Author's Note: Jason Todd is NOT Dick Grayson. That's a good thing. In my mind, Jason is far more colourful and complex than Dick, because of his background and his attitudes about the world. He's not afraid of Bruce, not afraid of his scorn or disappointment. It's probably why he acts as recklessly and in as brutal fashion as he does when out on patrol. However, out on this patrol, the ending plays out a little differently than the cynical teenager might expect from his mentor. Short, concise and to the point, this is Soldier.
Nothing I do is good enough. I'm starting to think it never will be. I'm not his golden boy and I'm not going to try to be. It's totally pointless and he knows it. That's what hits me the hardest; he knows I'm not good enough, knows I don't measure up, and yet he still takes me along. I think he does it as an excuse to voice his disappointments about me. I'm too lax. I'm too slovenly. I have a bad attitude. My fighting style is too blunt. My detective skills are too basic. My entire skill set lacks polish and refinement. In short, according to him, I am useless as Robin. But it doesn't matter. Sure, his critiques strike a nerve, but they don't upset me. The guy's just a rich boy, a silver-spoon-fed trust-fund baby. Lost his parents, sure, I can relate, but it's not like it left him in the lurch. He still had his money, his home, his way of life. It was just quieter. Me, I'm a street-rat, an orphaned urchin, with no table manners and a limited vocabulary. Even though he's managed to dress me up as his own kind, given me new words to express myself with and a new purpose in life, I'm still a street-kid. Even now it shows.
Bruce would use a nerve strike on this scumbag; I just break his floating ribs and head butt him to the floor. One down. On the next guy, Bruce would parry his strike and follow up with an uppercut to incapacitate him gently. My method involves shattering his kneecap before booting him in the face, crushing his jaw. I never play nice anymore; they all deserve worse. When we finish clearing the gambling joint out of bottom-feeders, I've managed to break seven arms, two collarbones and one jaw for a total of ten less murderers, rapists and perverts on the streets. Bruce just stares at me in what can only be contempt and utter disgust for my approach and execution to the situation. I give him nothing, not even spite. He's not worth the effort.
When the cops finally turn up, they need three ambulances to cart away the more fragile bits of trash. The rest of them don't even have the stones to look me in the eye. It's pretty funny; they fear Robin more than Batman nowadays, a sure sign he needs to change his outlook. Gordon demands an explanation on why so many of these degenerates are in a critical condition. Bruce offers no explanation and simply begins to walk away from the scene. I follow. Gordon's still shouting after us, but neither of us look at him again. We get in the car and he starts to drive.
"You are out-of-control." He says about five minutes into the journey. I'm guessing it's yet another springboard to launch into a lecture. I resist the urge to roll my eyes. "Your actions were totally disproportionate to the situation. You were far more severe than was called for or necessary. I am disap-"
"Shut-up, right now, you sanctimonious ass." I cut in bluntly to render him stunned at my nerve. "I'm not 'out-of-control', just realistic. These people we lock up night after night are scum. We should treat them like scum, not slap them on the wrist. That way, they might actually think twice about being bad boys and girls in Gotham."
Bruce stops the car dead. I hear the tires screech to a dramatic halt, as if what I've just said is something new to him. It's not. He's heard it all before. He looks at me for the longest time without a word. He's considering everything before venturing into the arena; this will be an argument, I can feel the storm clouds coming. I wait patiently for him to start the screaming match. Except this time, for the first time in years, he doesn't hide behind the law. He doesn't use proper conduct as a pedestal to mount his argument. He offers something fresh and new to the party.
"You may be right."
What? I, the inept and utterly brain-dead sidekick have finally scored Brownie-points? The almighty Batman, defender of the faith and perhaps the embodiment of God himself, deems my point of view to have merit? Even though I am skeptical and sarcastic of anything he has to say, I feel slightly proud all the same.
"It has been noted my methods have become…softer in recent years than once they were, less effective at culling the criminals. They no longer fear me. And yet, my results are still the same as before. Perhaps I have read too much into statistics and become complacent in my approach because of it. But there is something you need to understand about violence…" Bruce leans forward slightly, "It has never solved anything. It has diffused situations, offset damages by some degree, but it has never solved anything. Every conflict in the world men have ever fought has not resulted in a definitive peace, but only deepened the crises of the human condition." Bruce is getting slightly too deep and philosophical for my tastes. I bring the conversation back to familiar shallowness with my next comment.
"But, if violence never solves anything, why do you call me a soldier? And why are we fighting on the frontline in a war? Why does my body need to be a lethal weapon if violence is unnecessary in our mission? Why do I need to know about firearms and the effects explosives have on the human body if violence has no place in this world? Answer me that Bruce."
His hand is suddenly on my shoulder. It isn't the right response for the snide, cocky tone of voice I just communicated my attempts at philosophy with. He should be on the verge of anger, ready to boil over and shout at me, but he isn't. His touch feels alien to me; he never reaches out so directly. Then he speaks, softly. "I never said it has no place in the world, only that it has never resolved a situation with any kind of clarity. I call you soldier because you have been trained to utilize violence as a tool for neutralizing threats that may otherwise harm innocent people. You need to know what effects weapons have on people to help you understand this is not a game. If we falter, people can be maimed or die. This is a war because criminals in this city refuse to obey simple laws. You are on the frontline because you could die on these streets, as could I." Even as he finishes this string of textbook answers to put my questions to bed, his hand has yet to leave my shoulder. It means he has not finished speaking entirely.
"I'm sorry for hurting your feelings, Jason. Please can you try, in future, to restrain yourself in these situations?" He is not resorting to shouting or his usual bully tactics to get me in line; he is asking me nicely, civilly, you might say. It only seems fair I give him a polite answer.
It sounds half-sincere and half-assed, but Bruce is happy I've said something. He squeezes my shoulder gently. "Good man." Then he starts the car up and we carry on home. Bruce is pompous and self-absorbed regardless of what he says, but he isn't the worst guy to do this kind of work with. At least he isn't above saying sorry when he knows he's wrong and doesn't patronize me by calling me 'boy'. A trust-fund baby and a street-kid, making Gotham a better place for everyone to live and work; you could win a Pulitzer with a tagline like that.