REVIEW: Titans S1E1

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Who are the Titans?

This is a serious question. There have been several versions of the eponymous Teen Titans, from comics to animation to video games. A live-action version has arrived on DC Universe’s streaming subscription service to break new ground. Does the pilot make enough headway to offer a worthwhile journey, or does Titans flail in vain?

Based on the pilot episode, I think it’s mostly flailing. Let’s review on a character by character basis.

Raven (Teagan Croft) is a living horror story, seeing visions and hearing commands from a shadow version of herself that seems to sabotage her every move. Her mother lives in denial of Raven’s darker nature, deciding instead to pray the evil away. Raven also has visions of Dick Grayson’s parents dying, which seems to serve as an obligatory connection to scoot the plot along when she and Dick inevitably meet. Raven seems the most like a teenager among the cast, and her lack of control over her powers, along with fear toward mysterious strangers trying to abduct her, is a good hook for her character.

Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) is an ex-Robin, not yet a Nightwing. In fact, he’s gone legit and become a cop… unless he takes a lead personally, in which case he dons his old Robin getup and turns goons into piles of misery. His rage for justice started much like his adoptive father Bruce Wayne’s, except Dick was hanging upside down from a trapeze when he saw his parents die. The pilot follows Dick around a lot, though not for any good reason.

If not for the fact that he will eventually become Nightwing, it’s not clear that he couldn’t have been a generic cop character. The traits his coworkers blandly describe, such as his lone wolf personality and interest in helping children, are not otherwise standout qualities. Even the goons he pummels, cuts, and injures just stand around in an alley like villains in an arcade game, waiting for punishment. Someone, give Dick something to do! He’d better make some friends worthy of those puppy dog eyes, and soon.

Starfire (Anna Diop) easily has the best arc of the pilot, and it’s a wonder to me that she is not at the core of the episode. She wakes up in a wrecked car with amnesia, including unawareness of her own powers, and chases down leads within a mafia that she apparently knew and possibly betrayed. Her search for answers about herself leads to a photo of Raven, which serves as the lone satisfying progression of a character arc I saw in the pilot. Her search for answers leads to more interesting avenues than Raven’s or Robin’s. All three characters are largely reactionary, but at least Starfire seems to know what she wants. Everybody else feels like they are waiting at the starting line of the series to become more than a teaser version of themselves.

Oh, and Beast Boy appears in the final five minutes, as a tiger, to steal video games out from under the care of a cartoonishly inept security guard. Okay.

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Is this show okay? I don’t mean that as a question of the show’s quality, but its production method. Is everyone on the set alright? Were the actors given more direction than “walk into frame and say the lines?” Were the set designers allowed to work with colors other than black and gray? Will death and violence be the only modes of interaction for these… heroes? These problems of tone permeate all four character studies and turn them gray when they seem to beg for quicker, lighter characterization across 45 mostly hollow minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying comic book media should be all neon lights and quippy dialog. However, the alternative should not be, “Dick Grayson wordlessly stares at the floor of a boring office in a boring suit.” There are flashes of the ensemble’s comic book identities – Starfire’s body lighting up before she sets a room ablaze, for example. Grayson tossing razor-sharp R’s as part of his bone-breaking spree, for another. All four of them are clearly in need of friends, though, and this pilot wasn’t one to them.

Verdict: 2 out of 5.

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Thomas is a teen services librarian who reads way too many comics. He can be found gobbling pancakes at the nearest diner with Jessica Cruz, Forsythe Jones III, Jane Foster, and Hellboy. He reviews media for the public here and graphic novels for librarians at No Flying, No Tights.

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