Titans On HBO Max Doesn’t Know What Era It Wants To Be, or What the Hell It’s Doing
**There will be spoilers for the entire Titans series to date. Also potential spoilers for the 1980 comic series The New Teen Titans (by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez), the 2003 comic series Teen Titans (vol. 3 by Geoff Johns), as well as the 2003 Teen Titans animated series.**
Ever watch something based on something you absolutely love, but it pisses you off despite the fact you can’t seem to quit watching? That’s what Titans has been for me… pretty much from the beginning. I have had several issues with the creative liberties the show took with one of my favorite comic franchises of all time. Dick Grayson is an angsty, hyperviolent weirdo and not the charismatic showman I know and love who is easily the most well-adjusted of the entire Batman Family. Starfire, while excellently performed and played by easily the best actor on the entire show, lacked the focus she rightfully deserved, not to mention inconsistent powers (do they work at night or not? Now they were never really hers… and her true powers are blue, for reasons…). They cast a 13-year-old child to play Raven and a 23-year-old (10 years her senior) to play her traditional love interest… and continually tease their romance anyway (even in season one)… Not to mention the terrible wigs. The wigs were wiggin’ y’all. Raven also had weird exorcist-type powers in season one only for them to become just anything the plot requires starting in season two. Gar has had little to nothing to do, minimal storylines or transformations beyond that goddamned tiger, and no lingering pathos from leaving his family the Doom Patrol to join a team where he often gets beat up by his brainwashed friends and mistreated.
This show got problems for real, for real. The main issue is that it can’t seem to figure out what it is or what era it’s based on.
What Era of Teen Titans is This Show Based On???
Despite the original lineup for the members of the team in this series almost matching the 2003 animated Teen Titans series, minus Cyborg, the show seemed to really be based on the Marv Wolfman/George Pérez run of The New Teen Titans. The involvement of Donna Troy supports this, especially in season 2. Aqualad as well as Hawk and Dove (the Don Hall original Dove shows up in season 3, Dawn Granger was not introduced as part of the team until the 2003 run) were also shown to be past members, just as they had been during The New Teen Titans, with at least Aqualad making a guest appearance or two. Raven being the reason for the team coming together was maintained in both the original comic and the series. Other classic characters introduced from that era include Trigon, Arella (in the series as Angela Azarath), Shimmer, Deathstroke, Adeline Kane, Wintergreen, Jericho, Dr. Light, Blackfire, Jinx, Brother Blood, and others. Additionally, Jason Todd is introduced in the series to show how quickly Batman replaced Dick Grayson as Robin, just as he had in the comics after firing him. Classic storylines (albeit altered) adapted from this era include the formation of the new Titans team (as well as establishing a previous Titans team existed, including comics originals Robin, Wonder Girl, and Aqualad, with Roy Harper being mentioned and in contact with Donna), Raven assembling the new team due to the threat of her demonic father, Trigon’s arrival to earth, and the Judas Contract (with Rose Wilson taking the place of Terra).
Elements coming directly from the Teen Titans vol. 3 run include the inclusion of Superboy and Rose Wilson as members as well as Superboy becoming influenced by his Lex Luthor side. Meanwhile, elements from the 2003 animated series (or its successor Teen Titans Go!) include Raven’s hairstyle (season 1 in particular), Starfire’s pinker hair in season 1, Blackfire’s purple eyes (they were also green in the Pre-52 era), Jinx’s pink hair (though her being brown and East Indian comes from the comics as well as a wide range of sorcery rather than specifically bad luck powers from the cartoon).
What the HELL is Going On with Starfire’s Powers???
Aside from the anti-blackness of Starfire’s casting and the backlash over her wig and costume design, a lot of fans took issue with the fact that her starbolts were not green. Fans of the comics took to social media to inform them that, in fact, Starfire’s starbolts didn’t become green until the animated series, and even then it took until the New 52 or Rebirth era before they were in the comics as well. Her starbolts often appeared on covers of the original comics to be yellowish or maybe meant to represent flame, while inside the issues they tended to appear magenta. Whether either of them was meant to represent natural-looking flame color is unclear. By Teen Titans vol. 3 era during the Pre-52 era, her powers were explicitly flame-colored and looked more like actual fire than energy. From time to time, different colorists would color her powers magenta or pink in a particular issue, before the New 52 or Rebirth would make them green to match the popularity of the animated series and its sequel series.
