Titans just wrapped its third season after making the move from the now defunct DC Universe streaming service over to HBO Max. Doom Patrol made the move first, and definitely benefitted from it, so I was very eager to see what would happen with Titans.
A Brief History of Titans
Being the debut series on the aforementioned streaming platform Titans tried to set the stage and distinguish itself from previous depictions of its characters to very mixed receptions. The Teen Titans we knew from previous animated series were definitely not the same people we were now seeing in live-action, and that couldn’t have been more clear from the very beginning.
In the first episode of the series Dick Grayson/Robin graphically stabs a guy in the crotch with gardening tools.
First and foremost, most of them wouldn’t be teens anymore. Brenton Thwaites’ Dick Grayson is in his late 20s by the start of the show and has been Robin for a long time. Anna Diop‘s Starfire is similarly aged up while also having a dramatically reduced costume from what people were used to. The only people that are technically teens would be Garfield Logan/Beast Boy (Ryan Potter), Rachel Roth/Raven (Teagan Croft), and Jason Todd/Robin (Curran Walters). They just barely make the cut too.
Some characters would have established histories and backstories while others would be introduced as the show went on and we would start to see them grow into the famous heroes we knew. Hawk and Dove are an established vigilante team for example. Meanwhile Beast Boy has only just left Doom Manor and can only become a tiger in the first season. It was a very interesting way to examine some of these characters. It definitely works more for some than others.
Titans has had its share of issues over its 3-year run. Pacing being chief among them. Titans has always struggled a bit to get to where it wants to be for the things it obviously wants to do. At the same time, those moments often feel rushed because there isn’t any time left in the season to focus on it.
Season one literally ended with a cliff-hanger that was resolved in the first 20 minutes of the next episode.
Flash forward to Season 3
Everything kicks off with Jason Todd going out to try to catch the Joker by himself while Batman is away and he’s brutally murdered by the clown prince of crime. Bruce Wayne/Batman (Iain Glen) returns to Gotham shortly thereafter and murders the Joker before calling the Titans to take over for him. The Titans get to Gotham where they discover Jason is alive and he’s taken on a new masked identity: Red Hood. What a day! From there it becomes a mystery of how Jason is alive and why leading them to Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow (Vincent Kartheiser).
I’m happy to say that pacing has improved this year. Stakes are set very quickly and a clear goal is established early on: find and stop Jason Todd/Red Hood. The season does still lag for a bit about halfway through though. It starts to fall into old habits and we spend a lot of time with characters that don’t have a lot to do this year otherwise.
Sorry Beast Boy. Maybe next year you’ll get to be a T-Rex.
The show makes good use of its growing ensemble cast by not trying to force everyone together constantly. The team breaks up into smaller more understandable groups as they investigate various leads, and this is where the show shines the most this season. Starfire and her sister have an interesting side-story. It lets her usually maligned family member see some time in the sun as a hero. Blackfire’s connection with Conner Kent/Superboy (Joshua Orpin) is also fun to watch as it unfolds. We see them both slowly start to develop stronger and stronger feelings for each other and it’s charming. Beast Boy is left to his own devices until the end of the season, but he still manages to contribute every step of the way. He’s smart and the humor we know from other iterations is starting to come out more. I loved it when he finally got to team up with Raven and be part of all the action.
The team drama, while still full of angst, feels much more appropriate this year. One of their own has come back from the dead and is trying to kill them! I’d say that warrants more than a few heavy discussions. Half the team wants to find Jason and rehabilitate him while the other half wants to kill him. Dick is torn by the whole thing and constantly being pulled both ways. Especially after the death of a teammate.
Dick takes advice from former flame and former masked crime fighter Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Savannah Welch) who is now police commissioner like her father before her. She’s clever and compassionate while also being stern and authoritative. Having been paralyzed by the Joker some years before, Barbara is confined to a wheelchair, but at no point does anyone make an issue of it. She even gets to have a pretty awesome fight scene in an alleyway. It’s very well choreographed and it shows that this character is still every bit as capable as her counterparts.
For real, that fight scene is legit. Excellent stuff.
Another new character for this year, Komand’r/Blackfire (Damaris Lewis), is a welcome addition. She’s surprisingly charming while also still having a sharpness to her. Her relationship to her sister Koriand’r/Starfire is heavily explored and it gives her a chance to develop well alongside her more-established teammates. Having her be a friend and ally to the team as opposed to a villain was a nice twist that I wasn’t expecting. Her character is typically portrayed as a sort of nemesis to Starfire. Here the writers chose to explore something very different.
