Anonymous asked: What would you do if you were given the reins of RHatO from Lobdell and told to fix this clusterfuck?
Good question, anon! My answer is a rambling mess, because I wanted to find a way to explain Jason’s actions in the first nine issues of RHatO, so I’m putting it under a cut. There’s images, a lot of speculation, and me playing hard and fast with the rules and functions of the DC multiverse. I honestly don’t know what is going on with the multiverse in the rebooted universe, but let’s pretend that some of the preboot rules and functions are still in place, okay? This fix might not be feasible, but it’s the best thing that I could come up with. So, here we go!
Frankly, RHatO is a hot mess. As far as storytelling goes, it is messy and cluttered. It suffers from trying to do entirely too much, just for the “cool” factor. It’s like Lobdell is writing this book with a SUMMER ACTION BLOCKBUSTER Mad Libs. So far, this book has jerked around from being about alien/space stuff (Crux, setting up Kori’s past, exotification of the alien as Other), magic stuff (magic swords, magic rituals, made-up mysticism, and exotification of Asian culture), and some weird elements of the more traditional “fighting crime and/or bad guys” stuff. Since Lobdell—-by his own admission—-doesn’t really plan ahead, these threads have not been juggled very well. Things are either wrapped up too quickly to have much of an impact, or there is so much going on, it’s difficult to make sense of where any of it is going. It’s a bad sign if your story needs to rely on telling instead of showing. When your characters regurgitate exposition at complete strangers for the audience’s benefit, you are doing something very wrong.
Jesus tap-dancing christ, Jay. Could you exposition any harder? You really need to stop doing that.
There are more than a handful of moments in the first nine issues of Red Hood and the Outlaws where I—-no joke—-squinted at the issue and whispered who do you think you are YOU ARE NOT JASON TODD. Disregarding the tweaking of preboot canon events, some of Jason’s actions and internal monologue are in direct opposition to everything that Jason Todd has embodied, from his very inception on. Jason Todd respects women. Jason Todd protects the oppressed and victimized. Jason Todd is scarily determined, and once he has sunk his teeth into a goal he will not stop. Inherently lazy is pretty much the last thing I’d describe him as, and contrary to Lobdell’s view, by the psych exam standards at Arkham, Jason is legally sane. By completely flipping Jason’s characterization on its ear, I feel that we’ve lost a lot of what drew many of his most passionate fans to him in the first place. How do you reconcile that, when it is expressly shown in both his internal narration and his actions?
Personally, I would pull a Morrison. His schtick hinges on the idea of everything being canon—-that is why the Jason he wrote in Batman and Robin was back to being redheaded, despite Jason not having swung that look since Pre-Crisis. Love it or hate it, it has its uses. More on that in a bit.
So one of the first things that Lobdell did in RHatO was introduce a race of fantastically ancient humanoid beings called the All Caste. Well, all of the All Caste fit the ancient mentor stereotype except for a woman named Essence—-someone had to be pigeonholed into the sexy pseudo-ninja stereotype, so the responsibility fell on her. Naturally, she and Jason had a fling.
She has this neat trick of poofing here and there in the guise of intangible smoke. Nobody can see or hear her except for Jason, which makes her his sexy imaginary friend or something.
The thing that probably bothers me the most in RHatO is how straightforward it is. Wise Vaguely-Asian Mentor is slain, so the only caucasian boy the Wise Mentor has trained in a thousand years has to pick up his sacred swords and avenge her! The Sexy Exotic Love Interest turns out to secretly be the Wise Mentor’s daughter—-but she has betrayed them all and used him! But wait! The Wise Mentor might have been the evil one ALL ALONG? Holy shit, you don’t say. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Yes, there are formulas in popular fiction. There are a handful of themes that are golden—-if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: plot edition. But the way that this particular thread of the storyline has played out has bored the snot out of me. There has been next to nothing about it that sets it apart from any number of slightly appropriative action flicks.
