In 2005, writer Judd Winick's Batman Annual #25 started a maelstrom of discussion among DC readers. The issue, which sparked controversy by introducing Superman Prime's reality-altering punches, also briefly explained the return of Jason Todd as the Batman villain "Red Hood."
But the story behind the return of the formerly deceased Robin was told in just a few panels, leaving the details behind his resurrection kind of fuzzy.
What happened during that missing time period is what Winick will explore in Red Hood: The Lost Days, a new six-issue mini-series drawn by Pablo Raimondi that begins in June. And the release of the comic will coincide with the release of Under the Red Hood , the next animated straight-to-DVD movie from DC, which is based on the original comic book story by Winick.
The writer has a busy spring, not only with the DVD and Red Hood mini-series, but he'll also be taking over the Power Girl ongoing series, along with co-writing Justice League: Generation Lost with Keith Giffen.
In Part 2 of our discussion with Winick (the first part covering his work on Power Girl), Newsarama spoke with the writer about Jason Todd, his work on the DVD, and what readers can expect from Red Hood: The Lost Days.
Newsarama: Judd, when we talked during your Batman story arc last August, you said you'd be back on Batman after Tony Daniel's six issues. That apparently isn't happening, since Tony announced to Newsarama that he's the new regular writer. Was Red Hood the story you were going to tell when you returned to the title, and you guys just decided to make it a mini-series?
Judd Winick: No. Well, it was one story of a couple, I suppose. I could have made this into a story within the pages of Batman, although I think it works much better standing alone. But what happened was that I got busy working on the Red Hood movie, then I started working on the bi-weekly Generation Lost, and now Power Girl is gearing up. So it was the sort of thing where I kept pushing back when I would come back to Batman. And in truth, it's all about timing.
Nrama: But you left something open-ended...
Winick: Yeah, there's a story still floating out there, after that cliffhanger, that Dick Grayson found something that Bruce was hiding from him, and that story still sits out there. And given a few more months to get these projects up and going, we might come back to that. But it's not happening now.
But this story about Red Hood has been floating around in my head for years now. It's not just something I was going to do because I needed a story arc for Batman. This is something I really wanted to tell for a while.
Nrama: So what does this story cover?
Winick: This is the story in between. This is the story from when Jason Todd was resurrected to the time when he enters Gotham the first time as the Red Hood. We cover this section in the Batman Annual, which is the last chapter of the Red Hood trade at this point, in a couple of panels.
When we talked about this way back in the Batman Annual. We talked about doing 60 pages, and I said both publicly and privately that I could go 60 pages easily. There's so much story here to tell. Now, in this case, I get to break it down and break it out, more than I did before. So it's literally what happens from the time Jason Todd comes back to when he's back in Gotham as the Red Hood. It didn't happen overnight. And his plans weren't fully formed when he came back.
That's the story.
Nrama: And how long is that time period?
Winick: It's over the span of a couple of years.
Nrama: Where is Jason all that time?
Winick: All over the world.
Nrama: You've been exploring this character in a lot of detail, between your work on his return in Batman and the DVD. What is it about this character that makes him so compelling?
Winick: The story of Jason Todd, and particularly him returning as the Red Hood, is an opera. So much of Batman's life is steeped in tragedy. And this feels wonderfully tragic. It always has. It's the thing that attracted me to the idea, even before I had the opportunity to write it. Jim Lee and Jeph Loeb brought him back in Hush, but then took him away an issue later. For me as a reader, when I first saw Jason Todd resurrected as Hush, facing down Batman on that splash page, I saw the whole story in my mind. I thought, "Oh, this is going to be great! What a great, horribly, wonderful terrible idea." Just, what worse thing could happen to Batman? I saw this enormous new chapter.
Batman is, truly, one of the greatest tortured heroes in popular culture. And we have explored it so many different ways. I read an interview once where [Brian Michael] Bendis said he wouldn't do Batman because he doesn't think anything can be found there. And I get that. I really do. For me, Jason Todd is actually that new chapter.
There are seminal moments in Batman's life. The one that created him, the death of his parents, is the most important. But the death of Jason Todd, in modern history, is the one we get to tap into. Bob Kaine gave birth to him, and then when the death of Jason Todd took place, that sort of gave birth to the Dark Knight that we know now, if you look back at that era. That's the time of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, where he created the moment, which is touched upon later by Denny O'Neill and Jim Starlin and the gang when they decided to kill him off. I think we're talking maybe 50 or 60 pages earlier, we saw Batman walking and talking to people on the stoop. You know? Those types of things were still going on.
