The Makings of a Character: Jason Todd - The Red Hood

Jason Todd is a character that most people either love or hate. Those that love him because he is one of the few characters to embrace his flaws and create a space for himself. Those that hate him see him as nothing more than a murderer. In reality he's just not that simple. He's a complex character and I'd like to take a look at him today. To do that we have to start at the beginning.

Origin

For his origin I've chosen to go with the post-crisis origin, which is the same as the New 52 origin, just expanded. Jason was both conceived and born in an alley. His parents hated each other and argued non stop. His mother suffered from depression and was a drug addict. His father was a small time gangster. Eventually Joker took an interest in the family because he wanted to help Batman create a Robin. Except this Robin would be a failure. He'd eventually turn to crime. Joker set up Jason's father to go to jail where he was eventually murdered by Two-Face's men. Jason's mother then suffered from a drug overdose. Her overdose is still a mystery, it could have been Joker poising her drugs or she committed suicide.

Jason is left homeless so he robs people and steals from them, becoming a great fighter although he never hurts anyone and only steals from people he considered to be bad. Eventually his luck runs out. One day he's caught trying to steal the hubcaps from the Batmobile and flees from Batman. Only to escape him and run into a group of thugs he had stolen from before. They beat him and he's badly injured. He's taken in and nursed back to health by Dr. Leslie Thompkins for several weeks. When he's better he attempts to steal prescription pills from her, hoping to sell them.

Batman stops him and Dr. Thompkins convinces him to let Jason go. Later Bruce takes Jason in and lets him become Robin. Jason acts differently than Dick. While he does plan things out to a greater degree his plans are much bolder and almost suicidal at times. He also severely injures criminals. In once instance he pushes a man from a roof because the man was the leader of a pedophile ring and had raped several children. After this Jason is not allowed out without supervision from Batgirl. After he evades her, Jason is put on monitor duty. He leaves the monitor to stop a crime Batman would not have gotten to in time and has his Robin mantle revoked.

Jason took this time to locate his biological mother. He travels across the globe attempting to find her. After he meets her she tricks him into meeting the joker in a warehouse where he is beaten to death with a crowbar. In the condensed New 52 version he was simply kidnapped by Joker and then beaten to death with a crowbar. He was then resurrected by Talia Al Ghul because she saw how it affected Bruce. In some versions Superboy Prime punched reality which restarted his heart and he climbed out of the coffin and ground before being found by Talia. Either way he came back and his brain was scrambled, but his fighting ability remained in tact. He then trained with the League of Assassins further improving his skills. Talia later pushed him into a Lazarus Pit being used Ra's Al Ghul. Restoring Jason's mind but making him a target for Ra's.

He spent the next few years training with various instructors learning different styles of martial arts, bomb building, firearms training, swordsmanship and countless other skills. He also undertook mercenary missions which helped him create a small fortune. Eventually the thought of revenge against the Joker began to weigh on his mind, causing him to go back to Gotham. The rest is history.

He's Not a Heartless Murder

In Red Hood: The Lost Days Talia tells Jason that he's a murderer unlike Bruce. He simply tells her that a murder would imply the person had done nothing wrong. He admits he was a killer but he isn't a murderer because he doesn't take the life of innocent people. Jason isn't going to stop a mugger and then shoot him in the head. In fact as long as you don't actually hurt anyone he won't kill you. However, if you're a; pedophile, sell bad drugs, sell drugs to kids, rapist murderer etc. He just doesn't have any sympathy for you at all and that's understandable. Think about how many times Batman has let someone like Victor Zsasz live? He's killed hundreds by himself, then you add in guys like the Joker who have killed and poisoned thousands. The number gets ridiculous. Yeah, Jason kills people but he's a good enough detective to prove they're guilty before he just shoots them in the head. To Jason, killing is a final solution. Something beyond simply sending them to Arkham, Blackgate or even The Phantom Zone.
But, that's not the biggest reason Jason isn't as evil as people seem to think. I'd like to bring to you attention Scarlet. She was temporarily Jason's sidekick. She was brought to Gotham to start a new life with her father but her father was taken control of by Professor Pyg. Scarlet is tortured by Pyg until the point that she looks like one of his robots. In a fit of anger she kills her father blaming him and swearing revenge on Pyg. Jason finds her and promises to help her channel her rage. And he did. She becomes his sidekick until Batman (Dick) and Robin (Damian) send Jason to Arkham because they felt he was corrupting her.

