My question is for those who were reading when Jason Todd was Robin. At the time was he heavily disliked because he wasn’t like Dick Grayson? If so, looking back are you glad that they made him out to be a different kind of Robin rather than being a copy of Grayson? Pre-Crisis wasn’t he a redhead who was also an orphan from a family of acrobats?
Well, I wasn’t reading as it was a little bit early for me – I was born in 1985 – but I think I can help you.
Jason was actually reasonably well received. From Wikipedia:
Though initially popular, following a revamping of his origin by Max Allan Collins, the Jason Todd version of Robin as written by Jim Starlin was not well received by fans. For 1988’s “Batman: A Death in the Family” storyline, DC Comics held a telephone poll to determine whether or not the character would die at the hands of the Joker, Batman’s nemesis. The character was killed off by a vote of 5,343 to 5,271.
So, even at his lowest popularity, it was still a very close call as to whether he would live or die. /u/Kevinmld hit the nail on the head with the fact it was more about his personality than the fact he wasn’t Grayson – basically, he was a dick was more of an issue than the fact he wasn’t Dick. This does bring us to your point about the complications of his origin, from before and after Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985):
The initial version of Jason Todd had an origin that was a similar origin to the first Robin, Dick Grayson. Originally, like Grayson, Jason is the son of circus acrobats killed by a criminal (Killer Croc) and is later adopted by Bruce Wayne. Distinguished by his red hair (as opposed to the black hair of Dick Grayson), Todd is unfailingly cheerful, wearing his circus costume to fight crime until Dick Grayson presents him with a Robin costume of his own. At that point, Jason dyes his hair black, and in later stories blossoms under Batman’s tutelage.
Following the revamp of the Batman mythos due to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Jason Todd is recast as a young street orphan who first encounters the Dark Knight while attempting to steal the tires of the Batmobile. Bruce Wayne sees to it that Jason is placed in a school for troubled youths. Jason earns the mantle of Robin a short while later by helping Batman apprehend a gang of thieves. However, Todd does not wear the Robin costume (an improved version of) until after six months of training. Batman realizes that while Jason doesn’t possess Dick Grayson’s acrobatic skills, he can become a productive crime-fighter by channeling his rage. He also believes that if he doesn’t help the boy, Jason will eventually become part of the “criminal element.” … Unlike Grayson or the pre-Crisis Jason, the post-Crisis Jason is impulsive, reckless, and full of rage.
Fun fact: the fact that he’s actually a red head was revisited during the Revenge of the Red Hood arc, which was during Dick Grayson’s tenure as Batman with Damian as Robin. I always liked this element of the character and how it represented his resentment of Bruce for feeling he wanted him to be like Grayson.
While Jason soon proved to be one of Batman’s most enthusiastic students, he was also the most troubled. Brash and impulsive, Jason’s former life on the streets had left him with an ambiguous sense of right and wrong. This often placed Jason in opposition to the values his mentor was trying to teach him. Jason often uses excessive force to subdue criminals. In one adventure, asked to “hold off” villains, Jason instantly takes to firing at them with a gun, despite Batman’s abhorrence for firearms. The most dramatic of these moral clashes however happened when Jason tracked down Felipe Garzonasa, a foreign national who had raped a young woman and later drove her to suicide. Moments after Jason arrived, Garzonasa plunged to his death from his apartment balcony. While the truth is still unknown, there is a distinct possibility that Jason pushed Felipe off the balcony, thereby breaking Batman’s strict code against ever taking a life.
Afraid of Jason possibly murdering someone, Batman asks Barbara Gordon, to come out of retirement as Batgirl, and work with Jason on a case, hoping that she might gain a better insight into Jason’s behavior. Although the pair work well together, Barbara is unable to deny a darkness in Jason, which she later warns Bruce about.
This is what lead directly into A Death in the Family and it was this kind of characterisation and darker backstory that fans didn’t really take to at the time.
Now, so far this has, of course, been all just about the origin of pre-Flashpoint or ‘New Earth’ Jason Todd, which differs slightly from from the post-Flashpoint/’Prime Earth’/New 52 version currently appearing. While similar to post-Crisis, there’s a few differences:
Conceived in an alleyway, Jason Todd was the son of Katherine Elizabeth and Willis Todd. Jason Todd had a troubled childhood, his parents constantly arguing, and his mother suffering from depression and drug addition. Despite this however, his father tried “showing him the ropes” and got into trouble frequently … his father ended up going to prison, where he would soon die. This left Jason to protect his mother. However, she would later seemingly succumb to drug overdose [leaving Jason an orphan.]
He would turn to the life of a thief in order to survive. Though he did whatever it took to survived, he never would hurt anyone physically. However, one day, he was injured to the point he ended up in a clinic, where he met Dr. Leslie Thompkins. Though she was kind to him, he ended up stealing prescription drugs from her but was stopped by Batman. Leslie convinced Batman to not have the boy arrested. Eventually, he would end up at Wayne Manor and Bruce would adopt him and let him know of his identity as Batman. He would then offer him to be the second Robin, in which he accepted.
Now, how he came back to life and all the rest of that? Well, that’s a story for another post :P
Hope this was helpful! :)