Step aside, haters and naysayers — Titans is a fantastic, complex, and kick-ass show that’s decidedly not for the CW or Saturday morning cartoon crowd.
Let’s be honest — Titans hasn’t had the smoothest path to its premiere.
First, there was the terrible and racist ugliness surrounding the casting of Anna Diop. Racist fans, racist trolls, and random racists with Twitter and Instagram accounts all got irrationally angry that a Black woman — rather than, I guess, an actual orange alien from the fictional planet of Tamaran — was cast as Starfire.
Next, the trailer dropped, and the “fuck Batman” that was heard around the social media world had fans and reviewers alike jumping on the hate train.
And finally, we saw promotional images and photos, in which the character’s costumes, wigs and general appearances were endlessly criticized.
Through all of this, I never jumped off the hype train. I’m a DC fan through and through, so I was more than willing to give it a chance.
Plus, I was super excited to see a Black woman play an amazing character and sure she’d do a fantastic job, no matter what vile hate the racist fanboys spewed. I was way into the look, feel and tone of the first trailer (and actually found the “fuck Batman” line intriguing), and grew more excited with each promotional image and teaser that dropped.
And guess what? My journey on the hype train was well rewarded, because I loved the first three episodes of Titans.
So, my condolences to racists, haters and naysayers alike, because the costumes look good, the “fuck Batman” was a great character moment in context, and Anna Diop’s Starfire is one of the best parts of Titans.
Add onto that the fact that it had fantastic action, a stellar cast, great team chemistry, and a genuinely engaging storyline, and you’re looking at one of my favorite shows of the season. Check out the most recent trailer below, then read on for my (mostly spoiler-free) review.
Of course, let me just say that as much as I enjoyed the show, I can also admit that Titans is not going to be for everyone.
With the amount of swearing, violence and legitimately frightening horror scenes, I’d say this is strictly R-rated fare. If you’re looking for a kid friendly show, direct your attention to the Cartoon Network versions of Teen Titans because this ain’t that.
This is a show that revels in the fact that it’s on a streaming platform, unencumbered by TV censors and FCC rules — which means that the action scenes are really fucking good, but also really gritty and really bloody. Robin has a few fight scenes that are particularly brutal — I’m talking projectiles in the eye, a pedophile’s face being scraped through glass, bones being broken left and right.
I never felt like any of the violence was gratuitous (that is, existing for the sake of being shocking or for want of pushing boundaries), just that it was an honest attempt to examine what vigilante justice might really look like in the real world — crushed femurs, concussions and psychological consequences included.
Likewise, the show leans pretty far into the fact that Rachel is the daughter of a demon (I don’t consider this a spoiler since this is literally been her character since forever) and gives her some pretty scary scenes, including one where she liquefies all of a character’s organs into blood that he then vomits out.
However, I will say as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy horror movies, I never found the horror elements to be too over the top or so scary I couldn’t stay in the room.
For me, the key thing that Titans had to get right was the characters.
Comic book storylines, whether they be on screen or in a book, can be cliched, convoluted or just plain crappy (or some awful mix of all three). But oftentimes, that’s just fine because what you are really there for — and what you really care about — are the characters.
Centering much of its marketing on Dick Grayson was a smart move on the show’s part, but also a tricky one. Dick Grayson is easily recognizable, even by the most casual of comic book fans, which instantly gives the show a certain brand recognition. But he’s also one of the most popular and well-liked superheroes among DC fans, which means there’s a lot of pressure to get him right — and the reason that the “fuck Batman” line was so controversial.
However, I’m happy to report that Brenton Thwaites’ Dick Grayson/Robin is absolutely fantastic. He’s compassionate and charismatic and wryly funny — though certainly with a bit more of an edge than we might be used to seeing.
And while some might find that edge off-putting and perhaps even a misstep in terms of characterization, it’s obvious that the darker edge we are introduced to is part of an overall arc for his character. It’s a beginning for, rather than the whole of, his character, so I’m absolutely fine with it and excited to see the journey that he takes over the course of the show.
Plus, despite being in rather desperate need of a haircut, I was utterly charmed by him and frequently distracted by how handsome he was, so that feels like a pretty spot on depiction of Dick Grayson.
Teegan Croft likewise does great work as Rachel/Raven, who is at turns vulnerable, scared, defiant and (when her inner demon comes out) legitimately frightening. And while there are a few clunkier moments with her acting wise in the pilot episode, those more awkward edges are smoothed out as the season goes on and I frequently found myself really impressed with her work as both sides of Rachel — the frightened, confused teenager and the frightening, demonic presence within her.
We only see a little bit of Ryan Potter’s Garfield Logan/Beast Boy in the first three episodes that were released to critics, but what we did see made me fall in love with him immediately. He adds just the right amount of lightness and levity to the show and, honestly, if I had any real complaints about the characters in these first three episodes, it’s that we didn’t get enough Gar. But, since I’m sure we’ll get more of him as the show goes on, this is really a minor complaint.
And finally, let’s take a long moment to talk about Anna Diop’s Kory/Starfire, because she is completely amazing and easily one of the best parts of the show. Every time she comes on screen, she is absolutely electrifying (or should I say, pure fire?) and you find yourself unable to look away.
She basically spends all three episodes looking great, being great, and just completely beating the shit out of and/or burning shitty men alive, with one particularly memorable scene where she stabs a racist, abusive misogynist through the fist with a fork and then knees him in the balls.
After all that Anna Diop has had to go through online from the moment she was cast, it is particularly satisfying to see her completely own the role and be a complete and total badass the entire time. I’m positive that she’ll be an instant fan favorite and cannot wait for everyone to see what she brings to the role and the show in general.
And while the third episode has each of the respective Titans meeting one another for the first time, they’re far from any kind of superhero team and more of a random collection of strangers who happen to be thrown together to solve a increasingly connected set of mysteries.
In fact, at this point in the season, Titans is less of a conventional superhero show than it is a mixture of an old school horror movie, international adventure, and murder mystery show.
Kory is living out her own thriller movie when she awakens in episode one in the remains of a car accident with no memory of who she is, only the knowledge that she has freaking sweet fire powers and is looking for Rachel. Dick Grayson is a sullen cop trying to solve a murder with a frightened kid on his hands, and Rachel is a scared teenager whose black-eyed, obviously demonic reflection tells her to murder people (and who sometimes does murder people).
And really, that shouldn’t work as well as it does, but Titans manages to blend all three of these different genres and characters into one cohesive, engaging, and entertaining show, while also exploring both the question of what it means to be a hero and what it costs.
Titans is off to a fantastic start with a strong storyline and an even stronger cast of characters. I was already on-board with (and a paying subscriber of) DC Universe, but knowing that I’ll get to see a new Titans episode on there every week has now made it my must-have streaming service.
I’m so excited for the rest of DC fandom to experience the show, and can’t wait to see where the rest of the season takes us.