Jason Todd Finally Gets His Due in a New, PTSD-Filled Titans
There comes a time as a comic book fan when you have to either let go of the canon and go along with a new version of a story or accept something is never for you. I was convinced that I would be the latter when it came to how HBO Max’s Titans writers would handle Jason Todd and his Red Hood story. In a twist, upon watching the latest episode, I have found myself letting go and embracing Titans’ own version.
After four episodes, we finally understand how Jason Todd became the Red Hood in the canon of Titans. With it, Curran Walters brings some true vulnerability to Jason, while delivering a story of PTSD, daddy issues, and what it means to be free from fear.
**Spoilers for Titans 3×04 “Lazarus.”**
Three months ago, Jason found himself struggling with the aftermath of his torture and near-death experience at the hands of Deathstroke. His usually sharp edge as a Robin has been dulled, but his mouth is working overtime to belie the shattering of his mental armor.
Bruce decides to nest Robin and tells him to get help from the therapist of the superheroes, Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Krista Bridges). This version is significantly younger than her usual comic incarnation. She is supposed to be older than Bruce, but is aged down here to make her a contemporary of the Scarecrow, Dr. Jonathan Crane.
We learn that Jason’s mother died of addiction during their sessions, and Two-Face killed his father. He was in and out of foster care, which is why he is reluctant to even go to a “shrink,” since they all wanted to give him pills.
Thompkins is a lot more insightful than that and tries to give Jason room to express his feelings, including that he sees Bruce as a father and that being Robin to him means freedom. Bruce finally gets shown as a good-ish father for being on top of sending Jason to therapy, calling him son, and trying to pull him off the ledge.
But he makes choices without talking to Jason, which only fuels the existing abandonment issues that burdened Jason with doubt about his place in the Bat-family. Bruce’s decision to tell Jason that he will no longer be Robin is made with love but shows how little he actually knows the boy he calls “son.”
Bruce says that Jason doesn’t have to be Robin to be his son, but all Jason hears is “I’m not Dick. I’m not the good Robin.”
Which leads him right into the arms of Dr. Crane.
During their first session, Dr. Thompkins mentions that she was hit with Crane’s fear gas, which gives Jason the idea that Scarecrow can make a gas that will free Jason from fear. So they team up, which explains why Jason was studying chemistry and what kind of gas was in that inhaler pump.
Then we hop to the events we know and see that Jason was absolutely beaten to death by the Joker, but he was brought back to life via the Lazarus Pit!
After being brought back to life, Crane gives him a special dose of the serum that takes away fear, which is implied to strip away all of Jason’s emotions and is even consciously making him a semi-puppet of Crane’s. I say “semi” only because it is clear that Jason still has his own desires that he is acting on, such as hunting down the man who pistol-whipped him in front of his friend Molly.
He is acting based fully on his own ego and pride, which makes him so deadly.
Jason in this incarnation actually reminded me of one of my favorite characters, Tetsuo from the film Akira. A young, abandoned, traumatized boy gets access to powers that strip away his ability to actually deal with the psychological trauma that has caused him pain, turning him into a monster who destroys the people he loves and that loved him—especially the older brother figure, who he has an inadequacy complex about.
Even the aspect I was the most on the fence about, Jason being manipulated by Crane, made more sense as the episode went along. Jason is still a child, looking for a father who will not leave him or abandon him. Instead, older men easily manipulate him by showing even the littlest bit of faith in him. When he thinks Bruce is giving up on him, Crane is there to feed that anxiety with promises of freedom and bringing Jason back from the dead—a dark father resurrecting his son.
When Jason returns a stolen child to Molly, he tells his former friend, “It’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better.” Knowing that Hawk’s death is one of the things coming from this point in the timeline—a lot worse.
Despite my doubts about how Titans would handle this storyline, I think they did a good job. They made it their own, and within the canon of the story they are telling, it works. I’m not sure how it will conclude, considering how far Jason has gone, but that is part of the hook for me.
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