But after that, something changed. Batman became the character we know now. And Jason is at the center of that. The idea that his greatest failure has come back to haunt him in the flesh -- I love it. I think it's wonderful and terrible, and I find that there's a lot of story there. It's one I was eager to tell.
Nrama: We know how Jason's thinking now, but where is Jason's head in this story, before he became the Red Hood?
Winick: When he comes back, he's still a teenager. He's still a boy who's just this side of throwing a tantrum.
In this, he becomes a man and sees his place in the world. But he's not quite there, because even at the end of the Red Hood arc, what it comes down to is that he doesn't think Bruce loves him. This has all been about him feeling that Bruce didn't love him enough to kill the Joker. Despite all the horrible things the Joker has done and all the people he's murdered, Jason truly feels like this should have been the thing that pushed Bruce over the edge.
Forget everything else the Joker ever did. Just for Jason, this should have been enough for Bruce to want to kill him.
Nrama: In this mini-series, do we see him come to that realization? Is this story about that journey?
Winick: It is a journey, but what you'll see is someone who's preparing himself to face Batman. And what he thinks he needs to do in the beginning is not where he ends up. And the anti-hero that he becomes is because he sees himself as what Batman should be. What Gotham really needs, he believes, is the Red Hood: Someone who can cross that line; someone who understands that crime can't be stopped, but it can be controlled. And that has to happen with lots of blood on your hands.
But Jason begins his journey in one place and winds up in another.
Nrama: Will we see other people in the DCU?
Winick: Yeah. Absolutely. A lot of the story takes place somewhat outside the DCU, because Jason has to hide. He doesn't want to be seen. It's about his training. He's becoming the Red Hood. In those few panels we had in the Annual, we glossed over the fact that Jason went and trained himself, and went and got himself some new teachers. Bruce was the first teacher he ever had, and his training wasn't done. If he's going to come back and face Batman, which is what his plan is, he's going to have to learn a lot more.
And he wants to learn things differently – things that Bruce would never, ever teach him in a thousand years.
Nrama: And of course we'll see Ra's Al Ghul, right?
Winick: Yeah, Ra's is in there. I don't feel like I'm giving away too much by saying that Ra's Al Ghul is in the story. That's where we begin. And Talia's very much a part of it as well. That's part of the history we've created. All the things you saw with Talia are more explored.
Nrama: You mentioned that Jason is an anti-hero, and I know he believes he's on the right side. Do you think you've succeeded in allowing readers to be sympathetic to his cause?
Winick: I was actually surprised how sympathetic people were. The readers took to him a lot quicker and a lot more willingly than I thought they would. A couple of things I saw on the web, when I looked at the web, and the readers and fans I've spoken to, they kind of think Jason's cool, which is a little bit disturbing [laughs], although I get why. In this day and age, I can see why he's cool, and I obviously can understand why he's sympathetic. But he's still a bad guy. He is someone who does kill people.
But he's mostly trying to do some form of right. I mean, he is an anti-hero, but identifying with him is kind of like identifying with Vic Mackey on The Shield. He's a dirty, dirty cop, but at the same time, he's still mostly interested in putting criminals away. Mostly. And that's mostly what Jason's interested in.
Nrama: Do you think sympathy for Jason could be linked to the fact that many fans agree with him about the Joker? I mean, the guy crippled Barbara then killed Jason so fans could get behind someone killing him, you know?
Winick: Yeah! Exactly! Exactly! They can understand. Living in the real world, on Planet Earth, it makes no sense that the Joker is still running around and alive. But this isn't the real Planet Earth we're talking about.
Nrama: And the Joker can't die?
Winick: Well, there are many creators that fall back on the idea that the Joker should die already. And there are a number of higher-ups that will say, "no, never." And you know what? I'm in the "no, never" camp. He just can't go away. He's a far too important, seminal character – and this is in the "business side" of things, so to speak. You can't get rid of the Joker. He's too big of a character in Batman's universe, and he's too important a part of what we do.