So, like I said: if I had a chance at RHatO, I would pull a Morrison. I would make things more complicated.
First up: the All Caste. There hasn’t been much thus far that has set them apart from any number of ~ancient wise beings~, but there are some interesting concepts attached to them that I would definitely play with. Namely, I’d play with the idea of memory and reality as it pertains to the human experience. So far, everything that we know about RHatO!Jason has come from Jason himself. He has no one who can double-check the validity of his memories. Memory is imperfect. It’s not a strict record. It is the continuously altered recall of your personal sphere of reality. And whatever they are, the All Caste beings are capable of manipulating it further. This leads me to believe that they are beings that puncture reality, but chiefly exist on another dimensional plane. Jason received his training from the All Caste in a place that he describes as: “The Hundred Acres of All. Not on any map. Who knows, maybe not on any world. Everywhere and nowhere.” Within the heart of the Hundred Acres of All (a name that I find incredibly difficult to take seriously, because it reminds me of the Hundred Acre Wood. I keep humming “deep in the Hundred Acre Wood, where Jay Peter Todd plays, you’ll find the enchanted neighborhood, of Jay Peter Todd’s Lost Days…”), there is a nexus point. Make a note of that.
Let’s start off with the idea that Jason has been recalling an altered reality. As Talia said, the Lazarus Pit brought back Jason’s soul, but let’s play with the idea that it brought back much more than just the soul of the Jason of that world. Everything that is Jason Todd has become twisted up and compressed, because he—-for whatever reason—-is a linchpin. There are some events that create ripples. For one reason or another, the wrongful death of a fifteen year old boy was one of those bubble events. Removing him prematurely started a cascade of events in multiple universes, and he’s had to suffer being killed and brought back several times because he needs to be present for some future event in the timeline. The weight of all of those deaths and memories and betrayals was almost too much for Jason’s already fragile post-Pit mind to bear. That is why Talia brought him to Ducra in the first place. Her father thought that he’d been a victim of the Pit’s madness, but Talia believed Jason when he told her that he wasn’t “driven crazy” by the Pit, or even just lying. He could tell her multiple versions of his life story, and believed that every one of them was somehow the truth.
Putting Jason in the care of the All Caste was the only thing that Talia could think to do. She’d hoped that either they would be able to divine why this boy had come back to life in the first place—-and bearing the knowledge and memories of alternate lives to boot. Ducra manipulated Jason’s memories so that all but the simplest sequence of life events were repressed, but was ultimately disappointed when he was still full of rage and betrayal. She put him through the process of the Cleansing, hoping that would flush the remaining vestiges of the combined hurt of his emotional memories—-or put him out of his misery.
That’s where Essence stepped in. He had been reduced to being an empty vessel before, so Essence had planned to burn his spirit out of him during the Cleansing and then make herself at home. But the funny thing about Jason is that trying to kill his spirit generally doesn’t work out well for people. He fought, and since the Hundred Acres of All is a place where dimensions are thin and kind of rub together, everything that is Jason Todd survived.
Essence had been frustrated, but she’d invested too much to back out of her plan at that point. She thought that she’d be able to eventually burn away the messy clinging aftereffects of Jason and wear his shell, because having a human suit is useful. Ever since the Cleansing, she has manipulated Jason’s memories, as well as his personality and actions. He hasn’t fought, because he hasn’t realized that what he is doing isn’t like him. Like most evil creatures, she had to be let in. Jason allowed her into his heart and head because she wanted him—-and Jason desperately wanted to be wanted. She was beautiful, she was powerful, and she treated him as her equal—-what lonely, hurt sixteen year old boy wouldn’t find that attractive? But Essence had other plans for him. She went deeper into him, reworking his perception of past and current reality once more. So the actions and thoughts that seem so out of character are just that: they’re not his.
Jason is misogynistic toward older and unattractive women because Essence loathes her mother so deeply. Jason entertains killing the innocent inhabitants of a small town because human are like cattle to Essence—-she has no respect for the sanctity of their lives.
