Sunday, December 1, 2013

Writers' Block: Outside Forces Shaping Jason's Destiny?

Lobdell and Tynion both added twists to Jasons' origins. The one Robin that grew up with the most humble beginnings seemed to have caught the attention of people with more sinister goals in mind for him. But how much if any of it is true? Does any of it make sense? Do they make sense together?

Joker Creating The Second Robin (Lobdell)

I admit I found this a pretty interesting concept and the most entertaining section of the RHATO #0 issue. The first story deals with Jason's telling his life story from birth to his first conscious moment after his return from the dead. The back up has Joker telling his version of the creation of the second Robin and the death. The two stories overlap certain events from different perspectives seeming to give weight to Joker's claim. Lobdell has said that since this is the Joker it doesn't mean it's actually the truth just how he sees things. In a twisted way it would make sense for him to view the Robin he murdered as the one he created. In the animated movie Under the Red Hood Jason even says he's something Joker helped make. If Joker didn't kill him then Jason would never become the Red Hood so it's not that big a stretch for someone as crazy as the Joker to assume he had a bigger role in shaping his victims' life. In fact Joker seems to feel more emotionally linked to him than the other bat kids, perhaps it's even close to his obsession with Batman. He wonders if returning from the dead was even worth the trouble since it brought him (Jason) misery. Naturally Joker knows this because he was there with Jason and Batman in UTH.

Out of all the DOTF tie ins I read Joker seems to know the most about Jason. Certain things wouldn't be hard for him to figure out especially since he can get inside the bat family's head during the crossover. For example: he figured out what kind of fathers Jason and Tim had (the deadbeat dad and the doting father) despite Batman #17 confirming he doesn't want to know their identities. A psychological profile might give him some idea where each member comes from. He ponders why Jason's obsessed with "making things right" and starts stating the psychological affects that could cause it. He's also able to guess Jason grew up on the streets because of the way he acts. Still it begs the question how much he'd know since Joker would have to have some idea who Jason was to be able to pull this all off. Or at least his henchmen would and one of them actually does start to say Jason's Willis Todds' son before he's told not to say any names.

Of course for any of this plan to work Joker has to ensure a lot of variables are in his favor. The number one being the first boy wonder not being Robin. Dick would have to have become Nightwing, been in the midst of a falling out with Batman or Joker created the friction to insert his own sidekick. This is another detail that's not addressed. The closest is Joker proclaiming that Batman needs a Robin and Alfred saying they have the position open once Jason learns Batman's ID. Still it's something Joker would have to plan around since it's pretty important to his scheme.
Now we don't get any confirmed time for when he supposedly started out with this idea just that there was a Robin prior to Jason when Joker thinks Batman needs another one. Having Willis arrested and faking Catherine's OD would take time to set up. He'd be lucky that Jason lived on the streets rather than go into state custody or end up with one of the relatives on his father's side. Willis died in prison, how or why isn't stated anywhere in the book. Although it would make sense for Joker to have him offed he never takes credit for it. This does give the "he deluded himself into believing he created a Robin" side a potential mark in their column. In Teen Titans Joker pits Tim and Jason against each other to battle for their supposed father's lives. Something that doesn't work as well if he knew Jasons' dad was dead. When Tim points this out to Jason it's sort of shrugged off that Joker manipulated enough of his life that having his dad alive wouldn't shock him. But really Jason's just buying time because regardless they were still trying to save lives.

Originally in Death in the Family things happened differently but the important parts transferred over. Jason goes to find his mother and Joker murders him before Batman can save him. The first version was more dumb luck in terms of Joker happening to be working with Jasons' mom and Jason just working on hunches to find her. The new version doesn't explain what his mom (Catherine in the new 52) was doing in Africa. In Jokers' tale he's the one that faked her death and kept her alive to use later on. If he didn't do that then why didn't she look for her son? Why would she go to Africa? Jason says it was a set up but wouldn't that imply Joker knew who Robin was? There was also a line about a photo coming on the screen of the bat computer. Poor phrasing or did someone send it directly to him? Unlike DITF Jason says he had to use every bit of detective skill Batman taught him to track Catherine down so it wasn't exactly an easy task.