Side note, as much as I love the Teen Titans animated series and Starfire in it, I felt the animated series toned down Kory’s features that otherwise would have made her seem like she’d be Black or otherwise ethnic if she were human. Her straighter hair and smaller facial features made a lot of fans unfamiliar with the comics thinking she’d definitely not be Black if she was human, or could be played by a Black actress. Yes, she is an orange-skinned alien and could be played by anyone of any race, but she always came across as Black-coded to me. Imagine a Starfire with her classic big, curly hair (you could keep the straight hair too though) and facial features more like Bumblebee from the show. That’d be awesome.
Starfire’s starbolts and powers overall were established very nicely in the live-action series. We quickly see she has superhuman strength (a power not always as widely known or understood, as the character is usually defaulted to flying around and blasting enemies), is able to understand any language (we don’t really see how she learns languages in the show, but in the comics and the animated series she and her people do it through physical contact often by kissing), and can discharge powerful fire from her hands. She is also, despite her amnesia, shown to be a master fighter. This makes sense because hand-to-hand combat is muscle memory and would not be affected by amnesia.
Unfortunately, even as her abilities (minus her ability to fly) were well established, the series also began to make weird choices with how they work, or don’t. Season 1 established that her starbolts don’t really work at night, which is thankfully quickly abandoned in season 2 because like Kryptonians (Superman and Superboy’s people), Tamaraneans (Starfire and Blackfire’s people) are solar batteries that store excess energy which should absolutely allow them to use their powers at night. Realistically, their powers would only deplete due to prolonged absence from direct sunlight.
But none of that matters now because when Blackfire inadvertently took back her powers from her sister (more on this below), Starfire was left with mysterious blue energy powers. Why blue? No one knows, but at this point, it would have made the most sense to just make them green to make the vast majority of fans familiar only with the animated series happy.
Villians to Heroes, and then Gone
Season 3 established that not only is the throne of Tamaran determined by who is born with the “royal fire” (rather than age), but that Koriand’r aka Kory (Starfire) was not even born with her starbolts! Instead, this version had her parents transfer the power from her younger sister Komand’r (Blackfire) and given to her by a spell. Why this was done in-universe, I don’t know. I suppose the people of Tamaran might’ve wanted Kory to die… or something… just because she wouldn’t have been royal..? In the comics, Blackfire was the older sister and her issue was that she was born with an illness that stopped her from having the power of flight, a power common to all Tamaraneans. Additionally, there had been a massacre done in her name the day she was born. Due to these circumstances and her grim disposition, the people of Tamaran hated her and her parents chose to pass over the throne from Blackfire to her younger sister Starfire, who could fly and was every bit the cheerful spirit Tamaran approves. This is why Blackfire was villainous in her original incarnation, and her motivations made perfect sense.
In this series, it’s unclear why exactly Blackfire’s powers were stolen from her and she was treated like shit. Her parents were trying to have her executed just to appease the people of Tamaran, who wanted her dead. It seems likely that Blackfire not having the royal fire made her an outcast and fueled her bullying (including from Kory) and made her people hate her. She killed them to save herself, fleeing to earth. After learning the truth behind their parents trying to kill Blackfire and having stolen her birthright and giving it to her, Kory forgave her sister for killing them and the two became a lot closer. This is nice, and I loved Demaris Lewis in the role, but I wish the circumstances (like why the Tamaraneans hated Komand’r) was made clearer or that they just stuck to the comics’ version which was far stronger in terms of motivation for villainy. While season 2 clearly set up Blackfire to be a major villain, season 3 redeems her and makes her sympathetic. I wouldn’t mind if she stuck around, but she got put on a bus with countless other Titans’ women characters.
This season we see the introduction of Jinx, a mix of her comics and animated series counterparts. She is clearly ethnic and of East Indian descent like her comics counterpart and it seems (initially anyway) that she gets her powers by having her feet on the ground (though she had socks on, whereas comics’ Jinx explicitly needed to be barefoot, and the show version is shown using her powers with shoes/boots on anyway), and possesses a presumably wide range of magical abilities. Like the animated version, she sports shorter pink hair and has a playful, wisecracking, and trickster-type personality. She also wears an admittedly gorgeously elaborate costume based on her comics counterpart, though her everyday style is reminiscent of the more gothy animated version.
The main issues are that, aside from being slightly morally gray or blase-blah about killing enemies or joking about leaving Kory as a statue (which she could have freed her from at any time), she too is undergoing some sort of redemption arc in this version. The animated series also did that when she fell in love with Kid Flash, so perhaps they’re using that version for more inspiration. However, this version of the character used to date and/or had a friends-with-benefits relationship with Dick… which just adds her to the list of women he’s banged who were never even his love interests in the comics. Kory and Barbara Gordon make the most sense for Dick because they’re his two biggest ships, and a random hookup here and there to show him being a lady killer isn’t bad (I guess). But making Dawn Granger (when she made the most possible sense with Hank and she was at her worst and most inconsistent when she was with Dick in the season 2 flashbacks) and now also Jinx his exes is just needless. Bring in Wally if we’re borrowing from the animated storyline anyway, or make her queer. We need more queer characters.
