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sharpest_rose in ship_manifesto

Two of a kind: Bruce Wayne / Jason Todd (DC Comics)

Title: Two of a kind
Author: Mary
Pairing: Bruce Wayne/Jason Todd
Fandom: DC comics
Spoilers: To recent issues of the Batman and Detective Comics titles.




"I think Bruce saw something of himself in the lad," Alfred explained. "They were both orphans and, like young Bruce, Jason was trying to make the best of a painful circumstance."
- from the Knightfall novelisation by Dennis O'Neil

Even in the end... Jason knew how much I loved him.
- Batman in Batman #618, written by Jeph Loeb


There are a few 'ships which are well known enough that non-fandom people will understand what you're talking about: Mulder and Scully, for instance, or Buffy and Angel. Though the relationship isn't the focus of each and every storyline, it's a pervading presence which colours how we read the text as a whole. The pairings are iconic.

And then there's the kind of iconic couple who earn snickers behind hands and the occasional 'look at this "slash" business online' article in a magazine or newspaper. Like the two above, these pairings don't need their fandom listed alongside their names; everyone knows what you're talking about if you say that Sam and Frodo were quite friendly, nudge nudge wink wink.

The 'ship I'm talking about today is as iconic as any couple from modern media can be and yet simultaneously fairly obscure. My otp du jour is Batman/Robin or, more specifically, Bruce Wayne/Jason Todd.

Hang on a minute, you ask, isn't Robin's other name Dick Grayson? Yes, Dick was the Boy Wonder. He's now the adult crime-fighter Nightwing. Jason Todd was the second character to put on Robin's bright cape and mask; there have been several others since.

There are two canons for Bruce and Jason, due to the infamous mid-1980s comics event 'Crisis on Infinite Earths'. During this mini-series, the history of the DC universe was re-written and many characters re-imagined. So we end up with pre-crisis Bruce and pre-crisis Jason, and post-crisis Bruce and post-crisis Jason. Two pairings for the price of one.

Bruce's personality remained fairly consistent between the pre- and post- eras... by which I really mean it remained just as inconsistent as it always had been. Every writer who's penned a Batcomic has their own version of the Dark Knight, and so there's a large amount of room to move in characterisation. Post-crisis, the plots in the comics became grittier and darker, and so the character followed suit, but the essential story of Bruce Wayne remained the same - witness to his parents' murder as a child, very wealthy, driven by a vow to fight crime.

The two Jason Todds are so different that it's possible to write the two characters into the same story without hitting any overlap, but despite this I continue to champion the idea that they're the same boy. Think of any film or television show you've seen where a character ends up in an alternate universe - there'll be at least one scene where they meet someone they knew back in their own world, and that person will be changed utterly.

Pre-crisis, Jason Todd is a slim, delicate-featured adolescent with red-blonde hair and blue eyes, prone to snooping, sulky, fiercely loving, and brave to the core. He's moody, but when he's cheerful he lights up a room with his enthusiasm for life. When he flirts, it's a way of playing with the other person, far more about breaking the ice for a friendship than anything else. He says he's more Robin than he is Jason. He adores Bruce.

I could pull out example after example of why I believe in the true and pure love of pre-crisis Jason and Bruce (Jason calls their stake-outs dates; reporter Vicki Vale says Batman and Robin are 'an item again', and then gets furious at Bruce for constantly breaking appointments with her to spend time with Jay; Jason dyes his hair black so he'll look like Robin should; Bruce's worst fear is revealed to be a fear of failing Jason), but in the end it boils down to this: they love each other very much, and they are very much alike. The first time Jason jumps into a fight to help Batman, Bruce is reminded of himself as a boy. In the panel reproduced to the left, Jason reaffirms this connection between them. They share a home, a dedication to a cause, and a tendency towards obstinacy.

During the Crisis itself (written by Marv Wolfman), Bruce and Jason don't get a whole lot of panel time. The twelve-part series has a cast of pretty much the entire DC universe, so there are only a couple of scenes with Jason in them. One of them is this panel, as the heroes prepare to travel across realities in a fight to save the universe. Jason's moments of self-doubt have often, in the past, been waylaid by Bruce's encouragement for Jay to simply do the best he can, to be who he is. By the time the dust of the Crisis settles, the characters will well and truly be in another world, and the post-crisis Gotham is a dark and dreadful place. Even doing one's best is sometimes not enough.

