Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Does Jason Todd have a death wish ?

Something that I thought about while looking over some comics. This also turned into a look at how Bruce and by extension the family play into it. How they might affect his emotional state.

This was highlighted way back in Death in the Family when Jason rushed into taking on some criminals. The infamous "Life's a Game" bit that writers later used as supposed proof he was unfit to be a hero to attempt to excuse his death as by claiming it was his fault. He actually says this line when Batman calls him out on his behavior. In the context of the story it's said because he's being sarcastic, he doesn't care about his own safety here. Although his "recklessness" later on is because he's desperate to save his mother. Jason does take other lives seriously in the rest of the story putting his own life at risk to save them. Right after the "Life's a Game" bit on the very next page Bruce tells Alfred that Jason acted like someone looking to die.

Which always bothered me because Bruce should have made Jason a priority (*1) right after he admits he sees his adopted son is suicidal. In fact Bruce chooses the mission over him at least twice (*2) in this arc when others could have handled Joker. (*3) When Jason made his well known line the two were taking down a porn ring. One that is noted to deal with children. I still can't get over how insensitive it was for Bruce to take him along on that one. Even if you ignore Jason's background where he probably knew someone that suffered like that he's a kid himself. One that had just gone through the Felipe situation after witnessing what happened to Gloria. A woman that was brutally assaulted and was so terrified of her attacker that she committed suicide. Yet Bruce seems baffled why Jason is so upset? I know he's emotionally constipated most of the time but he's also the worlds' greatest detective.

Fast forward to Under the Hood where Jason returns and everything he does is for one reason: to see if his life matters to Bruce, if he cares enough to put Jason before the mission. Unfortunately Bruce once again chooses his mission but Jason was pretty sure that would be the case. He's crying when he presents the options and has the place rigged to explode. In the animated movie version (*4) this is even more apparent as Batman says "it ends tonight" which Jason responds quietly that no one knows that better than him. When the countdown starts he even sits down on the floor to wait for death.

Before I get into to the relaunch stuff I have to note Jason was gathering Intel before he revealed himself to the family. (*5) Anyone remember how brutal they were when mentioning him after his death? Basically everyone blamed Jason for his own death claiming he had the worst qualities and wasn't talented enough. Victim blaming sure but the point was to take the blame off of Batman. How can his death be Batman's greatest failure if no one was ever willing to admit how he messed up? Not in the death per se but not being there for Jason emotionally which made him feel unwanted enough to search out a stranger/unreliable mom. Alfred actually blamed Bruce in Gotham Knights yet he voiced the "bad Robin" crap out loud. (Though he was still semi-blaming Jason in his thoughts too by thinking he had vengeance in his heart. Which had nothing to do with why he died.)

The only way I can see this negative mind frame working, without making look like complete jerks, is if the others started blaming Jason out loud because they wanted to take the burden from Bruce's shoulder. To lessen his guilt for not saving him by claiming Jason brought it on himself. Facts were blurry over time. Then they started to believe it and find it hard to connect to Jason when he's around to speak his mind.

What I'm trying to say with this idle speculation is that, well, it's possible for Jason to know about all the negative stuff they said. Hell Damian outright said some it to Jason's face despite claiming Bruce told him apparently knowing Jason's mom betrayed him. If he did overhear it himself then he's really been the bigger man by not shoving it in their faces but it would have to hurt him pretty bad. It certainly fits with how he's portrayed in Justice League #19 where he doesn't think he was a son. Damian wasn't blamed for his death yet Jason was blamed for his own. Where Kori and Roy have been shown as a source of strength Jason still doesn't really fit in with the family. Now that he's cut off from his friends caught in an emotional turmoil in the same city as Bruce and the rest? It could get ugly.

RHATO #9 VOL. 1 has this exchange between him and an undead Talon after he asks Jason for a mercy kill:

Jason Todd: You and I are more alike than you realize, Xiao. I was dead once. I get it--starting over is scary as hell.

Xiao Loong: I don't want to start again. I want to end this "life" on my terms. Surely you can understand that.

What Xiao says heavily implies Jason wanted to die like he did and the silent panel right after sells it. It's such a powerful moment. I've always loved this interaction, it's the only time Jason has ever has someone to connect with on this level. Given the way Damian is being written as hating Jason I can't see them sharing this kind of bond. Not without a lot of development.

