Who’s to blame? How Jason Todd is blamed for his own demise
The death of Jason Todd is one of the most iconic moments in Batman’s history. The loss of his young partner is one of the greatest tragedies of Bruce Wayne’s life, considered about as great as the deaths of his own parents when they were gunned down in front of him.
Following Jason’s death, the Dark Knight is tormented by his own failure to prevent it, and during the years afterwards, Jason was most frequently alluded to in the context of Bruce struggling with this guilt.
However, Jason’s death is also often described as the inevitable result of his own reckless nature. Sometimes this goes even further, and Jason is implied to — and readers are meant to assume — that he was responsible for, or even deserving of his own fate.
In Deadman: Dead Again #2, written by Steve Vance and released October 2001, Deadman/Boston Brand watches helplessly as Jason Todd is killed by the Joker.
In this story, Jason and Deadman are ghosts. In the first panel, Deadman berates Batman, despite the fact that Batman cannot hear him.
Deadman/Boston Brand: Where were you ten minutes ago, chump? What the hell were you thinking, letting Robin take on the Joker alone? I’d like to inhabit you and make you slug yourself over the head with a —
Jason: No — it’s not his fault! I screwed up. I disobeyed his orders… went out on my own.
Here, Jason is putting the blame on himself. What is victim blaming? This document, prepared by the Canadian Resource Centre for Crime explains it thoroughly. Some victims and survivors do that to themselves, however, often in reality, society will blame a victim for transgressions they did and hold the victim partially or entirely responsible for their abuse, assault, murder, etc. According to the article, survivors of homicides, like family members and friends, will even sometimes blame the victim in order to ease their own guilt. In essence, blaming the victim suggests that the victim deserved “what was coming to them” or “what they got.”
The idea has been put forward on more than one occasion that Jason’s incompetence, recklessness, anger, hot-headedness, attitude, etc. got him killed. That he was essentially responsible for his own death.
And unfortunately for Jason, this attitude of victim-blaming has retroactively tarnished his reputation as a crime-fighter and a hero, and even fuelled retcons that seek to paint him in a darker light even from the beginning of his career as Robin.
In Teen Titans #29, written by Geoff Johns, Jason tells Tim that he failed. And note he says that right after he says he died, conflating the idea that his death was a failure on his part.
Jason: It didn’t surprise anyone when I died. When I failed. I failed — but I’m still beating you.
Which is not what happened at all. Jason went to save his biological mother dressed in his Robin costume. The reason he went to save her is because he believed she was in danger, trapped in a warehouse with the Joker.
Batman’s orders were specifically:
You stay here and keep an eye on that warehouse until I return. Take no action until I get back! I repeat no action! Just for once, please listen to me, Jason! Don’t tangle with the Joker alone! Wait for me to get back, please!
To which Jason thinks:
Sorry, Bruce. But that’s my mother in there with that lunatic.
Jason was disobeying orders in order to save someone he believed to be his true mother. She betrayed him and sold him out to the Joker. Additionally, he followed her because she told him the Joker was no longer in the warehouse — and it turns out trusting her cost her his life, because she lied to him. The Joker, being evil and insane, beat Robin with a crowbar and then blew him up, because Robin is the closest person to Batman. And unfortunately, Batman failed to get there in time to save Jason.
Jason was not the only Robin to disobey orders, either. In the November 2010 issue Batman: The Return, written by Grant Morrison, Bruce tells Dick Grayson he can’t work with Damian because Damian does not follow orders.
Bruce, come on! I made a career out of not doing anything I was told when I was Robin.
It’s also no secret that Jason as Robin was not as well loved as Dick by the fans. And of course, as we know, Dick was not killed in the field. This essay, however, is not meant to highlight what Dick could or could not do, but rather show that despite Jason disobeying orders — as all Robins have done — it is because he died that it is consistently argued that he was incompetent or that in some way his character flaws resulted in his death.
