Dick Grayson is pretty dark in Titans. That much is certain. Last week, we got our first real glimpse into just why and how that started happening. As Dick joined forces with Batman’s new Robin, Jason Todd, things took an uncomfortably personal turn as some less-than-glamorous ghosts from Dick's past began showing up in full force—ones that dated all the way back to the murder of his parents on that fateful night at Haly's Circus all those years ago.
The truth is, this isn't the first time Dick's past at Haly's has come back to haunt him. In fact, this entire episode was a pretty major callback to one of Dick's most iconic and formative storylines: “Batman: Year Three,” a story that took place between BATMAN #436 and #439, written by the prolific Marv Wolfman with art by Pat Broderick.
Titans, obviously, doesn't provide a complete retelling of “Batman: Year Three,” but it does lift some of the most important narrative elements and use the same springboards to build Dick's characterization, albeit in a decidedly direr way that works a bit more cohesively with the show's tone. But that doesn't make “Year Three” a walk in the park for anyone involved.
Coming hot on the heels of Jason Todd's comic book death in A DEATH IN THE FAMILY, “Year Three” features Dick's long-awaited return home after he and Bruce had a major falling out—a falling out that revolved, specifically, around Jason. In the post-CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS continuity, Dick's firing and Jason's "hiring" went down basically exactly how we see in the show, right down to Jason being brought in because he was jacking the hubcaps from the Batmobile. Dick, who had left Gotham to focus more on the Titans, wasn't actually on speaking terms with Bruce at the time, so Jason's sudden appearance was a pretty unexpected (and extremely unwelcome) surprise when Dick eventually found out.
Of course, this didn't exactly change, but it did get a bit more complicated when Jason was killed and Bruce was sent spiraling into a depressive, self-destructive whirlwind. Things got even more complicated when Tony Zucco, the man responsible for killing Mary and John Grayson, was released from prison. This, coupled with Bruce's already fragile mental state, leads him to make some...well, let's just say questionable moral decisions.
In “Year Three,” Bruce and Dick's roles are almost reversed from what they are in Titans—it's Bruce who goes too far, rather than Dick, who stands opposed to Bruce's major concessions (that, just like in the show, wind up with Tony being killed). Dick is horrified that Bruce could ever close himself off so hard, and does his best to reign him in, all while battling with his own sense of grief and frustration at being forced to very nearly side with the murderer who changed his life forever. Even Alfred gets in on the action, trying to intervene in the Zucco affair before Bruce or Dick can take it too far, but his efforts are, sadly (or thankfully, depending on how you look at it), mostly in vain.
Most, if not all, of the remixed context we see on the show is care of one simple fact: In this universe, Jason is alive. At least, he's alive at the moment, which means Bruce hasn't officially gone completely over the deep end in his grief just yet. Because of this, there had to be a new inciting incident put in place for “Year Three's” domino effect to happen, and a new reason for Dick to leave Gotham, considering the Titans hadn't officially been formed yet, either.
This episode, which is titled simply “Jason Todd,” really serves to kill two birds with one stone (no pun intended). It sets up both Jason and Dick's trajectories while harkening back to some major comics history. Of course, these changes also mean that Dick's the one on the darker path here rather than Bruce, but with any luck, the Titans will be able to help course correct him away from his own grief and rage somewhere down the line. Bruce was able to come back from it, after all. Sure, it wound up taking a while and there were some rough patches along the way, but ultimately, he picked himself up.
And if someone with Bruce’s demons could do that, Dick should be able to, too.
Meg Downey covers movies, TV and comics for DCComics.com, and writes about Batman each month in her column, "Gotham Gazette." She's also a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column. Follow her on Twitter at @rustypolished.