Who better than Judd Winick (“Batman”), the writer responsible for the resurrection of Jason Todd, to write not one but two major Red Hood projects for DC Comics in 2010.
Charged with filling Robin’s enormous boots when Dick Grayson left to become Nightwing in “New Teen Titans,” Jason was introduced as a troubled character in 1983’s “Detective Comics” #524. While he proved quite popular in the beginning, fans grew tired of the character, and with the 1988 “Batman: A Death in the Family” storyline, DC Comics held a telephone poll to determine whether or not the character should be killed off by the Joker. The final vote was 5343/5271 in favor of the comic book death, and as a result, Jason died.
Long considered one of Bruce Wayne’s greatest failures, Jason returned in 2005 in Winick’s story arc entitled, “Under the Hood.” Jason was resurrected and returned to Gotham as the Red Hood, an antihero who in many ways operates just like Batman except for an unbridled willingness to use deadly force.
The storyline will be re-imagined in July as the latest DC Universe Original Animated Movie, “Batman: Under the Red Hood.” Winick wrote the script for the Bruce Timm produced, direct-to-market DVD/Blu-ray.
A month prior to the movie’s release, a six-issue miniseries kicks off on June 2, entitled, “Red Hood: Lost Days,” in which Winick and artist Pablo Raimondi (“Battle for the Cowl: The Underground”) explore the period set between Jason’s resurrection and his eventual path to a life of death and destruction as Red Hood.
In this, the first of a two-part interview, CBR spoke with Winick about both projects and learned what the writer thinks readers like about Jason, why Jason’s so hard to love and why, at least in Jason’s eyes, Red Hood’s methods of crime fighting are more justified than Batman’s.
Make sure to check back tomorrow when we discuss Winick’s upcoming 26-issues weekly series, “Justice League: Generation Lost,” which he’s co-writing with Keith Giffen and his gig as the new writer of the “Power Girl” ongoing series.
CBR News: You’ve been relatively quiet of late on the comic book side with only a four-issue arc on “Batman” and a few issues of “Titans” released in 2009. Now all of sudden – whammo! – four major projects. So where have you been? And with one of those being a bi-weekly, how will you find the time?
Judd Winick: In all honesty, especially in the last year-and-a-half or so, I’ve been taking on a much lighter load with the mainstream superhero stuff. My wife and I had another baby and I was doing a lot of TV development. And now the baby is a little bit older and a little bit more self-sufficient and things have stabilized a little bit with the TV development that I was doing, so I wanted to dive back into hero comics.
I’m used to juggling three-and-a-half to four comics at a time, so a big load is not new to me/us – a lot of us do a lot of titles at once.
“Justice League: Generation Lost” is bi-weekly and it’s a very specific story that’s like a map. It’s very much one foot in front of another. It’s very, very episodic. It’s one of the things that I think will be a draw to the book. We’re not doing arcs. Each full issue is a wrap-up storyline. Every issue, you get a full story – beginning, middle and end but it is truly an ongoing. It’s a 26-issue adventure. So that makes one kind of story.
And “Power Girl” is a totally different other story. It’s a straight-up superhero, fight the bad guys kind of stuff. And gosh, what else is in there?
There’s “Lost Days,” which I’m done with actually. All six issues are done. We finished that way ahead of time. We were waiting for our artist to be free and he’s free, so we’re good to go. Also, timing wise, it worked out. It was just serendipity that we’re releasing the DVD right when it comes out. The miniseries functions as a kind of prequel to not only the original Red Hood run that we did, but also to the DVD.
How did these two new Red Hood stories come about? Did you have more Jason Todd stories to tell, or did DC come to you with the idea?
Well, starting with the miniseries, I had that story in my back pocket for a long time. When we first did Jason Todd’s origin in the “Batman” annual way back when, there was maybe four…I don’t even know if there were four panels devoted to it. So this is kind of what happened in between – after Jason’s resurrection and before he donned the Red Hood.
Originally, we really just blasted through it, and I knew full-well that there was a longer story that I could tell. I had a lot of ideas in mind. I joked with Dan [DiDio] and my editor at the time, Bob Schreck, that “I can do 75 pages with this issue. Easy.” And even then it would have felt like it was getting short-shifted. They said, “That story will have to wait for another day then.”
So we’re kind of bridging the gaps here. If you go back and read the annual, for me, it feels a lot like that. Those were kind of like highlights. This adds depth to a lot of the stuff we were touching on there.
I basically had this idea in my head, too, that after Jason was resurrected and before he became the Red Hood, what led to him becoming the Red Hood? And that’s what this series grew out of. What happened in those “lost days?”
You mentioned that this series ties into the DVD, and you do consider this a prequel of sorts.
Yes, it dovetails kind of nicely. It really, really does. There are major differences between the two years worth of comics that I did on the “Batman” run and the movie, but for the most part, they are very much the same story.
You can certainly watch the DVD having not read the source material. You can definitely hop into this real easy. And also for folks who read the source material, they can enjoy the movie too. This is the story that comes before. Jason dies. He returns. And then after he returns, it’s how he becomes an antihero.
