Some recent developments in Red Hood and the Outlaws…like memories of Talia manipulating Jason (and/or hiding the truth from him)..and apparently being groomed to take charge of the League of Assassins, in addition to some asks I’ve been getting about my take on the situation, have brought me to do a little analysis.
Some people love Red Hood Lost Days. Some people hate it.
I fall into the first camp, and it’s one of the first trades I bought. Now, we’re not looking at shipping. We are not looking, right now, and the romantic implications of later issues in the run. This is strictly about the early platonic bond shared between Talia and Jason.
For this, we’re looking at issue #1, and two pages from it, framed in the broader context of Talia, Jason, and the events going on around them.
I even have a thesis statement for this. Get ready - I kind of missing constructing arguments for university papers.
Red Hood Lost Days demonstrates that Talia al Ghul was not, in fact, using Jason Todd for her own ends for her demonstration of compassion, trust, unprecedented honesty, and personal risk. Beyond that, Red Hood Lost Days reveals to us not only that Talia is capable of truly altruistic (if misguided) acts (which she proves in other titles as well), but that she knows - maybe better than anyone - just how much Bruce Wayne loves and cares for his Robins, and their significance in his life.
Now let’s set this up with some context building up to these panels for those of you who don’t know.
- Talia learns that Jason has been killed by the Joker. Her immediate response is to ask about Batman’s emotional state (which Ra’s find ridiculous). Ra’s forbids her to reach out to Bruce.
- Talia keeps constant tabs on Bruce anyway and is distressed by his harsher attitude. She’s seem looking at a news article about Batman and Robin, and crying with her head in her hands.
- Jason Todd came back to life via the reality-warping Superboy Punch, but was either severely brain-damaged or lacking a soul. Whichever interpretation you prefer.
- The League of Assassins finds Jason Todd and he is brought to Ra’s and Talia. Ra’s is interested in finding out how Jason came back to life because the Lazarus Pits probably aren’t going to cut it long-term. Talia, at this point, wants to help Jason get better in hopes of returning him to Bruce and winning his love.
- Jason reacts and fights and eats and does all functions necessary for living, but he doesn’t speak or initiate action. If attacked, he attacks. This goes on for several months without change.
- Talia insists that he’s getting better, and is disagreed with. She slaps Jason, who doesn’t attack her. Talia challenges the doctor with her as to why he doesn’t attack when it’s her.
This brings us to the above scene. Talia is a victim of her own wishful things here. She wants Jason to be better and has convinced herself that he is. At the same time, Jason has not yet responded to any speech in any way up to this point. What does Talia find in Jason here and what is the significance of what she says to him?
- An Opportunity for Honesty - At this point in Talia’s life, remember, she has no friends. She’s never had friends that we know of. Her life has been Ra’s, various Ubus and underlings, and Bruce. But now she has Jason and she’s more bracingly honest with him not only about her own feelings, but her opinions about Bruce that she can’t express to anyone. Ra’s takes her obsession in stride at this point. Ubu and even the Unnamed Minion are just that - minions. Bruce and Talia, though they love eachother, have rarely had any long discussions about their feelings. With Jason, though, Talia has nothing to lose. It’s almost like talking about your frustrations to a pet - you don’t expect them to understand or answer, but it’s good to get it off your chest. She expresses worry for Bruce - that he’s unforgiving and that she sees it (though note she says she knows Jason sees it first, which bonds them in her mind. Already she thinks he understands her. She wants to believe he understands her, because no one else really does.)
- She Encourages Him - Talia tells Jason that he gave Bruce light and hope. This emphasizes that she knows the significance of the Robins in Bruce’s life and that she knows he loves them. And she says, beyond the fact that Jason is his responsibility and his LOSS (not Jason himself) is his failure, that Bruce misses him. This is speculation on Talia’s part based on what she’s seen Bruce doing from after. And she’s telling Jason her findings in hopes, perhaps, that it will jog his memory.
- She Shows Compassion and Physical Affection - Then Jason, for the first time since coming back, responds to something on an emotional level. He doesn’t say anything, or even move - but he cries. Talia was not expecting this. She just revealed some of her most private observations about a man she’s still head-over-heels for (and wanting to win back) to a kid. And this is Talia al Ghul. But instead of reacting badly, she immediately has compassion for him. You can almost hear her tone of voice when she puts her hand on his head to comfort him for everything that he’s lost - his surrogate father, his home, his very life - and it’s a beautiful, pure moment.
And probably one of the most undeniably honest moments from Talia we see in her comic history.
So what happens after and why does this matter?
Well, first: read Lost Days yourself to find out. What important is that this scene, to me, frames the entire rest of the series. Issue one is probably the most important for setting up Talia’s motives.
But she is not using Jason. How do we know, apart from the panels above?
- Ra’s shatters her motivation. He figures out, after Talia’s insistence that Jason is getting better, that she wants to use Jason to win Bruce’s heart back. Ra’s tells her that Bruce won’t love her and basically breaks her heart. And I think Talia knows that he’s right.
- Talia risks her very life to put Jason in the Lazarus Pit to restore him. Ra’s says that if she were anyone else, “death would be a blessing,” after Talia guesses that he would have killed her for it. Ra’s is not on board with Talia AT ALL. Afterwards, he puts her under house arrest - which Talia breaks to locate Jason.
- The letter Talia writes to Jason indicates that she doesn’t know why he’s back, but that she knows he has a purpose. And that the important thing is that she’s done it for love.
- Even though Talia realizes that Jason is angry and warped by the Pit, she still agrees to have him trained. Jason, at this point, is basically asking Talia to help him kill Bruce. THE ONLY WAY IN WHICH TALIA DECEIVES JASON IS IN STALLING HIM SO HE DOESN’T KILL BRUCE (the opposite of her original plan)
- Talia, until the last issue, never indoctrinates Jason. She sets him up with teachers and funding and intel, and Jason does what he does. She’s vexed when he keeps killing them - but agrees with the conclusions that he draws for himself.
- The last issue of Lost Days is when things are problematic. But if my timeline is correct, the death of Ra’s that Talia refers to is the one in Death and the Maidens. Now, it doesn’t quite line of with continuity because this is pre-Hush (and I’m calling editor/writer oversight) However, it’s the only reason for Talia to be so drastically different in personality and attitude - and it fits in the shift in DatM where she suddenly is against Bruce. Why? OH THAT’S RIGHT HER HALF-SISTER TORTURED HER BY KILLING HER OVER AND OVER AGAIN UNTIL SHE HAD A PSYCHOTIC BREAK AND WAS ESSENTIALLY BRAINWASHED. And it’s in this completely broken and irreparably damaged mind that Talia DOES encourage Jason to act - but only that he “crosses the line” and, essentially, takes Gotham from Batman by being better at his brand of murder-inclusive justice than Bruce is in his murder-exclusive brand of justice.
Still, these panels - and all of issue one - are the frame for the entire series. And Talia really, really cares - about Bruce and about Jason.