Batman‘s number one rule is ‘no killing’ – a fact which leads to constant tension with the Bat-Family’s black sheep Jason Todd, aka Red Hood, who prefers lethal tactics when dealing with murderers. However, the Dark Knight’s chief commandment is built on hypocrisy, since he’s the one who taught Jason that sometimes killing is okay.
Jason first appeared in comic books was as essentially a clone of Dick Grayson, but over time Jason Todd’s origin was changed to give him his own backstory and his own personality. Jason was harder and far more street-wise than the previous Robin, but still had a hopefulness and brightness to him. Jason came into his own as Robin, even though he got comparably little time in the role. He got to go on a few adventures with Batman, but Jason was killed off in the role after about 4 years, after DC offered to let fans vote on his survival. When Jason returned years later, it was as the lethal Red Hood – an enemy of Batman, who couldn’t allow him to kill… anymore.
Jason Todd First Killed to Save the President
The first time Jason ever killed a man was shown way back in Batman #420 by Jim Starlin, Jim Aparo, Mike DeCarlo, Adrienne Roy, and John Costanza. This isn’t the only time Jason would kill someone in his time as Robin, but it was the first time. In the story, a Russian super soldier named KGBeast appears in Gotham City and starts killing off people related to a major US Government project. Batman tries his best, but he’s mostly unable to stop KGBeast as he slaughters seven out of the 10 people he needs to kill. After Batman manages to save targets eight and nine, the only one left is the prime target: President Ronald Reagan. What follows is an intense game of cat and mouse as Batman tries to keep the president from being killed, and this leads to Jason killing his first man, on Batman’s orders. After the KGBeast’s minion tries to kill Ronald Reagan (actually a disguised Commissioner Gordon), Jason intercepts the killer, who is strapped down with dynamite. The blow knocks the killer’s paraglider off course, leading him to crash and burn in a fiery explosion. The kill goes against Batman’s edict that “we always find another way,” but the Dark Knight never comes close to even chiding Jason for his choice – indeed, Jason is thrilled at having foiled the plot.
Jason Todd Was a Product of the ’80s
Batman may not have had Jason working as an assassin, but he did accept the idea that killing could be justified in the moment when it saved the innocent. This was a developing thread in Jason’s stories – in Jason’s last and most infamous kill as Robin, Batman suspects him of throwing a criminal to their death when it emerges they can’t be stopped by legal means (though he can’t prove it.) In the years Jason spent dead, Batman’s rule against killing became even more extreme, and was codified as part of the trauma of losing his parents – a line he’d never cross, even if it meant risking his life to save his worst enemies. However, while that’s the version of the rule Batman lives by today, it’s not how he trained Jason during their original stories together.
When Red Hood came back to life, one of the biggest things that set him apart from the rest of the Bat-Family was Jason Todd’s willingness to kill. He took a zero-tolerance policy towards violent crime, doing whatever he could to either control the ones he could bully or kill the ones he couldn’t. This return was treated as a dark tragedy, but looking at Jason’s history, it’s completely understandable he’d end up like this. Not only is Batman the one who trained Jason how to use guns, but Batman also taught Jason that it’s okay to kill sometimes. Batman had Jason watching Reagan and had him protect him by any means necessary, which involved killing a man. Batman would then go on to cause the death of three people in front of Jason a few issues later.
There’s no denying that Jason’s return as a lethal vigilante was tragic, but he was only using what Batman taught him. Jason wasn’t corrupted by being revived, but just followed the logic of seeing Batman kill and being tasked with doing so himself – albeit in extreme circumstances. With this in mind, Red Hood’s return as a lethal vigilante can be seen as a result of Batman‘s teachings and the era in which he originated, not some grand corruption that makes him different to every other Bat-Family hero.