As someone who’s read DC comics since she was 8 years old, I have been following the development of the new Titans series since it was announced. As the train wreck progressed, it became more and more cringey and painful as a fan to see some of my favorite characters ever being mutilated beyond recognition. The horror. It got to the point where, after hearing the first reviews, I had decided I was no longer going to give it a chance.
After a couple of beers, I changed my mind.
I can say many terrible things about the first episode. My main takeaway, however, was that it was surprisingly not as agonizing to watch as it appeared from the trailers. Mind you, this is just the first episode. There is plenty of time for it to go downhill, especially with the DCEU’s track record. But for the first episode, I was prepared for the worst and was surprised that it wasn’t entirely loathsome. Like I said, there are a lot of terrible aspects to the show that I can bemoan all day (and I will do so in a minute), but, overall, Titans’ first episode isn’t as bad as the CW superhero shows like Supergirl and The Flash, but is nowhere near the lofty level of the Marvel-Netflix series that it aspires to match.
The first thing we must get out of the way is this: These are not the Titans you grew up with. And I don’t mean that in the cool, edgy way. I mean it in the “they made no effort to retain the aspects of these characters that make them who they are” way. The characters visually barely resemble their counterparts, and the same goes in terms of personality. Let’s go character by character and pick them apart.
Dick Grayson straight up mutilates and, from the looks of it, potentially murders some thugs, which will no doubt add fuel to the “Batman and family don’t kill” controversy. Yes, in the comics, Dick has a lot of resentment towards Bruce. He can be dark, obsessive, and driven, like his mentor. But Dick will never be Bruce. He retains his humanity, whereas Bruce will purposefully discard it in order to reach his objective. The difference between the characters is the prioritization of their feelings and empathy.
Raven, as far as the first episode goes, has exclusively been called “Rachel.” I don’t care, I’m calling her Raven in this article. My main complaint about Raven is that she seems to have been aged down considerably, after having started out her existence as one of the older Titans. I feel that this naive, overly-emotional take on her doesn’t suit the character. For those that don’t know, there is an actual story-related reason that Raven doesn’t express emotions and it’s very, very freaking important. I don’t hate Teagan Croft as Raven, but I feel she is too young for the role. Raven, in Titans, comes off as a Goth Tumblr blogger who writes about how nobody understands her and does Photoshop portraits of herself with her eyes oozing blackness. The portrayal is juvenile and one-dimensional.
Starfire, who so far has been referred to by the alias “Kory Anders,” is just … not Starfire. Anna Diop looks beautiful, despite the terrible things the wardrobe department did to her, and she does fairly well in her role in the episode. But the character is not Starfire. Instead of the strong but naive and free-spirited girl we know from the comic books, Kory Anders is a femme fatale with amnesia, embroiled in a plot more easily likened to a spy thriller than to a sci-fi superhero story.
Beast Boy appears for maybe a minute out of the entire first episode, so I can’t do much analysis on him, which is a shame, because out of the entire cast, I’d say I’m happiest with their choice for Beast Boy, and I think he will be the closest to his comic book counterpart, which will be a welcome change of pace.
The writers for the show don’t seem to understand what makes these characters great. Raven’s Soul Self makes an appearance in the show, but its nature is completely inverse from its nature in the comics. In the show, it is a representation of Raven’s inner demon, whereas in the comics, it’s the opposite: The Soul Self is the pure part of Raven, whereas her body is evil. Dick Grayson is portrayed as a gloomy, disillusioned brute, which is a shame, because he’s the only one who got a good costume. Starfire just isn’t Starfire.
So now that we’ve established the characters we are dealing with, we can delve into the plot and script, and the pros and cons therein.
The central conflict so far is: Everyone is looking for Raven, while Dick is trying to protect her. This is almost like an inversion of the 1980’s Titans’ origin story, wherein Starfire arrives on Earth, pursued by the Gordanians, and Raven brings the team together to help her. The shifting of the power dynamic, changing Raven from the authoritative position, to the victim in need of protection, to me, diminishes her. And for clarification, in the 1980’s comics origin, Starfire is not diminished by needing help, as she is still an active participant in the fight against her attackers. Raven in the 2018 TV show, is mostly running away and looking for help.
I’d say, other than character portrayals, the worst part of Titans is the dialogue. Conversations are generic, uninteresting, and unrealistic. They do not keep you engaged and tend towards the predictable. There is nothing truly clever or shocking, though it tries very hard to be both. Some of it makes no sense whatsoever, sounding very little like anything that a real person would say. (“I don’t care about your emotional problems!”) I’ve heard people praise Titans for its use of humor. In the first episode, I can say, what I did see of humor was very little and very cringeworthy. I’ll let you know if that changes, but for the meantime I’m going to put a big red “NOPE” stamp on Titans‘ use of humor.
The main villain of the first episode appears in what is probably the worst scene of the entire hour. His dialogue is pure, uncut exposition, literally explaining what the viewers are supposed to feel about him and his allies. At the same time that we’re told too much, we’re also not told or shown anything that will actually make us feel invested in him or his cause, one way or another.
The soundtrack is painfully disappointing, despite being composed by Clint Mansell, whose scores so beautifully enhanced such films as Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain. His work on Titans comes off as derivative and dull.
So, overall, what do I have to say about Titans’ debut episode? It’s bad. It’s not good. But it’s not the absolute steaming pile of garbage I expected. It’s not as bad as the DCEU’s big screen disappointments like Suicide Squad or Justice League. It’s slightly better than DC’s CW series The Flash and Supergirl, mostly thanks to its ability thus far to stay away from hackneyed romance plots and soap opera drama, both of which plague the CW series. With time, the willingness to cut out the weak parts, and temper the better aspects, Titans could potentially be good. It’s nothing to write home about. The costumes are still awful, the script is laughable, and the concepts are poorly executed.
What would it take for me to say Titans is good? The characters need to be better developed. Convince me these aren’t just some emo-tinged fan fiction versions of the complex characters created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Show me that there’s true respect for the source material. Give me a killer version of Trigon, Brother Blood, or Deathstroke. Really make me believe you know what you’re doing, show runners. Prove me wrong, that this show will slowly devolve into a dumpster fire like the rest of the DCEU.
Also, please stop with the wigs.
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