A new era begins in this week's Red Hood #51 - the first following the departure of writer Scott Lobdell, who had been writing the series since 2011.
In this two-issue arc, writer Shawn Martinbrough and artist Tony Akins takes Jason Todd in for what is described as one part classic western, and one part crime noir.
Newsarama spoke with Martinbrough on this guest arc, his thoughts on Red Hood's recent history, and why he decided to revisit a Gotham locale he created 19 years ago with Christopher Priest.
Newsarama: Shawn, this is your first official writing gig at DC. How did it come about? Why did you want to work on Jason Todd in particular?
Shawn Martinbrough: Batman group editor Ben Abernathy reached out and asked if I would be interested in writing and drawing a two-part, crime-noir style Red Hood story for him. I was (and currently still am) busy drawing a creator-owned project for Abrams Books, so I relayed that I wasn't available to draw but would be interested in writing something. Ben took me up on it.
After a hilarious hour-long phone call with Ben getting me up to speed on what Jason Todd had been up to for the last 50 issues, I had some ideas. The fun challenge was crafting a 'place holder' story that didn't make any major changes to the character of Jason before the events of 'Future State' but would place him in a scenario that allowed for exploration of internal conflicts he's wrestling with.
Nrama: What was it like returning to the neighborhood of the Hill that you actually helped co-create?
Martinbrough: That was another fun challenge. Writer Christopher Priest and I created the Hill back in 1999 and I don't think it's ever been revisited since. Returning to it 21 years later allowed me to organically update the grim, dark neighborhood by using the idea of gentrification and create a new environment within Gotham City to take Jason Todd and the readers. I dropped Priest an email heads up and got his blessing. There's a great connective thread from our original story to this one.
Red Hood #51 preview
Nrama: For fans of the last 50 issues of Red Hood, what do you think they'll enjoy about your run?
Martinbrough: The universal reaction I've received from within DC editorial has been very positive with regard to our showing a different, human side of Jason Todd. This response mirrored the early fan reactions to scenes from part one that I've teased on social media, which is really cool.
I think fans will appreciate the reflective nature of this story. It gives Jason a window to the conflicts he's been wrestling with for some time, what's been missing from his life and what could be.
Nrama: On the flip side, how did you make this new reader-friendly?
Martinbrough: I described my take on this Red Hood story to Ben Abernathy was to approach it like a classic western. Our hero rides into a new town and gets caught in the middle of some beef between two warring factions. Basically, the reader is riding into this scenario right along with Jason.
Nrama: Jason Todd is known for his supporting characters like Bizarro and Artemis. Will we be seeing any familiar faces?
Martinbrough: Nope. I was told that Jason would be solo in this story. However, I was allowed to use a well-known member of Batman's rogue's gallery in a unique way that fans aren't used to.
Nrama: This series is also introducing Dana and Denise Harlowe. What can you tell us about them?
Martinbrough: Since I couldn't change the character of Jason Todd, I needed to create a cast of supporting characters that could mirror the internal conflicts he's been wrestling with.
Duality is a theme inherently built into the nature of the Batman universe, so creating a set of twin sisters with opposing viewpoints made sense. The idea of a rule-abiding journalist having a sister who takes liberties with the law was a great conflict that had strong parallels to Jason's strained relationship with Bruce Wayne. The last name 'Harlowe' has such a classic noir feel to it which felt right. Finding the right tone for each sister was really fun and I loved writing the back and forth banter between Jason and Dana.
I sent artist Tony Akins photo reference for and Dana and Denise but when he delivered the character designs for the Harlowe sisters, they really came to life. When artist Dan Mora visualized them for the covers, I was floored.
Nrama: For fans of your work on Thief of Thieves, what do you think they'll enjoy the most about this?
Martinbrough: I think they'll appreciate that I learned a little something from drawing writer Andy Diggle's scripts for all of those issues. Hopefully, they'll enjoy the twists, turns, and the overall ride of not knowing what's coming next!
Jason Todd is one of many to have held the Robin mantle - check out our ranking of the best Robins of all time.