As much as they like to pretend differently, every superhero could use a good sidekick. Someone to help you when your back is against the wall or provide comedic relief when you’re wallowing in guilt or self-pity. Perhaps one of the most iconic partnerships is that of Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder. Over the years, several characters have taken up the mantle of Robin to help Batman keep the streets of Gotham City safe.
During March 2023, pop culture is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the second young man to slip into those figure-hugging tights and call himself Robin: Jason Todd. Created by Gerry Conway and Don Newton, under the editorial direction of Len Wein, Todd made his debut appearance in Batman #357 (March 1983). The character was initially introduced to fill the void left by the original Robin, Dick Grayson, who was currently starring in the Teen Titans series. As such, Todd’s original origin story was virtually identical to that of Grayson – he was the son of circus acrobats who were killed by Killer Croc and was later adopted by Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Following Crisis on Infinite Earths many of DC’s major characters had their origin stories retold, including Todd. In this new version, Todd grew up in the slums of Gotham City with a criminal father who’d abandoned him with a drug addict that claimed to be his mother. Practically living on the streets, Todd was forced to turn to crime in order to survive. Eventually, Batman took him under his wing (pun intended) and began training him to replace Grayson as Robin. While he lacked Grayson’s cheerful enthusiasm and natural acrobatic skill, this new version of Robin was motivated by his tough upbringing and full of sarcastic wit. A major reason why Wayne took Todd in was the fear that if he didn’t, Todd would eventually become part of the “criminal element.”
During this revamp period, Todd was portrayed as a rebel who smokes, swears, fights authority, and is prone to defying Batman’s orders. On one occasion, after serial rapist Felipe Garzonas escapes prosecution and a victim of his commits suicide, Todd takes it upon himself to track down Garzonas. Batman arrives in time to see Garzonas fall to his death, as Todd stands at the edge of the balcony. While Todd tells Batman, “I guess I spooked him. He slipped.” it’s left ambiguous as to whether Todd killed him or not. This was just one of many controversial moments involving Todd that made him abhorred by many readers. This negative reception led DC to place the fate of Todd’s future in the hands of the fans.
The vote was set up in the four-part story “A Death in the Family” that was published in Batman #426. The inside back cover listed two 900-numbers that readers could call to vote for either the character’s death or survival. The verdict in favor of Todd’s death won by a slim 72-vote margin of 5,343 votes to 5,271. While searching for his biological mother, Todd falls into a trap laid by the Joker and is held hostage in a warehouse. Savagely, the Joker and his goons begin to torture Todd and beat him with a crowbar. At the end of Batman #427 into #478, the Joker kills Todd by blowing up the warehouse using a time bomb. Batman sadly arrives too late to save Todd and his death haunts Batman for many years. He considers losing Todd his greatest failure and keeps the second Robin’s uniform on display in the Batcave as a reminder.
Although the traumatized Batman resolved to continue his vigilante life without a partner, he eventually took on a new partner with Tim Drake serving as the third Robin. Elsewhere in comics, Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb’s “Hush” storyline seemed to tease the resurrection of Todd. This was later revealed to be a ruse by the villain Clayface under the direction of the Riddler and Hush. However, the idea of Todd’s return was well received by the fandom – an ironic turn of events, given that fans were the reason he died in the first place. In 2005, Judd Winick launched the Under the Hood storyline which revolved around the identity of the mysterious new Red Hood. After several teases, the character’s identity was revealed as Todd in Batman #638.
While Todd did indeed die at the hands of the Joker, Superboy-Prime’s attempts to escape the paradise dimension caused temporal ripples that altered reality. In this new reality, Todd is restored to life, breaks out of his coffin, and is eventually taken in by Talia al Ghul. Talia rescued Todd out of her love for Batman, but her father Ra’s al Ghul was more interested in uncovering the secret behind Todd’s resurrection. By immersing Todd in the Lazarus Pit, Talia was able to restore his health and memory. At the same time, the League of Assassins worked to eliminate everyone who knew of Todd’s resurrection to prevent Batman from finding out. After learning that Batman never sought revenge against the Joker for his death, Todd returned to Gotham City as the Clown Prince’s former identity: the Red Hood.
Motivated by his newfound hatred for Batman, Todd enacts a plan to get revenge. As the Red Hood, Todd gains control over several gangs in Gotham City and becomes Gotham’s most powerful crime lord. This new Todd, having studied under various masters, assassins, mercenaries, and aviators around the globe is now skilled in guns, poisons, martial arts, acrobatics, and bomb-making. His growing rage toward Batman only increased after discovering that Batman has found a replacement Robin in Tim Drake. Todd repeatedly came to blows with Batman, and later broke into Titans Tower to confront the third Robin, even going so far as to tear the “R” emblem from Drake’s chest.
In a full circle moment, Todd lures Batman to the site of their first meeting in Crime Alley, where the two engage in a huge battle that eventually results in Red Hood unmasking himself to Batman. Later on, Todd kidnaps the Joker and confronts Batman over why he never avenged his death by killing the Joker. While he admits thinking about it, Batman’s moral code would not allow him to do such a thing. Unsatisfied, Todd offers Batman an ultimatum: he will kill Joker unless Batman kills Todd first. At the last second, Batman throws a batarang at Todd, causing him to drop his gun. Taking advantage of the situation, the Joker detonates nearby explosives sending them all plunging into the bay.
Across the comic universe, Todd briefly served as a murderous version of Nightwing in Nightwing #118-122, as well as Red Robin in Countdown to Final Crisis, along with a version of Batman in Batman: Battle for the Cowl. However, Todd is best remembered for his enduring mantle as Red Hood, making appearances in titles such as Green Arrow, Batman and Robin, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Red Hood/Arsenal, Batman: Arkham Knight, DC Bombshells, and Injustice 2 among others.
Jason Todd made his movie debut in the 2010 animated film Batman: Under the Red Hood, voiced by Jensen Ackles. Todd also has a cameo appearance in the 2016 animated film Batman: The Killing Joke, while a Feudal Japanese version of Red Hood appeared in the 2018 anime film Batman Ninja. Also in 2018, Todd made his live-action debut on the TV series, Titans, played by Curran Walters.
Although fans were initially vocal about their hatred for Jason Todd, the character has since become one of pop culture’s favorite vigilante antiheroes. While the events of Death in the Family, are what first gained Todd his household notoriety among DC fans, the character’s renewed life as Red Hood is what continues to gain him a following to this day. Now, 40 years after his first appearance, Todd remains a longstanding member of the Batman Family, despite controversies. Sure, relations are a bit strained at times, but whose aren’t? Whether you love him, hate him, love to hate him, or hate to love him, Jason Todd isn’t going anywhere.