Batman #413: Jason smiles.
Someone was asking for interaction between Jason and Alfred pre-death, so it reminded me that I was going to make a post on Jason in Batman #413.
Batman #413 was written by Jo Duffy, a stand alone between the end of Max Collins' run and the start of Jim Starlin's. The art is by Kieron Dwyer and Mike DeCarlo, and it was their only time drawing Jason on Batman as well. The story is extremely stupid, but the characterization says interesting things about Jason if you let it.
Keep in mind, this is relatively early in Jason's career as Robin and more importantly, the story is set between the disturbance of Jason finding out his father was killed by Two-Face in the middle of a case dealing with who else but Two-Face, and Jason being violently confronted to the unpleasant realization that Batman, Gotham politics and the legal system aren't always enough to save people. (I made a post about this here.)
So this Jason has no reason for being angry and bitter. (Batman #412 ended on a rather positive note, especially for Jason – the bad guy had been caught and he was at a rock concert, fun stuff.)
Context: Batman caught wind that there's going to be a robbery at the museum. Bruce Wayne provides a good excuse to be there on the day of the opening of a new exhibition of Japanese weaponry.
Jason likes learning stuff, he's thorough, and he makes parallels and establishes comparisons. He probably can analyze what he's observing. He can be patient when he thinks there's a goal to be achieved. These are all qualities he'll display as Red Hood, and they're all here in a nutshell.
He also smiles a lot; he's happy with himself. He's been doing a good job.
“After all, not even Batman and Robin can be everywhere at once.” That's disturbingly cheerful for Jason. It makes sense in that Jason was rather pragmatic in his first appearances, so he knows this intellectually. I wonder how much of his willingness to admit this is because he hasn't yet seen what it means when Batman and Robin fail.
He's still doing his homework in the Batcave.
(Jason's attitude toward school is very different in Nightwing: Year One, when he says that all the learning he needs, he gets in the Cave. That's not entirely incompatible, of course, especially since N:YO!Jason doesn't say 'Robin' or 'Batman', he just points at the Cave. Where, here, he does his schoolwork.)
The next night, a guard is attacked by someone wearing the armor and a naginata from the exhibit and promptly decides it's a ghost. The night after that, Batman and Robin are watching outside the museum; the curator gets attacked by thugs as he leaves, so they intervene. The person wearing the Japanese armor gets out of the museum and starts fighting the thugs as well. I mean “the ghost”.
Of course Jason knows the Robin requirement that there be bad puns.
Unlike the Pre-Crisis (and sometimes Post-Crisis Jason over in Detective Comics) Jason, here he doesn't protest that he's given the unimportant tasks. Jason wants to protect innocents, that's crucial to his character, and it's another thing where N:YO was unfair to him.
Batman goes fight the owner of the collection the exhibition comes from, who is a martial arts master. The man fights with a naginata, if you're interested. Then Batman leaves, because he “got the knowledge he came for”.
The night after that, Batman returns to the museum to keep watch on the collections. This time he's inside and talking with the curator, who's nervously glancing around. Batman makes small talk, mentioning that it's nice how the new exhibition has been attracting more people to the museum. The crowd gets so big, though, that you can barely see the pieces in the department, even, say, nineteenth century costumes.
Then the ghost attacks.
Casual blood, yay.
Batman subdues his attacker, and the masked figure catches the curator before he can pick his gun up again.
No, that was a really awful pun, Jay. Ghost!Jason looks very tall compared to the way he's been drawn through the issue.
Look, there's an indirect compliment on Jason's observation skills. There's also Jason's interest in costumes not his own peeking through already, and what will later become his habit of wearing the domino mask under another mask/helmet.
All in all, yeah, I personally find this characterization too sweet if it was supposed to represent Jason in the long term, but for a one-time thing, I'm still grateful for its existence. It's one of the only two stories on Batman where Jason doesn't have to deal with personal drama or social bleakness, and it shows.