A few years back, Marvel made a deal with Netflix and made some TV shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the Punisher. They were gritty and less family friendly that the MCU movies and dealt with themes of guilt, PTSD, race and the effect violence has on you and those around you. Each one had a strong first season, which myself and the MIGHTY Rosie binge watched at the first opportunity. The second seasons and the Defenders series were less strong and were more of slog to get through, to such an extent that it took two months to watch Luke Cage and I gave up on Iron Fist, bypassing Punisher altogether. It wasn’t that they were good, it’s just they kinda struggled to have the same impact. I didn’t feel I had to watch the next one and there seemed less and less reason to carry on after the story had been told.
I tried some of the other shows in a similar vein, with Runaways being such a faithful adaptation that all it did is make you feel you had already watched it. Black Lightning came next which felt too similiar to other shows to be it’s own thing. Then came Cloak and Dagger which was also faithful to it’s source material in that it was overly preachy with uninteresting lead characters. So by the time that Titans was announced I was somewhat less than optimistic.
Titans was originally the Teen Titans which was a bunch of sidekicks including the original Robin (partner to Batman) Aqualad (sidekick to Aquaman), Speedy (sidekick to Green Arrow), Kid Flash (nephew of the Flash) and Wonder Girl (sidekick of/younger version of Wonder Woman) which was as bizarre as Silver Age Bob Haney could make it. Then came the New Teen Titans, which kept some of those characters (Robin, Kid Flash & Wonder Girl), Doom Patrol alum Beast Boy and some new characters (Cyborg, Raven and Starfire) who were created by the new creative team Marv Wolfman and George Perez. It was a massive success for DC when they needed one and the characters blossomed into success stories.
There are other iterations of the Titans, but to be honest, whenever everyone talks about the Teen Titans, this is the version they are talking about. The excellent cartoon series Teen Titans and it’s successor the risable Teen Titans Go (Don’t care, still hate it.) contained most of that line-up. So when the TV was announced, this was where the line-up would come from. Still less optimistic.
Then came the trailer and some screen shots and then came the internet fandom bitching and moaning, too grim and gritty, too off model yadda yadda yadda. So again, my expectations were so low that it was more of a question of ‘might as well’.
But it was actually good. There was the story of Raven, who was revamped as a gothy teen and the death of her stepmother, which brings her into contact with a Detroit detective called Dick Grayson, who up until a couple of years ago was Robin, a role that has left him tortured by the violence he has committed and yet also addicted to that violence. As he realises the danger he is in they flee, meeting up with Hawk and Dove first them colliding with Beast Boy and Starfire as Rachel’s past comes for her. As well as Hawk and Dove, we get a look at the Doom Patrol and Wonder Girl, with the added bonus of Jason (the second Robin) Todd who is exactly as obnoxious as you expect.
The dark tone, the team-less team and the fact that these characters work best as animated ones are all reasons that this shouldn’t have worked and yet. Each character gets their own unique spin with Starfire being unaware of her past through most of the season and Beast Boy being traumatised by something he does in his animal form. We also see that the life Batman leads can do so much harm to those around it. Robin isn’t the swashbuckling boy wonder of old, but a man suffering tremendously with PTSD and guilt. This isn’t the Robin who softened the Batman’s edge, he’s the weapon Batman forged him into. We have a unnaturally powerful girl, a woman who burns like the sun and a boy who can be a green tiger once he’s stripped off, but the scariest is Robin who can and will do brutal harm with abandon. This version of Robin isn’t what I expected, but it was compelling. That’s a microcosm of this whole show. Unexpected and compelling. The violence is brutal, but in a way that feels earned. These guys are doing violent things, mostly for their own reasons and there is no sound effect projected into the air that softens it. It talks about the damage it does, both to the body and mind and I found the whole thing fascinating.
The pacing is tight, with one episode’s exception and after each episode, I checked the time to see if I can watch another one and when I couldn’t, I was disappointed. This was dark, unrelentingly so at times, but this was the best comic-related TV series that I have seen since the first couple of Marvel Netflix shows. I would highly recommend this, even if the characters haven’t grabbed you in other incarnations, because this is a show that made me give a toss about Hawk and Dove and I didn’t think that was possible to be perfectly honest.
It’s on Netflix here in blighty, but I assume it’s available elsewhere and is well worth checking out. Fair warning, there’s a cliffhanger.