Jason’s confrontation with Bruce played out differently—-the real reason behind his actions completely off mark—-because Essence didn’t understand Jason’s complicated relationship with Bruce. And Jason ultimately left Gotham, abandoning the Bats without any real resolution, because his desires were petty and secondary to her plan. She turned Jason’s deeply-rooted affinity and ownership with Gotham’s streets into indifference because if he was bound to his city, he would be useless to her. Jason hasn’t been in control of himself since the Cleansing, and he didn’t even know that he was being used.
Worst of it is, he doesn’t question it. He has no way of knowing he isn’t acting of his own volition, because she controls and manipulates the reality he experiences.
But. That only works if Jason is the only one actively defining who he is and who he isn’t. When he starts spending time with Roy and Kori, they make him question his actions. They believe that he is a better man than half of his actions claim, and he begins to wonder if they’re right. Roy’s optimism and Kori’s understanding of caged heat make Jason realize that something is wrong.
This leads to a confrontation with Essence, where he—-for the first time—-tells her no, and that they were no longer an “us”. Once HE rejects her, Roy and Kori can see her, too. He forces her from himsef, even though he doesn’t consciously realize that is what he is doing. Shooting her with the alien tech scatters her, so Jason is free of her constant rewriting for the first time since before the analogous Under the Red Hood.
Jason assumed that it was Essence that led him to Colorado, but what if the person that put him on this path—-that exposed the Untitled and made him question Essence’s motivations—-was actually working toward the Outlaws’ benefit? Jason has been a consummate loner since his revival—-and before Batman came into his life, too. Even at age twelve, he boasted that “Jason Todd is his own man”. Playing the lone wolf is his default, so he’s incredibly shrewd about his chances with others. He chose to stay with Roy and Kori, but only because he knew that he would not be able to watch his own back. He needed them. What if the circumstances that kept them together had been specifically manufactured by a transdimensional entity that isn’t of the All Caste or Untitled?
So let’s say that it wasn’t Essence that left the snowglobe that sent the intrepid heroes to Colorado. Having Jason attack the weakest and most placid of the Untitled wouldn’t spark a war as easily as if he had tracked down one of the bigger and badder ones. Let’s say that the snowglobe was left by a transdimensional being that knows Jason personally—-one that knows who he was once, and more than once. To have gotten past the gatekeeper, she had to have been able to enter that dimension some other way.
A nexus point? Dang, that sounds familiar. I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard that used somewhere before.
Cross-dimensional travel, you say?
WHOA, someone can CONTROL the nexus points? Who’s that Pokémon?
So let’s say that this transdimensional being is as scattered as he is, but she has the added difficulty of being partially defined by the people who know her. She doesn’t remember who she is all the time, but she never forgets the ones that she loves. And she has loved each of the Outlaws. She has been their sister, their lover, and their friend. If anyone can piece her back together again, it’s them.
Her name is Donna Troy. She has lived many lives, has been killed and compressed, and has known at least three versions of Jason Todd. They’re like souls, even though he is mortal and she is a goddess-entity capable of controlling nexuses and reality. They’re both warriors. They’re both important to the fate of the multiverse. And they keep gravitating toward each other.
Donna would approach Jason in his dreams at first. I know that it’s a trope, but it’s an effective and time-honored way of relaying mystical information to ~mere mortals~ in the comic medium. After Essence left him, Jason’s mind would slowly try to come to grips with the conflict in his own head. You could even say that this process began when he returned to Gotham because Suzie Su made him go “save ALL the babies!!”. Ducra was much more masterful in the manipulation of memories than Essence was—-for the most part, what she sealed in him will stay that way. He’ll get little hiccups of memory—-a few of his Pre-Crisis dates with Bruce, maybe even the knowledge that a version of his Batman was a creepy as fuck vampire—-but he won’t have to deal with the full weight of all of those memories. He’ll know that the other versions exist, but once Essence’s work unravels, he’ll be left with his strongest, simplest, and most immediate set of memories: Pre-reboot!Jason Todd.
