Titans fans, rejoice! The Titans United limited series begins this month. All your favorite members of the team are here, representing every era. We’re talking Nightwing, Donna Troy, Cyborg, Raven, Beast Boy, Starfire, Superboy, Hawk and Dove, Red Hood—
Wait, Red Hood?
Since when was Jason Todd a member of the team? Sure, Jason has evolved into a central figure on HBO Max’s Titans. But for comics readers, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake and Damian Wayne are usually the Robins who come to mind when you think of the Teen Titans. But believe it or not, there was in fact a brief time that Jason could be counted as a Titan himself. In fact, Jason Todd owes his very existence to the Teen Titans. Without that team, a second Robin wouldn’t exist at all.
Born of Titans
In 1980, Marv Wolfman and George Pérez drafted the original Robin, Dick Grayson, as the front man for their vision of the New Teen Titans. But as Robin grew from outside of the Shadow of the Bat into a great hero and team leader in his own right, Grayson’s continued reliance on the “Robin” sidekick identity began to feel stifling to the Teen Titans creative team. Wasn’t it time for Dick to craft an identity of his own?
Wolfman and Pérez cooked up the idea of Nightwing together, and DC’s editorial department approved—except, the Robin identity was too iconic to leave behind. The solution came from editor Len Wein, who had writer Gerry Conway more or less recreate Dick’s circus orphan origin for a second Robin, a redheaded acrobat named Jason Todd. That way, Jason would work as a stand-in for Dick in Batman and Detective Comics, while the original Robin, now Nightwing, could grow with the New Teen Titans.
After Crisis on Infinite Earths, writer Max Allan Collins reworked Jason’s origin to stand him out a little more from his predecessor, reworking him from another lost acrobat into a street urchin from the heart of Gotham, fighting for survival in the failed infrastructure of the city that Batman had sworn to protect. This new vision of Robin was no wandering performer, but a representative of the Dark Knight’s mission.
Another part of the fallout from Crisis on Infinite Earths was a temporary disbanding of the New Teen Titans, until Donna Troy, who had stood by Nightwing’s side in each incarnation of the team to date, was called upon by government agent King Faraday to reassemble the Titans to take on missions across international waters. In 1986’s The New Teen Titans #19, Donna pulls some familiar faces from the team’s original Silver Age lineup. They included Roy Harper, Aqualad, Wally West, Hawk and one new addition: Jason Todd, the new Robin, filling in for Dick as his predecessor processed his heartbreak over a split-up with Starfire and embarked on a solo mission to save Raven from the Church of Blood.
But all is not well on this team. Many of Donna’s Titans have been through harrowing experiences, with Wally, Hank and Garth all having lost loved ones during Crisis and Jason Todd sporting his new, darker backstory. As a result of these changes, Donna has a big problem to face. It seems that one of her team members is ready to fly off the handle at a moment's notice. A gun-wielding, trigger-happy vigilante who will gladly use lethal force if Donna can't stop him…
It’s Hawk. I’m talking about Hawk. Jason is mostly just adorable in this storyline. In stark contrast to a baggage-heavy team which has been through the wringer, Jason Todd provides levity and optimism to this incarnation of the team, wide-eyed with wonder at the opportunity to work alongside some of the world’s greatest bona fide superheroes.
Donna Troy’s team is mostly successful on their diplomatic mission between the United States and the Soviet Union, give or take a run-in with the assassin Cheshire. And a diplomatic incident. And the fact that the entire thing was orchestrated by the Church of Blood to discredit the Titans. Okay, maybe it's not particularly successful after all, events which did not bode well for Nightwing’s own mission, as he had now been captured by the very forces which had taken Raven.
But Donna's Titans would get another chance to save the day. In The New Teen Titans #27, Donna calls her Titans together to step in and save both their friends from the Church of Blood. For his part, Jason is a bit pricklier this time around, at least at first. Having been chided by his new teammates in their previous outing for his starstruck naivete, Jason privately felt the need to prove he could hang with the bad boys. But it’s actually Jason’s empathy which helps save the team in the end, as he brings Raven’s mother Arella to break the Church of Blood’s brainwashing on Raven. (At this point, breaking the effects of mind control was becoming something of a specialty for Jason, as he helped Superman out of a similar jam in “For the Man Who Has Everything.”)
Having come through for the team in the end, Jason becomes closer with the Titans as well as his often-estranged brother Dick, and is invited to join them again—an offer he says he’ll take them up on, once he gets a little bit more experience.
Sadly, it would be a very long time before Jason would get that chance. Shortly after Jason’s brief tenure with the Teen Titans, he would fall victim to the Joker while seeking his own mother in Batman: A Death in the Family. And even once he returned as Red Hood, the traumatized Jason was in no condition to fight alongside Nightwing and his colorful teammates.
But over the past few years, three decades after first joining the team, it seems as if Jason Todd has turned a corner in his relationship with Batman and his family, and the superhero community at large. For the past three seasons, we’ve seen Curran Walters’ powerful take on the character energize HBO Max’s Titans, transforming it into one of the most gripping superhero shows on TV today. In Titans, Jason Todd has served as both a member of the team and, this season as Red Hood, one of their most formidable adversaries. And only time will tell which side he’ll ultimately settle on.
Meanwhile, with this week’s Titans United #1, Jason returns to the team on the comic page as well. Will he find he belongs on the Titans? Or has he just become another one of the fractious personalities he first encountered with Donna Troy? We’ll just have to read on and find out, but when it comes to the Teen Titans, we know there’s always a place for personal drama. And by now, Jason Todd comes with baggage to beat the lot.
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Titans United #1 by Cavan Scott, Jose Luis, Jonas Trindade and Rex Lokus is now available in print and as a digital comic book.
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.