Jason was only captured because he wanted to make sure Scarlet escaped. Batman and Robin soon learn that Jason was not only helping Scarlet with her rage he was protecting her from Pyg. She's soon kidnapped and they're forced to release Jason to stop Pyg. Once they've stopped Pyg it's revealed that Scarlet is dying due to her initial torture and operations done by Pyg and her recent torture. What does Jason do? He once again escapes Batman and Robin, this time with Scarlet and he stays with her until she dies. She told Jason "You're the only one who has ever actually cared about me."

So no, Jason isn't as heartless as people would have you believe. You can point to the times he took over Gotham's underground as a time lord where he would execute those who didn't follow his rules. But, then you would have to acknowledge his rules. Don't sell drugs or guns in school zones, don't sell drugs or guns to kids, don't sell drugs to parents, don't kill your clients and the list goes on. Jason's rules were not in place to keep him in power, they were to protect the families of Gotham (something he never had) and keep the criminals in line. Jason's time as a crime lord wasn't about getting rich. It was about keeping criminals in line.

Mental Illness and Abuse

Jason is bipolar and it wasn't really a secret before the New 52. Now he's suffers from depression, and again, it's not a secret. Jason is openly suicidal at times and at times when he's left alone he wants nothing more than to kill himself. No matter how much you hate Jason, Jason hates himself even more. Often times people with depression will spend time helping others because it is one of the few ways that they can feel good about themselves.

In Jason's case, Roy Harper is who he helps. Roy is Jason's best friend by default because Jason has no other friends. Roy Harper was near death on one occasion in the middle of nowhere and Jason manages to show up because he was keeping track of where his friend went. Roy asked Jason why he was always there to help him and Jason simply states "If you die, I'll be the worst sidekick ever."

Roy Harper has had is own problems; drug addiction, having a baby by a super villain, clones, that baby dying, losing an arm and the list goes on. Jason may tell Roy he's clingy but in his narration boxes he's stated that Roy is his only friend and he's glad he stays around. In return Jason helps Roy stay away from drugs and keeps him from being homeless. By helping Roy he assures that he has a friend and someone to keep him from being alone and suicidal.

Let's talk about abuse. It's clear his father was violent and his mother was negligent but that wasn't the worst abuse Jason went through. With the exception of Alfred the Batfamily always assumes Jason is crazy when he talks about how Bruce treated him, in fact Jason has told Alfred that he's more of a father to him than his biological father or Bruce. But Jason is telling the truth. Bruce did help screw up Jason's mind even more and did nothing to help him fix it. Let's look at a few examples.

Jason is not an acrobat like Dick Grayson, he's not as fast or acrobatic. Jason's fighting style is different than Dick's. It's similar to Bruce's yet more violent and dirty. Yet, Bruce was constantly upset he didn't act like Dick. Complaining about how Jason wasn't Dick wasn't even the worst. He actually forced Jason to dye his hair black because Dick Grayson's hair was black. Add that to the fact that he constantly told Jason how he was only Robin so he didn't become a villain and things start to look bad.

Maybe Dick Grayson is to blame for some of this too. Dick always had a great relationship with other Robins. Just not Jason. In fact the only time he actually had a cordial conversation with Jason was in a Teen Titan's issue where the group had to rescue Dick. In fact, Dick told Bruce that Jason wasn't even worthy to be Robin. Dick isn't exactly spotless in all of this.

Jason already suffered from mental illness and the Lazarus Pit only made it worse. However Bruce never tried to help him. In fact Bruce told Jason that he is his biggest failure. Not because he couldn't save Jason from Joker but because of how Jason turned out. He considered Jason a failure. When Bruce "died" and left messages for everyone he told Jason he was sick and needed to get help. There were no well wishes like everyone else. He just told Jason he was sick despite never offering to help him before Jason or Bruce died.