There are some other clues to take into consideration. Number one: neither Joker or Jason are reliable narrators. Jason isn't always honest where emotional matters are concerned. I'm not saying he's a liar just that he doesn't want to address things that hurt him. A number of things in his narrative are defensive or flat out sarcastic. He trails off at points and at least twice seems to word things in very removed terms on purpose. I bring this up because it directly ties into the next bit. Number two: the art tells a different tale. While there are three different artists on issue #0 they all managed to keep the details pretty damn close. When Catherine is pregnant with Jason it's obvious but that weight is gone when he's a toddler. 
Later on during Jasons' telling of the events there's a panel of Willis getting arrested and Catherine looks pregnant. Jason never comments on a pregnancy just that he had to keep drug dealers away from her after his dad went to jail. When he finds her in the alley "dead" she doesn't have the baby bump. Joker talks about getting rid of Jasons' parents to ensure he'd stay "focused on the job at hand." He never mentions anything about a baby either. Jason's reason for not mentioning it is simple: it's a painful topic that wouldn't be easy to talk about. Joker might not of known simply because he wasn't actually involved.

The funeral scenes play out differently (I know Jason couldn't have seen what happened but we have art for it anyway.) Both have four people present. What looks like Bruce and Dick, then one person is hidden with the umbrella up, likely Alfred. In Jasons' version the fourth person has red hair, likely Barbara although she was already in a wheelchair by this point in the last canon. In Jokers' version he witnesses the funeral through binoculars that are dotted with rain drops but the fourth person can be spotted if you look carefully. It's not a red headed female with an umbrella it's a man in a poncho that appears to be reading from a book, a priest. There is a person in different clothes with red/brown hair that cries at Jasons' grave (Joker's version) but that one wasn't in the funeral picture. Neither should know who would turn up at the funeral. Jason can guess based on those he was closest to and Joker isn't really sure.

