12:00 pm EDT, October 12, 2018

‘Titans’ series premiere review: Reluctant heroes and inner demons

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The Titans series premiere is a thrilling genre mash-up of an episode that introduces us to the team and their (literal and figurative) inner demons.

Let’s get this out of the way early: This definitely isn’t the Titans as you’re used to seeing them.

Starfire isn’t a bubbly teen, Robin isn’t a smiley, quippy sidekick, and the show definitely doesn’t shy away from either the violence inherent to being a vigilante or just how truly horrifying it is to be the child of a literal demon.

And all that is exactly why I love and enjoy this show so much.

Not because I don’t like the Teen Titans or Teen Titans Go! shows, because I absolutely do and suggest that everyone watch the first one on the DC Universe app and then go rent Teen Titans Go to the Movies because it is legitimately hilarious and heart-warming (my two favorite things).

In fact, it’s because I like these shows so much that makes me likewise enjoy the hell out of DC Universe’s Titans. I really love all these characters, and so it would only follow that I’d love seeing a different take on them. And you know what? The show does a great job of updating them and changing them for this medium, while also retaining who the characters are at their core.

This first episode has the difficult job of introducing us to the characters as they are in this universe, while also setting up the conflict and laying out the themes for the rest of the season. And, for the most part, it does all these things incredibly well, giving us interesting characters and crafting an intriguing story that keeps us wanting to learn more.

It also goes on to explore not just what it takes to be a hero, but what it costs — physically, emotionally and psychologically.

Let’s dive in to episode 1 of Titans!

Battling inner demons

Rachel Roth Titans

It makes sense that the two characters who connect first are Rachel and Dick.

First off, the two genres that accompany their story are a natural fit — Dick’s moody detective narrative intersects well with Rachel’s dark horror story, both in terms of narrative and tone.

But more than this, both characters mirror each other in that each are struggling with their inner demons.

Anyone familiar with Teen Titans history knows that Rachel Roth is a daughter of actual demon Trigon, so her inner demon is a literal one. We see her struggling to understand what dark thing is inside of her and not knowing how to control herself so that her dark-eyed doppelgänger isn’t released.

Teegan Croft has a few clunky moments of acting in this first episode, but overall does a fantastic job of portraying a young teenage girl who is confused about who she is and utterly terrified about the parts of herself that she cannot understand.

The slow buildup of revealing her inner demon and what she can do, culminating in the a full-on attack that makes a man vomit up blood until he dies was absolute perfection. The show leans pretty far into its horror movie elements and I love it for that.

Robin in Titans

Unlike Rachel, Dick’s inner demon is figurative — one born out of years of fighting monsters and gazing straight into the abyss. There is a darkness within him, one that he neither likes nor, it seems, can fully control once he unleashes it.

A lot has been said about the violence and grittiness of Titans, and specifically with Dick Grayson’s character. After all, he’s a character well-known for being Batman’s more light-hearted and buoyant counterpart, one who balances the grimness of Bruce Wayne with his more effervescent nature. And maybe arguments about the grittiness of his character or the darkness of this Titans show might have any sort of sway on me if two things weren’t incredibly obvious from this very first episode:

1. The gritty, grim nature we first see in Dick is obviously meant to highlight the start of an arc and a mental/emotional state in which he doesn’t want to be; and
2. We’re meant to be taken aback by the grim violence with which he conducts his vigilante affairs.

And honestly, I’m 110% over criticisms over how dark or not comic book narratives should be. One of the great things about comic books is the fact that different artists and authors provide a buffet of different takes on our favorite characters and plotlines. There’s nothing inherently more authentic or interesting about a relentlessly sunny storyline, and there’s nothing intrinsically bad about a story that dips into the darkness of the human experience.

The first episode of Titans is dark, but it fits the narrative and the tone the show is trying to achieve. And, yes, the character of Dick Grayson is maybe darker than we’re used to, but it’s so obviously an arc — one that I can’t wait to see play out.

Who am I?

Starfire Titans

Each of the three main heroes we spend time with in the Titans series premiere wrestles with this question.