So that being the roadblock you have to work around, you have to try to understand it from Batman's point of view. You have to understand why this is a guy he won't kill. Once he crosses that line, there's no going back. I can see why he would believe that. He's a creature who was formed by death. He was someone who came into this life, and was created, by murder. And for him to kill someone, no matter how bad, is something that he knows will scar him. He's a big, giant living scar anyway, but he knows what that would do to him. The Joker is his big test. Getting up every day, putting on the costume, and not going out and murdering the Joker. If he can go to sleep one more day without killing the Joker, he knows in some way he's accomplished something: Stopping evil, but also knowing that he has not crossed this line and done this terrible thing. I get it. I get it. It's tough, but I get it.
It's easier to say, oh, why doesn't he just kill him? Jason sees it that way. "Forget all that stuff. Like, get really human on it. You should want revenge. You should want him to be gone and punished and never heard from again, because he did this terrible thing." And I think fans respond to the simplicity of what Jason wants. Bad guys deserve to be punished, some of them in the worst way possible. We can lock them up, but they're just going to get out and do something terrible, so let's kill them.
Nrama: And you've got Pablo Raimondi on art. I loved his art on X-Factor. It's so clean, yet it has this realism about it.
Winick: Yeah, his art has this wonderful quality. His characters have a different kind of weight. They have a photogenic quality to them. For this story, it's going to be particularly eerie. There aren't a lot of costumes in this, and there aren't a lot of superheroes. It's a lot of real folks running around doing real things. So I'm excited about him being on this. His artwork really fits what we're doing.
Nrama: You mentioned that your writing on Red Hood doesn't have a lot of costumes, and the training element makes it sound like it's mostly separate from the rest of the DCU. For you as a writer, was this a challenge, to not have the capes and tights? Or was it a welcome break from all that?
Winick: It has its pluses and minuses. Sometimes, you know things are going to be that much more appealing with capes and cowls, and if you infuse a couple superheroes into the story, it always juices things up a bit. If you turn the page and the Flash shows up, everybody's like, "Hey!! What's going on here?!"
But Jason is in hiding, and we aren't going to see, nor is he, any capes and cowls. He's intentionally living outside the superhero life and crawling around in the underbelly of the world and trying to learn his trade.
That said, there's a tremendous amount of action in this story. There's a lot of action in here. And it builds up to it. We're watching someone grow, and that builds into a ton of action.
Taking the flip side of it, yeah, it is a little bit freeing knowing you don't have to worry about the superheroes. And another thing that was really freeing about this story is that I knew the beginning, middle and end of this story. We all know where Jason has to be at the end of it. So let's see him grow up.
It was also interesting to tell a story that covers a couple years. From issue to issue, we jump a little bit in time. And that's something we don't usually get to do in comic books, so it was an interesting way to approach the story.
Nrama: I don't know how much you can say about the DVD...
Winick: I can talk about it in the most briefest of terms.
Nrama: Well, those of us who read Under the Hood know the story, but what was the experience of translating it to animation like for you? I know you have experience with animation because of Juniper Lee, but what was it like to take a comic book story you'd written and making it come across the right way through animation?
Winick: Oh yeah, it's a whole different medium, and it was a wonderful and terrible challenge to take two years of story and make it into one story like that. A lot of it was just about hitting the big beats, hitting the really good parts that were most important to the overall story. What gets lost? Well, simply, if you were to read the entire arc now, there are a lot of references in there, even to Crisis and extraneous characters and other plots weaving in and out, that will be cut down to just Batman and the Red Hood. That's the story now.
I'm terribly excited to see it come to life. It's very much like doing comics. It feels like those first few comics you do before you get used to the process. It's still very exciting to create something and see an artist draw it and make it come to life on the page. But this is like that, only you get to see it come to life on the screen instead of on a static image, which is new and exciting, you know?
Plus the entire process of working with a huge group of people on the story and the animation and everything is a lot of fun. There are actors, and there are voices that you hear being put to the characters, and the characters are moving on the screen, and there's a soundtrack. It truly, truly comes to life in a different way. So it's really exciting.
They're doing an amazing job. I can't wait to see the whole thing come together.
Nrama: To finish up, then, Judd... is there anything else you want tell people about the Red Hood mini-series?
Winick: I would just like to say that it's wonderful to see these two things coming out at the same time. We have the story that nicely leads up to the DVD. And oddly enough, because I came off one and went onto the other, it's very, very fresh in my mind, so it all works together really well. Not only does the Red Hood: Lost Days story feed into the Batman comic, but I think it feeds in quite nicely to the DVD. It makes for a good prequel. It's a story that leads up to it. But it also stands alone nicely for anybody who wants to read just this story of a villain's evolution, and see how Jason becomes the Red Hood.