DC Universe’s inaugural foray into scripted television with Titans stumbles initially, but finds its way to come into its own. There will be criticisms of it’s gritty tone, there’ll be those who say it’s “unnecessary” — which may be deserved — but if you tune out the noise, you’ll see Titans could stand as one of DC Comics best superhero adaptations.
Controversy has surrounded DC Universe’s Titans series from the moment images from the set hit the internet. Controversy about a live-action comic book adaptation? No way! It’s almost as if there are people predisposed to complain before they even see the finished product. #NotMy (insert comic book character here) is the go-to opinion from the usual suspects, especially after the first Titans trailer hit the internet and Dick Grayson dropped an F bomb in regards to our beloved Batman. How on earth could Batman’s sidekick Robin have begrudging feelings towards the always so pleasant Bruce Wayne? Folks also got their panties in a twist when they found out a black woman was cast as Starfire as opposed to an orange alien (Hint: She’s the best part of the show). I mean I know, I know representation matters and all, but geez those orange alien actors really got pissed about this one, I think there’s a petition you can sign, Justice for Orange Alien Actors/Actresses, I’ll get you the link ASAP.
Let’s be serious though — DC mentioned this was going to be a more mature, R-rated version of the Titans, yet somehow people were still surprised by the dark and edgy trailer. It’s almost as if no one bothers to read or pay attention anymore. In case you missed this part, there’s no “teen” in the title — it’s just “Titans,” so SPOILER ALERT, Dick and Kory — NOT teens. Raven and Beast Boy, teens. Oh and since this is a mature, realistic version of the characters, they are not orange or green unless they’re using their powers because REALITY CHECK, there are no green or orange people in real life and that might be hard to explain to outsiders when you are hiding who you are.
We are in a peak comic book TV era right now, and while we can all appreciate what The CW has done to boost the love of superhero TV, some of us quite frankly are over the melodrama that comes with CW series and are looking for something grittier. It’s why Fox’s The Gifted, FX’s Legion, and SyFy’s Krypton are so popular. People are ready to move on to the next phase and if that means an F-bomb dropping Dick Grayson, than so be it.
I approach superhero TV like an Elseworld run of a comic. It’s going to look mostly like a thing I know and love, there may even be a storyline I’m familiar with, but for the most part the author, or show runner in this case, is going to tell me their tale. Their version of events and those events may differ from the ones I’ve read about or seen in other adaptations and that is A-OK because, if I don’t like it, I can always return to the one I love the most. Teen Titans has been adapted twice in animated form. The original Teen Titans series and Teen Titans GO!; both of which have their own charm and appeal. If this version of the Titans isn’t for you, than you can always fall back on those other ones.
All of that out of the way, let me offer you some non-spoiler thoughts on the first 3 episodes of Titans. There are some great parts and some not so great parts.
At times it feels like perhaps they are being “edgy” just to be edgy but somehow it works. The special effects look like TV special effects, they’re not cinematic in nature, but this also isn’t a movie so I didn’t expect them to be. The narrative drops you in the middle of the story and fills in the blanks along the way. There’s no voiceover letting you know what, who, and where you’re watching; the assumption is you are familiar with Dick Grayson/Robin and everyone else gets introduced as it goes.
Background is told through memory flashbacks and dream sequences while still moving the current story forward. The show has a darker look with most of the first episode happening at night, cloaked in some mystery. As the story unfolds, the scenery gets brighter, daylight surrounds as more information comes to “light”. See what they did there. The dialogue is mature (cursing, lots of it) and witty at times, nothing feels forced. I have a feeling the majority of the audiences will either hate this or be open to the idea of it and there will not be much in between. This isn’t the Titan’s you’re used to and that may be jarring at first, but if you go in with an open mind, you may just find yourself enjoying it. Remember, this is an origin story, they’re not the Titans, yet.
Episode 1 introduces us to Detective Dick Grayson/Robin; hardened by the life he’s led up until this point, attempting to carve his own way apart from his mentor and surrogate father, Bruce Wayne. When confronted with the opportunity to help another like himself, Dick cannot turn away. Brenton Thwaites immediately feels right in this role, you can see the leader Dick is reluctant to become under the surface of his performance and the hidden pain that exists in his memories.
Rachel Roth/Raven is a scared young girl who doesn’t understand what she is and why she cannot stop bad things from happening around her. Newcomer Teagan Croft holds her own against a cast of more experienced actors as she finds herself with the most screen time of any character and the driving force of the story. It’s a lot to put on her shoulders, and she’s more than up to the task. Ryan Potter plays Gar Logan/Beast Boy but honestly we only see brief glimpses of him with a meet-cute between he and Rachel in Episode 3.
The stand out for me, and my favorite part of the show is Anna Diop as Kory Anders/Starfire. Anna’s Kory is an amnesiac whose only link to her past is finding and helping this young girl. Together with Detective Grayson, she uncovers some of her own mystery by Episode 3. This is a character that has gotten the most criticism on social media for a variety of reasons and the internet trolls drove Anna Diop off twitter. It’s a shame she cannot see what will undoubtedly be a hugely positive reaction to her character, because when I tell you she stands out above the rest, I am not lying. Something for the critics to remember; this is an origin story, she’s not in her final costume. She’s not Starfire, yet.
Episode 2 is the introduction of Hank Hall/Hawk (Alan Ritchson) and Dawn Granger/Dove (Minka Kelly), characters that honestly do not need to be here and are perhaps the weakest part of the show so far. For all of the complaining about Starfire’s “costume”, I cannot believe the internet missed these two. Dove’s looks like it was assembled at a craft store with duck tape and glue. Hawk sort of grunts around a lot and is particularly rude to Dick so he can kick rocks. If they are in fact a large part of Season 1, let’s hope they’re rotated out for Season 2.
What about Batman, you ask? Bruce Wayne lurks in the shadows of Dick’s memories, a faceless figure that honestly doesn’t need a face for at least 2 seasons. Allow Dick to become his own person, have him progress to Nightwing before introducing the Bat in any capacity. There are enough nods to Batman, the Bat Cave, Alfred, and Wayne tech within the series, it should satiate the fans that think Batman needs to be present (he doesn’t). We’ve seen a teaser of Jason Todd and if the show runners can manage to utilize that character as our link to Batman, than I think they’ll do just fine. A lot of this feels like it could exist in a certain cinematic universe that I will not name because it will invoke unwarranted negative reactions but if you told me this feels like Ben Affleck’s Dick Grayson, I would agree with you.
If I could offer viewing advice it would be, give the show 3 episodes at least before deciding if you love or hate it. Episode 2, as stated, leaves a bit to be desired but Episode 3 hooked me on the story. The chemistry and connection between Dick, Kory, and Rachel leaves me wanting to know more and I am willing to take this journey with them.
DC Universe’s first original series, already picked up for a second season – from Weed Road Pictures and Berlanti Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television – debuts its first episode on Friday, October 12 on DC Universe Streaming Service.