Season 1 | Episode 1 | ‘Titans’ | Aired October 12, 2018
Titans is, at its core, original. It’s the first attempt by a production company to keep content delivery in-house. It is the first time we have seen the Titans team, and most of the Titans themselves, portrayed in live-action. There is even an aspect of originality in DC’s slapping the old TV-MA rating on the preeminent show on their experimental streaming service.
The most original thing about Titans, however, is that it’s something we’ve never seen before. And I don’t mean that in the critical sense. It’s not the attempt to do things I’ve never seen or redefining how streaming TV works. The show is literally original, telling a story I haven’t seen on TV before. And for a DC property, that’s a pretty big deal.
Going into any DC property, it is safe to bet that you will either see a planet explode or pearls fall into a sewer in the first few minutes. Like most people who follow the DC line of products, I’ve joked about this at least a few times before. But I didn’t notice how much it bothered me until the first episode of Titans started. As I watched a teenage girl with purple hair wander through an abandoned circus tent, I found myself appreciating the basic newness of the show.
The Titans Get Going
The show opens by focusing on a character called Rachel Roth. Longtime fans of the Teen Titans franchise will recognize her as Raven. She wakes, with a start, from a dream about a husband and wife gymnast falling to their deaths, leaving behind an orphan son. When she wakes up, she tells her mother that she’s scared of something inside her. When her mom leaves the bedroom, she locks three different deadbolts on Rachel’s bedroom door, which is covered in crosses.
The next day, a stranger breaks into Rachel’s house and holds her mom hostage and gunpoint. He forces her to admit that Rachel isn’t her true daughter, then kills her on the spot. The stranger wants to kidnap Rachel, but she makes a run for it. She runs all the way to a bus station where she’s able to buy a one-way ticket to Detroit. A city where, coincidently, Dick Grayson has been working as a police detective.
In Detroit, Dick Grayson has developed a reputation as a bit of a loaner cop. The rumor around the station is that the partner he worked with in Gotham wasn’t the best at teamwork, and so now Grayson prefers to fly solo. You know, wink-wink-nudge-nudge or whatever.
But most of what we see of Grayson isn’t actually in the police station. Rather, we see him sitting in in cars, stalking criminals who fell through the justice system’s cracks. When the situation calls for it, Grayson even pulls on his Robin costume and lays down some vigilante justice: Gotham style. Because, as we all know by now, fuck Batman.
In the most original plot in the pilot episode, Starfire wakes up in the body of a German woman named Cory Anders. Whoever this woman was before she was taken over by the warrior princess of Tamaran, she was trouble. Cory finds herself besieged on all sides by angry, heavily armed German men who feel betrayed by her.
Cory, who doesn’t remember anything before becoming Starfire, tries to piece things together. She’s able to figure out that the past Cory Anders was hunting a girl somewhere. But she isn’t able to find out much more on her own. So she tracks her assailants back to one man: a club owner named Konstantine Kovar.
Kovar was in love with Cory Anders but Starfire searches Anders’ mind and finds it wasn’t reciprocated. When he hears this, Kovar shoots Cory. Without even thinking, Starfire emits a shield of fire protecting herself from the bullet. Conveniently, the fire also destroys her would be assailants. Before she leaves, Cory picks up a picture of the girl the old Cory Anders was hunting: Rachel Ross.
Also, a tiger steals a video game. Not a lot of Beast Boy in this one. I won’t lie, that was a bit disappointing.
Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
I did not expect Titans to be good. The trailer looked like it was DC reverting back to their worst instincts. I suspect that Robin’s deeply memed trailer line was enough to sour anyone on the show. But the writing contributions of living comics legend Geoff Johns allowed DC to thread the grimdark needle just right.
It is hard to find a DC property that manages to do the gritty thing well. But the show wasn’t good because of the writing alone. And it wasn’t good because of the audacity of what DC is attempting. It wasn’t even the originality of the story that made Titans worthwhile. It was good because- and I can’t believe I’m about to say this about a DC property- it was fun.
I don’t even know that I could tell you exactly why it was fun. And that might make me a bad critic. But I watched it twice today and enjoyed it both times. At the beginning of the day, I wasn’t even planning on writing this review because I didn’t think I could dedicate to watching the entire season.
But now, I’m excited about it. And not just that. I’m excited about all the forthcoming DC Universe series. Swamp Thing, Doom Patrol, Harley Quinn. After the first episode of Titans, I’m excited for them all. And, as a life-long DC fan, it’s been a while since I could feel excited for much of anything coming out of Warner Bros.
But DC’s willingness to embrace change and try new things has led to a rare win. And I genuinely think they can continue the momentum. All they have to do is continue to tell new stories in interesting ways and avoid pearls in gutters. It’s far easier for audiences to get excited about things they haven’t been subjected to over and over. But it will help DC to continue to pump out new ideas if they can remember one core philosophy at the heart of Titans:
New episodes of Titans air every Friday on the DC Universe streaming service.