‘Red Hood’ Writer Shawn Martinbrough Talks Jason Todd’s New Arc

Toward the end of 2020, it was announced that Jason Todd’s Red Hood would be seeing a new creative team take over, and to the delight of many fans, the team receiving the torch from acclaimed duo Scott Lobdell and Paolo Pantalena was none other than Shawn Martinbrough (Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive, Thief of Thieves, and Hellboy), Tony Akins (Jack of Fables, House of Mystery, and Wonder Woman), and Stefano Guadiano (The Walking Dead and Manifest Destiny). I had the pleasure of sitting down with Martinbrough to talk Jason Todd’s new future and what fans can expect from the work his team is putting together.

From the cover of Red Hood #52

MICHEL: Thanks for taking the time to talk to NOC. For starters, how has the year been for you and yours? I had the chance to speak to other artists like Sean Chen a few months ago and hear how the pandemic has changed his approach to his work. How much has it impacted your own, especially with the work you’re doing for Red Hood?

MARTINBROUGH: As with everyone, it’s been a very crazy year to experience. The political environment, the protests, and the sheer number of lives lost due to the pandemic have all been brutal to deal with. Being stuck inside my home when on a deadline is a discipline that I’ve adhered to for decades. What has been an adjustment is the outside world grinding to a halt. Not being able to travel and socialize with friends and family after finishing a deadline has been hard. I’ve never gone this long without traveling to my hometown of New York City. On the other hand, I’ve been extremely fortunate to be very busy on the creative/work front. When Batman group editor Ben Abernathy approached me about writing this two-part, Red Hood story, it was a fun challenge. Ben was looking for a grounded, self contained, crime noir story that would lead into Future State. Immediately, numerous cool ideas came to mind.

“The Hill” seems to have its own ecosystem — it operates in a capacity like much as Gotham does in comparison to NYC but is uniquely its own space with plenty of parallels to cities today. What was the process like fully fleshing out The Hill beyond the quick peeks we’ve seen of it before Red Hood #51?

Artist Tony Akins’ concept for Tommy Max

The concept was to create a new place within Gotham. Writer Christopher Priest and I had established “The Hill” in a one-shot Batman story back in 1999. To my knowledge, the neighborhood hadn’t been explored since which created a unique opportunity for artist Tony Akins and I to build on its history. Realistically, how would “The Hill” have evolved over the last 20 years? Tying The Hill’s present situation to the recent “Joker War” created interesting motivations for its residents which would serve as a mirror for Jason’s history as a vigilante. That was the foundation for this story and there were so many cool ideas that I simply couldn’t fit into these two issues. For example, Strike’s vigilante crew had a much larger role. I would have loved to have shown the cops who patrol the The Hill but as the writer, you must stay true to what the focus of the story is. For these two issues, it’s about the relationship between Jason and Bruce Wayne.

How difficult (or easy) are you finding it balancing Jason Todd’s nuanced personality? In the past, he’s been painted quite viscerally, but I’m sure your aim isn’t to suddenly turn him into The Boy Wonder. What elements of his former self are you aiming to stay true to?

After talking with Batman group editor Ben Abernathy about the last fifty issues of the Red Hood and delving into the DC animated films, it was clear that Jason Todd had lots of dark, emotional baggage. He didn’t really have strong connections. Jason is estranged from his father figure, Bruce Wayne and the rest of the Batman related characters. One of the main themes of this story is family so I wanted to show Jason the types of relationships he’s been missing in his life and what could be possible in the future. It was fun to write Jason using his detective skills to figure out what’s going on in “The Hill.” Jason’s back and forth banter with Dana was also really fun to write. I must give a shout out to editor Ben Meares for providing invaluable Red Hood backstory info and script notes.

I read in one of your other interviews that you were initially hoping for a Clayface cameo, but continuity prevented it from happening. Killer Croc is still a stellar choice but were there any other baddies you folks were thinking of that would have also pushed Todd to his limit?

Cover art from issue #52

I always planned to use an established Rogues Gallery villain and introduce a new nemesis to Gotham. Clayface was my first choice. The Clayface plot idea focused heavily on our new character, on-air journalist “Denise Harlowe.” Once Clayface became unavailable, Abernathy suggested using Killer Croc. I reworked things a bit and the new story allowed me to use Killer Croc in an unexpected way. The main villain in this story is “Tommy Maxx” who was originally conceived to be more of a take on rapper “Tekashi69.” That nihilistic, psycho approach seemed too close to The Joker so I moved more towards an Andy Warhol type, someone who samples pop culture. This character would have a connection to the fashion industry fused with the traditional fanboy (or fangirl) mentality of “I can do it better” and impatience. Of course, this being a crime noir story, there’s also a twist.

We’ve reached a pretty incredible time in the world of comics — so many diverse faces grace the covers of arcs I could have only dreamed of. How important was it for you to incorporate characters of color whose purpose was so fleshed out and influential to the story?

The choice of characters was really organic to the story and the location of “The Hill.” I needed to create different types that Red Hood fans hadn’t seen before and had unique relationships to Jason. The set of twin sisters, “Dana and Denise Harlowe” reflected the inherent duality of the Batman / Gotham universe. The last name “Harlowe” has a great vintage, noir feeling to it. I was watching a documentary on hip hop which featured Queen Latifah, whose real name is Dana Owens. That’s what inspired the first name “Dana.” I wanted her sister to have a first name also starting with the letter “D” and “Denise” is a great, old school, “around the way” name.

Beyond the events of Red Hood #51, what else can fans anticipate from Todd and also from you in the future?

Your guess is as good as mine. It seems that DC has some interesting things in store for Jason in Future State. I’m writing and drawing a number of projects for different folks. One of which, my first creator owned graphic novel for Abrams Books, is a big priority so more crime noir is coming!