I’ve never cared much for the Titans or Teen Titans line of comics, or characters. DC’s decision to launch their streaming service with a Titans live action series was a bit mind boggling to me, as there are plenty of other superheroes in their line-up that are well past needing a big screen adaptation. At this point in time, while the fate of their two big guns, Batman and Superman on the big screen, are up in the air, DC seem to be making a combination of safe choices for adaptation such as the Harley Quinn adult-orientated cartoon and off-kilter ones such as the in-development Plastic Man movie.
The shows first trailers, for better or worse, had a lot of people talking and, as with me, pulled many in just to see how the show would turn out. I gave the first episode a chance and eleven one hour long episodes later, I’m glad that I did.
Titans takes its tone from Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman movies. It’s dark and brutal and a counterpoint to the shining capes parade that most superhero movies and shows present. Titans sets out to showcase the darker side of heroism, and of being a sidekick, and exceeds wonderfully in pointing out the psychological, physical and emotional damage that doing the right thing takes on these people. It’s about a group of damaged people trying to be better, even when their ingrained instincts keep pulling themselves to one more throat punch than is necessary. Titans' violence is graphic and well-executed. This isn’t a shiny, happy show people, and it benefits from it immensely.
For all it’s spandex and armour clad moments, Titans rarely feels like a superhero show. It’s more Kick-Ass with a dollop of horror thrown in while the more splashy superhero powers slowly come into play. Unlike most of the DC-based superhero shows in the Arrowverse, Titans isn’t shy about letting you know that the Justice League exists in this universe, even if you don’t get to see them. Their presence, or much rather the fallout from their presence, is felt amongst our heroes.
Focusing mainly on the heroes post-traumatic stress would only have carried the show so far though, as strong as the material is, and Titans major storyline – set to continue into season 2 – focuses on Raven’s dark heritage and her father Trigon trying to return to Earth.
Dick Grayson, played by Brenton Thwaites, takes centre stage as a disillusioned Robin breaking away from Batman and trying to “deprogram” himself from all the violence he inflicts in combat. Before long he’s plunged into a similar situation as Bruce was when he took him in, as Dick finds himself looking after Rachel (Raven in the comics and played by Teagan Croft) and protecting her from a mysterious organization trying to kidnap her and others trying to kill her.
Along the way Gar (Beast Boy played by Ryan Potter) and Koriand’r (Starfire played by Anna Diop) hop on for the ride and together they form a dysfunctional team who have to learn to work together to survive the madness thrown at them.
While the “heart” of the show concerns Dick overcoming his need to be by himself and become the mentor, protector and friend to Raven that Bruce failed him in, for the most part this is really Robins transition to Nightwing and leader, stepping out from the mantle of being Batman’s sidekick. In many ways this really is Robin's show as his storyline does get the most in-depth material with the bulk of the bone-breaking violence bloodying his hands. Titans showcases Robin as a force to be reckoned with, as anyone trained by Batman should be, and if anyone could wear that mantle and surpass Bruce as Batman, it would be him.
When the shows cast was announced and the first images of the actors in character released, the internet blew up, especially concerning Starfire’s casting and costume.
I’m glad to say that the internet was wrong. Anna Diop’s Starfire has turned out to be one of the shows many delights, despite the overly bright purple dress and both Potter and Croft acquit themselves well enough, with Potter’s Gar been rather likeable. The other actors all fit the characters they’ve been cast as we get cameos from Hawk and Dove, Jason Todd’s Robin and Donna Troy’s Wonder Girl which, hopefully, will turn into regular roles in season 2.
As great as everyone is, this really is Thwaites show and he carries it easily. His performance as Dick Grayson is a complete standout, in body armour or out of it and he sells his characters tortured psyche easily. I wasn’t convinced he was the right man to play Robin, but I’m well past sold.
At eleven episodes, Titans actually moves along rather briskly, even when it’s taking a detour from the main storyline. Originally meant to be twelve episodes, season 1 ends on 11 instead, with an incredible, killer season finale cliffhanger that makes season 2 just too far away. Seriously, that last episode was just insanely good.
The shows visual effects could do with some work though. The hand to hand combat is thrillingly executed but the digital effects, particularly those surrounding Rachel’s demonic powers and Beast Boys tiger transformation could look less... well, digital. Whether it’s just a case of a lower budget or a faster production time, they could do with a top-up for next season.
Titans has turned out to be a complete surprise of a show. It hooked me right from the beginning, gave relevance to a group of characters and storylines that I usually don’t care about and is, quite frankly, the best superhero show out right now.
Don’t miss it.
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12 October 2018
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