***


Post-crisis Jason Todd is a street kid, whose father has dropped out of the picture (Jason believes him to be in jail, he's actually been murdered by Two-Face) and whose mother has recently died of a drug overdose after a long period of illness. Dark haired and, at the outset, skinny (he becomes sturdy with muscle later on, a little stockier than his pre-crisis incarnation), he lives in a condemned building, smokes, swears, and steals tires to survive. Once more of the character is revealed in later issues, it becomes apparent that he's sulky, fierce, witty, reckless, angry, cocky, loyal, and brave. To say he's moody is an understatement, but his elusive smile is just as bright as it ever was pre-crisis. He'll flirt with Batgirl and then shoot a man through the hand with a spear gun within the space of a half-hour.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Bruce meets this Jason for the first time when Jason steals the Batmobile's tires. Batman catches him in the act, and chases him back to his squat. The panel on the right is taken from their first conversation. Note the stances - even in the brave new world, Bruce and Jason are still a matched pair.

In the same year as the post-crisis continuity began, 1986, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns hit the shelves. Set years into Batman's future, TDKR painted a world in which Jason had been killed in the line of duty. Though now considered outside the continuity of Batman's universe, TDKR was originally seen as where the characters of then-current storylines were heading.

So DC and its readers knew that Jason was headed for a sticky end, and yet they still had to find stories to tell about the character. One of my own favourite issues is the first post-crisis Batman story told, from Detective Comics #574 (written by Mike W. Barr). Published a month earlier than the tire-stealing introduction of Jason, it takes place some time later, once Jason has become Robin. The cover (here) tells us what we already know: Robin is doomed.

Leslie Thompkins (a tough, shrewd, staunchly pacifistic doctor who helped raise Bruce after his parents' deaths) is visited late in the night by Batman, who cradles the fallen Jason in his arms and pleads simply "help him". Jason has been shot several times, and as Leslie and Bruce wait to see if he'll pull through they begin to discuss Batman's history. When Leslie expresses her anger that Bruce would take on another sidekick, Bruce answers "You think I do this for me? I did it for him -- for the boy I saved from a life of crime -- for the boy who saved himself. I didn't choose Jason for my work. He was chosen by it... As I was chosen." On the next page, Leslie remarks "You know, he reminds me of you," and the art aligns the two characters once again (seen here).

Later in the night, she recalls an incident when Bruce was a child at school and received a week's suspension for fighting. In a recent issue of Detective Comics, written by Andersen Gabrych (I'll make reference to this writer again later), Bruce recalls that Jason loved "getting into fights".

I'm going to recount the final scene from the issue in full:

(Ellipses in original. Comic book text is usually capitalised, but to do so here would be difficult to read. Jason's dialogue in the original is all in lower-case letters, to indicate that his voice is faint.)


Leslie: But what about you? What about Bruce Wayne?

Batman: I don't know, Leslie. I don't know if he even exists anymore... or if he's anything but another disguise.

Leslie: Then think of Jason -- think of what you're doing to him.

Batman: Do you think I don't? I remember what I was like. I suppose I was lonely... I don't want Jason to grow up as I did... I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to fight my war until my youth was gone... I wanted to give Jason an outlet for his rage. Wanted him to expunge his anger, and get on with his life... and instead, I may have killed him. I always thought this was my probable end... but not for him. Maybe you're right, Leslie. Maybe there's no more need for me...

Leslie: Bruce, wait. I don't deny that I pray for the day when no one will die from crime or injustice... when you and your kind are unnecessary... but until then, there is a need for you -- and I'm glad you're here to fill it.

Jason stirs on the bed and opens his eyes.

Jason: b-bruce..?

Bruce moves quickly to Jason's side, pushing the cowl of the Batman costume off his face and petting Jason's hair.

Bruce: Jason? Jay, lad, I'm sorry. I won't force you to do this any --

Jason: are you kiddin', bruce? we've got work to do.


The final image is Batman looking stern, a brightly smiling Robin beside him against the glow of morning's first light, with an excerpt from Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass in a panel.

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars...
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery.


It's a striking moment. The Dark Knight Returns had very recently shown that Jason's fate was an extremely grim one, and so readers had every reason to expect that the injuries would prove fatal. But he pulls through, and even in the face of death can imagine no other life but one alongside Bruce. Readers know that the happiness won't last forever, but the pair have it for now.