Donna: I called to your soul, and you responded.
Jason: You. It was you. Why didn’t you just leave me alone? I was done. I was okay with being done. Living is hell.
Donna: You’re not done yet. Neither am I.
Jason: That’s such a crock of—-
Donna: It’s the truth, Jason. You’re a question that I don’t know how to answer. Once upon a time, I asked a little boy named Robin if he’d answer if I needed him. He said, “whisper my name—-“
Jason: —-and I’ll follow you anywhere. (beat) I remember.
Donna: I thought you might.
Jason: What can I say? You’re an unforgettable kind of lady.
Donna is an infitinitely compassionate soul. She’ll help him accept what he is and isn’t—-though Jason will definitely struggle with the inconsistancies for a while—-by guiding him through his preboot memories while he sleeps. The first time she touches his mind, he dreams of saving the captive children from Egon in Lost Days. Donna will show him who he WAS, and why he did what he did, but Jason will wake with only a vague impression of her: a woman with cool hands and stars in her hair. As the memory-dreams gain momentum, he’ll get a stronger vision of who she is—-and the gut instinct that she is real, physical, and someone that he needs to find.
Jason: Would you believe me if I said I think I need to find a goddess?
Roy: You’ve picked a hell of a time to find religion, man.
Jason: Cute. Really digging that you’re willing to follow me when I talked to myself, but this is a deal breaker for you. (beat) What about you, your Majesty?
Kori: You are a strange man, Jason Todd. When I am with you, I am rarely bored. That is a commendable thing. I would like to see this goddess you have deigned worthy of worship.
Roy: (SIGH.) Fine. Fine! Consider my arm twisted. You’ll need a third Musketeer.
Jason: For the record? I don’t worship her. I just want to find her and compare notes.
The problem with Donna is that in this universe, she had died in the fire as a baby. No one had saved her. So she was never Diana’s sister, never a Titan, so on and so forth. When she fell into that universe through the nexus, she realized that—-and it truly broke her heart. But as luck would have it, Jason was the same as her, still—-multiple conflicting lives compressed into a single body.
The Untitled are described as seeing humans as far below them, and using them/controlling them as thralls. They would almost certainly be attracted to those who are not difficult to control—-communities and groups that are so used to systems of oppression, they are “easier” to control. Donna wanted him to realize that—-wanted the part of Jason that reacts strongly to injustice to wake up and pay attention. Jason doesn’t know how many of them are left, but he knows that he and Donna are possibly the only ones equipped to destroy them. But Donna—-being Donna—-wouldn’t allow him to ditch her, or Roy and Kori. The lone wolf act can only get someone so far, and so Jason has to learn to rely on others again—-physically and emotionally. I honestly like Roy and Kori. They definitely aren’t the same as they were in the preboot, but there is enough interesting material for the both of them to work with. I would like to give these versions of them a chance. I’m pretty sure that between Jason and Donna’s combined memories and stories of who they were in their various realities, they would evolve.
So I would be able to shift the focus from this summer blockbuster clusterfuck back to Jason doing what he is the most passionate about: saving people who have been victimized. The Outlaws would revolve around them roadtripping and searching for the remaining Untitled, while also trying to piece together who Jason and Donna are, and why they are important. You’ll have your high cosmic stuff, your space stuff, and your street stuff, balanced enough to juggle without giving the readers whiplash. There would be a clear forward direction, and the potential for character evolution arcs for each of them.
Jason: I keep getting sucked into these crapshoot cosmic things. The universe just can’t get enough of Jason Todd. Every time I think it’s done with me, some great mystic mucky-muck decides they want seconds. Can’t exactly say I blame them. I am a handsome fuck.
That’s the gist of how I’d do it, basically.