Comic Books

Boy Wonder to Black Sheep: A History of Red Hood

Thea Belak ’21 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Spoiler Warning: Includes important plot points from Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol. 2 #26 and 27.

Image Credit: DC Comics

With Scott Lobdell’s 27th issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws retitling of the series to Red Hood: Outlaw, Jason Todd (a.k.a Red Hood) seems to have outgrown his iconic red biker helmet and traded it in for a hoodie and muzzle. Now while this may seem like a large change to the classic red biker helmet, it isn’t the first wardrobe change Jason has been put through. In fact, the character’s persona is now almost unrecognizable to when he was first introduced in 1983. So in the marking of this new, revamped Red Hood let’s take a closer look at the character’s roller coaster history.

With the branching out of Batman’s first Robin, Dick Grayson, the writers needed another Gotham kid to replace him. Thus Jason Todd (created by Judd Winick and Gerry Conway) became the second ward of Batman to dawn the mantle in Batman #357. Essentially, the character was nothing more than a knock-off version of his predecessor, Dick. He too was a son of a circus performer and become orphaned when his father was killed by Killer Croc.* His presence as little more than a thinly disguised doppelganger for Dick saw him received unfavorably with fans. In the 1988 storyline ‘A Death In The Family’ Jason was kidnapped and brutally beaten with a crowbar by the Joker. Fans were given the opportunity to phone in and vote as to whether Jason should live or die in the comic’s next addition. The end vote was 5343 to 5271 in favor of his death. (Although some have speculated that one caller dialed in numerous times in favor of his death) The Joker thus left the bludgeoned Jason in a warehouse rigged with bombs and a timer. Batman arrived only seconds too late as the building exploded in front of his eyes, leaving nothing but Jason’s dead body. (Which by the logic of comics definitely stayed completely intact.)

*His backstory has since been rewritten in the New 52, to his father was a small-time criminal who was imprisoned when Jason was very young and his mother a drug addict.

Image Credit: DC Comics

The impact of Jason’s death on Batman is one of the many pieces that helped turn the character into the dark brooding Batman we know so well today, as he was burdened with tremendous guilt of his young partner. It became apparent to him just how dangerous a life he had subjected Jason and Dick to by letting them become Robins. Unlike himself who had trained and dedicated years and years of his life, the Robins were simply young boys (Jason being between 14 to 16 when he died.) His death also profited the reputation of the Joker, as the act is still considered to be one of the worst things the Joker has ever done to the Batman. It was also what brought Batman closest to submitting to his urge of killing the Joker. As he says in Batman: Under the Red Hood, “All I’ve ever wanted to do is kill him [The Joker] not a day goes by when I don’t think about subjecting him to every horrendous torture he’s dealt out to others and then end him…but if I do that, if I allow myself to go down into that place, I’ll never come back.” It would appear that in his death, Jason Todd served to be more of an important story piece to the Batman mythos versus than when he was alive. However, by the magic of comics and the constant revising of the dead, he would get a second chance to fix that.

According to the DC New 52 universe, Jason Todd’s resurrection (stay with me here) occurs six months after his death when a Superboy prime punches reality. This spreads out numerous reality wrinkles across the DC universe, one of which restores Jason Todd to life, although to a zombie like state. He manages to crawl his way out of his coffin and winds up in a hospital where he is recognized by Talia al Ghul. She takes him to the Lazarus Pit, which fully heals his body but has the side effect of slightly altering his personality and minutely eroding away his mental stability. He spends some time training under Talia, getting his strength back when he learns Batman never avenged his death. Upon hearing this he heads back to Gotham with his mind set on vengeance against both the Joker and Batman. His journey plays out in 2006 Batman comic arc Under the Hood, which was adapted into the movie Batman: Under the Red Hood.

Image Credit: DC Comics

What’s so exciting about the return of Jason as the vigilante Red Hood is that, in essence, he becomes the child of both Batman and the Joker. While the hero and the villain can be seen as two distinct sides of good and evil, black and white, Red Hood is morally gray. Like Batman, he wants to clean up the streets of Gotham and protect its citizens. However, he doesn’t believe running around in a costume arresting criminals only for them to be released by a corrupt judge the next day can solve the problem. For that, he turns to the method the Joker uses–control the chaos, spread fear among the criminals, and become their leader. You want to stop the epidemic of kids overdosing? Tell the drug dealers if they sell to kids their corpses will serve as messages to others. But of course, Batman cannot condone killing, even if Jason does it to prevent future deaths of innocent civilians. Once more, Batman believes what Jason has become is his fault. He wasn’t there to protect Jason and sees the acts he commits as crossing the line between what makes heros just and what makes criminals injust. He sees Jason as his greatest failure because he’s the person Batman knows he could become, but fights every day to not allow himself to.

Now while this could be an interesting concept for a character, it failed to translate over in Scott Lobdell’s 2011 series Red Hood and the Outlaws. Rather than showing how the Red Hood’s past shaped him, it became his entire personality. The fearsome Red Hood became little more than an angsty teenager with daddy issues, dull and one dimensional. It didn’t help that the series came under scrutiny for the over-sexualization of Starfire, which saw her reduced to little more than sexy alien 14-year-old readers could gawk at, and the series ended in 2015.

Image Credit: DC Comics

However the second volume of the series, which started in 2016, sees Red Hood partner with a new duo. Bizzaro, a gone-wrong clone of Superman, and Artemis, an Amazon warrior with a past. With them, Red Hood drops the brooding attitude and becomes a much more sophisticated vigilante. The comic also does an interesting job of mirroring the relationship between Jason and Bizzaro to the one Jason had with Batman when he first became Robin. Bizzaro, a newborn clone, alone, scared, and feared by his creators because of his immense strength and low intelligence, is basically adopted by Jason. He sees it as his responsibility to take care of Bizzaro and thus the two become friends. The series also sets Jason up in a head-butting relationship with Artemis, as they go from fighting each other to begrudging working together, to becoming partners and even teasing at a romantic relationship. That is, of course, until she and Bizzaro (appear to) die and Red Hood is left on his own. Without his partners, Red Hood runs the risk of declining back into a shell of the character fans have so desperately wanted since 2005. Hopefully, Lobdell keeps Jason Todd moving in the direction the Rebirth series had him headed towards. If so, there just might be hope for the Red Hood yet.

The history of the Red Hood is a complicated one, with his backstory having been altered in the New 52 and Rebirth. If you’re looking for more than just a crash course on the character, here’s a recommended reading list:

  • Batman #357 (1983)
  • Batman: A Death in the Family (Batman #426–429)(1988)
  • Batman: Under the Hood (Batman #635-641, 645-650, Annual #25) (2006)
  • Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010 movie)
  • Red Hood – The Lost Days (2010)
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws Vol. 2 (2016-)
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