***


I could go on and on along this line, but I'll restrict myself to one final example. Through 2004, Andersen Gabrych wrote eleven issues of Detective Comics, from #790 to #800. During this arc, despite never showing up in even a single panel, Jason loomed large over the storylines. The most interesting instance of this, for the purposes of this essay, is a flashback to Bruce's past which is almost an exact match for the circumstances of Jason's death, the major difference being that in this case the young man in question - Bruce - survives his ordeal.

In recent years in the Bat-related comics, saying a character is 'like Jason' (usually used to mean reckless, flippant, overconfident, and careless) is almost always synonymous with declaring that they're unsuitable for crime-fighting. Considering this, Gabrych's choice to place a series of events so like Jason's death into Bruce's younger years is quite bold. Being "like Jason", the audience can now see, is not actually very far from being "like Bruce", except that Bruce had a chance to learn from his mistakes.

***


All right, so they're "Two of a kind" (this was the title of the first Batman post-crisis story featuring Jason as Robin - #410, by Max Allan Collins). This doesn't automatically make them a saucy couple to 'ship. Why do I do so?

What makes Bruce/Jason a source of fascination for me is that their similarities are what give them their tension. They're two alphas; repelling magnetic charges... choose whatever metaphor you like. They disagree, they fight, Bruce holds Jason back, Jason disobeys Bruce. There are two levels of relationships going on: Robin/Batman, an established anima/animus bright/dark pair long before Jason took up the role, and Jason/Bruce, who never achieve that balance. Jason is simultaneously Jason and Robin, and Bruce is rarely sure of where exactly Batman ends and Bruce Wayne begins.

Issues of Batman in the last year have shown that Batman's greatest fear is no longer failing Jason (as it continued to be for some time after Jason's death), but rather of Jason's return as a foe. While hallucinating under the influence of a fear toxin (in Batman #629, by Judd Winick), Bruce imagines that a now-adult Jason has been resurrected.


Batman: You shouldn't have come back!! Who did this to you?! It's wrong, Jason!! It's wrong!!

Jason: Does it matter who? The why is much more important than the who.

Batman: Then why?! Why would you come back?! It's over! I had to live with it!! You're dead!!

Jason: It's because of you that I'm here. And I'm not the only one. All of them. If you weren't here, all these monsters would go away. You know it's true. These freaks, these deviants, these killers. They slap on costumes and face paint and do wrong. Just so you can chase them. And that's why I'm back. I wanted to help you, Bruce. You need someone better to chase.

Batman: Noooo!

Jason: No matter what I do, no matter how many I murder -- and there'll be a lot of them -- you'll never be able to stop me. You love me too much. That's so much worse than the rest of them, now isn't it?


Now, it's hardly a new notion to suggest that Batman has trust issues and finds it difficult to let people in close to him. In a Devin Grayson-penned issue of Gotham Knights (#24), Bruce himself comments that Batman has a phobia that "admitting that you care about someone is the same as signing their death sentence," - a remark illustrated with a series of panels featuring Jason's empty Robin costume, on display in the Batcave as a memorial.

He's scared he killed Jason by loving him, he's scared that love has made him vulnerable to the possibility of betrayal - even where the loved one in question is no longer living. If you like huge walloping slabs of pain served with your otp, Bruce/Jason is the 'ship for you.

Which isn't to say there's no joy or light to be found here. Pre-Crisis Bruce and Jason shared many moments of affection and happiness. Post-Crisis, these are a little more sparse on the ground, but they certainly exist. In particular, James Robinson's A Great Day For Everyone (an eight-page story appearing in Legends of the Dark Knight #100) juxtaposes Jason's first and last days as Robin in order to create a delicate, bittersweet, charming story of laughter, hope, togetherness, and loss. In various other issues, the pair go to baseball games and cocktail parties.

***


In Underworld Unleashed (a DC mini-series written by Mark Waid), heroes are tempted by a villain - Neron - who offers to exchange the heroes' souls for whatever it is their hearts desire the most:


Neron: What would you give... what would you truly give... to have alive again the boy you let die? To erase the greatest mistake you ever made?

Narration box: The voice goes on... but fast becomes a dull drone in Batman's ears. Drowned out... by the sound of shuffling footsteps.

Jason: Bruce...?

Neron forces Batman down onto one knee.

Neron: You want this. You need this. You can have him back... with one word. Say "Yes."

Batman glares up at Neron, silent for a beat.

Batman: No.

Neron: Pity.

Narration box: The footsteps begin again.

Batman runs after Jason.

