Not Your Father's F-ing Titans

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Titans Season One

I've been reading comic books for nearly fifty years. It's not just a fandom for me, it's a lifestyle. In all that time, there are characters I've grown to love, teams I've rallied for, and storylines that have served as touchpoints in my life.

The Teen Titans were always more than that. The Teen Titans were special. They were the sidekicks, given a chance to stand on their own. It was a one-off idea, putting Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad together for an adventure in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, arguably a filler series, but it struck a chord. The next time these three got together, they were joined by Wonder Girl as the Teen Titans, quickly getting their own series. Those Bob Haney and Nick Cardy books were elevated in some way from the other titles--more culturally relevant, and definitely more relateable to the younger audiences.

The series came to a close shortly after a meetup with the Teen Titans West, which brought back the Bette Kane Bat-girl, Lilith, Gnarrk, Hawk and Dove, Golden Eagle and Beast Boy (who would later become a prominent member of the group). When it was revived a few years later as NEW TEEN TITANS, under the care of Marv Wolfman and George Perez, it was inarguably the hottest property in comics, rivalled only by Marvel's UNCANNY X-MEN, selling extremely well for many years before it started to go into decline.

It's had a few itereations since then, with only the Dan Jurgens reboot of the franchise coming close to the glory days the team had enjoyed.

I've been there for all of them.

So I had to be here for TITANS, the first live-action version of the team in media and one of the premiere titles for the DC Universe streaming service. The first season arc introduces Rachel Roth (TEAGAN COLT) as a troubled young girl with a darkness inside her. On the run from the people who killed her foster mother, she encounters Chicago Police Detective Dick Grayson (BRENTON THWAITES), a transplant from Gotham City who battles a darkness all his own. Sensing there's something deeper than just a runaway with Rachel, he promises to protect her before trying to pawn her off on Hank Hall (ALAN RITCHSON) and Dawn Granger (MINKA KELLY), who fight crime together as the costumed duo Hawk and Dove.

One of those looking for Rachel is Kory Anders (ANNA DIOP), who can turn solar energy into bursts of fire. She is recovering from a memory loss (induced by who-knows-what), and is only aware that she needs to find Rachel and protect her. Or kill her. As the story progresses, Rachel becomes fast friends with Gar Logan (RYAN POTTER), a teen with green hair who can transform himself into green tiger.

You can probably already see minor deviations from the DC Universe canon. But trust me. It's worse than that.

How much worse?

Way "fucking" worse.

I don't use that term to be edgy. I use it because it's apparently the code word that is intended to make Titans -- a show about young people -- unsuitable for young people. Everyone on the team gets a chance to say it, as do most of the walk-on characters. Not a single episode goes by that you won't hear it. Which means that my Titans-loving son has to wait until he's 17 to watch this series.

And that's if he even wants to, based on what he's seen in the previews. It's no secret that the trailers for the series evoked negative reactions among the fans. Gar Logan isn't green -- except for when he starts to change. And then when he does change, he can only change into a tiger, and he has to take his clothes off first, or they get shredded. Dick Grayson is still Robin, but he's a bordeline sociopathic version of the wise-cracking sidekick, trying to outrun all the violence Bruce Wayne taught him. Batman himself is put in the most abusive light possible, and when we finally meet Jason Todd (CURRAN WALTERS), he's a cop-crippling psychopath.

All of that gets overshadowed, however, because of the horrible costuming and makeup given to Diop's Koriand'r character. The impossibly long orange hair has been replaced with fuchsia curls, and the Tamaranian armor has been swapped out for something worn by streetwalkers on STARSKY & HUTCH. Diop acts the badass role just fine, she's simply saddled with this poor costuming design rather than getting something better than thrift store cosplay. (In fact, cosplayers have done the Starfire character much better than the TITANS set dressers, most notably as done by cosplayer CutiePieSensei, our July 2018 Bombshell of the Month.)

The dark tone of TITANS permeates the entire series. It's not just the darkness of Trigon (SEAMUS DEVER) as he tries to make his way back to Earth through his daughter, Rachel. It's a general darkness, a cynical world view that pervades even the lightest of the heroes like Dove or Wonder Girl (CONOR LESLIE). The themes of child molestation continue to pop up, beginning with Dick Grayson, who is known on the force for being very protective of kids, casting a Werthamesque shade over the character's history, even though the themes are more up-front with the history of Hank Hall's childhood abuse.

The series isn't without its high points. The introduction of the Doom Patrol -- Elasti-Girl (APRIL BOWLBY), Negative Man (DWAIN MURPHY), Robotman (JAKE MICHAELS) and The Chief (BRUNO BICHIR) -- was appropriately weird even with The Chief cast in his own abusive light. The Nuclear Family also makes a recurring appearance, having been activated by Trigon's acolytes to locate Rachel at all costs, and the actors delivered their roles with that perfect creepy effect brought about by psychosis wearing a mask of 1950s innocence, even if there was nothing "nuclear" about them other than enhanced strength.

The show has its Easter eggs as well, and I'll leave it for you to find them. The first, however, comes in the pilot episode when Kory encounters Russian gangster Konstantin Kovar (MARK ANTONY KRUPA). Longtime Titans fans will recognize Konstantin as the father of Leonid Kovar, a Russian hero who first went by a familiar name: Starfire.

So overall, TITANS is a bit of a train wreck that timidly avoided all of the things that it should have done, and boldly trod into all the areas it should not have. That we have a cliffhanger ending, and that the series promises to be introducing more Titans in the future, such as Superboy, Jericho, and Aqualad, as well as Deathstroke and Ravager, makes this reviewer hopeful that the showrunners have seen there is a fanbase for the series, and that that fanbase has shown them all the areas needing improvement.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch some TEEN TITANS GO. It's horrible also, perhaps worse. But everyone in the house can watch it together.

Grade: 
3.5 / 5.0