DC Universe would have been better off omitting Robin’s famous — no, make that infamous — “Fuck Batman!” scene from Titans‘ eagerly anticipated first trailer. Sure, it garnered a lot of attention at Comic-Con International, but at the cost of the streaming service’s first original series being viewed as edgy simply for the sake of edginess. And make no mistake, there is some of that, with F-bombs dropped right and left, implied threats of castration, underscored with a pair of shears, and at least two antagonists burned to a crisp. But, thankfully, there’s more to Titans than that.
It’s dark, just as the trailers indicate, with a level of violence that races past anything on The CW’s Arrowverse and teeters into Zack Snyder-era DC Extended Universe territory. Heroes maim and kill, with some frequency, in the three episodes provided for review, although not always on purpose. It goes without saying, then, that Titans isn’t suitable for young viewers, who aren’t the target audience for this streaming service anyway. However, neither is the series aimed at fans of DC’s classic New Teen Titans, who will undoubtedly bristle at the tone and quibble with the characterizations, to say nothing of the lineup (a later episode is titled “Donna Troy,” which may salve that particular wound). Yet, for all of those caveats, there is something enjoyable about Titans.
It’s a mystery, or rather a series of mysteries, that draws in the audience even as it ensnares the characters, and moves at such a brisk pace that we don’t ponder the passage of time in this DC Universe, or puzzle over unlikely coincidences, which is all for the best.
The premise has been laid out as plainly as possible in the assorted promos, with Teagan Croft starring as Rachel Roth, a troubled girl tormented by horrific visions, and even more terrifying abilities, and pursued by a mysterious global cabal determined to use her for as-yet-unknown purposes. She’s drawn by a dream to Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), aka Robin, a newly arrived Detroit police detective determined to put some distance between himself and Gotham City. Initially reluctant, he nevertheless becomes Rachel’s accidental guardian, and her defender against the sinister conspiracy swirling around her. He’s not the only one, either, as Koriand’r (Anna Diop) is also in search of Rachel, even if she’s not sure why.
Along the way, Titans also introduces Ryan Potter as Garfield Logan, aka Beast Boy, if barely, Hawk and Dove (played by Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly), and a team of not-quite-classic villains that will take even the most devoted comic book fans by surprise (we won’t spoil the realization for you).
Although it’s unclear whether Hawk and Dove will prove integral to the overarching story or are intended merely to flesh out this fictional world, and Robin’s backstory, their introduction in the second episode is welcome. They could’ve been simply a boyfriend/girlfriend vigilante duo, but Titans instead gives them a complicated relationship with Dick Grayson, and a goal: to make that final big “score,” and then hang up their capes before their occupation kills them. We’ve seen that in countless crime films, but not so much in superhero dramas, and here it feels fresh, and worthy of further exploration.
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