But it might not matter, for as of the latest episode the girl is dead. She says “not again”, which implies she’s died before and maybe could come back. Honestly, we already had other characters coming back and forth from death, and Jinx doesn’t normally die in things, so I wonder why she needed to die at all. Maybe it’s to save on the budget of her using her powers. Time will tell if a) She’ll come back to life or b) she’ll remain on the team for more than a season if the show gets renewed again.
Ladies Being Put On a Bus
I liked most of the women in the image, and the show does a good job at making most of the women in the show either cool or interesting in general, but there are issues. As said before, Rose Wilson as Ravager joined the team from Teen Titans vol. 3 (though as Rose Wilson she was a supporting character in the original Titans comic series in 2001), and she’s used here to retell the Judas Contract storyline presumably to save money on using Terra. Strange casting aside (almost all members were different ethnicities, though Rose and Adeline aren’t related.) Rose and her actress were a lot of fun and I didn’t even mind her budding relationship with Jason Todd despite my beef at his inclusion on the team (more on that later). The issue is that she and her brother (sharing her body, it’s complicated), leave the show and aren’t even mentioned again.
Dove is probably the original (show) Titan I feel was shortchanged the most, and also the one who irked me the most of the main women characters. While a skilled warrior with a much better wig than Raven or Kory in the first season and an excellent costume, I hated that she and Hawk couldn’t just have their powers. I know they don’t have anyone fly to presumably save money on the budget, but superhuman strength for Hawk (especially since Kory and Connor are shown with it anyway) was beyond doable. As for Dove, all they needed to do was show her being superhumanly agile. Maybe an impossible leap here and there and some great stuntwork/stunt doubles to do a bunch of acrobatic flips and moves (side note, this is literally what Dick Grayson, a circus acrobat, does but it is severely lacking in the series). Instead, both are non-powered and she uses knives… BO-RING!!! Equally boring and uninspired is the fact that the show decided to establish that Dawn and Dick used to date, which Hank was clearly upset over (and it was implied to be an affair behind Hank’s back, but in season 2 they openly date in front of Hank who doesn’t take any issue with their relationship despite the fact that Hank and Dawn’s origin establishes that they began a relationship almost immediately when they first became a team after Don died). Dawn in season 2 criticizes Dick and the team for going too far, yet two seconds earlier telling Dick to ‘be Batman” was either bad writing or a way to expose her as a massive hypocrite. Either way, she left the show when Hank died, Donna in tow to deliver a message from Hank in the afterlife (it’s complicated). Whether or not she’ll return is unclear, but if she does, she might return with her sister Holly Granger who was the next Hawk in the comics.
I love Barbara Gordon, and it took years but I love her as Oracle most of all. Unfortunately, this Babs has succeeded her late father as the new commissioner of the GCPD (eww), and Oracle is a male-voiced A.I. who does hacking for her instead of her being Oracle herself and using complex computer systems and hacking herself. See what I mean about changes making no sense? How is that empowering for the character??? She is only saved by a phenomenal actress and great chemistry with Dick, which warmed my heart as a lifelong Dick and Babs shipper. But she’s gone too (staying behind in Gotham) and didn’t even leave the police force to become Oracle herself, which would have been the best-case scenario. That and form this world’s version of the Birds of Prey.
Donna is one of the best characters played by one of the best actors on the show. Her appearances in season one won over many fans right away, and many were delighted to see her return as a season regular in season two, complete with an awesome costume. We got to see her in action more, use super speed, and be cooler. Unfortunately, she almost dies fighting Slade, which while possible even in the comics, was embarrassing to see since she should be much stronger than him and both Kory and Dick (who has no powers) were able to stand up to him far better. If Donna could take down Kory with one punch, why would she get utterly bodied by Slade who Kory did well against? Obviously, the most egregious thing to happen to her is the way she died at the end of season 2. After trading blows with and withstanding blows from Superboy, Donna dies by being electrocuted… She gets better, but fans were outraged. She returns in season 3 with total immunity to electricity and lightning (as a total apology to Donna fans), but too leaves to deliver a message to Dawn and then maybe join A.R.G.U.S. Booooooooooo. Bring Donna back! Again!
