There is probably no sidekick in the DC universe more loved, hated, and hotly debated as Jason Todd. Batman’s second Robin, Todd was a troubled youth Bruce Wayne took under his wing in order to steer him down the path of goodl. When his popularity waned, in 1988’s Batman arc “A Death in the Family,” DC Comics famously held a telephone poll to determine whether or not the Boy Wonder would survive a round with the Joker and a crowbar. Thousands of fans called in and Todd’s fate was sealed-at least until 2005 when he was brought back to life.
Since then, much has shifted in the world of Batman, including the “death” and rebirth of Bruce Wayne himself, and the emergence of Dick Grayson as the new Dark Knight. Yet Todd remains a bitter thorn in all the caped crusaders’ sides. CBR decided it was time to swing the light of the BAT SIGNAL onto Judd Winick, the man who restored Todd from the dead, as he takes the reins on “Batman and Robin” for a limited three-issue arc involving Todd and the rest of the Bat family beginning with May’s #23.
The creative force behind “Justice League: Generation Lost” and “Power Girl,” Winick spoke with us from Manhattan, the original Gotham City. Below, Winick talks about what to expect from his arc, including his reaction to Grant Morrison’s take on the rogue Robin and the difference between Dick Grayson Batman and Bruce Wayne Batman.
CBR News: So, in this story I understand we’re back to Jason Todd!
Judd Winick: Yes. Yes. Jason Todd is back. It’s a story we’ve been talking about for a little while: Jason’s been cooling his heels in Arkham Asylum, and they prefer he not cool his heels there anymore. So it’s basically about Jason leaving prison and how Batman and Robin will be dealing with that.
Well, I should probably say Batman, Batman, and Robin-both Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson and Damian are involved, so everyone. I just turned in the first issue a couple of weeks ago, it’s just 20 pages but I could have written 60 and still be comfortable. There was so much material and ground I wanted to cover, but I had to just stick with the story we’re going to tell, and not meander too much. But it’s a fun story.
Grant Morrison did a lot recently with Todd during his run on “Batman and Robin.” Has Morrison’s revision of Todd affected how you view or write him?
No. I really dug what Grant did. I didn’t create Jason Todd. I mean, I put Jason in the Red Hood costume, I made him Red Hood, so I feel a little bit proprietary towards him, but when people go in and write your characters and take them in different directions, I don’t get worked up about that. And with Grant it’s awesome. The interesting characters are like if you write a song, someone else is covering the song. But Grant took Jason in very awesome Grant Morrison fashion, doing this wild, I don’t know, David Bowie-ish thing going on-it’s very Grant, it was great. With the insane costume and the stuff he was doing emotionally, it was great. And I think we pick up where that left off. Does it continue exactly in the same line where Grant set him up? No, but that’s what comics are about. The Jason Todd that was in Grant’s run is absolutely present, but he’s also moving forward as a different one.
I think its fair to call you the DC expert on Jason Todd at this point.
[Laughs] Yeah, a little bit.
From bringing him back to life to bringing him back from incarceration, you’ve done a lot with Todd. Was he a favorite Batman character of yours before you started writing him?
Before I didn’t have any particular love or interest in the character at all really. I read him just like anybody else, and when he died-well, I lied in one interview, because I thought it made for a better ending: they asked “Did you call in? What did you call in for?” and I said I called in for him to live. But that’s a lie, I wasn’t even one of the people who called in, I think I actually bought it as a trade when it was done. So, it wasn’t that I had a burning desire to bring Jason Todd back. It was more about-when Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee did “Hush,” and they revealed that Hush was Jason Todd, I thought it was just a great, great idea. It gave the story someplace to go, it was terrific, I was excited about it-and then it turned out to be Clayface. And I felt like, aww. But you know what, I still say its a great story. So when it got to be my turn, I wanted to pursue that story I thought about when they first did the reveal its Jason Todd. Just when I get the idea that, you know, Hush is Jason Todd, I’m like oh god, its great! [Batman’s] greatest failure has come back from the grave! With everything he’s ever trained him to do being used against him! It’s terrific, its an opera, I love it. That was really the suggestion that inspired me to make that story. And since then I spent a couple of years doing the “Under the Hood” arc, and then we did the [animated “Under the Hood”] movie, which was fun too. And here we are again. I like it. I like him. And I’m quite pleased by how many readers have taken to him in an odd way.
Including, it seems, a lot of our fangirls. Which is sort of fun. I like the loud contingent of female readers who seem to like Jason. That I think is very, very cool.
Wait, so do you get mobbed at conventions by Jason Todd fangirls?
They call themselves The Red Heads! [Laughs] I think that’s kind of fun!
Was it challenging to write the Dick and Damian Batman and Robin dynamic and also have Bruce Wayne Batman along for the ride?
