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Friday, November 15, 2013 

The right argument to make about why Jason Todd failed: because Max Allan Collins' writing was poor

I always appreciate it whenever people can take the right approach to criticism of entertainment products, and on a team blog called The Chemical Box, one of the writers did just that, citing Max Allen Collins as the responsible party for botching the characterization of the 2nd Robin, Jason Todd. He says that:
I think they gave the task to the wrong guy, because Max Allan Collins wrote Batman as a lighthearted, almost goofy title, which did not really line up with the angry street youth persona of his revamped Jason Todd.
I have to agree. Of the various revamps done post-Crisis, Jason Todd's case was one that was not handled well, and Collins, as the writer assigned to rework his background, didn't set up personality traits well.

As for Jason being too much like his predecessor Dick Grayson, it's true that, when Gerry Conway co-created Jason in 1983, he was almost entirely a clone of Dick with very few distinguishing features, and one of those precious few, his lighter colored hair (which he first dyed black as he took up the Robin mantle), was turned emphatically dark nearly 4 years after when the retcons came into place. That change puzzles me in retrospect, because ironically, it only served to retain a certain lack of distinction between Jason and Dick from a facial perspective. If they'd left the blond hair in place, it would've helped present a difference from Dick, even if Jason still dyed it black.
Other than his short fuse and enormous baggage, we know very little about him, which is likely why those few elements became his defining characteristics. Collins did not give himself room to give Jason the space in which to grow, heal, or even learn, so he became trapped as an insolent punk. That’s not a guy people are eager to hang out with, and less than two years later, readers voted for his death.
While I concur the characterization was dreadful, I'm surprised - and certainly displeased - if the audience took it out on Jason, my appreciation of Marv Wolfman and Chuck Dixon's later,better work with Tim Drake notwithstanding. After all, it was largely Collins' fault for writing Jason into a corner. I'm sure there were some readers who acknowledged this too, but won't be surprised if these were overshadowed by less rational people with a childish view of things. Denny O'Neil told some surprising history - possibly in Batman: The Complete History by Les Daniels - about how Todd was unpopular with readers, and admitted it wasn't a fair poll vote since there'd been some cheating performed, compounding the perception that he screwed up royally. If he had to discontinue Jason as a cast member, that's one thing, but why couldn't he do it by just quietly dropping him from the books into limbo-land? That could just as easily have given them the chance to salvage Jason on a later occasion, and they could still have introduced Tim as a new Teen Wonder regardless.

That was the whole problem behind the killing of Jason in 1988: they couldn't make a clear decision themselves, and resorted to a publicity stunt - one of the earliest of its kind - to carry it out. And it really wasn't a fair vote because of the tampering behind it. A pity that O'Neil had to handle it all that badly. Granted, they did tell it pretty stand-alone, but the sloppy thinking behind the whole affair ruined everything, and honestly...did they really, truly have to kill him?

Maybe what disturbs me the most is that unlike Wolverine, whose initial appearances weren't considered the best but was improved on within a few years, Jason was one of various characters whom the audience wrote off near instantly, denying them the chance they gave earlier creations, while all but letting the writers off the hook for their errors. And no less disturbing is how many editors and writers won't think to just quietly drop an unpopular character out of a series without going to all the trouble of killing, even if it isn't done ultra-violently like recent efforts are.

All that told, it's good, once again, to find somebody who can tell things like they are, and lay the blame at the feet of the real parties responsible: the writers, with Max Allan Collins the case in point. A novelist and occasional comics writer who'd taken over for Chester Gould on Dick Tracy in 1977, he had some successes, but his retcon for Jason Todd in Batman was not one of them. (IIRC, he even wrote a short-lived Batman comic strip that came a year or so after the 1989 movie.) I wonder how he feels about the characteristics he gave Jason remaining on the character even after he was resurrected in 2005 by Judd Winick and Geoff Johns, and DC's writing staff acts as though this makes for a perfect character? But in the end, all it's done is prove DiDio and company never knew what to do with Jason, nor do they care.

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In fairness to the link, the OP did say, "Collins still had worth, because he got to show a lighter side to Batman, and still enjoyed himself, Robin or not." And it's hard to disagree, given how grim-dark the character has become. (Why I now like the Brave and the Bold cartoon.) Again, the problem was the DC editors miscasting Collins, and it just got worse.

I don't know where to put this, but since it's a Robin topic (and a coda to the Ms. Marvel lulz we've been dealing with):

http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/news/124962-im-not-racist-but-why-robin-shouldnt-be-black.html

Don't be fooled by the hyperlink text, as that OP basically implies, "there is no real counterargument to why there shouldn't be a black Robin," and snarks on those who do. There is, but good luck finding a comic book site going there (other than here, of course).

Here we go, again.

As an "occasional comics writer" who has had "some successes," I might point out that one of them is ROAD TO PERDITION, which is on just about every list of essential graphic novels. It concerns a father and son in a world of violence, which is not that far away from Batman and Robin.

I have stated elsewhere that I was just as unhappy about my BATMAN run as anybody else, and in fact quit with several issues left on my contract. I was promised a single artist (Chris Warner) and then, when Chris had deadline difficulties, had a succession of inappropriate artists foisted upon me, sometimes with one artist starting a two-part story and another finishing it...without access to the previous artist's character design. Chris was the only artist I was given direct access to. I was heavily edited, and in my opinion poorly so, and was extremely unhappy. I am fated to be the whipping boy for this period, even twenty-five years later, often from people who are clearly not familiar with much of my work...including such BATMAN projects as my Catwoman kick-off story for the comic strip, the graphic novels SCAR OF THE BAT and CHILD OF DREAMS, and several prose short stories. My two-parter with Denis Cowan (preceding the reboot, which was not my idea) is hardly light in touch. I was in fact unhappy that I couldn't write BATMAN tougher, since I was hired on a basis of my long-running, often fairly grim MS. TREE comic book (more "occasional" comic book...over 70 issues worth). I remember once when I had Batman knocked down from behind by an assailant with a baseball bat, splintering the thing, I was told by the editor that such a blow wouldn't hurt Batman. And I'm silly?

Thanks for the input, Mr. Collins. Indeed, sometimes it's vital to remember that writers dealing with corporate owned properties have to cope with editorial interference, and there are plenty of cases where a lot of better ideas never make it to the drawing board.

And you're right, that's weird that one of the editors tried to make Batman out to be as invincible as Superman. I have a 1989 issue of Detective Comics around the house where he barely survived an assault by a henchman for a gangster who was recording attacks on video camera for black marketeering. If the Masked Manhunter were portrayed as impervious to pain, that would spoil everything and there wouldn't be a story. Why an editor would want to lessen the differences between Batman and Superman is certainly puzzling.

Thanks for your gracious reply.

By the way, I strongly disagree that I "wrote Jason Todd into a corner." I knew exactly what I was doing and where I was taking him, and it had nothing to do with the direction others took him in.

Can someone refresh my memory: Did Jason Todd originally get introduced stealing the tires off the Batmobile, or was that a post-Crisis retcon?

Never really cared for the character, the gimmicky death, or the really bad resurrection. Definitely the least of the Robins.

Every person to change his hairstyle, I like neymar hairstyle. neymar change his hair as like all other Barcelona player.

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