Talia Al Ghul and All Caste make their own champion (Tynion)
This started with Bronze Tiger claiming Talia saw Jasons' potential since "the very beginning." Something that fans of Red Hood Lost Days and even Lobdell's run know wasn't always the case.  Her reasoning was explained differently but usually having to do with trying to assist him for Bruce's sake or honestly wanting to help Jason out. Now we see that she refused to explain herself when he asked her point blank, something that changed since he never cared how he returned prior to this run. Nothing about the plan is revealed to him until some time after S'aru forces a mindwipe on Jason and even then the reasoning is vague. According to Ducra later on in the arc Jason always had some ill-defined ability within him and it's his destiny to bring a balance between good and evil. Previously Lobdell had him sort of being the one that was tasked with killing the Untitled but it wasn't something that was built up as his fate. Just being one of the few people left alive that could defeat them. Bringing balance sounds like he would have to keep not just evil in check but good. It's a phrase that usually means simply fighting evil but doesn't really fit when you think about it.
 Tynion changes how Talia met Jason by having both meet each other before either have met Batman. Meaning Talia started obsessing over him before she even had a "beloved." This has her seeing Jasons' potential as a fighter and the All Caste champion as he's able to perform a move to stop the Untitled she can't. Ever since then she's been watching and plotting for him to led the League of Assassins in her stead. I'm not sure why this is or why she'd believe he'd be cool with it. For all we know she could have been the one to set up Jason as Robin. But even after he comes back from the dead she doesn't inform him of her plan making any potential lasting alliance pretty damn hard to achieve. It's unclear why Talia would still believe this was possible given the events of Batman INC.
Talia never seems to think Jason would chose her over Bruce. In fact she expects him to come to his mentor's rescue. She's only stunned to find out he tricked her in the process and furious that he suggests she run. Yes he owes her for her role in bringing him back but Talia's still aware of his allegiances. In fact pretty much everyone but Damian was. In exchange for giving him life he offers her a chance to live by fleeing. Jason's non-reaction to her death is pretty curious. I'm not sure how Kathy Kane knew how to get into the batcave but Jason knew she was coming when he warned Talia. Was he just accepting she had to die at that point because she refused to run? Regardless there's no way the LOA would know that much less Talia herself but to think he'd willingly join her side? Or lead her cause after her death? Why would she ever assume that when she knew his loyalty was to Bruce? There were scenes with her trying to get Damian to join her and even Bruce but not so much with Jason.
So, yeah I think this is more problematic than the idea of Joker creating the second Robin. Whether or not he did isn't clear because of his madness but his reasoning doesn't need to be sound. Talia's does especially since she's entrusting Jason with her family legacy. She's essentially taking it away from her heirs, from Damian/his clones, to give it to Jason. This was apparently always the plan ( *1) despite her raising her son to believe otherwise. Why would she do that and keep Jason in the dark? It makes zero sense for Talia to act in this manner.
But Talia isn't the only factor in RHATO #25 as Joker returns right after his infamous dip in the chemical tanks. Does his appearance in this early stage of Jason's life retcon his potential connection in crafting Jasons' destiny as the boy wonder? Well, no, it really doesn't. Joker's mind is messed up and I could easily see him changing the story once he decides to link the kid to Batman. This issue might even create a stronger case than Lobdells'. Why do I say there's more of a chance it happening? Because Chris says Jasons' full name in front of the Joker and discusses their plans to meet up with the Red Hood gang. We know Joker was listening because he goes to that location to kill the other Red Hoods. When he comes across a dazed Jason he wonders out loud if he actually created the boy in the Red Hood mask. The obsession is already there because of the connection to the RHs and likely grew because of Batman. In fact he states that he wants to show him (Jason) what he does before correcting himself to say he wants to show him (Batman.) Really it can go either way on whether Joker made him Robin or not. Joker even admits in the text that he can't remember things so it's not a stretch. He might be "forgetting" Jasons' real name just like he doesn't see Bruce Wayne when he visited him in Arkham. Plus Jason would have no idea this was the Joker.
As for Jason's connection to the's a straight up retcon that rarely fits with anything that came before. Jason had an idea of what the Untitled were but said none of the All Caste ever expected him to be able to apply what he learned. Yeah Ducra had hoped that Jason could carry out their work if they died but that's not a statement proclaiming his destiny. Even then Essence had to force the issue and still worked without him. Jason himself was shocked that the truce was broken in the first issue. When he met his first Untitled he was excited because he knew he was ready to fight one. Wouldn't he act different if he already depowered one or knew they already broke the truce? The All Caste really did nothing to stop them? Wouldn't Jason clue into Talia trying to control his life by then? Tynion adds things that don't make sense and don't fit the previous story of the All Caste/Untitled. Jason and Essence killed two members without using depowering hand moves or pulling swords out of their chests.  If Jason uses the same move on Ra's then why would the mindwipe be needed since Ra's was a student of Ducra thus should know it? Talia didn't tell him that Jason could perform it?
But really the storytelling is very noticeable, just tell me which you think looks more exciting. The first time Jason faces an Untitled and has fight a scary inhuman monster with blades.
Or hitting the power out of some random looking guy with a cloak that never does anything impressive?
All feeling of dread is gone making you wonder why these guys were a problem to begin with. Which is a shame because they had great potential.
 The Talia bits and the new Untitled retcons don't fit but surprisingly the Joker add on does. Together it's a big mess that says some very disheartening things about the lead character. Instead of having a say in his destiny and making his own mistakes to learn from Jason Todd is now a pawn in his own life. He can't take much responsibility for the good or the bad because it was all controlled. As hated as the Joker retcon is at least it can still be dismissed since nothing is ever confirmed. Unless this entire arc is forgotten/ignored/retconned it's stated that Jason is pretty much pushed into the path his life took.
*1 According to the art in Ras Al Ghul #1 (villains month) Damian was aged to 5. Which means Talia would have met Jason before his birth and dubbed him the heir. It also means that she was filling Damians' head with lies since according to Tynion having Jason in charge of the LOA was always her plan. Why she'd assume Jason would be ideal when he had no such loyalty to her is another odd choice for this plot.  

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