SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Red Hood and the Outlaws #23, by Scott Lobdell, Trevor Hairsine, Ryan Winn, Rain Beredo and Taylor Esposito, on sale now.
Red Hood and the Outlaws has been a tumultuous journey for Jason Todd, revealing more about him than he even knew about himself. Not only has he been leading a Dark Trinity, comprised of a new Bizarro and the warrior known as Artemis, but he’s also been questioning his methods as a vigilante.
Nevertheless, Jason continues working from the shadows, enforcing the law lethally, and, well — being an outlaw. This suits him — something even Batman knows — although his new role is digging up quite a few demons from the past.
In Issue # 23, we learn DC Comics has retconned a major part of Jason’s history, painting his father Willis as a criminal who actually worked with several of Batman’s rogues, making his destiny as Bruce Wayne’s adopted son all the more ironic.
When it comes to old DC lore, we’ve always thought Jason’s dad was a petty thief who abandoned him and his drug-addicted mother Sheila. In fact, previously established canon had Commissioner Gordon telling Batman that Willis was a small-time crook who cut his teeth in Crime Alley, eventually becoming a car thief, which coincidentally rubbed off on his son. It was thought he was murdered for double-crossing Two-Face, but here, we find out that’s not the case.
In six letters sent to Jason by Ma Gunn (the old lady who turned young boys like Jason at a home for wayward kids into criminals), readers find out the true circumstances under which Willis disappeared. It turns out he was incarcerated and didn’t actually abandon his family.
Ma Gunn got ahold of the letters after Bizarro wrecked her home, sending them to Jason to finally reveal the truth. Willis confesses he tried to wean Sheila off drugs but was utterly failing due to their poverty and lack of opportunity in Gotham. In addition to Sheila’s tendency to overdose and her struggles to get clean, the weight on Willis’ shoulders grew when Jason was born. Thus, to raise extra cash, he ran with Two-Face’s crew, pulling jobs with Mr. Freeze and the Riddler as well, the latter of whom got him branded by the Dark Knight in true Zack Snyder fashion.
It was his stint with Penguin, however, that sent him to jail for life, as the villain merely wanted a fall guy and set Willis up. You feel for Willis because he just couldn’t catch a break and was only trying to feed his family. Still, crime doesn’t pay, which turned out to be a hard truth for Willis as he thought he lost his wife, as well as any chance of being Jason’s dad when he went to prison. Honestly, it’s quite a poetic tragedy Willis ended up working for the same criminals Batman and Jason constantly had to put away.
There are more secrets unraveling in this series because in a flashback in Issue #22, Lex Luthor hired Artemis to massacre test subjects at the Hierve El Agua prison, which was appropriating Lex’s tech for their experiments. There, Artemis had to execute someone who pleaded about having a son, which, coupled with Jason not finding his father’s body in his grave, all hint she may have assassinated a deformed Willis without knowing who he was. We didn’t see his death, so there’s a possibility this happened off-panel, or that Jason’s dad is still alive somewhere.
If Artemis did indeed kill Willis, expect her close bond with Jason to reach a breaking point. Furthermore, it’s still to be revealed if Lex was the one who orchestrated the Dark Trinity coming together, or if it was actually Black Mask, the man who hired Jason to find Bizarro and also knew Jason’s identity as the Red Hood.
With the Issue #25 solicit stating “Jason Todd broke a promise to his mentor, and must now confront an angry and betrayed Batman,” while also mentioning he may be going to prison, speculation is Jason has indeed been driven over the edge to commit an atrocious crime. Hopefully, it isn’t tied to Willis and whatever it is, Jason finds his way toward the light.
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