Trauma is a feeling that every member of the Batman Family has experienced. It’s one of many reasons why each of them has chosen to fight crime, perhaps none more so than Jason Todd and Barbara Gordon.
Jason and Barbara’s experiences are similar, despite them coming from different backgrounds. Their trauma was caused at the hands of The Joker, giving them unique perspectives on what it’s like to survive a harrowing event.
Whether as colleagues, friends, adoptive siblings or romantic partners, there’s a whole range of roles that Jason and Barbara could fill for one another and it’s worth investigating the bond that’s unique among the Batman Family.
Innocent days and dark nights
In the early days of working together, Jason and Barbara’s relationship was framed as a younger brother, older sister connection. When Jason became the second Robin, he had big shoes to fill when Dick Grayson left the identity behind and Batgirl helped him to get used to the role.
Jason respected Batgirl for her intelligence and wasn’t above flirting with her. It was a light-hearted relationship that balanced out Batman’s seriousness. The trio complemented each other well.
Then, Joker targeted Barbara and Jason in different ways to hurt Batman. In The Killing Joke, Joker shot Batgirl in the spine and left her in a wheelchair. In Death In The Family, the Clown Prince of Crime beat Jason with a crowbar and killed him. This shared trauma would create an unspoken bond between the two of them, though each of them recovered differently.
Barbara had the support of her father, Commissioner Gordon. She was helped by Batman, Nightwing, Black Canary and all her other friends. She became Oracle, finding agency in a new role and becoming stronger for it.
Jason didn’t have any of that support. He was brought back to life, thrown into a world he had to make sense of alone. His anger consumed him and he recreated himself as Red Hood. His method of healing was to become more violent. To take the pain he felt and inflict it on the people who were like The Joker.
Strengthening the connection
When Jason returned to Gotham as Red Hood, he made life hell for Batman. But even at his most unstable, Jason had a soft spot for Barbara. His wrath never spilled out onto her, which is a common thread across all versions of Red Hood in different mediums. Jason felt an unspoken bond with Barbara and never held a grudge against her.
From her perspective, Barbara saw Jason as damaged and misguided. She understood his pain but couldn’t condone his actions of killing criminals and going against what Batman had taught them.
Eventually, Red Hood mended his relationship with Batman and was welcomed back into the family. During this time, he and Batgirl went on several missions together, such as in the New 52’s Batman Eternal series, where Jason gave a speech to Batwoman about his perception of Barbara.
He said “none of us Robins were ever as good as Batgirl. She doesn’t do what she does for revenge. She doesn’t fight for some ghost. She fights for somebody alive.” It’s an indication of the deep respect Red Hood has for Batgirl and his view of her fighting for something far nobler that his motives.
A more recent example of Red Hood and Batgirl working together is in Three Jokers, where they’re forced to confront what Joker did to them. After catching one version of Joker and being provoked, Red Hood kills him in front of Batgirl, who storms off in disgust.
Later on, Jason is taken by the other two Jokers and tortured in the same way as in A Death In The Family. After being rescued, Red Hood recovers at Barbara’s and the two of them share a moment where they discuss what Joker did to them. Jason feels a connection and the two of them kiss. Conflicted, Barbara says he misinterpreted the situation and that they should carry on with the mission.
Throughout the story, Jason tries to make her see that a relationship could work between them. In the end, he leaves a note on her door, declaring his love and saying that he could give up being Red Hood for her.
The idea of them being a couple isn’t a stretch. Jason and Barbara have both experienced a trauma no one else can understand. They can both help to heal each other and talk about their issues in a way that doesn’t feel contrite or forced.
No matter the nature of their relationship, Red Hood and Batgirl provide key insight into the effects of mutual trauma. It’s one of the most interesting dynamics within the Batman Family and should continue to be explored in future stories.
Red Hood’s love life is complicated to say the least and another relationship that’s worth exploring is his connection to Artemis. Check out The Comic Vault’s analysis here.