Do you like your superhero stories dark and gritty, with angst-ridden heroes fighting their tragic history? Well have I got a show for you. Creators Geoff Johns, Greg Berlanti, and Akiva Goldsman have brought forth a new DC television show that makes the Suicide Squad movie look warm and fluffy by comparison. This series is definitely not aimed at the kids who recently went to see Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, as not only are “F” bombs dropped here, but these heroes also brutally murder their enemies, with levels of violence one does not expect to see on a television superhero show. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it will certainly be interesting to see what direction the series takes.
We are first introduced to Rachel Roth (Teagan Croft), a troubled teen who is plagued by nightmares of a circus trapeze act that ends in tragedy when two of the three “Flying Grayson” fall to their deaths, leaving their son an orphan. Those familiar with Batman lore know this to be the origin of Robin, and we do get a glimpse of Bruce Wayne placing his hand on the grieving boy, but like the series Gotham, don’t expect to see Batman ever making an appearance.
We quickly learn that Rachel isn’t your typical troubled teen, that she has her mother lock her in her room at night – with a door covered in crucifixes – is our first clue that she’s more than your run of the mill goth girl, but when a strange man arrives at their home, murders her mother, and tries to take her away, she sends him flying with a telekinetic attack. Turns out that Rachel – who will later be known by her superhero name Raven – is a mystical empath who is the daughter of a demon, and the strange man was part of some cult that believes she has to be sacrificed to save the world from evil forces. Rachel flees the scene and ends up on a bus bound for Detroit.
Lucky for her, Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), the poor orphan boy from her vision, is now a police detective in Detroit, but even luckier is the fact that he’s also the ex-partner of the legendary vigilante known as Batman, so taking on an evil cult should be no problem. This is a pretty good set-up for a show, and Teagan Croft gives us a very sympathetic character to root for, but then Titans goes and makes a big comic book misstep by having adult Dick Grayson dressing up as Robin, when at this point in his career he would have become Nightwing already. Later in this series, Jason Todd is apparently going to make a cameo as Batman’s new Robin, which only compounds the issue of Grayson still wearing the Robin costume — why not just introduce Grayson as Nightwing? Well of course the answer to that stems from the fact that your average television viewer wouldn’t know Nightwing from a hole in the ground, so they stick Dick in a Robin costume and call it a day. And sure, as Robin, he was a founding member of this team, but that was back when it was the Teen Titans, and Dick Grayson was first stepping out from under Batman’s shadow.
Brenton Thwaites is a fine actor, but this portrayal of Robin could put some viewers off; we get the cliché cop element where we learn he doesn’t like working with a partner – though his history with Batman does add a nice level to this trope. However, when we see him fighting as Robin, it is bloody brutal, and I do mean bloody – he drags one crook’s face across a brick wall, another across broken glass, and treats rib cages like cheap piñatas – and what makes this a strange choice is later, when we get Dick explaining to his new partner on the force, Amy Rohrbach (Lindsey Gort), that he doesn’t like partners because his last one solved everything with his fists. Not only is that an unfair description of Batman, but all we see out of this Robin is a brutal psychopath who bloodily maims people in the name of justice.
Now to be fair, these guys were drug dealers, and one of them got on Robin’s radar because he was a child abuser, but there isn’t much on display here that sets him apart from his old mentor when it comes to doling out justice. The key problem I had with Robin’s introduction here was not so much the level of violence on display, but his overall attitude, because though this fight sequence was wonderfully choreographed, it was also horribly undercut by Robin’s final retort, “Fuck Batman.” And what brought on such a hostile reaction, you ask? Well, when Robin bursts in on the scene, the crooks immediately look around to see where Batman is, assuming if Robin is around Batman can’t be far behind, but when they realize there is no guy in a cape and cowl, they comment, “The little birdy’s alone,” as if Robin by himself isn’t a threat. Given that this takes place in Detroit, I’ll try and let slide how dumb the assumption is that Robin isn’t a badass, but it seems as if this comment is what really sets Robin off on his violent assault — not just because they are drug dealers and child abusers.
This bitter violent Robin is the only element I found a tad off, the rest of the show fires on all cylinders, and the introductions of Dick Grayson and Raven is nicely intercut with events happening over in Austria, where we are introduced to our third member Kori Anders (Anna Diop), who awakens in a bullet-ridden car wreck with amnesia, where she immediately has to flee some gun toting thugs. Eventually, she makes it back to her hotel to learn that she is super rich – having rented out the entire top floor of the hotel – has a dude locked in a closet, and that she has super powers to go along with being super rich. Her little mystery will lead her to a gangster named Konstantin Kovar, who she apparently faked a love interest in so that she could track down Rachel – see things are tying together – but Kovar doesn’t take being betrayed lightly, and he tries to shoot her. this does not go well for Kovar as she quickly immolates him and his goons in a firestorm.
This show is dark, and I don’t just mean the blue filter that DC tends to paint on all their projects, but its whole tone is vastly different than what their other television shows are producing at the moment, and is more in keeping with what we see in the theatrically released stuff of the DC Extended Universe. Being that DC has been doing great with shows like The Flash and Supergirl, while their movies are critically drubbed, this may seem like a strange tactic, but one can’t really tell what direction this series will take just from seeing the pilot, and a lighter tone could easily be introduced to counterbalance the dark. We do get a glimpse of Beast Boy (Ryan Potter) at the end of this episode and his shape-shifting character is a chief comedic element in the Teen Titans comics, so hopefully he will bring a little levity to the proceedings here as well.
Overall, I’m optimistic going forward with this version of Titans; the cast they’ve assembled all show great promise, the mystery behind Rachel’s demonic parentage and her connection to Starfire opens up countless opportunities for action and drama, and if the showrunners can just let Dick Grayson get over himself we could have a really good series on are hands. I honestly look forward to see in what direction they take these characters, as they certainly aren’t quite the ones I grew up loving, but once again that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Titans (2018) – Pilot
Show Rank - 7/10
Marvel continues to dominate at the box office but aside from their Netflix shows DC is really kicking butt on the small screen, and now with Titans we could get another DC television gem. Will be as successful as Gotham, The Flash and Supergirl, only time will tell, but it certainly has a lot of promise.