The zero issue of Red Hood and the Outlaws sets about retelling the origin of Jason Todd as it now stands in DC’s new continuity. And hey, it should get points simply for trying, because that’s more than several other zero issues seem interested in doing. Half the Green Lantern books couldn’t be bothered, apparently.
I had huge concerns about this zero issue in particular. I haven’t been shy about what I think of Scott Lobdell’s changes to Jason Todd’s history so far. The All-Caste? Awful. So my biggest worry coming into this was that Lobdell would use this to cement the All-Caste as deep as Jason’s origins, such as by making them somehow responsible for his resurrection. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. This is one of the rare issues of Red Hood and the Outlaws that makes no mention of the All-Caste at all, and that’s another thing it deserves points for.
But what about the actual substance of this story? For starters, it’s not quite as advertised. This has less to do with the story of Jason’s resurrection and far more to do with his life before than and even before Robin. We get more about how he grew up than we do about how his time as Robin began and ended. And really, that isn’t a bad way to go about it with this character. Jason never really got a great or even solid origin story. Crisis of Infinite Earths came along shortly after he did, and shortly after that, he was killed off. Lobdell makes the right call in focusing where Jason came from.
It’s nothing new that Jason had a screwed up, lower class family life. He was raised by a criminal and a drug addict. Lobdell fleshes out the parents a bit more than usual, though. Here, we see how they met and probably the most we have ever really seen of how Jason’s childhood was. However, this should be much more interesting than it is.
What goes wrong is that Lobdell chooses the tactic of summarizing Jason’s whole life up until the point of his first death. This means we don’t really get any good, substantial scenes. Everything is rushed through, and all of the dialogue is is stilted exposition meant to move things along as succinctly as possible. Everything that could be interesting or emotional is rendered dull and shallow. It’s such a shame, because I know I would have loved to see more of Jason with his dad. That seems like such an interesting relationship. From what little being shown, Willis Todd was a bad man and a bad father, but he also was someone who loved his son. Yeah, he groomed Jason to be a petty criminal too. But a dad is supposed to teach his son how to survive, and this was all Willis knew. In the narration, Jason even seems to understand this about his dad. It would have been great if this, or anything really, got any degree of attention and fleshing out.
Then, there are the changes Lobdell chooses to make with Jason’s origin story. I’ll get to the biggest one in a moment, but I’m talking about the smaller ones right now. Some work; most don’t. I get the necessity of making changes. Like I said, Jason’s origin was never remotely perfect. But some of these changes just feel arbitrary and really diminish the effect of Jason’s origin story.
In this version, Jason no longer meets Batman when he steals the tires off the Batmobile. Instead, he’s stealing from Leslie Thompkins’ clinic. Come on. What the hell is that? Jason only has a few iconic moments, and that is supposed to be one of them. I can understand tweaking it to something more believable than him running off with some of the Batmobile’s tires, but this changes it entirely. Jason is no longer the punk bold enough to try to steal from Batman. That was kind of a defining characteristic, and now, it’s been replaced with something far more mundane.
The other change is Jason’s mother actually being his mother. I can understand that the person Jason thought was his mother not really being his mother could be a bit convoluted, but I’m disappointed to see it go. I’ve always thought it played really well into the character’s psychology. It was this two-fisted maternal betrayal. He was stuck caring for this drug addict who let him think she was his biological mother, only to later learn his actual biological mother abandoned him a long time ago. Ouch. The new version of it can’t help but feel like a diminished one.
Finally, there is the big change. Man. Despite its flaws, I was almost ready to be pleasantly surprised by this zero issue. Then, here comes the final reveal to kick me in the crotch. Lobdell reveals that the Joker had far more to do with Jason Todd than just his death. Why? I don’t know. The mastermind aspect of it is so excessive that it’s painfully unbelievable. Was this really necessary? At all? It’s really one of those cases where a writer should have left well enough alone and quit while he was ahead.
When it comes right down to it, Red Hood and the Outlaw’s zero issue isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I know that’s not really praise, but it is honesty. I’m really just glad Lobdell didn’t break anything and didn’t force the All-Caste any deeper into Jason’s story. The Joker thing is absolutely ridiculous, but it’s unobtrusive enough that it can be ignored and hopefully will be by future writers. But what really limits this issue is the summarizing nature of it. Lobdell had some really interesting stuff he could have played with here had he just brought better focus to it.