Even as the ambitious Future State comics show us unforeseen possibilities stretching years to come in the DC timeline, it also reaches back in unexpected ways into the past. Take Future State: Teen Titans, for instance, which at its core resurrects the hottest Teen Titans mystery of 2004: “Who is Red X?”
Originally created by Robin himself as an alternate persona for deep cover work, Season 3 of the Teen Titans animated series introduced a mysterious new enemy who had taken the identity for himself. In Future State: Teen Titans, Dick Grayson faces a similar mystery…one with a solution promised in the Teen Titans Academy series to come, where any of the new class of Teen Titans could be the future Red X.
But the reappearance of Red X here also opens the cold case back up on the unanswered question from the Teen Titans cartoon. In those first animated appearances of the enigmatic Red X, the Teen Titans were never able to discern his true identity. What we do know is that Red X sounds exactly like Robin (as voiced by the same actor, Scott Menville), fights exactly like Robin (as noted by the team), and seems to possess some pre-established familiarity with Robin. Based on these facts, who could Red X possibly be? Fans have speculated on the issue for over sixteen years. We’re not here to provide a conclusive answer ourselves either, but to present some of the more popular and plausible theories for your consideration. Ultimately, only you can solve for X.
By far the most popular theory for Red X’s true identity over the years has been Jason Todd, the missing second Robin who had never appeared in animation until that point. His familiarity with Robin and similar abilities to the Boy Wonder led many to believe that perhaps they had been trained by the same mentor. Notably, only a few months after the mysterious Red X debuted to oppose Robin in 2004, the saga of Batman: Under the Hood unspooled in the comics, which saw Jason return from the dead as Red Hood after he was killed by the Joker (and the fans, via call-in vote) in 1988’s A Death in the Family. Red Hood, Red X? Surely the color coding of these mysterious figures with ties to the Bat-Family was no coincidence. Writers of Teen Titans even acknowledged this popular fan theory in the comedic 2012 short “Red X Unmasked,” where Beast Boy insists despite mounting contrary evidence that he “still think you’re Jason Todd!”
Perhaps the least exciting option, but also considerable as the least complicated. This theory supposes that Red X sounds and fights like Robin because he’s designed to be. Many of the Titans’ enemies throughout the series employ robot henchmen, and even Slade himself was known to substitute himself for an animatronic duplicate from time to time. Is it so far-fetched to believe that someone might have built a robot double of Robin, as well? Maybe not, but it is pretty boring. Like we said, it’s been done.
Teen Titans established a precedent early on of using the same voice actors to portray sibling rivals, such as Hynden Walch’s dueling renditions in the show of Starfire and Blackfire. The mysterious Red X gets a little flirty with Starfire in his appearances, and this theory posits that the skull-faced menace was being set up as a doubles partner for Blackfire herself, in contrast to the Robin/Starfire romance which developed throughout the series. The main problem here, though, is that Robin doesn’t have a brother…unless you count his older brother Mitch Grayson, who only appears in the 1995 film Batman Forever as played by Chris O’Donnell’s stunt double Mitch Gaylord. But hey, it wouldn’t have been the first time that Teen Titans had gone for a deep pull. This is, after all, a series where one-shot ‘60s comic villain “Ding Dong Daddy” appeared MULTIPLE times.
Divergent Timeline Doppelganger
Viewers of The Flash will know never to trust yourself, especially if they come from an alternate timeline or dimension. In the Season 2 Teen Titans episode “How Long is Forever?”, Starfire accidentally travels decades into a dark and surprising future (hmm…sound familiar, Future State readers?), where Robin has evolved into the identity of Nightwing. This theory supposes that this alternate timeline’s Robin may have traveled back in time himself, operating under the cover of Red X to save his own future. It’s a cool theory, but kind of a little too Dragon Ball Z.
One of the long-established, unwritten rules of Superman stories is that when things get too weird to explain, it’s probably safe to blame Mr. Mxyzptlk, the reality altering, all-powerful 5th dimensional imp who loves messing with the Man of Steel. In the Season 2 Teen Titans episode “Fractured,” Robin is given an imp of his own named Nosyarg Kcid (but call him “Larry”). Like Bat-Mite before him, the only thing Larry really wants is to be just like his hero, Robin. So, who better to take up his discarded Red X identity and mimic him in every way? It’s pretty difficult to disprove this one, considering how “magic” can be used to explain any possible hole in the theory. But by that same token, you could use 5th dimensional imps to explain every mystery of the DC Universe. Which, I’ll admit, would honestly make my job a lot easier.
This one is my favorite theory, for a number of reasons. It builds on the themes and mythology of the show without simply copying any of the other beats of the story, and the framework for it is built into the universe itself. In the first two seasons of Teen Titans, the team’s arch-enemy Slade has one consistent motivation: to find an apprentice worthy of continuing his work and inheriting his criminal operations. In Season 1, he sets his eyes on Robin, in his mind the perfect candidate. In fact, in the Season 1 episode “Masks,” we see that Robin even specifically developed the Red X persona as a way to infiltrate Slade’s operations. By the end of Season 1, Slade had even (temporarily) blackmailed Robin into the role, as the only way to guarantee the safety of his teammates. By Season 2, Slade had moved on to Terra as his next choice, which ultimately proved fatal for him.
But what if Terra wasn’t his only choice? What made Slade such a persistent enemy to the Teen Titans, after all, was that he always had a back-up plan. In “X,” we see that the mysterious Red X has a connection to Professor Chang, a mad scientist responsible for bioengineering the honorary Teen Titan Red Star in the Season 5 episode “Snowblind.” During Robin’s brief alliance with Slade, could he have procured a DNA sample with the intention of crafting a more obedient, lab-grown replacement?
By the time we meet the new Red X in Season 3, Slade is already dead. If indeed he was a clone created by Slade, then he awoke to a world in which his purpose was rendered irrelevant before he was born. And so, this perfect clone of Robin was unleashed on a world without direction, forced to find a path and identity of his own. Time and again, Red X indicates to Robin that he’s neither hero nor villain and plays by rules of his own. If no one was ever there to give you them, wouldn’t you?
But hey, that’s just my take. The most likely theory in all honesty is the last one coming up, but fair warning, you may not like it...
Here’s the truth: if we were supposed to know who Red X was, then the show would have told us. It’s well-known lore among fans of the show that Teen Titans was originally planned to run for four seasons—hence the apocalyptic final story arc featuring Raven and Trigon at Season 4’s conclusion, “The End”—but the show’s unexpected popularity allowed renewal for a fifth season, which tellingly launched the story in an entirely new (and quite good) direction. With this Red X’s introduction in Season 3, if there ever was an identity reveal planned for the character, then we would have seen it before the planned end of the story in Season 4. The mystery of Red X is what has kept fans talking about him for all these years, and choosing to conceal his identity for all time, if one was ever written for him at all, was one of the smartest things the show’s writers ever did.
But while the Red X of the Teen Titans animated series may remain forever a mystery, the question of Red X in the DC comic book universe is wide open. Look to Future State: Teen Titans for clues, and follow the mystery starting this March in Teen Titans Academy! (Spoiler alert: it’s probably not Jason Todd.)
Future State: Teen Titans #2 by Tim Sheridan, Rafa Sandoval, Julio Ferreira and Alejandro Sanchez is in stores and available digitally tomorrow. The Teen Titans animated series can be streamed in full on HBO Max.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCItyQuestion.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.