For Kory, it’s a literal one, one that she goes around asking multiple times throughout the premiere. She has no idea who — or what — she is, where she is or why she’s there. All she really knows is that she has an American passport, which tells her that her name is Kory Anders, and that she is looking for a girl named Rachel Roth.

And while she initially seems rather shaken to wake up from an attempt on her life and not know who she is, she actually handles the whole thing with a pretty high level of serenity. This is probably because she very quickly finds that not only is she able to kick a lot of ass very easily, she can also burn people to crisp. I’d be pretty chill, too, if I woke up with only the knowledge that I was a complete and utter badass.

Still, I’m sure this is going to be a major part of her arc as the show continues on, one which will see her discovering her extraterrestrial roots and learning why and how she came to be on Earth.

Rachel’s search for identity likewise leans a little more on the literal side, as she learns within the first 10 minutes of the show that the woman she calls Mom is not, in fact, her mother. She also becomes increasingly frightened of the darkness within her as the premiere goes on.

Her question of identity is a combination of “who am I” and “what am I,” both questions in which I’m sure the answers will be overall rather difficult and unpleasant for her to uncover.

Dick Grayson Titans

Yet what is a literal question for Kory and Rachel is an emotional and existential one for Dick. Separated from Batman and away from the corruption of Gotham, his search for identity centers the question of — who am I if I’m not Batman’s Robin?

The Dick Grayson we meet in the Titans premiere hasn’t been sighted as Robin for nearly a year — long enough that many believed Robin is dead. And maybe Dick Grayson, who we meet here as Detective Grayson of the Detroit PD, was trying to keep him that way.

I do wonder if part of Dick’s break with Bruce centered around the legitimacy of what it was they were trying to accomplish as vigilantes. He mentions to new partner Amy Rohrback that his old partner was a “stop at nothing guy who solved everything with his fists,” which makes me think that perhaps joining the police force was a way to operate within the system and prove Bruce wrong.

But old habits die hard, and we very soon see Dick suited up as Robin, avenging beaten children in a more violent way than we’ve ever seen. He doesn’t relish or enjoy the brutality with which he fights these criminals, and it’s obvious from the way he looks at the news footage of Robin fighting in the alley that this is a version of himself he doesn’t like.

So who is Dick Grayson, really? Because he’s not, as Amy Rohrback points out, actually the asshole he pretends to be. And he’s also not the little bird that so many are used to seeing beside Batman.

I think he is, like another one of DC’s unfairly maligned (big screen) heroes, just a guy trying to do the right thing, but who is also uncertain about what exactly the right thing is.

It’s a question that he’ll need to answer in order to figure out who he is, and one that I’m excited to see explored as the season goes on.

And the award goes to…

Kory Anders Titans

  • Most unintentionally hilarious line: “Hey, Grayson, you got that thing for helping kids, right?” I watched this episode like five times and laughed every time. I know it’s meant to tell us about Dick as a person, but it’s such a clunky line that also implies that everyone else on the police force does not care that much about helping kids.
  • Best Kory line: “I don’t think I loved you…yeah, yeah. I’m pretty sure that’s a no.” Both this line and Anna Diop’s delivery of it are so, so good. I love her so much already, you guys.
  • Best line when taken into context: “Fuck Batman.” It’s neither unnecessarily gritty nor as campy as it seemed to many in the trailer, but instead manages to sum up Dick’s current mental and emotional state and his relationship with Batman with two simple words.
  • Most convenient moment of comic book magic: Kory burns three men to a crisp, but the picture of Rachel Roth that is directly behind them is miraculously mostly unharmed. I had to laugh.
  • Best reason to watch: A tie between that Robin fight in the alley and Starfire burning those three men alive and then looking vaguely amused at their charred bodies.
  • Episode MVP: I want to give it to Kory because I love her, but I’m gonna have to give it to Dick Grayson. Brenton Thwaites did a fantastic job playing both Dick Grayson, pretend asshole and protector of children, and Robin, conflicted and gritty superhero. I’m so glad he’s our Robin, y’all.
  • What did you think of the ‘Titans’ series premiere?

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