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The First Steps to Getting DC’s Movie “Titans” Together

by  in Comic News, Movie News Comment
The First Steps to Getting DC’s Movie “Titans” Together

There is currently a “Cyborg” film on Warner Bros.’ superhero movie docket set to star Ray Fisher and come out in April 2020. So far it’s the next-to-last DC Comics film the studio has announced, followed only by “Green Lantern Corps.” Victor Stone is supposed to become part of a live-action Justice League, with his solo feature — like those of his putative teammates the Flash, Aquaman and Green Lantern — coming after the two planned “League” movies. However, a recent rumor holds that the studio might repurpose “Cyborg” into a showcase for his original teammates, and thereby become a “Teen Titans” film.

RELATED: “Teen Titans” Movie Rumored; Possible “Green Lantern Corps” Details Emerge

(There’s also a “Titans” series ostensibly in development for the TNT cable channel, but it’s been quite a while since there were any new updates on it.)

In light of how Warners plans to assemble its movie League, and keeping in mind other recent super-team adaptations, there are no shortage of blueprints for bringing the Titans to the big screen. Today we’ll look at some of those possibilities.

First, Warners must decide which general approach its movie Titans will take. Like their predecessors in the Justice League and Justice Society, the Teen Titans started out as an all-star group. By that I mean they were all pre-existing characters, each with a distinct background (albeit mostly dependent on adult mentors), brought together to face a common menace. The original lineup included Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Wonder Girl, with Speedy soon joining them. Since each was a Justice Leaguer’s junior counterpart, it wasn’t hard to see where Teen Titans sought to find its audience. The book eventually added original characters like Lilith, Gnarrk, Mal Duncan, and Bumblebee; but other members like Hawk and Dove, Beast Boy, Golden Eagle, and the original Bat-Girl further bolstered its all-star credentials.

The all-star model held true throughout the “New Teen Titans” revival. The group’s core was still sidekicks and junior partners (Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl and Beast Boy), plus new characters Raven, Cyborg and Starfire. Although “New Teen Titans” developed its characters into roles fully independent of their former mentors — with Nightwing being the most obvious example — it remained rooted in what came to be known as DC’s “legacy structure.” In other words, the ex-sidekicks might have graduated from their dependent roles, but those roles were inexorably part of their backgrounds. Even after it dropped “Teen” from the title, New Titans still relied on pre-existing characters. The team went through a couple of major makeovers in the early 1990s, including a post-event shakeup that saw Nightwing replaced as leader by Arsenal, the ex-Speedy. His new roster included the then-current Supergirl and Green Lantern, as well as the recently-introduced Impulse.

The first group of all-new Teen Titans came along in 1996, and was led by a teenaged Atom (Ray Palmer, somehow in the body of his 16-year-old self) and mentored by erstwhile Titans benefactor Loren Jupiter. This group (Risk, Hotspot, Argent and Prysm) had a common origin and, despite its connections to the larger DC Universe, sought to establish its own identity. That lasted for about two years, but along the way the team revealed more connections to the original Teen Titans and added Captain Marvel Jr. to the group.

Accordingly, the all-star model returned for the next few Titans series, including the no-adjective “The Titans” (the originals, revisited in the present), “Young Justice” (the then-current youngest generation, mentored by Red Tornado), and “Teen Titans” volume 3 (a blend of the two teams). The first two even spun out of “JLA”-related miniseries. However, by this time DC was into a whole new generation of costumed characters, including some (like Tim “Robin” Drake and Connor “Superboy” Kent) with their own series. This made them even more independent of their Justice League counterparts, and therefore easier to corral into an all-star team.

Paradoxically, though, that growing independence eventually made it easier for DC’s New 52 relaunch to position Teen Titans as virtually a standalone title. While it shared a universe with the rest of the superhero books, it was divorced almost entirely from the Justice League and its members largely had no other solo series. This version — an example of what I’ll call the “same-universe” model — starred a Red Robin, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl who each had no (or a greatly reduced) connection to Batman, the Flash or Wonder Woman. Indeed, the only Titan with his own title was Superboy, whose revised history was similarly disconnected from Superman’s.