Anyway Jason is admitting that being alive is scary. There are times you can see his struggle like with Isabel since he doesn't know how to be normal. Everyone else in the family has a regular life. He doesn't have that option as he's legally dead and he has to create fake IDs to survive. Because of this all he seems to have is "work" and people in the same business. He's basically shut out of the family's private lives too. It's pretty much like being a living ghost that can't interact with people in normal settings and isn't always acknowledged.

Jason wasn't invited to the portrait painting even though he would have been Wingman around the time. The case is still up even though he's alive while Bruce smashed Damian' s headstone before he came back. Everyone knows Bruce took him to the site of his death yet it's treated with the same weight as Bruce yelling at the others. Bruce makes the effort to bring Damian back. That's gotta hurt too because as far as Jason knows Bruce never went to such lengths for him. He even tried to trigger Jason's PTSD just for the slightest chance of bringing back Damian.

For the most part I don't think Jason had a death wish in RHATO VOL. 1. With his friends around I think he's had a stronger reason to stick around although this does pop up a few times. During the DOTF tie in/crossover with TT Joker has this strangely insightful bit when talking about Jason.

Joker: Was coming back to life worth it, really? What have you found besides rejection, loneliness and what has to be a mask that simply must fog up every time it rains?

At first this sounds odd because Jason has friends although RHATO #18 delves into Jason's mind to reveal he isn't being open enough with them. But I think Joker means in general because what does he have besides them? The family seems to have a strictly work based relationship with him where their not around unless they have a job to do. The rejection mentioned has to be about them as only Tim really bothered to reach out at this point. Beyond the mission there's really not much else.

There's the Futures End one shot which gives all kinds of possible hints to how Jason's death affected him. Sure it's an Alternate Future but there's still bits of information related to his death and how it affects him. Jason even sound like he doesn't want to live but doesn't have any choice in the matter. (*6)

Under the influence of Venom Jason seems to miss being dead suggesting that even if he didn't want to die at time (his friends made him more alive) part of him still misses and yearns for it. I don't know if he'll go down this road but the end of Red Hood/Arsenal certainly left him in a bad place. I thought it was apparent in the live streaming that Jason was going through something but maybe none of the bat family noticed? Writing this has made me think how none of them have really understood his feelings.

Tim has tried to as he realized coming back to life was a big adjustment and noted no one else got that at the time. But how much he gets hasn't been explored. Bruce might have seen the signs in the past but he failed to connect how important support is.

*1 I know Bruce benched him then Jason ran off because of it and Bruce/Alfred talking about him behind his back. But talking to Jason is long overdue as Bruce has been bad at communicating with him. Bruce still puts other things above Jason's welfare in DITF after he runs away.

*2 First by choosing to follow Joker right after he finds out Jason ran away. Bruce later admits he knew he should have told Jason to go in his stead while he stayed at the warehouse.

*3 Batman was part of Justice League International which makes the diplomatic problems he has even more groan worthy. He pulls strings to go see Joker in person but that's it? In the same story Superman shows up which raises more questions.

*4 The movie messed up the ending with Jason attacking Batman which only seems to be there to once again make Bruce look better at Jason's expense. It does make it obvious that he has a death wish though.

*5 Getting intel, bugging places, etc. was something Winick highlighted a few times. In UTH, Lost Days and the Outsiders appearance.

*6 Which I interpreted along with some other lines and art to mean he was immortal. At least in Futures End. While that's another topic that thought made me read Jason's choice with the Venom differently. That it wasn't so much death he feared as the possibility he could come back. A silly idea I confess because even if Jason could become immortal we have no proof he'd suspect that anyway.


  1. About Jason's 'some don't have that luxury' That kinda does allude to immortality.

    Jason is Jason thou. If we connect his death wish (which has been subtly hinted at time and time again) perhaps in Future's End, Jason has been in so many life and death situations and perhaps some of them he was so injured that it simply didn't make sense for him to have survived.

    And so, especially in the grim setting of Future's End and his comment.

    Either Jason confirmed it himself that he is unable to die or he reached the conclusion after so many stances where his injuries should have killed him...

    1. It's probably not something Lobdell want to expand on but I find the idea of unexpected immortality to be interesting. It's sad that Bruce never talked to Jason about the death wish in UTH.