Jason Todd, the second Robin, was introduced in 1983 as a replacement for Dick Grayson, the original Robin, who’d recently adopted a new costume and taken on the mantle of Nightwing. Jason and Dick shared a similar history: they were the children of circus folk who’d been murdered, were adopted by Bruce Wayne, and became Batman’s sidekick. Here’s Jason as he first appeared:
Kids. Then, after discovering his parents had been murdered by the aptly-named Killer Croc, he settled on crimefighting as a career path and donned a Robin costume:
Then Crisis on Infinite Earths happened and Jason’s origin was rebooted. Now he was a streetwise orphan who tried to steal the tires off the Batmobile:
Then he became a murderer:
Duh, he was pushed. Then, in one of DC’s greatest publicity stunts and quite possibly DC’s professional nadir, a 1-900 number was set up for readers to vote on whether or not they’d like to see Jason take a permanent vacation (from life):
So Robin was dead (not for long, though – the current Robin, Tim Drake, would show up less than a year later) and the memorial to Jason in the Batcave would provide Bruce with a daily reminder of his greatest professional and personal failure.
Until 15 years later, when writer Judd Winick decided to resurrect Jason:
How did Jason crawl out of his own grave and return to the land of living? Via a plot contrivance, of course, one that’s since become a reference point for “most ridiculous shit ever”: Superboy-Prime altering history by punching a hole in reality during Infinite Crisis:
Jason returned under the guise of the Red Hood, then spent some time as a murderous Nightwing in the pages of Nightwing, then went back to being the Red Hood in Countdown, then became a crazy Batman with guns in Battle for the Cowl, then back to Red Hood again in Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin, which contains the following character beat:
Clever writing on Morrison’s part, of course. The original pre-Crisis Jason had red hair that he dyed black! But in current continuity, Jason having red hair makes zero sense, so everyone – other writers at DC, readers of DC – simply pretended this bit of Batman and Robin #5 never happened.*
The problem with bringing Jason Todd back from the dead isn’t the concept itself – comic book characters come back from the dead all the time – but the execution. Winick’s writing in Batman #649 (which features Todd holding the Joker at gunpoint while lecturing Bruce on crimefighting) is cringe-inducing in parts, with Jason sounding more like a scorned and heartbroken ex-boyfriend than a pissed-off, formerly-dead hero that’s been given a second chance. Batman, who must feel a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders after all these years, seems to forget about Jason as quickly as he appears. Subsequent writers have had little idea of what to do with the character.
There was one moment in recent years where Todd was used well: the Countdown tie-in Search for Ray Palmer: Gotham by Gaslight, in which Jason realizes he might fit in better with the Batman of an alternate Victorian London than he would in the contemporary DCU:
That’s it, though. That’s the only time he’s been used well since his return, which begs the question of why bother bringing him back at all.
* Winick appears to have picked up the redheaded-Jason baton in his current Batman and Robin run.