Even though readers actually once voted to have him killed off, Jason Todd has an extremely loyal core fanbase despite not being the most likeable guy. What do you think it is that readers like about him?
Way back when we first introduced Jason, I was a little bit surprised by how quick people took to him. I think they kind of like the antihero aspect to him. And I think some folks might actually like his mythology – not necessarily his methods and his insanity, but his mythology. Jason, at the heart, is claiming to be, the better Batman. And in this day and age, you can’t fight crime, you have to control it.
Also, he’s comfortable about crossing that line, which is something that most of our guys in capes don’t do. And he feels that sometimes bad guys have to be put down. We live in a tougher world now than it was 20-odd something years ago when we lost Jason or whatever. I think some folks actually do believe that some people actually do need to die [laughs]. And Jason represents that antihero. He’s a vigilante. That said, and I’m trying to make this clear, Jason may not be a Bad Guy with capital letters, but he is a bad guy and he does bad things – killing people isn’t a good thing – and he also subscribes to the school of, if you want to make an omelet, you have to break some eggs [laughs].
Some people who may be innocent or in that gray area could definitely get hurt, and I don’t think he has a problem with that. He’s also tends to be petty and that’s when he gets vengeful. I think that just goes back to his character or lack of character. Or, at the end of the day, what has motivated him up until this point, is pretty much that he is struck to the bone that he doesn’t think Bruce [Wayne] loves him. That’s what the end of the Red Hood arc was about. He didn’t feel that Bruce loved him enough because of the Joker.
“Joker took me from you and it wasn’t enough. Despite the fact with all of the people that he’s killed, I thought that this would have been enough to send this scumbag off to Hell.” And for Bruce, it’s not. That’s something that Jason is never going to understand. That line for him is really, very, very important.
Batman was born out of death. Death is what created him. And I think it’s very important to Bruce that he never gives himself over to that. I think he probably thinks it’s a great accomplishment not to kill The Joker and to wake up every morning not wanting to murder him. He walks this line very, very gently.
I think people respond to Jason because they believe in him a little bit. They do agree with his gripe, his complaint. But it might bother some of the readers, as well.
Grant Morrison is working on the big “Return of Bruce Wayne” miniseries for this summer, and that story is already playing out in the other Bat-books. Will “Lost Days” tie-into that storyline at all through the use of flashforwards or through the overall narration and framing of the story?
No. This is one about the past. It’s about filling in those gaps. There’s probably a story there too, though.
This takes place over years and all over the world. This is Jason – and this is without giving anything away – learning different skills than Batman taught him. He’s going to have to learn how to best cross that line, and Batman is obviously not the one who teaches someone how to kill. And he’s going to learn how to do that. So this is his journey of how he finds the skills he feels he has to learn to be a better Batman than Batman. And along the way, things change.
He starts as a 16-year old who is driven, and he comes back to life angry. And he feels wronged. He becomes the man that comes back to Gotham to take on Batman.
Can you share any details of the story you’re telling in the DVD, “Under the Red Hood?”
No, not a whole lot. I can talk about it in only the most general terms. I wrote the script and I’m very happy with it [laughs]. From what I’ve seen, it looks pretty terrific.
Shifting to the animated side of things, what do you think of Jensen Ackles’ work as the voice of Jason Todd?
He did a terrific job – a really, really terrific job. It’s hard to do voice acting. It’s a very particular talent. Actors are used to working with their whole body, and in this case, they’re not. They have to get it all there through the pipes. The whole cast is really stellar.
It is one thing to have someone voice your words, but what about someone else writing dialogue for a character that you essentially created, or at least restored? What are your thoughts on some of the other interpretations writers have had on Jason Todd since his resurrection?
I’m not too precious about, I’ll say, “my characters,” because I brought Jason back, put him in the costume and put the red hood on him during my watch. So yeah, I take pride rather than ownership of the character.
I’ve always had a pretty laissez-faire attitude towards how other writers or creators take on characters that I’ve worked on for a while. To make a pretty lame music analogy, I kind of see them as songs. These are songs that we write, and different musicians have different takes on them. I see it as exciting as hell to have Grant Morrison take something that I came up with and run with it in his own direction, in a big, over the top, psychedelic Grant Morrison kind of a way. That, I find to be incredibly interesting. And you know, I’d love to see [Brian] Azzarello write some Jason Todd stuff. How fun would that be? What would his take be like? Or anybody?
I was really, really excited, just early on when Geoff Johns had this idea, where he basically said, “I want him to cause shit for Tim Drake.” That’s awesome. And what a great story it was. I gave Geoff just one note beforehand: “Remember that he’s a bad guy. If there’s ever some middle ground, don’t forget, he’s bad.” And Geoff remembered that in spades.
So, to answer your question, it’s exciting. I like to see Grant take him in the crazy costume, red-haired direction. It’s fun. It’s interesting. It’s awesome.