Jason Todd and Tim Drake
I know a lot of people love Jason, in almost any iteration including this show, and I know the actor was super grateful and loved playing him, even becoming a comic fan after researching for the role. Let me start by saying that my issue with Jason Todd in this show has nothing to do with the actor or his performance, he absolutely killed it and nailed Jason’s cocky and rebellious attitude along with his vulnerable side, or even much of the writing for him. My main issue is that Jason Todd had no business being on this team or involved in the show for as long as he was. Titans and Teen Titans have always been about either Dick Grayson or Tim Drake, for the most part. Yes, I know Damian Wayne is their Robin as well, especially throughout the New 52 and Rebirth era, but I grew up with Dick and Tim, and Tim especially is my Robin (Dick, in my opinion, reaches his best form as Nightwing). Jason was supposed to show up and demonstrate that Dick has been replaced as Robin, and then we could have gotten an appearance or mention here and there, or a Jason Todd spin-off for those who needed to see more of him.
Not even just because it would inevitably (and has) diluted Tim’s importance to the team he was meant to be a part of, Jason also pulled way too much focus off of other historical Titans who couldn’t be further from a decent storyline, namely Gar. His relationship with Rose was nice, despite having no basis on canon, but I too would have relegated it to a spin-off, which season 3 felt like anyway. Just as the Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey movie felt like Harley Quinn: Some Other Chicks, Titans season 3 felt like Jason Todd in Gotham: Oh, And the Titans Are Here Too.
That same season brought us Tim Drake, who despite debuting in one of the worst seasons was a delight. He deduced Batman and Nightwing’s identities, was earnest and adorable, and wanted to be a hero, just like in the comics. Tim being a master detective and figuring out Batman and Nightwing’s identities, looking up to Batman no matter what, showing him that he still needed a Robin despite Batman’s pain from Jason’s death, being a Titan and founding member of Young Justice, as well as being (at the time) the only Robin who actually wanted to be Batman someday and had the potential to be an even greater detective than him, were all that made Tim my Robin (aside from the fact I’m a 90s kid and he was literally the Robin of my generation, just like Wally West is the Flash of my generation). Season 3’s Tim wasn’t skilled, but he wasn’t yet trained or affiliated with any Titans yet, so it made sense. These were humble origins. But by season 4 while Tim’s been on the road with the Titans, he has had zero training and is a complete and utter liability. Dick later gives him a bo staff, the character’s signature weapon from the comics… and hasn’t even trained him on how to use that. I’ve avoided the fandom online, but given that Tim is played by a biracial actor, I’m sure racist fans are wondering what purpose he serves on this team aside from representation to which I say… and I can’t believe I am… but I also have no idea.
Tim has yet to be trained in any meaningful way, or at all. He has one weapon he doesn’t have the skills to use properly. His queer relationship from the comics is made weird by the fact that we met Tim when he was 16 in season 3, and now he’s kissing Brenard who is clearly a grown man and a whole scientist. This isn’t nearly as creepy as the age gap between Raven’s actress and Beast Boy’s actor (they seem to be dating now too, by the way, holding hands). It still begs the question of why they couldn’t just have Brenard be played to be Tim’s age and either be a prodigy who graduated high school and college early AF or is an intern at S.T.A.R. Labs, but the fact that I don’t know how old their age difference is or whether to not Tim is of the age of consent in Metropolis (whatever that is there), makes me uncomfortable. On one hand, Tim is 17-18 and is of the age of consent in Metropilos and/or Gotham (San Francisco, where they plan to go next is of course 18, but Dick took no time to train Tim to prepare him for highly likely life-or-death situations that come with being a Titan (and he seems to be a member rather than just traveling with them); or it’s only been a very short time since the end of season 3 and Tim may or may not still be 16 (though the age of consent for most states in the U.S. is actually 16, it’s just that Hollywood is in California where it’s 18, and thus a lot of writing reinforces age of consent as 18, even in states where it’s not, in a lot of shows and movies developed in Hollywood). Either way, not enough is explained, especially in terms of Tim’s training or lack thereof and why he would allow him to be a part of the team with none, and Bernard should have just been his age to avoid any confusion.
A Lackluster Evil Superboy Plot
Superboy is actually my favorite of the Young-Justice-turned-Teen-Titan crew in Teen Titans vol. 3. A large part of that was that I too was a teenager and found him sexy as hell. Those arms? That body? Can you blame me? I certainly couldn’t blame Cassie Sandsmark aka the second Wonder Girl. Girl had taste, and I shipped them (since I could never be with him). I liked how his powers were explained as tactile telekinesis (telekinesis being one of my favorite superpowers) but as the comic went on his Kryptonian powers were emerging one by one (which was very much giving Smallville in all the best ways, complete with a hot guy). I had seen images of classic, 90s Superboy with the leather jacket and the shades and the too-cool-for-school attitude, but it was the somewhat more laidback T-shirt and jeans wearing Connor I read and fell for. I also identified with his wanting to live out of a relative’s shadow (in his case Superman, in my case my big sister who I thought was more talented than me and was thinner) and for feeling torn between two sides of one’s family.