Finally, a truly standalone version appeared in “Teen Titans: Earth One,” an original graphic novel set as part of the eponymous new-reader-friendly series. It focused on new versions of the non-sidekick New Teen Titans like Cyborg, Terra, Beast Boy, Raven and Starfire, but alluded to potential sidekick-style members including Robin and Kid Flash who have yet to appear in any “Earth One” book. Presumably “TTE1’s” connections to the wider Earth One setting were vague on purpose because the various “Earth One” books aren’t that interconnected generally.

Therefore, from the various approaches to the Titans over the years, we can see three distinct ways to team-build: the all-star model, the same-universe model, and the true standalone model. Since the hypothetical “Titans” movie will be part of Warner Bros.’ new DC movie-verse, we’re concerned primarily with the first two, both of which have been used to adapt DC and Marvel features.

Not surprisingly, the DC Animated Universe developed its Justice League with an all-star approach. Batman and Superman each starred in their own animated series, which shared the same universe; and “Superman” further introduced the Flash, Green Lantern and Aquaman. From there it wasn’t hard to bring them all together (well, except at first for Aquaman) in the animated “Justice League,” which added Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl and J’Onn J’Onzz. Of course, Marvel did the same thing with its live-action movies, using five interconnected solo features (“Iron Man,” “Incredible Hulk,” “Iron Man 2,” “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”) to introduce the six Avengers (the headliners plus Black Widow and Hawkeye) and tie together various subplots from the earlier films. Continuing the trend, DC is about to launch an all-star TV-based team, “Legends of Tomorrow,” using pre-existing characters from “Arrow” and “The Flash.”

As for the upcoming Henry Cavill/Ben Affleck/Gal Godot/Jason Momoa et al. League, I would argue that its formation is essentially one big story that started with the (re)introduction of Superman in “Man of Steel.” In this way Warners/DC are using a same-universe model, not an all-star one, because this Batman, Wonder Woman, et al., are being introduced in relation to Superman, not as stars of their own separate films. Besides the relative simplicity of this approach, Warners doesn’t have to follow a strict all-star model with Batman and Superman, because (as Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada and others have reminded us) everyone knows them, and putting them in the same movie doesn’t require much additional setup. Instead, the challenge is to create an entirely new DC movie-verse, separate from pre-existing efforts like Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy and Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns,” but one hopes expansive enough to include a wide range of styles.

In any event, we need not look only to the League or the Avengers. Cartoon Network’s various “Teen Titans” series have been as standalone (in their own ways) as their New 52 counterparts. Cartoon Network’s Robin isn’t the Dick Grayson of the DC Animated Universe, and you have to be paying close attention to tell whether he’s Dick Grayson at all. Those choices freed the producers to focus on crafting a uniquely-styled world, rather than conforming to the animated “Justice League.” The closest the two series came to an outright crossover was a “JL” arc which featured Titans analogues voiced by the “Teen Titans” stars. In fact, when CN presented a more traditional “Young Justice” series which regularly included the League, it too was separate from the more familiar DCAU. Presumably the successes of “Teen Titans” and “Young Justice” have reassured Warner Bros. that the Titans don’t need to be spun out of a Justice League series to be successful.

Nevertheless, we might suppose that thanks to the shared universe, the Titans could easily be connected to their older counterparts — but that’s not necessarily true; and the more apt comparison may be to next August’s “Suicide Squad.” It’s also set in the new movies’ continuity, and will include at least a cameo from Batman. Otherwise, “Suicide Squad” hedges its bets: it introduces a new-to-the-movies team of largely unfamiliar characters which (like the traditional “Titans”) is headlined by someone with a longstanding connection to Batman. We can guess that Cyborg will be in a “Titans” movie, but “Suicide Squad” may suggest further that Robin/Nightwing could also be part of the team.

