Being able to read about your favourite characters in stories that you connect with is an amazing feeling. Seeing how a character has developed over the years can help you learn more about them, and reading guides help. The Comic Vault is presenting a new feature called The Essential Reading List, which includes the important stories that a comic character has been a part of. I’m kicking it off with my favourite character, Red Hood. Jason Todd has come a long way and he’s been at the centre of several iconic Batman stories.
A Death In The Family
When Dick Grayson became Nightwing, Batman found himself a new sidekick. Jason Todd became the second Robin after Batman discovered he’d boosted the wheels off the Bat Mobile in Crime Alley. Jason proved his worth, but the character wasn’t well received by fans. This led to a vote being declared as to whether Jason Todd should be killed off or not. Fans voted that he be killed, which culminated in the iconic A Death In The Family arc.
Jason’s mother was taken prisoner by The Joker and he was lured away from Batman. The Joker’s trap was effective, leading to Jason being beaten with a crowbar and killed in an explosion. Robin’s death haunted Batman for a long time, with the Dark Knight seeing Jason’s death as his greatest failure.
Red Hood: The Lost Days
Jason eventually came back to life and his journey to becoming the Red Hood is explained in this graphic novel. Angry and unstable after being thrown into a Lazarus Pit, Jason vowed to kill Batman for not avenging his death. He became close to Talia Al Ghul, who was responsible for returning his memories. She sent him to killers around the world and Jason learned how to use lethal force.
Along the way, Jason developed his own code for fighting crime and came to the conclusion that Talia had been stalling him. He decided to set up a confrontation between himself, Batman and Joker and embraced his new identity as the Red Hood.
Years later, a new villain appeared in Gotham called Hush. While trying to discover his identity, Batman encountered a resurrected Jason, who attacked Tim Drake and claimed he was Hush. The two of them fought, only for Batman to work out that it’d been Clayface in disguise. However, Jason had been present during the fight, but switched himself out with Clayface because he wanted to judge Batman’s fighting skills up close.
Batman: Under The Red Hood
Batman: Under The Red Hood featured the war between Batman and Red Hood. It was written by Judd Winick, who was responsible for making the former Robin so relatable. Jason had returned to Gotham to take over Black Mask’s criminal empire. Jason captured The Joker, beat him with a crowbar and masterminded a confrontation between himself, The Clown Prince of Crime and his adoptive father.
The graphic novel is emotional, packs a punch and raises some valid questions on the nature of good and evil. I’d argue that this is the most important story in the list because it’s responsible for bringing Jason back into the spotlight and redefining the character.
Teen Titans: Life And Death
This is a personal story that saw Red Hood break into the Teen Titans Tower in order to confront his successor, Tim Drake. Wearing a version of his old Robin costume, Jason battled with the new Boy Wonder. He managed to beat Tim into a bloody pulp, but not before walking away with a grudging amount of respect for his adoptive brother. This is a great story that shed more light on Jason’s emotional state. He was part of the Teen Titans, yet didn’t receive a monument when he was killed like other members of the team.
Green Arrow: Seeing Red
This story feels like a direct follow up to Under The Red Hood, with Jason moving on to Star City and Batman being in pursuit. Red Hood provoked a fight with Green Arrow by teaming up with local crime lord Brick. Jason’s motive for being on Green Arrow’s turf was to kidnap his sidekick, Mia Dearden and prove a point that children pay a heavy price when superheroes interfere in their lives. The story provided a great contrast between Batman and Green Arrow, as well as highlighting the similarities between Jason and Mia. This is definitely one of my favourite Red Hood stories.
Batman: Battle For The Cowl
After Bruce Wayne’s death, a void was left behind in Gotham. Nightwing, Robin and Commissioner Gordon tried to keep the city together. Meanwhile, Jason had dawned a Bat Suit of his own and became a Batman that wasn’t afraid to kill. Tony Daniels wrote the story and it’s an example of how Jason shouldn’t be written, with him coming across as deranged and psychotic. He shot Damian Wayne without any remorse and tried to kill Dick Grayson and Tim Drake. Battle For The Cowl should be viewed as a story where Jason plays an important role and nothing more.
Batman And Robin: Revenge Of The Red Hood
Dick took over the mantle of Batman and Damian became his Robin. Jason decided to get a sidekick of his own in the form of Scarlet and set about revamping his image. He wanted to get revenge on the new dynamic duo by proving he and his partner could solve crimes in a more effective way.
This version of Red Hood had a costume that was reminiscent of The Joker’s Red Hood outfit. Worst of all, Jason’s physical appearance was changed so that he had red hair. Grant Morrison wrote the arc and his explanation was that Jason originally had red hair, but Batman had forced him to dye it black so he’d look more like Dick Grayson. This arc should be read in order to appreciate how not to write a Red Hood story.
Batman And Robin: The Streets Run Red
Judd Winick returned to write this Batman and Robin arc, salvaging Red Hood’s image. Although he chose to have Jason keep the red hair, Winick returned him to his roots by giving him his distinctive costume back. During the story, Jason was being held in Arkham and got released with the help of a of mercenaries. They were sent to deliver Red Hood to a woman who’d captured Scarlet.
Jason was forced to work with Batman and Robin until he managed to get the better of them and free Scarlet without being arrested again.
New 52 Red Hood And The Outlaws
When the DC Universe was rebooted with the New 52, Red Hood received his own solo series, which also starred Roy Harper and Starfire. Written by Scott Lobdell, the series allowed Jason to grow as a person and move beyond his grudge against Batman. He learned to rely on people and even managed to reconcile with the Bat family. Lobdell also expanded on Jason’s backstory by giving him a mystical connection to the League of Assassins and another group called the All-Caste.
Red Hood And The Outlaws Rebirth
This is the most recent series that Red Hood features in. He appears alongside Artemis and Bizarro to form ‘The Dark Trinity’, which is an anti-heroic reflection of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman. Lobdell’s second go with the Outlaws is even better than the first, as Jason has developed further. His compassionate side has been explored in great depth, as seen from his empathy and friendship with Bizarro.
Red Hood has developed a lot through the years and these stories have defined his journey. Look out for more of my favourite characters to be featured in The Essential Reading List.