EJ Moreno on the new DC Universe series Titans…
Titans does what many other DC properties struggle with; finding the right balance between the cheesiness and the darkness that the comic company is infamous for having. While The CW’s Arrowverse feels like a live-action cheesy Super Friends, and the Nolan/Snyder pieces are these darker mature films, Titans is doing its best to use both sides of the spectrum to find an audience. For me, they’ve locked in a viewer!
My biggest compliment for Titans is that the show seems to be in on the joke. After years of DC Entertainment critics saying the brand is “too dark,” Titans is using those complaints to fuel its insanity. When things get too dark, you can’t help but feel like the creators are doing it for a reason, and not just because being “grim” or “brooding” is some trend. They’re using the darkness to enhance moments rather than as a crutch.
All this without losing the campiness that makes DC so great; Titans uses it to lure into a false sense of security. Something ridiculous or over-the-top will happen, and then its followed by a jarringly dramatic moment. These blends of tone, to me, encapsulates the beauty of DC properties. Balancing both the light and the dark isn’t always easy, as you see Hollywood’s versions of Suicide Squad and Justice League both struggled there. But within the first episode at least, I find that Titans knows what it wants to do; having a clear vision for their universe and blending styles that appeal to every viewer.
Just like any Batman-related story (and most superhero movies), the show starts with the death of our hero’s parents. Though this time, we aren’t re-living the incident through the victim, Dick Grayson. This flashback comes from one of Rachel AKA Raven’s visions, a magical young girl with an evil-side deep within. Dick Grayson, AKA Robin, is living his life for the first time without his mentor Batman around. This baggage leads to him having a massive chip on his shoulder, on top of a tragic backstory. As much as he tries to escape, Batman has genuinely molded him into his dark image. Raven’s story is equally as grim with her adopted mother brutally killed within the first ten minutes of the episode. That’s not even mentioning the demonic spirit that lives within her, something her demon father passed down. Their anger and darkness feel justified, instead of a cheap trick to get the Hot Topic generation to view the show.
These two are the darkest of the cast, and you can feel they desperately need someone to lighten them up. That doesn’t happen in the first episode, but I believe the rest of the team will balance out the edge Raven and Robin bring. You start to see that with just the little hints of Starfire and Beast Boy we’ve seen in marketing and this first episode. Once they bring the full team together and the personalities begin to mix, Titans will quickly rise above its peers. A show like Arrow is filled with brooding characters and a somewhat dry dramatic plot, whereas The Flash has a cast of overly-cheerful people and some ridiculous stories. If Titans can bring both those words together, think about how amazing the Arrowverse crossovers are, then Titans will hopefully land the audience the show deserves.
The most notable place where this episode outshines all of the current DC TV shows is the violence and action. The first time we see Robin take down a group of dealers, it’s a jaw-dropping exercise in brutality. This version is a Robin so desperate to get away from the mold that Bruce/Batman made for him, that he’s far more aggressive than even Batfleck. The scene where he scraps a bad guy’s face against the bricks is by far one of the coolest and insane things I’ve seen a hero do. You don’t see bad-ass moments like that on Arrow or The Flash. While it won’t fit into people’s idea of this character, I found it to be a great way to separate this from the other properties. We are not seeing some kid-friendly Robin; this is a Robin trying so hard to rebel against the rules set for him, he is willing to do things he will later regret. I find this to be the set-up for a strong arc for the character, something I don’t think the Batman in Zack Snyder’s DCEU films had the chance to get. Let’s hope viewers and critics allow this show to grow and tell a story before they condemn it for good.
Something I didn’t expect to compliment is the strong acting from the main cast. While the young actress Teagan Croft (Raven) is one of the weaker members, I put that on her inexperience and can’t wait to see her develop as an actress. The standout of the first episode is Anna Diop as Starfire. From the moment she enters the show, you can feel the power from the character and the actress. Anna Diop dealt with some pretty unneeded backlash about her casting, and I’m glad she can prove everyone wrong now. Brenton Thwaites’s Robin may be the focal point of the story, but expect all eyes to be on Starfire. Not only does Diop know the exact style of acting needed for the show, but she also provides a bit of humor and heart. Robin might be the heart of the show, but Starfire will no doubt be the soul of Titans. So strange that in less than an hour, I got a far more nuanced performance than nearly five seasons of The Flash. Not trying to knock the show down a peg as it’s still strong and needed, but just happy to see a show like Titans rise above expectations and shatter previous notions.
If you a deadset on avoiding this show, or have a strict attachment to the source material, Titans might not be for you. The series changes things to fit its narrative, allowing the characters to feel fresh after many animated films and a long-running cartoon. These are not the Titans you grew up with, and that isn’t a bad thing. As a viewer, you can go into this show with a clean slate and allow this version of the Teen Titans to grow with you. If that isn’t something you are interested in doing, then thankfully the new seasons of the Arrowverse have started. Finally, there are choices for DC fans in what kind of entertainment they can have; something that many other brands are nowhere near achieving. There is something for everyone, and for me, this show is exactly what the Doctor (Fate) ordered.