While waiting for “Suicide Squad,” we can look to “Agents of SHIELD,” the “Avengers” TV spinoff which introduced a new troupe of characters led by, and working for, characters familiar from the Marvel movies. As we’ve seen, “SHIELD’s” connections have proven to be double-edged, with our heroes having to save the world without needing (or being able to) call the A-listers. Ironically, the show’s biggest boost may have come from SHIELD itself being gutted at the end of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” That ended up giving the show a purpose it had struggled to find. The lesson here is, just because the characters share the same universe doesn’t mean they’re automatically as compelling.

(By the way, for me the quintessential example of threading that world-saving needle was in the first big “New Teen Titans” arc, where Raven needed a super-team to fight off Trigon, so she recruited the Titans because the Justice League just flat turned her down. Future Titans adapters, take note.)

Right now, the DC movie calendar looks like this (with a “Batman” movie also in the works and a “Man of Steel” sequel rumored, but not scheduled):

  • “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (March 2016)
  • “Suicide Squad” (August 2016)
  • “Wonder Woman” (June 2017)
  • “Justice League Part One” (November 2017)
  • “The Flash” (March 2018)
  • “Aquaman” (July 2018)
  • “Shazam!” (April 2019)
  • “Justice League Part Two” (June 2019)
  • “Cyborg” (April 2020)
  • “Green Lantern Corps” (June 2020)
  • So, which model seems best for a “Teen Titans” movie? It could be the all-star one, although that would mean building up the appropriate Justice Leaguers sufficiently so that their backgrounds could include sidekicks. This would further distinguish the hypothetical “Titans” from “Suicide Squad,” since the Titans would be familiar to the audience from their mentors’ movies.

    An all-star movie could also feature a more traditional lineup. We know from the “Batman v Superman” trailers that there has been at least one Robin; Wonder Woman’s long history could have encompassed the creation of a Wonder Girl; and Aquaman’s Atlantis could easily be big enough for an Aqualad or Aquagirl to emerge from it as well. Moreover, one way to distinguish Ezra Miller’s Flash from his TV counterpart would be introducing Kid Flash early on as an eventual successor. The setup would have to come collectively from those movies plus the two “Justice Leagues”; so the questions are whether they could accommodate all that world-building, and whether “Teen Titans” is really that much of a priority.

    Assuming that it isn’t — i.e., that not every League-affiliated movie needs to contribute to a potential “Titans” film — that makes it more likely that Warners would use a more standalone approach. Considering the success of Cartoon Network’s “Teen Titans,” this may be preferable anyway. Besides Cyborg, a standalone “Titans” would be more free to introduce a new (Red) Robin with less of a Bat-connection. Like “Suicide Squad,” it could take advantage of the existing movie-verse as built to that point (ideally over about eight films) to introduce the balance of the Titans as new-to-the-films characters. Depending on the film’s needs, they could be from pre-existing settings like Themyscira or Atlantis, or new places like Tamaran or Azarath. Maybe the new Robin is simply inspired by the one enshrined in the Batcave; maybe the new Wonder Girl is 50 years old but looks 17; maybe the movie Superboy is another Zod-related experiment.

    Obviously it’s hard to nail down specifics about a rumored movie which isn’t scheduled to premiere until four-and-a-half years (and several more movies) from now. However, even this sort of blue-sky thinking can illustrate the logistics of a “Teen Titans” movie. The original Titans were an unabashed attempt to sell a “Justice League”-style comic to the kids of the mid-1960s — and, by the way, the byproduct of an era where teenaged sidekicks were taken for granted, not rationalized. “New Teen Titans” showed the core of that group graduating into their own young-adult super-identities, and “Young Justice” and its successors brought together a new generation of super-proteges. It’s not that movie audiences don’t care about such things, but there’s only so much a filmgoer can digest in chunks of two-plus hours.

    Whatever you think of Warner Bros.’ superhero plans, they certainly are ambitious. If the rumors prove true and the studio is serious about “Teen Titans,” it might be the most ambitious adaptation of the bunch. No matter which way the studio decides to go, they definitely have time to get it right.

    Stay tuned to CBR News for more on the future of “Cyborg” and WB/DC’s movie plans.

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