New 52 – Red Hood and The Outlaws #0 review

I have a lot of problems with Jason Todd.

It’s never made much sense to me why Batman would ever enlist this kid in his war on crime. The story has always been that Batman found some little boy trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile so he decided “I’ll take him in and make him the new Robin!”

I hate that. The whole Robin concept in general only seems to work in three ways:

  1. Robin’s creation is out of Batman’s hands. This is the best way. It’s the method that the Animated Series used. Dick Grayson was going to seek vengeance and fight crime whether Batman was there or not. Batman simply made sure the kid didn’t get himself killed. Tim Drake’s origin combined that of Jason Todd and Tim Drake from the comics and although it didn’t work quite as well, Tim Drake knowing who Batman is placed Batman in kind of a tough situation. It’s not like he can just let the kid go and after all, things worked out alright with Robin and Batgirl so maybe these kid-heroes aren’t such a bad idea after all. It starts to move into campy territory.
  2. Campy territory. Strip out the seriousness of it and just make Batman pure escapism. The tone is lighthearted, the bad guys are bad, the good guys are good, and there’s no in between. Think the 60s TV series. There’s never really a life or death situation, everything is going to turn out okay every time. If a grown man wants to have a little boy be his crime fighting helper then so be it. I bet they become chums and have fun adventures as they fight villainy. Anyone true of heart can put on a cape and be a hero.
  3. Batman is ****ing insane. Only one kind of person recruits children to be his soldiers in a war on crime that involves the wearing of tights– a psycho. Bruce Wayne gazed into the abyss, the abyss gazed into him, and they have become one. Perhaps Batman has been pushed too far? His war on crime seems so hopeless that he snaps and decides that he needs to build an ally to fight alongside him, a boy he can train to be a man just like him, and together they can rid the city of crime! Perhaps he could even build an army?

The only Batman who would accept to train a kid just because he dared try and steel bat-tires is psycho Batman…but the only book that comes to mind where we actually saw Batman depicted this way was not with Jason Todd, but Dick Grayson in Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman & Robin and that was terrible. Psycho Batman isn’t entertaining to read about because he’s a hero you can root for, he’s a train wreck and you just can’t look away. You don’t get invested in that sort of mythology, it doesn’t even become mythology. You gawk at it. I’d rather read about a Batman with more redeemable qualities but the redeemable Batman has never made sense with Jason Todd.

Here in Red Hood & The Outlaws, the tire-theft element is dropped but Batman’s recruitment of Jason Todd as a Robin still makes no sense under the other 2 concepts I mentioned so Batman would need to be crazy. He’s not crazy here though. He seems pretty level headed about the whole thing.

But anyway, issue #0 was alright at first. I liked the dialogue, Lobdell does a good job of capturing Jason’s voice and this has been a pretty fun series all year long. He covers Jason’s early life from conception (seriously) all the way to the moment he is killed by the Joker. It’s paced very well. For so much content to be squeezed in yet not feel like overload should be applauded. Lobdell even managed to add Leslie Thompkins into the story and I love that character. Jason is stealing prescription drugs from her when Batman intervenes. Batman is ready to arrest the boy when Leslie Thompkins steps in and convinces Batman otherwise. It’s never made clear what Leslie said, but I’m certain that it wasn’t “You should make him a Robin instead.”

If she knew that Bruce would make Jason a Robin she would have preferred that he just let the authorities handle the boy. Leslie, like Alfred, has always been Bruce’s conscience only unlike Alfred, Leslie isn’t just trying to make Bruce a better Batman, she just wants him to be a good man (the Nolan movies did a great job of humanizing Alfred and showing that he wanted Bruce to have a normal life too). Nothing would make her happier than if Bruce retired the cowl and saved the city as a Wayne, not as a caped crusader. There’s no way she would support Bruce in pushing another orphan into a life of violence. But other than that section, the main story here was very entertaining and I had no complaints about it. I was thoroughly enjoying it and ready to give an 8/10 or so. There was even a moment with Jason Todd’s dad and a camera that made me laugh. But just when I thought it was over, I was surprised by an odd 4-page backup story.

Other than the comic’s inconsistent artwork (it took 3 artists to produce this book and none of them are Kenneth Rocafort) its greatest weakness, the thing that totally ruined my enjoyment of it, was the backup. A short story that’s sure to cause some controversy. I’m going to put this in spoiler tags.

This short story is told by the Joker to you. He breaks the fourth wall and what he has to say…I’m not sure how to feel about it. It turns out that Joker orchestrated Jason Todd’s Robin origin. I’m still trying to make sense out of it. Jason Todd was treated at Leslie Thompkins’ clinic, he stole some meds but was caught by Batman who was then convinced by Leslie to adopt him instead of arrest him. Batman was indeed convinced and even trained Jason to be the new Robin. Okay. So in order for Joker’s plan to work we have to accept that Joker knows who Batman is. I’m fine with that. It adds to the whole Batman/Joker antithesis thing. Batman would love to know who Joker really is, it’s a mystery he can’t solve. Joker knows who Batman is but he doesn’t care at all. It works. I’m fine with it. So if we accept that Joker knows who Batman is and that he knows that Batman and Leslie Thompkins are close then we have a piece of the puzzle right there. So let’s lay it all out:

Joker’s Plan to Create a Robin

  1. Fake the death of a little kid’s mother, making him an orphan like Batman
  2. Beat up kid
  3. Leave kid at the doorstep of Batman’s doctor friend
  4. ?
  5. Robin

It worked. Somehow…I guess Joker knew exactly how everything would play out. Here’s my idea of Joker’s more detailed version.

Grand Evil Scheme

  1. Fake the death of a little kid’s mother, making him an orphan like Batman
  2. Beat up kid
  3. Leave kid at the doorstep of Batman’s doctor friend
  4. Hope doctor friend treats him differently than any other patient and decides to introduce him to Batman
  5. Batman thinks kid will make a good Robin
  6. Show kid that his mom is actually still alive so he will come visit me in a warehouse in another country
  7. Blow up warehouse
  8. Batman cries
  9. I laugh
  10. (Repeat?)
Well…that’s definitely insane I’ll give it that. There are quite a few logical gaps. I mean, how does Joker know that Leslie is going to introduce the kid to Batman? Did he know that the kid would try and steal drugs and that would attract the Batman? If that’s the case how could he know Leslie Thompkins could get outside in time to come to the kid’s defense? If he knew Jason would try and steal drugs, how did he know that Batman would be outside the clinic at that exact moment to confront him? At least with the tire-theft story it made perfect sense for Batman and Todd to run into each other rather than this more serendipitous version. This all felt like a really unnecessary twist meant to shock readers. It doesn’t add up. I guess they’ll bring all this up again during the upcoming Death of the Family storyline but….eh. They really didn’t need to give Jason Todd even more of a Joker connection. You could say that Joker’s story is a lie or this could all be in Joker’s mind and he only thinks he played a role in Jason Todd’s creation but that’s probably just wishful thinking to justify a bad idea. It’s a 4 page story that confused rather than entertained.
I’ll also note that there was one panel in which we see Jason’s mom with what appears to be a baby-bump. I hope I’m wrong. It would be pretty annoying if that was a setup for a long-lost brother/sister storyline.

Red Hood & the Outlaws #0 is a good read. I think Jason’s miserable upbringing makes him stand out from many other heroic characters and diving into his past in such great detail was interesting. The problem is with the inconsistent artwork and terrible backup story which really takes the wind out of an otherwise solid comic book.

SCORE: 6/10