Not challenging in the sense that it was heavy lifting, but challenging in the sense of there’s a lot of personality here. It’s all about making sure how these personalities mesh-you know, how Bruce is to Jason is to Dick is to Damian, or Damian is to Jason. What does Damian think of Jason Todd? What does he think about him? He thought this thing about it when Grant wrote him, and Damian’s sort of a constant, so it’s about examining the personality along with the action. That’s how you come up with the stories, by putting these characters in situations-the story that we come up with-and letting them do a lot of the work. So, I bet it will be fun. In the first issue there’s a scene with Bruce and Jason which originally I wrote it, and wrote it, and wrote it, and it went on for days, it was absurd how long it was. And I thought, “Ok, let’s cut it back”-and by the way, the whole scene, everything in there, was awesome. Fun stuff, things people would want Jason to say, things they would want Bruce to say-but you know what? That didn’t serve the story, it was just sort of fun for me, but we needed to cut back to what we needed to move this story forward. So that’s a challenge, making sure that these characters I’ve lined up don’t talk too damn much.
With essentially three Robins, Jason and Dick and Damian, all going at it, were you then also concerned with trying to explore the new Dick and Damian dynamic in this arc?
I will say, the three of them are brought together and will have to fight together, which surprises them all. I always like when a common enemy brings people together. Jason is a bad guy. I do Jason as a villain-a villain with very, very close ties to the home set which makes him way more difficult, and also heartbreaking. I very much look forward to the compelling aspect of them fighting side-by-side for even just a little while.
Is this one of the things that draws you to Batman and Robin as a writer, seeing how the personalities bounce off each other?
Yeah. I like how it happened in Grant’s run. For me, I was inspired to bring it in to even closer quarters. There they are adversaries, so I thought, what would be the thing we have not seen yet? Well, what happens if they’re forced to fight alongside? I did that a little bit in the “Under the Hood” arc, where Jason and Batman, Batman and Red Hood, have to fight side-by-side one another a little bit. There’s something compelling about that. There’s a lot of issues there. They are all from the Bat family, they all learned from the same man. Yes, Damian learned from others, but now he’s under Dick’s tutelage. So it’s time to bring the whole family back together, I guess.
The artist you’re working with is Guillem March, who has been doing covers for “Gotham City Sirens.” Is this the first time you’ve worked with him?
Yes, and I’m very, very excited. He does some really, really beautiful work and terrific acting, he really gets some good emotional beats for the characters and I’m very excited to see him do this incarnation of Jason Todd. He looks different than how he appeared last time. That’s something I like about Jason. I like how Jason is supposed to look different from arc to arc. There’s something compelling about that, I think. He’s really the character who can’t find his legs in the world, and there’s something interesting about him changing his appearance on many levels.
Will we be seeing other heroes from Batman, Incorporated, coming into this arc, or will it just be the four of them?
It’s mainly those guys. Anything else would be telling, and I’m not going to chum the water!
I guess that answers my question if there will be villains involved other than Jason!
I’m going to go with no. [Laughs] I’m going to answer this one no, and if there are others, folks will be surprised. So there!
In your head, is Dick Grayson as Batman a different character than Dick Grayson as Nightwing?
Oh yeah. It’s how he presents himself. When he puts on the Batman costume he’s Batman, he’s not Nightwing, he’s not Dick Grayson. He is representing the persona of Batman. It’s the whole thing, and people can debate this but I believe it, that Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman is the real person. That’s how I choose to look at Batman. Dick Grayson is not that at all. Dick is first a person; he has a life, and Batman is not only a persona he puts on, it’s actually Bruce’s persona. He is maintaining the legend. Yes, some of his own nuances will be coming out here and there, but for the most part? Batman is a costume he puts on, and always remembers that.
And you know, he likes to crack a few jokes-he doesn’t quip, but when he’s in costume and talking to other people I am very conscious that Dick Grayson’s in there. Dick can be sarcastic and make jokes and be Dick Grayson. And there are things that Batman will never say. Out of costume, Bruce talks very differently than alone, in costume, with Alfred, what have you.
Dealing with Damian as Robin, were you trying to make what he was saying believable as a sulky 10-year-old kid?
Damian is not like any 10-year-old kid who ever lived! Damian is very much like a little adult, and I think Grant set the tone; it’s just a matter of following in Grant’s footsteps. He really has a terrific voice. I like who he is, I like the little badass that he is, I like how unflinching and mature he sounds, as fearless as he is. It’s just an entirely different take on Robin, and I love how it works.
Are you going to be coming onto “Batman and Robin” full time or are you doing just this three-issue story arc?
Just three issues.
I’ll end with Jason one last time. You’ve said he’s a bad guy, but we’ve seen him try to do good and be good. Is the idea that Jason Todd is irredeemable a big theme you’re going to play with in the series?
I would answer that’s something I always play with. Jason can do a certain level of good in one arc and a horrible in the next, and none of that would be out of character. He’s very unpredictable. Maybe that’s what makes him kind of interesting. He’s someone who is tortured, he’s someone who is damaged, he is someone who has been through a lot and is still just trying to find his way. You could say he’s a good man who does very, very bad things, and it’s not always the case that he’s doing bad things for the greater good, sometimes it’s doing bad things just for the bad. Killing villains in his opinion isn’t a bad thing. There is somewhat a message and methodology to what he’s doing, but at the same time he lets his emotions get the better of him. It’s what got him killed. It’s the sort of thing that Jason, in a way, wouldn’t surprise me if he is viewed as somewhat heroic for a fashion, but then falls back on bad behavior, which could happen from year to year, you don’t know. From anti-hero to villain to back again, I don’t know.
He’ll change outfits every time, so everyone keep score!