AKA the BatFamily Disappointment
September 23, 2015 at 2:09 pm
Jason Todd is my precious, murderous child. He is the second in a long line of Batman’s Robins, which really just means that he is the first to do something new, the first to shake up the tradition of Batman and Robin (Dynamic Duo™) that Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson had so firmly cemented. But the interesting thing about Jason is that it took him (read: his writers) a WHILE to find an identity that really worked. I mean, before he was the Batfamily’s posterboy for Middle Child Syndrome, Jason Todd was just a cute ginger Grayson knock-off. His ability to come back from that is what makes him so important. So, while we’re talking Origins, Jason’s really here to say that sometimes you just gotta take a mulligan – and, like, that’s okay; that is totally Allowed.
Let’s set the stage:
The year is 1983 and Dick Grayson has outgrown the mermaid scale speedo; he has left Batman’s side to join the New Teen Titans and thus ended their more than forty year partnership. Who should appear, then, but Jason Todd, a totally different acrobatic child orphaned by Gotham’s superpowered criminal element? I mean, why not? It worked so well before! Just change his hair color – it’ll be fiiine!
Aside from the palette swap, Jason was not a terribly complex character at this point. His only defining personality trait was being generally cheerful. It’s like the writing team didn’t even try. Plus! Once he officially took on the Robin mantle (complete with a scale-y mermaid speedo), he dyed his hair black anyway, in order to avoid confusing the public?? Or something?? Whatever.
While he wasn’t particularly noteworthy at this point, at the very least, this version of Jason’s arrival marked the end of the “Holy — , Batman!” jokes era of Batman comics. That was, honestly, the closest he came to distinguishing himself from his predecessor. However, Jason Todd is an inspiration. He proved that you can always come back from a very boring and uninspired origin story to become the “bad one” who “kills people” and “deserved to get beaten to death with a crowbar”.
Okay, so re-reading that, I realize this description might not accurately convey my intense love for Jason Todd.
Basically, it happened like this:
The DC writers, as is their wont, decided to overhaul the whole Batman mythos with Crisis on Infinite Earths. This just sort of happens in the comic book industry – the company will realize that there is just entirely too much content for anyone to reasonably read, and so they reboot; they create a new starting point as a way to draw in more readers (a contemporary example would be the New 52, the huge character overhaul from 2011).
Crisis on Infinite Earths was a 12-issue limited run series in 1985 and 1986 meant to streamline the, like, fifty years of comics history that came before it. It’s known mostly for the introduction of Barry Allen as the Flash, BUT, it also marked a new beginning for Jason Todd (meaning, really, he was granted his own distinct identity).
Post-Crisis Jason Todd is a street-orphan who dared jack the rims off the Batmobile. And a new backstory means a new set of skills! So, gone are the days of Grayson-esque acrobatic impersonation; Jay fights crime by channeling his righteous rage towards the villainy that preys on the impoverished and oppressed. And, as a child living on the street, it makes sense that poverty and oppression would be issues close to his heart.
In this iteration, Jason lost the woman he believed to be his mother to drug abuse. Also, he feels no love for his father, who is working as one of Two Face’s hired goons (because there are no other jobs available, because capitalism hates poor people). So, of course Jason’s full of this rage – he’s been suffering under a corrupt system for Too Long.
The new Jason Todd is the pre-90s-Kon-El bad boy of DC comics. I mean, he says Bad Words and Smokes Cigarettes! Scandalous, frankly. He cares so much about protecting women (especially sex workers and rape victims) that he will Literally Kill A Man.
And therein lies the controversy. Batman doesn’t kill people! No matter how horribly they treat women! By allowing Jason the opportunity to be his own person, the writers also created a space for Bruce to grow and change as a character, a space for him to reevaluate what is important to him and why those things matter, a space for him to react to a new dynamic within the duo.
And that’s why Jason Todd’s origin story is so important. The choice to replace Dick Grayson with a new Robin (one who’s not just a cheap knock-off) was a HUGE moment in comics history. It was like the writers were finally giving themselves permission to have Fun with their characters, the chance to Try New Things.
Giving Jason his own distinct personality opened the door for Tim Drake and Stephanie Brown and Harper Row and Carrie Kelley and Damian Wayne; Jason is, really, the foundation upon which all of the Batfamily is built. The failure of his original run (in conjunction with Dick Grayson’s success as Nightwing) proved that comics readers were ready for something new, that they were ready for really character-driven storytelling, ready for characters who grow with them.
Jason’s writers took that mulligan and they came up with something that affected the whole Batman franchise (and thus the whole comics industry), irrevocably, and for the better.