After a full year of adventure with Jason and friends since the New 52 we finally get to the long awaited zero month and a DC mandated issue to flesh out the back stories of our favorite characters. This issue is a Jason story; the rest of the team does not get a mention. If you were hoping to find out more about Starfire’s college days or Roy’s adventures with the cub scouts when he was younger you are looking in the wrong place. They did manage to put both of them on the rather bland cover fitting in with all of the other bland covers this month. I am a little unsure why DC thought adding large amounts of gray to every cover this month was the direction they wanted to go in but in the grand scheme of things it is probably not going to go down as the worst mistake they have ever made. Just annoying.
The story gets started with some background on how Jason was brought into the world of Batman. He lives his early years with his father, a charming man that brags about getting hit by a batarang while out committing some generic crime. Did I mention he put the moves on a nurse at the hospital while Jason’s mom was in labor? You get the point. Then there is Jason’s mom. She is a drug addict, and from the evidence presented in the book dealing with a severe case of depression. Jason’s father ends up in prison and dies there. His mother loses her mental battle, succumbing to her addiction and dying from an apparent overdose. The only thing that really stands out from this part of the book is the fact that Jason’s mother seems to be very pregnant when the father is taken off to jail. Since there is no mention of Jason’s sibling in the story I will assume that at some point we will be seeing either an appearance of said sibling or another tragic anecdote from Jason’s past that involves the loss of his brother/sister.
After the passing of both of his parents Jason takes to crime to support himself. He never harms other people, just steals from them. Unfortunately, he eventually steals from the wrong person and wakes up bruised and bloody in a clinic with Dr. Leslie Thompkins. She nurses him back to health and he decides to steal from her as well. He gets caught by the Bat and a few pages later he is Robin. This is the Jason we all know. He is too violent and takes to beating on the criminal element a little too hard. This tendency lands him on monitor duty where he finds out that his mother is alive and well and in the Middle East. He runs off to find her and gets killed by the Joker. He then wakes up in a Lazarus Pit. They are a few more pages in the book but we will get to them in a minute.
So what we get up to this point is a streamlined version of Jason’s life. They are a lot of changes but they’re mostly unremarkable. No, he does not get caught stealing the wheels off of the Batmobile but honestly I never thought that made much sense in the first place. The whole first half of the story is told from Jason’s perspective. We do not get any answers on how he gets into the Lazarus pit because as far as he knows he dies and wakes up, a gap that leaves plenty of area to be explored in the future. I do think that the change to a Lazarus pit from the original idea of Superboy Prime punching is a huge upgrade. Not only does it make more sense it fits in with The Batman Universe much better. He really comes across as a sympathetic figure. His life seems to have been filled with sadness and regret. Then he dies. His last thought before he dies is that he never got say he was sorry. This is a radical departure from the way Jason has been portrayed in the past year. But let’s face it, he’s not the only member of the Bat-family that does not wear his emotions on his shirt sleeve. He is stoic and brooding. He can be too violent and makes some really bad choices. This is still Jason Todd. Some of the details have changed but the core of him has remained the same.
As I mentioned earlier there are a few pages left in the book. These pages give us quite the little twist on Jason’s whole life. The Joker set it all up. And I mean all of it. From getting Jason’s dad sent to prison to faking his mother’s death and subsequent reappearance. He positioned the beaten Jason to be found by Dr. Thompkin’s and start the chain of events that would make him the newest incarnation of the boy wonder. He wanted to create his own Robin. Then he kills him in what we can only assume is an attempt to get at the Bat. We also learn that there is no doubt that the Joker knows that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one in the same. The Joker was at Jason’s funeral with the Wayne family and Jason’s name is written on his tombstone. To be honest, I have no issue with the Joker knowing Bruce’s identity. It always seemed like something that the Joker would not care about. However, the concept that the Joker was behind the Jason-to-Robin transformation, and then just killed him is a bit of a stretch, one that I am not sure that was necessary. The Joker has already killed Jason and his mother; is additional conflict needed between the characters? The Joker swears us all to secrecy at the end of the book and I am left wondering if we will get to see Jason or Bruce’s reaction to the news that he had played such a role in molding Jason’s life.
Overall the book does what it needs to do. It introduces us to Jason’s new origin and fleshes his story and personality out. It gives us some new things to think about and lets us know that the past is still there. The artwork in the story is the same quality as the rest of the series – very solid. If you like the character of Jason Todd then this story is a must read, but any fan of the Bat Books would enjoy it as well.
Red Hood and the Outlaws #0:
Reviewed by Ed Grause