That last part is what led to a watershed moment in the comics where Connor is triggered by some trigger words into becoming brainwashed and evil, shaving his head bald and cutting an “L” in his shirt to signify his Lex Luthor side has taken over. It was actually this same run of the comics where Connor learns that he is a half-human clone and that his human DNA came from Luthor, as revealed to him by his best friend Tim. When Connor’s Lex side comes out in the comics, it’s frightening. He mercilessly attacks his friends and his girlfriend and is a loose cannon. In Titans season 4, Connor fully embraces Lex as his father after meeting him only once, and then when he becomes more like him… he just uses his intellect more and becomes a jerk. How riveting. Now, I get that on a team where no one would be able to stop him or the witch they’re after, which he did accurately point out by dressing down each member, they would have no chance, but still, this evil Superboy arc is much more boring than it had any right being. The Young Justice animated series, for all it got wrong, did a much better job making Superboy threatening, showing his dark side and rage, and his complicated relationships with Lex and Clark.
Side note, this show must bring in someone to play Clark in order to balance out the storyline and bring Connor back/give him much-needed perspective on Lex and on Clark and why they are the way they are. I know the show loves to have people not fly or use their powers a lot, so literally, all they need is to have someone play Clark so that they don’t need to show a lot of effects or design a Superman suit. It’s so easy it hurts.
White Raven: All Fanservice and Unearned As Hell
I don’t know if you’ve noticed yet, but I have exclusively referred to the character as Raven and not Rachel. I never liked the name Rachel or the name Rachel Roth for Raven. Rachel always makes me think of Friends, and fuck that show for ripping off In Living Single and featuring a snow-white inaccurate New York City, as well as Rachel Berry from Glee (Ewww. Only Amber Riley and Naya Rivera matter to me from that whole mess). Teen Titans volume 3 was the first time Raven decided to give herself a secret identity and named herself Rachel Roth, Roth had been her mother’s last name (Angela Roth aka Arella). But why Rachel? Raven is a very common given name. And who was going to hear a civilian girl introduce herself as Raven Roth and just know “You’re that Teen Titan Raven! That witch girl with the cloak over her head!”? She wears a hood over her head, and Rachel was in fact meant to be her secret identity. But I digress. This is why I only like to call her Raven.
White Raven is a big fucking deal when it comes to this team and franchise. We even saw Raven become White Raven in the animated series during some pivotal battles and character moments for her. Originally in the comics during The New Teen Titans, Raven became White Raven when she was finally free from her father’s demonic influence. Her strange speech (depicted as a monotone in the animated series) is due to the fact that Raven could not allow herself to express too many or too extreme emotions or else her father could take control of her body and use her to enter the world and wreak havoc. With his influence gone, Raven was finally able to freely experience her emotions without having to worry about her father taking over and using her as a vessel for evil. During this time she learned that she was able to manipulate the emotions of others, inadvertently making Nightwing fall in love with her (Starfire, in a relationship with him at the time, was able to resolve the situation by teaching Raven the difference between platonic love, which she and Dick actually felt for one another, versus the romantic love she assumed love could only be).
In the show, Raven loses her powers for several episodes when they’re absorbed by Mother Mayhem (the witch villain this season) and kept in some sort of crystal. Without her powers, Raven is free from feeling the pain of the whole world and is thankful they’re gone, wondering if she should just live life without them. Jinx later claims that no one can take another person’s magic away if they themself don’t want it gone. That’s weird because binding magic and/or depowering superpowered people is a common tactic in storytelling as well as a common punishment or tactic for stopping magical enemies. Either way, for some as of yet unexplained reason, Raven’s magic comes back and is glowing white in color and she has manifested a lacey white outfit and a white cloak. How and why was her magic purged from darkness? What will this mean for her powers moving forward or will it just be yet another abandoned plot hole to be ignored and forgotten by the end of the season or the next potential one?
Will Kory’s powers turn green when they reach maximum power and she’ll fly? Will Jinx return to life and stay on the team for good? Will Tim survive, get training, and finally become Robin? Will Connor’s hair grow back and will he meet his other father? Will Beast Boy’s somewhat interesting storyline end in a satisfactory way? Will Donna come back and un-break my heart? Will Dick and Kory’s monoracial potential future daughter be named Mar’i Grayson aka Nightstar just like in Kingdom Come? I guess we’ll have to see.