I recently watched the DC animated movie Batman: Under the Red Hood. It’s a six year story, but still a warning is warranted: Spoilers throughout this piece, so consider yourself warned.
I was particularly struck by the parallels between this and the Captain America: Return of the Winter Soldier story. Both Cap and Batman are human-power-level characters. Both date from the Golden Age. Both have a long, mixed history with sidekicks. And they both stayed dead for longer than any superhero character has any right to.
Both Jason Todd’s return as the Red Hood, and Bucky Barnes’ comeback as the Winter Soldier parallel their respective mentors in interesting ways. They become the dark mirror of the men in whose shadow they were raised.
Bruce Wayne suffers the trauma of watching his parents murdered in front of him, and builds himself into a terrifying persona that strikes fear into the underworld. Jason Todd suffers the trauma of being beaten to death by the Joker, and when brought back, builds himself a terrifying persona that cuts a swath of fear, death and destruction through the underworld.
Steve Rogers undergoes a secret government procedure to enhance his physical abilities. Frozen in ice for decades, he survives into the present day, still fighting the enemies of his government. Bucky Barnes, rescued from the ice by a Soviet submarine, is subjected to a secret government procedure to enhance his physical abilities. Frozen in hibernation, he survives to the present day, activated only to serve the lethal needs of the government that has brainwashed him.
Both revamped sidekicks use lots of guns, weapons that their bosses refuse to touch. Both take their mission to extremes where their mentor will not tread. Batman will not voluntarily kill his enemies. The Red Hood murders dozens of criminals when it suits his needs. Captain America serves the American dream first, the American government second. He will question orders and refuse those he finds immoral. The Winter Soldier is an unquestioning, unthinking assassin.
If Batman and Captain America are legacies of comics’ Golden Age, the Red Hood and the Winter Soldier show what those same concepts would have been, had they been created with a 1990s sensibility. Guns, leather, murder. What does it say about the way comic readers perceive the world?
Or am I reading too much into this? Were they simply brought back as anti-heroes for the dramatic purpose of allowing their mentors to fight them, and then the added horror of discovering their true identities? Or as dramatic illustrations of the road not taken?