Jason was angry and rebellious, but there’s no suggestion prior to his death that he was incompetent in the field. What he did do is exact a harsher form of punishment out to criminals and, in one instance, possibly kill a serial rapist. Yet, once he dies, that is forgotten and revisionist history makes us believe that because he died, he must not have been good enough.
On top of that, the failure to save was what was considered Batman’s greatest failure; this was essentially a story of the hero’s failure, not the victim or the sidekick’s failure. In the Death in the Family story arc, even as Bruce heads off to intercept a truckload of Joker toxin, he had misgivings about leaving Jason on his own.
He says: “I’m already regretting leaving Jason behind. Something deep inside me is screaming that that was the wrong move.”
He knew that Jason was in danger, but he failed to listen to his instincts. There was also a failure on Bruce’s part to recognize Jason’s emotional and anger issues. Bruce himself had difficulty coping with his parents’ deaths and that’s part of the reason why he put on the cowl. When he saw Dick’s parents’ fall to their deaths, he believed he could offer him a way to cope, the same as he had.
When Jason came along, Bruce took him in because the young teen had no one. Jason’s adoptive mother, Catherine, had died of a drug overdose. His petty criminal father, unknown to Jason at the time, had been killed by Two-Face. So, again, Bruce assumed making Jason Robin would help Jason cope. He also had selfish reasons for doing it — he missed having a Robin around since Dick had grown up and become Nightwing.
But remember, Bruce and Dick came from loving homes where they had what they needed: food, shelter, clothing. Bruce from a very wealthy family and Dick from a circus. Jason came from meager means. We learn that Jason loved his parents, even nursed Catherine for a year and stole to keep her alive; and was angry, hurt and upset when he learned of his father’s murder. But of them loving him back in return, we have little knowledge. And no two persons in reality cope the same way, so naturally, two different characters may cope differently when faced with similar situations.
Children like Jason, deprived of a stable upbringing, often have greater difficulty coping with and recovering from traumatic events than others do. In Stress, Coping and Development in Children,** it’s explained that temperament, familial support and other sources of external support are the most reliable predictors of child and adolescent adjustment following stress and/or trauma. Children with “difficult” temperaments are more likely to cope poorly in response to trauma, as are those who lack family support. (**Garmezy & Rutter (eds.) (1983) Stress, Coping and Development in Children. New York: McGraw-Hill)
But Bruce ignored the many signs that Jason was not adjusting well to his role as Robin. Jason had arguably suffered more from the effects of crime and poverty than anyone else in the Batfamily. After the death of his parents, he lived alone in Crime Alley without adult protection, and had already been forced to compromise his own moral values by stealing to survive.
“Hey, I don’t wanna learn to be no crook. I just boost what it takes to survive…” Jason says to Batman in Batman 409.
Most crucially, Bruce ignored Jason’s propensity towards anger and violence. Upon discovering Jason brutally beating a pimp, the following exchange took place in Batman 422:
Bruce: “I think he’s had enough Robin. What were you trying to do, kill him?”
Jason: “Would it have been that big of a loss if I had?”
Bruce (to himself): “What’s going on in that head of yours, Jason?”
However, following this incident, Bruce made no serious attempt to discover exactly what was going on inside Jason’s head. Neither did he truly listen to Jason’s frustration and anger with the justice system and its failures. It is not surprising that a boy with Jason’s background would have a radically different attitude to criminals and crime fighting than Bruce or Dick, but Bruce refused to fully engage in moral discussions with him.
Even after Bruce suspect that Jason may have allowed a serial rapist to fall to his death (or even pushed him himself), he did not suspend Jason’s crime-fighting activities. He refused to accept that being Robin was not a suitable outlet for Jason’s rage until their working relationship reached its absolute breaking point, at the beginning of A Death in the Family.
And then Jason died. And Bruce did blame himself, which is something real survivors often do. But he, and other supporting characters, were more than willing to lay blame at the victim’s feet.
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