Batman: Jason... Jason, wait...

Narration box: But they don't stop. They shuffle back into the darkness...


***


There are a dozen different ways I could argue for this pairing, reasons I could give as to why I'm so fond. Their story reads like the best sort of Victorian melodrama: beautiful, furious urchin is taken in by wealthy, lonely bachelor, they are a volatile pair, and everything ends in heartbreak and tragedy. Jason is one of the very, very few comic book characters who has not bounced back from death, and the empty Robin suit in its case is ever-present in the Batcave.

Like so much in Batman mythology, the story of Bruce and Jason is a story of love leading to sorrow, pain leading to fury, and the small, bright glimmers which can shine in the darkest of times.

***



Some Bruce/Jason centric stories I recommend, in alphabetical order:

As you and I go down by Te

In Each of the Places We Meet by Randomalia.

The 'In the Shadows' series: The lie I was born to, Miss and Where hunger finds us by Te.

Gladly Beyond by Randomalia.

Make Crosses From Your Lovers and its sequel, The Imitation Zone by Propaganda and Derry respectively.

Schism by Te.

So pure, so rare by Te.

Suspension by Mary.

The Boy In The Red And Green Suit by Sarah T.

These moments, immortal by Te.


I run the one-nine-hundred archive, which is a collection of Jason Todd stories. There are several pieces archived there (such as Te's the Drowners and Flesh and blood like anyone) which include Bruce/Jason but which I haven't listed here as the pairing is an element of rather than the focus of the story. I'm inclined to just do a blanket rec of the entire archive, including the gen and non-slash stories, because they all illustrate many of the different facets of these characters.

If you know of something which I isn't archived there and should be, please let me know. I'm always on the lookout for more quality writing to hoard.

***


I've included author and issue information for all the comics I've referenced throughout this manifesto, and they should be considered (to varying degrees) to be recs also. If people are interested in seeing more of a particular era or title, let me know and I'll do my best to help you out.

Trade-paperback-wise, I recommend War Drums (the Andersen Gabrych-penned sections of it, at any rate). The two-book Hush collection, by Jeph Loeb, also gets thumbs up.

I don't want to recommend A Death In The Family (by Jim Starlin), as I hate it and it is stupid and I hate it, but the importance of Gabrych and Loeb's writing to the character of Jason is difficult to appreciate without a knowledge of how he was dealt with by the writers and editors of the late-eighties era.

Jason appears in the trade paperback The Cult - also by Jim Starlin - but again I don't know if I'd strictly call my feelings on that title a recommendation. Consider it a making-awareness-of.

As The Crow Flies, by Judd Winick, collects the arc which includes Bruce's nightmare of a Jason who is a foe.

Batman in the Eighties, with stories by various writers, is a bit of a mish-mash. Pre-crisis Bruce and Jason were quite adorably campy, but only the barest hints of that sweet goofy tone make it into this collection.

Having a look at Batman : Year One, by Frank Miller, is suggested if you haven't read a Bat-title before. Comics canon and continuity are lumbering, horrible beasts, and so reading about the beginning of a character's story is probably the best way start.

***



Bruce: I thought I could take the pain in Jason's heart and replace it with something better.


- Gotham Knights #45 (writer: Scott Beatty)

Comments

*sniffle* Batman *needs* his dead gay Robin!

Excellent essay, Mary. I loved all the scenes you gave us, and just... yeah. Meeble. Wah.
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
YES GOD YES. PLEASE YES.

PLEEEEASE.

Um. Yeah. Thing.

Only if this 'Thing' you speak of wears pixie shoes.
I bought panties today, dude. I would've gotten green, but they weren't available. Red, though...

*owns her painfully sad obsession*
I've mentioned before that my house is across the street from a costume shop, haven't I? And that one night my housemates came home, full of glee, and shouted "THEY HAVE ROBIN!"?

I too, possibly own red panties. And possibly red tights.
*attaches our brains together*

(Anonymous)

SNAPES DIES SO THAT HARRY CAN KILL VOLDEMORT AND LIVE!
Brilliant essay! I had no idea how you would manage to bring it all together, but it works. I especially liked the parallels between them, and how that lends extra significance to the way Bruce responded to Jason, and also Jason's death. Particularly where Bruce says he "Wanted him to expunge his anger, and get on with his life...", which is something I'm guessing Bruce himself isn't ever able to do.

