When I learned that Judd Winick had decided to bring Jason Todd back from the dead, I was a little annoyed. First of all, the fans had voted back in the ‘80s to have Jason Todd (Dick Grayson’s replacement as Robin) killed in Jim Starlin’s famous Death in the Family storyline. Moreover, Jason Todd was such a difficult and moody character that he worked far better in death then he ever did in life. His death added a new level of depth to Batman. Bringing him back from the dead seemed like a betrayal of the fans who paid their money in order to vote to have him killed, and a violation of the power his death had over Batman. As I read Winick’s Under the Hood story and it was confirmed that the Red Hood was in fact Jason, I thought to myself, “This had better be good”. The answer to Jason’s unexpected return came in Batman Annual #25.
Batman Annual #25 is strategically placed in two different storylines. It holds a peripheral role in DC’s Infinite Crisis, the massive universe-changing epic that is altering the DCU and comics as a whole. It is also located right in the center of the Batman mythology. The death of Jason Todd was a defining moment in the history of Batman. The brutal murder of his second ward by the Joker altered the psychological landscape of the character. Bruce’s relationship with every other person was changed by his inability to save the one person closest to him, Robin. As Jason’s uniform hung in silent memorial in the Batcave, Batman was forced to question whether his war was worth putting a child’s life in jeopardy. Jason’s shadow loomed over all of Batman’s interactions with his supporting characters.
So with all the history, Winick’s explanation of Jason Todd’s return needed to be something spectacular and I must admit, it was. To put it simply, Superboy punched the universe so hard he altered time. Following the events of the landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths story, the Superboy from Earth Prime was trapped in an artificial world created by Alexander Luthor. Superboy raged against the barrier that divided him from the rest of the universe and in that anger he inadvertently altered time. The shock waves caused by his fists and heat vision sent reverberations throughout time. These reverberations momentarily altered events back to how they were supposed to be. That is another revelation Winick makes; Jason Todd was never supposed to die. His death was somehow a mistake on a universal scale.
This explanation is satisfying on numerous levels. First of all it was something epic and huge that brought Jason back. If it had simply been the result of the machinations of one of Batman’s numerous foes, then it would have delegitimized the Death in the Family story, not to mention angered all the fans that voted to have Jason die. Jason’s return to life needed to be linked to something bigger than Batman or his usual cast of villains. Infinite Crisis became the perfect vehicle for that story. This simultaneously serves the interest of both stories without leaving the fans feeling cheated. Furthermore, this works because it places the Batman mythology within the larger context of the DC Universe. Jason Todd was never supposed to die. It can be argued that his death could have been an unforeseen result of Crisis on Infinite Earths. If that is the case, then Batman’s history, and not just his character, is tied even more thoroughly to the rest of the DCU.
Winick is successful in his goals in execution as well as plot. With Shane Davis on pencils and Mark Morales on inks, the story that unfolds is simultaneously respectful of the past and boldly entering new territory. One of the moments that gave me goosebumps was the incorporation of Jim Starlin’s title. As Winick retells the story of Jason’s death he writes “ And the hero whose quest was built upon tragedy who sought vengeance to quell the pain and grief… found himself once again face-to-face… with death. A death of a partner. A death of a friend. A death in the family.” Those words coupled with the iconic image of Batman holding Jason’s bloody body, beautiful in its sadness, is only matched by the original artwork by Jim Aparo and Mike Decarlo three pages later. In the original Death in the Family storyline, the art was done for both versions, Jason alive and Jason dead, and as salute to the old guard, Winick included the alternate ending where Batman realizes that Jason is still breathing. These were powerful moments for any Batman fan.
As the story continues you discover that the changes in the timeline were only temporary. Time heals and everything goes back to how it was before. Except for one small factor, Jason wakes up in his own coffin, having now been brought back to life. As Jason is forced to dig himself out of his own grave the real genius of Winick’s story is made even clearer. Jason Todd was brought back to life in the one way that does not take anything away from the original Death in the Family story. Jason is back but it doesn’t change anything that has happened to the Batman mythos. The guilt and the pain are still valid because Jason was dead and Batman was still too late to save him. Winick has opened of new doors of possibility without closing the ones we already went through. What more could even the pickiest fanboy ask for?
Jason is told later in the issue that he remains unavenged. This is significant because the entire Under the Hood story arch is built on this concept. If Jason Todd did come back, the reader would immediately wonder why he didn’t go to Batman the second his memories returned. Why would he join with Hush to torment Batman and then begin murdering criminals against Batman’s code of ethics? The answer Winick provides us is that he feels angry and betrayed that Batman never killed the Joker. Jason interprets Batman allowing his murderer to lives as a sign of how little Batman truly cared for him. Another level of significance is added when this important part of the Batman mythology is called into question: If Batman will not kill the Joker, even after he murders Robin, then how much did he really care for Jason? Moreover, it also calls into question Batman’s entire convoluted code of ethics. If Batman does not kill the villains like the Joker, isn’t he somewhat responsible for their crimes? Especially when many of Batman’s villain’s existence are in various ways tied to Batman? This is a question that surrounds Batman’s world and Winick doesn’t answer it, but he does add a new dimension to it.
Ultimately this book is significant on numerous levels. On the most basic level, it is well written and the art is excellent. On a higher level, it contributes to the Batman mythology by questioning the underlying principles and tragedies that define the character. On a company wide level it adds power and significance to the massive Infinite Crisis storyline. Finally, it continues the evolution of an iconic character without betraying the fans, creators, and continuity that was established before. When I heard that Jason Todd was coming back from the dead, I thought to myself that this had better be good… and it was. It was really, really, good.