Things haven't exactly improved between the two either, and the thing is, Jason wants things to improve. It's the reason he started wearing the Bat Symbol. In one example Jason had no idea that Damian had died. Bruce invited him on the mission for the first time since he was Robin. Jason agreed not to kill anyone and viewed this as a chance to finally start working on their relationship. However once the mission was over Bruce stopped being "nice" to Jason. He attacked Jason demanding to know how Jason returned from the dead so Bruce could bring Damian back. Bruce demanded Jason fight back since Jason wouldn't hit him. When Jason finally did fight back he beat Bruce, explained he didn't know how he came back, and then took the Batmobile promising to bring it back later. Even with the way Bruce treated Jason he still showed up when Batman needed his help during Endgame. Why? Because he really does want to be part of the Batfamily.

It may not be considered abuse by many but look at the way the Batfamily treats Jason. Bruce doesn't answer his calls, but always calls when he needs Jason's help or dirty work done. Dick tells everyone he's crazy so Jason doesn't even bother calling him. Barbara like Dick, believes he's crazy so she doesn't answer his calls, but she does know how to contact him. Damian hates Jason because everyone else hates Jason, except Tim and Damian hates Tim. It's okay because Jason hates Damian too. Jason hates Damian because everyone loves him, for the same reasons they hated Jason. Damian kills people and it's okay. Jason kills people and it's an abomination. Damian isn't as acrobatic as Dick and it's great. Jason isn't as acrobatic as Dick and he needs change his fighting style. Also the first time they met he attacked Jason and Jason shot him so there's probably some hard feelings there.

Tim, this is a strange one. Jason has been more brutal towards Tim than any other member of the Batfamily almost killing him on two occasions and attacking him on countless others. However they've come to a mutual understanding. Jason doesn't hate Tim and he never has. He thinks Tim is a great detective but wants to toughen him up, so he doesn't die like Jason did. Tim realizes Jason is mentally ill but actually did want the best for Tim. As a result when Jason's detective skills aren't up to par he will contact Tim and if Tim needs a strategy or more muscle he'll call Jason and they were even having breakfast together recently. Alfred however bonded with Jason more than anyone telling him he was like a son to him and breaking down anytime he thinks of Jason's death and Jason is always there when Alfred needs him even if nobody else wants him to be there.

Conclusion

Jason is a complex character. It's obvious that he has his own issues but others make them worse. Recently with the help of Roy Harper and Tim Drake he's been getting better. However, most of the people around him don't seem to care and hold his past actions against him without considering what he went through or how they treated him. Jason has always been treated as a black sheep even when he wasn't. Nobody had any hope for him to do good in his life. He often does things the wrong way but he does do good.

It's understandable why some people don't like Jason Todd. So often it seems like he's just doing things to do them but there's usually a reason nobody cares to stick around for. There's always an emphasis on his killing but never an emphasis how much he cares about children and poor people. Jason Todd is complex. He has good traits and bad traits. Love him or hate him you have to acknowledge he's a great character.

You can hear Darrell on the CP Time and Powerbomb Jutsu podcasts. He also plays classic arcade games on The Cabinet

The Makings of a Character: Jason Todd - The Red Hood The Makings of a Character: Jason Todd - The Red Hood Reviewed by Darrell S. on Wednesday, September 16, 2015 Rating: 5

6 comments:

  1. I found myself liking Jason a lot more recently. However, he is still my least favorite of the "Robins."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not saying he has to be your favorite Robin. But you can at least put him above Stephanie or some of the fodder Robins from "We Are Robin."

      Delete
  2. Lol if anyone tells you STEPHANIE or any one of these new niggas are above Jason, banish them to the shadow realm.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Jason Todd is a beast. Bruce is kind of the worst pre-Rebirth regarding Jason and the BatFam as a whole, with the exception of Tim are equally awful.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Jason Todd is HANDS DOWN the BEST robin. He's more real than any of them, and is MUCH more easier to relate to as a person.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Let's not forget that in Flashpoint he's a priest. Didn't meet Batman and was probably honestly better for it

    ReplyDelete

Powered by Blogger.