The first episode from DC Universe introduces us to a darker version of DC's signature teen superheroes: 'F--- Batman'
So, here we are! Titans is the first original programming from the new DC Universe platform, and — if Zack Snyder’s movie universe continues to fall apart — potentially the start of a new chapter for live-action DC superhero adaptations. How does it fare? Well, Titans is a strange beast. Most people are probably familiar with the Teen Titans from kids’ cartoons like Teen Titans Go! or Cartoon Network’s original Teen Titans series. While this new Titans retains several of the main characters from those versions — Robin, Raven, Starfire, and Beast Boy — it is also starkly different in tone and content. The violence takes some getting used to, but it balances well with humor and powerful performances to create an engaging show.
Thanks to the sheer volume of Batman adaptations released in the last decade, it’s become a bit of a joke at how often viewers are presented with footage of the Wayne parents’ murders, as if almost everyone on the planet wasn’t familiar with Batman’s origin story by now. The opening of Titans flips that a bit, by showing us a recreation of Robin’s parents’ deaths — a story most people probably aren’t familiar with! Since this is the original Dick Grayson incarnation of Robin we’re dealing with, his parents were circus acrobats known as the Flying Graysons (a framed promotional poster is still visible in Dick’s modern-day apartment). One fateful night, they went up for a high-wire performance and the ropes snapped, plummeting the Grayson parents to their deaths. Luckily for Dick, a local billionaire named Bruce Wayne happened to be in the audience that night, and took pity on a fellow orphan. Well, that’s how the origin goes in the comics, anyway. Young Rachel Roth’s nightmare stops before that, but rest assured Bruce Wayne’s shadow hangs heavy over this series.
Who is Rachel Roth, you ask? Well, she’s the girl who will become Raven, though she’s not going by that name yet. Right now, she’s a troubled little girl who keeps the neighbors awake at night with her screams. Her mother keeps the door barred and covered in crucifixes, but won’t tell Rachel anything about who or what she is. This makes it even more confusing when Rachel comes home from school to find a mysterious man holding her mother at gunpoint. With very little ado, he then murders Rachel’s mother in front of her. It’s a good indicator of how this show is going to work: People can and will just get brutally murdered at the drop of a hat. There is a consequence to the violence, though, as this gunman finds out when Rachel’s secret demonic personality suddenly emerges to attack him in a fit of rage.
Rather than stick around to sort out who he is and why he killed her mom, Rachel understandably flees her home and grabs the first one-way ticket she can find for a bus to Detroit — not a city you often find represented in superhero stories!
NEXT: F–k Batman
Alright, let’s get to the scene you knew was coming if you watched any of the Titans preview trailers. The standout from those promos was clearly Robin’s vehement declaration, “F–k Batman,” and thankfully it doesn’t take us long to get there. We see Dick Grayson in his car, watching a gang of criminals gather in an alley. He activates a high-tech briefcase, and then within moments these criminals find Robin in their midst. They don’t much care about him, though; they immediately look to the sky, expecting to see Batman around every corner. You can tell Robin resents that, and maybe makes his beatdown even more brutal as a result; at one point, he drags a man’s face across the jagged glass of a broken windshield, like something out of Dragon Ball Z. At the end of the fight, we see these criminals were abusing a young boy, so you can understand Dick’s passion. Clearly, he can take care of things on his own now. F–k Batman, indeed.
Even as a Detroit police detective in his day job, Dick has gained a reputation for looking out for lost or hurt children. So when Rachel gets arrested mere hours into her Detroit stay for chucking a brick at a police car, he’s the one sent in to deal with her. That’s when he learns she’s been having visions of his parents’ death. But while he’s trying to sort it out and looking into her mom’s death, another man in a police uniform steals Rachel out from under his nose.
Rachel is taken to a derelict lair, where her kidnapper explains that he’s going to kill her through a very specific religious ritual in order to prevent her father from using her as his portal to the mortal world. He didn’t count on the strength of Rachel’s other half, though. Before he can kill her or Dick can rescue her, Rachel’s spirit form shoots into her assailant’s body and makes him puke all his organs out through his mouth. Nasty!
Although this episode clearly focuses on Robin and Raven, we get glimpses of the other main Titans as well. Starfire (Anna Diop) wakes up alone in a crashed car with very little memory of how she got there. In this version, Starfire is not always an orange-skinned alien; she looks human, although when she unleashes her powers her eyes go green and her energy aura resembles the character’s classic look. Although she doesn’t have memories of who she is or how she got here, she clearly has an ingrained sense of purpose, and knows a bad guy when she sees one. Also she speaks German.
Then, at the very end of the episode, we get our first glimpse of Beast Boy. His childish attitude is immediately in evidence, as we see him using his shapeshifting powers to…steal DVDs. Most interesting of all, though, are the bone-breaking sounds and visceral body-horror imagery we get from seeing the green tiger turn back into a human boy. I’m really intrigued to see more of Beast Boy on this show.