I continue to champion the idea that they're the same boy
I think (while being a total newbie) that it's not too much of a stretch in terms of characterisation, given that things are darker post-Crisis. I mean, I could imagine things going to hell for Jason and he changes accordingly. It's the character histories that would trip me up.

It comes across as a really strong dynamic. They're just so sad and delicious. I want more of them! And stake-out 'dates'?? Somuchlove.
I'll totally have to post that panel again. Jason's writing in his diary about their "date at the museum" and I fell over and died. And the ones where Jason's talking about how even though Bruce and Jason are apart, Batman and Robin "still have the nights" and Bruce replies "It's not enough". And, okay, I'll stop before I drown in my own squee. I'll post the images again sometime soon.

The main problem with aligning the two Jasons is that, well, post-crisis Jason is a character one can imagine might possibly end up with a girlfriend. Pre-crisis Jason would be more likely to call a hypothetical partner 'girlfriend', but that's not quite the same thing.

And thanks, I'm glad you liked the essay. :)
Jason's writing in his diary about their "date at the museum" and I fell over and died. And the ones where Jason's talking about how even though Bruce and Jason are apart, Batman and Robin "still have the nights" and Bruce replies "It's not enough".

Still have the nights, bwah! The Love. I can't resist it. They make me smiley.

Yay scans! And thanks for the essay.
Wow. :) Being a Batman fan myself (though not nessecarily a Bat-slasher persay) I found this very compelling. Poor Jason. :( I sorta had a feeling the kid had it coming, but I never wanted to believe it right up until it happened.
I sorta had a feeling the kid had it coming, but I never wanted to believe it right up until it happened.

It's a combination of yeah, he did have it coming, because Starlin was setting him up for the fall, and the retrospective look at a canon where all the characters are always in danger - there's death portents even for the ones who survive.
Ah, dear. I believe Jason is the only character I can stand Bruce being slashed with - and you certainly reminded me why. They're just terrible and wonderful and heartbreaking and mmmph. And you captured that beautifully.
Thank you. That's lovely to hear - I do try :D.

I can believe Bruce slashed with other characters, but I have trouble believing in a Bruce who didn't at least obsess about Jason from afar.
:D I'm glad you liked the essay. Thanks!
Fantastic! For what is obviously a very complex fandom, you've written a clear and compelling essay. Not only is it well illustrated in the literal sense, but it's also well written and creates a very vivid picture of what this fandom might involve. Not too mention very informative.

Great stuff!
Thank you very much! It's great to hear that it turned out so well, because I was worried it would be confusing.
What a fantastic essay!

Now do one for Steph.
At the moment my Steph meta would end up garnished with Jason-flavour, and that wouldn't be fair to her. Someone else should. :D

Better late than never...?

I love this. Jason/Bruce is my OTP (and you and Te are to blame), and this essay touches on every reason I have for loving them so much. Good job!

Re: Better late than never...?

Thankyou! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

*cheerfully takes portion of the blame*
Jason is one of the very, very few comic book characters who has not bounced back from death, and the empty Robin suit in its case is ever-present in the Batcave.

In light of everything that's happened with Red Hood...

*wants Judd Winick to go back to writing Jason, damnit!*

Apart from that, the pictures aren't showing up. But the essay was excellent. I play Jason(redbutnotrobin) over at hogwart_hocus so I always appreciate more info about him and your essay was perfect for giving me some sort of feel for how he and Bruce interacted overall. XD

Thank you so much for writing it!

(Anonymous)

SNAPES DIES SO THAT HARRY CAN KILL VOLDEMORT AND LIVE!
...LMAOWTF?
So I've only recently become invested in Jason Todd and while I always had a love of comics there's so much history around them it's near impossible for me to keep up. Also I'm cheap so I don't own any

I recently bought Batman: Under the Red Hood and because of that movie became in a manner of speaking kinda obbessed with all things Jason and his relationship with Bruce. Especially the line Jason says to Bruce in the final scenes of the movie 'doing it because he took me away from you' just sent my little slashers heart a pounding. ;P

This essay gave me more background information on the characters (namely Jason) and their relationship. It was a great read I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Jason is the only Robin I can see with Batman without squeek factor. They're a fascinating pairing.
Big Jason Todd fan here so I really was pleased to find a ship_manifesto essay describing their rather turbulent, complicated, heartrending relationship. And written so well too. :)

To anyone attempting to follow any of the links listed, unfortunately, none of them work. The website the stories appear on no longer seems to exist.
blue by darkhavens

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