...reading comics from the year i was born!
Batman #408-412 (DC)
by Max Allan Collins, Chris Warner, Ross Andru, Dave Cockrum, Mike DeCarlo, Dick Giordano, Don Heck, Adrienne Roy, Todd Klein, John Costanza, Agustin Mas
I don’t know if Jason Todd ever stood a chance. At first, he was just a near-identical replacement for Dick Grayson when Grayson left the Robin game to become Nightwing. He was sort of a watered-down version of the young man for whom he was meant to stand in, the first Jason got the job done as Robin but offered nothing new, no reason for readers to warm to him or see him as anything other than a cut-rate attempt at recapturing the magic of the original Boy Wonder. So it makes total sense that in 1987 DC would take a stab at rewriting his background and personality in a post-Crisis world, providing an opportunity for Jason to carve out a more unique and possibly interesting space for himself in the Batman mythos. Sadly, though, I think they gave the task to the wrong guy, because Max Allan Collins wrote Batman as a lighthearted, almost goofy title, which did not really line up with the angry street youth persona of his revamped Jason Todd.
There’s too much silliness in the narratives that surround Jason’s introduction to take him entirely seriously. Yet he is so unstable and full of rage that he almost demands to be taken seriously anyway, to the point of sticking out as an abrasive and ill-fitting character in several places. Collins never marries the character’s attitude to the series’ tone, and that sets Jason up for failure from the get-go.
The basic concept for the character isn't terrible: a Robin with less self-control, but one more accustomed to hardship. Also more used to being self-reliant, which makes him less obedient but theoretically more capable in the long run. He's good enough to care for his dying mother for over a year, but brazen enough to steal the Batmobile’s tires, it’s easy to see why Batman is so quick to take on this new ward. There is obvious potential for an exceptional Robin in a decent-hearted kid who also has familiarity with crime in Gotham and can hold his own in a fight. The problem is neither Batman nor Collins handle Jason the right way, so he has wild changes in mood and behavior that make him too unpredictable and grating to be a serviceable sidekick.
His meeting with Batman and ultimate recruitment as Robin connects to a forgettable plot about a nefarious elderly schoolteacher who uses her students to commit crimes. Ma Gunn is a laughable villain, puffing on a cigar and correcting her kids’ grammar in the midst of their criminal activities. Her evil side is revealed as the cliffhanger to 'Batman' #408, where Jason is dropped off at her school and she sicks the other boys on him, saying, “Who wants to snuff the little stoolie for old Ma?” with a self-satisfied grin. It’s outrageous and overtly comedic, and continues through the next issue, culminating in her smacking Batman with her purse (even though she has a gun) when he interrupts a museum heist. It’s not at all a bad story, just a fluffy one, with relatively low stakes and a bad guy who never poses much of a threat.
This is all the work Collins would ever get to do with the boy hero he rebuilt, and it is sketchy and uneven at best. Though individually these issues make for humorous and fast-paced Batman tales, the overall portrait they paint of Jason Todd is too unclear and/or simplistic. Other than his short fuse and enormous baggage, we know very little about him, which is likely why those few elements became his defining characteristics. Collins did not give himself room to give Jason the space in which to grow, heal, or even learn, so he became trapped as an insolent punk. That’s not a guy people are eager to hang out with, and less than two years later, readers voted for his death.