todd‘s character was always reckless and wild, but this Red Hood version is everything that Batman isn’t. Wnile Batman uses fear as a tool to control crime, the Red Hood is a terrorist out to cause mayhem. He is waging an all-out war on crime, but on terms that do not allow for survivors. The brutal assault on the Joker proves an emotionally charged moment as Todd inflicts upon the Clown Prince of Crime every bit of damage that he himself had experienced upon his ‘death.’ Once just another guy in bright underwear kicking guys in warehouse, he developed into a mean SOB who fought simply anyone who camer near him.
The Red Hood is out to prove to Batman that there is a line in this war on crime that must be crossed, yet Batman refuses to make that leap. After seeing the consequences of taking a life first hand, he cannot kill his enemies, therefore he must be their warder.
Under the Hood is a hidden jewel of the Batman comic book library and perfectly sets up Jason Todd as a vital part of the Bat-Family, as it were. It’s a shame that Winick didn’t stick around to flesh out his ideas and instead the revived Todd floundered for years until he became a central character in the derided ‘Countdown’ weekly comic.
Yes, DC Comics is really calling him ‘Red Robin’... despite the fact that it is also the name of a family restaurant chain.
So what next for the young punk that Batman failed to save? Once a reluctant hero, then a twisted terrorist, the character has come full circle and is now apparently a making a stab at being the next Batman in the upcoming ‘Battle for the Cowl’ event series (which sounds and looks like a game show).
I find this change of heart more than a little hard to swallow, and haven’t we already had a ‘hard ass’ Batman with Jean Paul back when Batman‘s back was broken? I’m not sure what the future may hold for Jason Todd... but I wager that it won’t be a smooth ride.
From corpse to crook to contestant… he just can’t decide what he wants to be.
It’s a hard life, being a sidekick.