If we are to believe the trolling from Beast Boy and Robin’s banter last week, we are not going to be seeing Batman this year on Titans. It’s not going to happen for a number of reasons, with the most important being these characters are trying to stand on their own and don’t need to be overshadowed by one of DC’s big three. With that being said though, just because Batman won’t appear physically it doesn’t mean that his presence has to be absent. In fact, “Jason Todd” is an episode that uses the shadow of Batman as the foundation for character exploration. It’s hard to tell a Dick Grayson story without the inclusion of Batman, when push comes to shove, Batman/Bruce Wayne is one of the most important figures in Grayson’s life. Whether that’s a positive or negative is yet to be seen, but “Jason Todd” gave us a solid look underneath the rough exterior of Dick Grayson as we’re starting to understand him a bit more.
If you were to sum up the theme of Titans thus far it would be all about identity. Each one of these characters is searching for themselves and a place to belong. With Starfire, it’s literally about finding who she is. With Raven, it’s finding out why she is the way she is. With Beast Boy, it’s about finding out who he can be when trying to reach his full potential. When it comes to Dick Grayson it’s a bit different. He’s the only character who has come into the show with an identity already. He is/was Robin. Batman’s number two. Last week when Robin swoops in to take out the Nuclear Family, Beast Boy geeks out. Everyone knows who Robin is, with the exception of Robin himself. For so long, Dick believed that being Batman’s sidekick defined who he was and how he was supposed to be, and it worked for a while. With Batman though, there’s a darkness. This tough exterior that makes it hard to separate the man from the symbol. Some of this is intentional while other aspects have to deal with Bruce Wayne’s own demons, and what Dick Grayson was able to recognize was that Batman’s demons were becoming his own. And Dick was mindful enough to understand that he did not want that life.
The arrival of Jason Todd is the fork in the road that forces Dick Grayson to choose. Does he want to be Robin or does he want to move out of the shadow of Batman? This is the question that drove him to Chicago, the question he’s having a tough time answering. For a man who wants to put Robin behind him, he sure does dress up like him a lot. Granted, some of that is reluctant but other times it’s a man falling back on what he knows best. Seeing Jason Todd triggers a great deal of conflict in Dick. For starters, he’s been replaced. There’s a certain degree of hurt that resonates with that maneuvering. Todd has been Robin for a year which means he was recruited almost immediately after Grayson took off. There is a father/son dynamic between Bruce and Dick, it runs as deep as the love/hate relationship, but hearing that he was replaced so swiftly demoralizes Dick. It’s an open-handed slap to the face that screams Bruce never cared about him. Ever.
Todd, on the other hand, sees it differently. Throughout the conversations, we gather that Batman talks quite a bit about Dick Grayson, to the point where Jason Todd is kind of enamored by the myth. This is the Dick Grayson. The Robin of all Robins. For Jason Todd it’s like meeting a rock star, but underneath all that bravado is a boy whose jealous and insecure that he’ll never live up to the high bar set by Dick Grayson. Meanwhile, Grayson is jealous of Todd’s existence. He’s driven the Batmobile, he has an updated suit, he’s been programmed into all the Bat-Computers, and he’s buying in to everything Batman is selling him. Even the tracker chip in his arm, something that Grayson wasn’t given a choice about. The dynamic between Brenton Thwaites and Curran Walters drives this episode as the two are perfectly paired, and I would instantly sign up for a Robin and Robin spinoff show. The two play off each other effortlessly as their times as Robin jumps off the screen.
As the episode unfolds we see the two Robins take a shape of their own. Dick becomes frustrated with Todd because he’s not seeing the big picture. He’s not seeing the fact that he’s just another one of Batman’s tools. Something that easily could be attached to the utility belt. Todd on the other hand doesn’t care. He’s Robin! He gets to punch badguys in the face and work with Batman. It certainly seems that Todd understands, if not appreciates, the fact that he’s there to distract the badguys so Batman can swoop in and take them out. He’s a distraction, and Todd gets frustrated with the fact that Grayson is so soft. That he refuses to see how important the gig of Robin is. Once this gets established we see the resentment that both of them hold.
Dick spends the majority of the episode chasing down the shadows of his past. Coming to terms with his actions that drove him to leave Batman, and they seem to be centered around the murder of his parents. Dick, when unsatisfied that the law isn’t doing it’s part, tracks down Tony Zucco’s police transport, beats him, and then refuses to save him when the mob shows up to kill Zucco. It’s that Batman Begins moment but the part that bothers Grayson is that he doesn’t feel guilty about it. That it felt right, and that’s when he understands that whatever Batman is teaching him is wrong. That he needs to seperate himself from the situation and find himself. Jason Todd’s arrival helps advance that search. By episode’s end, Grayson finally seems at peace with letting go of being Robin and embracing his future. A future with Raven, Starfire, and Beast Boy as well as the looming Nightwing mantel.
Jason Todd though is a bit more troubled. Being out of the eyeshot of the Bat frees him to go a bit rogue. Todd’s systematic and vicious takedown of the police force highlights the fact that this a troubled youth who isn’t understanding what Batman is teaching him. To a degree Grayson does, he sees the lesson, but Jason Todd just thinks it’s cool. That it makes him a badass and unstoppable. Curran Walters does an excellent job fleshing out how juvenial and lost Jason Todd is. Walters gives us a Todd that we like but at arms length. Sure, Jason Todd could be everything Dick Grayson isn’t, but that’s not what Batman wants. He wants Dick Grayson and instead he has Jason Todd. A young man who is arrogant, violent, and may not understand the gig as well as he thinks. I think part of the reason why Batman sends Todd out to Chicago is so he learns a thing or two from the best Robin. Instead, Todd ignores any oppurtunity to grow.
That’s what seperates Todd from Grayson. Grayson understood that being Robin means being Batman’s tool and he left to find his own identity. Todd relishes in the fact, and when left alone, uses what he’s taught in ways Batman clearly wouldn’t condone. Each Robin has a different identity and those identies are being shaped by Batman. The bigger question becomes who will take the life lessons they’re learning and apply them to not only better themselves but the world they live in. My money is on Dick Grayson. While he certainly still has some demons to work through, “Jason Todd” was a the first very large step in Dick Grayson finding himself.
There you have it Geeklings, what did you think of this week’s Titans? Were you happy to see the episode focus so much on the two Robins? What did you think of the flashbacks to Dick’s past? Which Robin is right? Sound off in the comments below. If you’d like to talk more Titans with yours truly you can find me on the Twitter @iamgeek32. I’ll see everyone back here next week with another episode review!