First Impressions: Titans is more style than substance

Gritty and gratuitously violent, DC’s take on a live-action version of the Teen Titans puts focus on all the wrong things.

The first episode of Titans was released Oct. 12th on DC’s new streaming service, DC Universe. While previous reviews were mixed at best, fans remained hopeful that the show about Robin (Brenton Thwaites), Starfire (Anna Diop), Raven (Teagan Croft) and Beast Boy (Ryan Potter) would do the characters justice. No pun intended. It’s rumored that additional members of the original comic book’s team, like Wonder Girl and Superboy, will appear throughout the season. For a show that features a lot of the first live-action appearances of so many fan favorite characters, you would think it would be put together thoughtfully and organically. However, that was not the case.

We begin the series with Raven, going by her civilian name Rachel Roth, having visions of the Flying Grayson’s tragedy we are all familiar with. Her mother, a wasted Sherilyn Fenn, enters her bedroom to comfort her. Rachel is uneasy in her own skin, not sure of what she is seeing or what she is becoming. There is a precedent set that she has either tried to harm herself or her mother before, so there are several locks on the outside of her door, along with many crucifixes and pictures of Jesus. Rachel and her mother have a bit of a strained relationship, although we don’t get to explore that very much since Fenn’s character is shot in the head five minutes after meeting her. After seeing her mom killed right in front of her, Rachel runs, taking the bus to….Detroit?

Yes, Detroit, which apparently is taking the place of the fictional city of Bludhaven, which was originally thought to be the location the series would be taking place. A jaded Dick Grayson is a police detective who still moonlights as Robin, primarily to punish guilty individuals who have somehow beat the system. We see him don the Robin costume to take out a group of non-descript gang members, killing some and maiming the rest. This is definitely not your father’s Robin. After evading several attempts of being kidnapped, Rachel makes it to the Detroit Police Department, where she meets Dick and immediately recognizes him as “the boy from the circus.” Skeptical about the girl, Dick does some digging into her background and finds out about her mother’s murder. Rachel is secretly drugged and whisked away while Dick is off-site, and is being held captive by the man who murdered her mother. Rachel’s “dark self” appears several times throughout the show, usually to warn her about impending danger or to acknowledge her bloodlust. Dick rushes to rescue Rachel, who has been tied to a chair in an abandoned building. Rachel’s dark self reappears and actually projects itself across the room, attacking her captor and killing him. Dick eventually finds her and takes her on a road trip to “somewhere safe.”

When we first meet Starfire, here going by Kory, she is the passenger in a car wreck in Vienna who comes to, unable to recognize anyone or anything around her. It seems as though Kory has maybe possessed the body of a human, possibly the writers’ way of explaining why she isn’t orange. Kory appears to also be caught up in some sort of mafia shenanigans, it’s never really made clear why, but we do get to see her demonstrate her super-strength and fire powers. She discovers that the organization who tried to kill her is also after Rachel.

Beast Boy only shows up within the last couple of minutes. A security guard at an electronics store is surprised to find a green tiger rummaging through the video games. He shoots at the animal as it hurries away. Once it reaches a nearby forest, the tiger changes into Beast Boy, still holding on to the video games.

Granted this is only the first episode, DC Universe is releasing one episode a week instead of releasing all twelve at the same time, but so far the series isn’t any better than DC’s less than stellar movies. The angst is there, the imagery is there (except for Rachel and Kory’s looks), the action is there but there simply isn’t enough good writing to explain what is going on. It feels like the audience has to decipher the various storylines going on at the same  time, with no thread of continuity. Thwaites makes a decent Dick Grayson and Diop kills it as a femme fatale, but the rest of the acting has a long way to go. Croft’s portrayal of Rachel often comes off as whiny and afraid of everything, a far cry from the Raven we know and love.

Again, this is just the first episode, and many successful series have a rough couple of episodes. We’re willing to give Titans a little more time to find it’s footing but if it takes all season, there may not be an audience left.

Titans is available for streaming on DC Universe and in the UK on Netflix.