I have to be honest. I didn’t think I would be writing this article. When I saw the trailer of Titans where Robin gave his now infamous line expressing what he thought of Batman, I assumed this was the same song, different verse. DC was once again trying to take iconic, hope-inspiring superheroes and make them dark and gritty. Yes, Batman is gritty, and yes, people like that about him. But it seems DC is beginning to think that is the only way to have a good superhero story–make it more like Batman. Not that I agree with or appreciate Robin’s choice of words, but I was beginning to feel the sentiment he expressed.
DC Universe, the streaming app that DC has just launched, happily had more to offer than just Titans. It had Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and a host of animated movies that I either thoroughly enjoyed or hadn’t yet had the chance to see. So, I signed up for the streaming service. And out of sheer curiosity, I watched the first episode of Titans.
To my great surprise, I actually enjoyed the pilot episode very much. The following paragraphs explain exactly why. WARNING!!!!!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!!! If you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want major plot points to be ruined, stop now and go watch it first. Consider yourself warned.
First, let’s get the negatives out of the way. This is definitely not the “Teen” Titans. The physical violence is over the top. Some of the blood spatters shown when Robin punches a guy in the face don’t even seem realistic. It feels very much like the director of this episode was one of those kids always running out of red crayons and red paint when he drew pictures as a kid. I don’t mind violence, even graphic violence if it is important to the story. But this was graphic for the sake of being graphic. They could have done with one-quarter of the blood sprays they used and still communicated the intensity of the fighting.
Second, for those who are expecting a direct-from-the-comics interpretation of the Titans from the Perez/Wolfman era, you will be sorely disappointed, especially with Starfire. Her look, her character, her entire attitude–none of it is close to the Starfire we all know and love. She wears a purple dress and has fiery red hair. That’s where the similarities end.
Now, for the positives, which to me outweigh the negatives on this pilot episode:
First, let’s address Robin’s disrespectful comment about Batman. By itself, it seems like nothing at all what the first Robin would ever say. But in the context of the episode, while I would have used a different word choice, it makes sense why that is what Robin is feeling. In this storyline, Dick has moved to Detroit and become a detective with the Detroit PD. He explains to his new partner that the reason he left Gotham was that his “old partner” solved everything with his fists, and he didn’t want to become that. In the episode, we see Dick agonizing over a man who beats his daughter and has been acquitted of charges. As Dick agonizes, he keeps glancing at a briefcase in his car, a suitcase we later learn has his Robin suit. You get the feeling that he looks at it the same way a recovering alcoholic looks at a glass of whiskey–he both craves and hates it. So, when he suits up and confronts the child beater, his aggression and hatred towards Batman make sense. He feels like he’s getting closer to becoming the very thing he doesn’t want to be–Batman. Outside of this weak moment, throughout the episode, he’s the Dick Grayson we all know and love.
For those purists I mentioned earlier, you will love Raven. This first episode is very much a “Raven Begins” type story. She’s got the right look–goth girl white skin with purple hair. Her powers work really well on screen. Her backstory is very interesting and engaging. From what it looks like, a major story arc of the series will be Raven discovering that her father is Trigon, the demon. The only difference between her and the Raven we normally know is that this one is more scared than cynical. But if this is a “Raven Begins” type story, it would make sense that she hasn’t yet been through the life experiences that would make her cynical. Perhaps this will be a story arc that develops Raven into the dark hero we know her to be.
As an aside, Raven’s adoptive mother is portrayed as a Bible-believing Christian. Normally this gets an eye roll from me, as I think “Oh great. Cue the crazy psychotic Christian character whose abusive tendencies drive their children to become murderers.” But that isn’t the case here. Raven’s adopted mother is portrayed as a very loving, caring person who genuinely loves Raven and uses her faith as a means to protect Raven from a perceived evil threat. Despite the short screen time the mom gets, I actually very much appreciate the way she was portrayed.
I spoke earlier of Starfire and how she is nothing like her comic book counterpart, BUT the story she has in the show is actually pretty interesting in its own right. Starfire, known in the show as Kori Anders, wakes up in a bullet-ridden car with no memory of who she is or why she’s there. As she tries to figure out her identity, she slowly learns that she has superpowers and that she is feared in the German underworld. She uses this to her advantage to intimidate her way through the episode. I find that watching this Starfire is like eating a turkey burger–if you don’t expect the real thing, you can appreciate it for what it actually is.
Beast Boy does make a last-minute appearance at the end of the show. He uses his powers to steal a video game. Maybe not so much the stealing part, but using his powers to get a video game just seems like something Beast Boy would do. It made me chuckle.
So, all in all, Titans might be worth a watch. Realize up front what you are getting into–this is not the Titans of Perez and Wolfman. It’s dark, it’s bloody, and it is not for young ages. But it is much better than I expected it to be. Whether or not the rest of the series will live up to the first episode, we’ll have to wait and see. But for now, “Titans, Go!!”