Red Helmet

Batman: Under the Red Hood, written by Judd Winick, directed by Brandon Vietti, starring the voices of Bruce Greenwood (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Jensen Ackles (Red Hood), Neil Patrick Harris (Nightwing), and John DiMaggio (the Joker) (2010): There have been four ‘in-continuity’ Robins in Batman history, with Jason Todd being the second, following Dick Grayson after Grayson graduated to college and became the costumed hero Nightwing.

Todd’s history was bizarrely twisted. DC’s post-Crisis revamp of continuity in the mid-1980’s turned Todd from a circus kid like Grayson before him to a surly street punk. Looking back, it seems obvious that Todd’s ultimate fate was years in the making post-Crisis, thanks in part to a bit in Frank Miller’s ostensibly out-of-continuity The Dark Knight Returns in which Todd’s death is one of the defining moments of an aging Batman’s retirement from crime-fighting.

And so, in the late 1980’s, DC held a phone poll to decide whether or not Jason Todd would be killed by the Joker. By a vaguely suspicious margin of 72 votes, death won, and Todd got bludgeoned and exploded to death in A Death in the Family, a horrifyingly bad story arc in which Iran names the Joker as their ambassador to the U.N. because…well, because it’s a really stupid storyline.

Either that or we were about to find out that the Joker had been a Muslim terrorist all those years.

So the Joker, in his new role as U.N. ambassador, brings a nuclear missile to the United Nations and threatens to blow it up. Yes, the Ayatollah Khomeni was even loopier in the DC universe than in ours. A couple of years later a new, more loveable Robin — Tim Drake — debuted, and Jason Todd seemed to be consigned to the dustbin of Bat-history.

Cue the mid-oughts. Todd returns. And from that return comes this animated movie, well-made but depressingly similar to the depressing, doom-haunted Batman comics of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The animation, voice-work and writing are all solid, and writer Judd Winick wisely drops the whole Iranian connection for a slightly more workable plot involving super-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul’s bone-headed decision to hire the Joker to distract Batman. The overall effect of this dark, violent movie, though, is pure Debbie Downer.

The Red Hood also offers one of the more curious naming choices in comic-book history — in this new incarnation, as in his original 1950’s first appearance, he doesn’t actually wear a hood. It’s a red helmet. I guess Red Helmet sounded too goofy even in the 1950’s, though no goofier, ultimately, than Green Lantern. Or Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man. And would someone just kill the Joker already? Lightly recommended, and not for kids.

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