We saw the end of Hank Hall/Hawk (Alan Ritchson) and the exit of Dawn Granger/Dove (Minka Kelly) juxtaposed with the return of Donna Troy/Wonder Girl (Conor Leslie). Hank has been through a lot over the years, and it was a real shock to see him go. His final moments in the show are genuinely heartwarming. He gets a nice sendoff in order to bring back Donna from what everyone can agree was the most lame superheroine death ever.
EXTRA! EXTRA! Amazonian godlike figure killed by electricity at carnival
Her story is inexorably linked to my least favorite part of the show this year; the weakest link: Tim Drake (Jay Lycurgo). He’s a young man who is obsessed with Batman and Robin. He is always on the lookout for anything bat related. He follows everything that they do. He has a binder full of dates and times and all manner of data. He dreams of becoming the next Robin after seeing that the most recent occupant of the mantle has been brutally killed by the Joker. This is all perfectly fine, but he is just soooooo whiny. His arc of going from a meek and nerdish kid to a brave and confident young man is decent, but it takes forever and the payoff just isn’t there for me. He constantly looks and sounds like he’s about to cry whenever anyone tells him that what he’s doing is a bad idea.
Dude. You literally died. That’s some big Krillin energy you’re putting out there.
Jason Todd has been the highlight of the series for me up to this point. Curran’s portrayal of the second Robin is interesting and makes for very compelling drama. His relationship to Dick, Batman, and the rest of the Titans is always in flux. Plus, he always had the best fight choreography.
Watch his fight with the police in S1E06 if you disagree with me.
This year he got to take a much more central role in the story. His struggles with fear, PTSD, abandonment, and a fear of being replaced are all fairly well executed. Possibly for the first time ever on this show I wish they had slowed down and let his happen over the course of multiple seasons. We see establishing glimpses of it in previous seasons. I would have loved to see some of this happen in the first two seasons to build up everything more soundly. As it stands, Jason’s transition from Robin to Red Hood feels a little rushed. It ties in well with the main villain this season, at least initially, but things start to fall apart and meander at the end a bit.
We have an interesting villain who is a much more present entity and threat for the duration. Kartheiser’s Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow is depicted very differently here, and it kept me guessing as to what his plan actually was up to the end. Having been caught by Batman and the GCPD some years earlier he has since become a consultant while serving his time in Arkham. He smokes copious amounts of weed to “slow down” and uses his vast intellect to make psychological evaluations and profiles. He comes across as comical as well as calculating as he slowly descends back into madness. For awhile he’s interesting, but eventually he does start to wear on you and his actions bring up a lot of questions.
How does no one figure out Bruce Wayne is Batman when the GCDP discovers that the Batcave is under his house? Not kidding. This happens and not one person questions it.
Jason and Crane have an interesting dynamic over the course of the season. I loved watching them go from pseudo-partners to an almost drug-dealer/buyer relationship and devolve into complete disdain for each other.
The central plot of the season revolves around Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow manipulating Jason Todd into giving him access to the Batcave. He wants to use its resources to attack the city and take revenge on Batman. He uses Jason, as Red Hood, to throw off the Titans while he manufactures his fear toxin to put the city on edge and co-opts many of the GCPD’s own. The Titans intervene and get caught in the dangerous crosshairs of revenge. Crane actively gaslights Jason into wanting revenge on Dick and the Titans for abandoning him. Once Crane has the Batcave he sets to destroying the city with a host of poison-laced bombs. Everything culminates with an artificial storm made from the waters of a Lazarus Pit, a mass resurrection, and a swift uppercut to Scarecrow’s jaw.
There is a lot of potential at the start of the season, but the longer it plays out the more that potential seems to wear thin. Once Crane’s manipulation is out in the open the story wanders a bit until everything is setup for the finale. The good side to this is that the characters are all given a lot of time to process what’s going on and the side stories are allowed to develop freely. I just wish that they played a larger role in the main story by the end.
I’m glad everyone is together and we have the superhero team-up moment, but the solution that they cobble together felt wacky and out of place for the dark and gritty tone of this show. It felt very DBZ-esque. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it just didn’t work well for Titans.
The one thing I will say that really struck me about the finale was a familial moment with Jason and Bruce. The two have a conversation where Jason asks Bruce if he killed the Joker for him, and Bruce says that he did. This is a moment that we will never get in the comics, and I’m actually really happy that it happened.
Overall I’d give this season a 3/5. It starts strong and has a lot of interesting ideas. We get some cool fight scenes, though not enough of them. The characters are definitely the saving grace of the show. Seeing how they all handle the crazy situations that they’re forced into is what keeps me coming back for more. Titans has a lot of good ideas tucked inside of it, but their execution is often a little lacking. There are a lot of great moments, but there are definitely more than a few dull ones too.
I get the idea behind wanting to have a more grounded and realistic style for the show, but I think maybe a little more lightheartedness and flexibility could do this show a lot of good. If I’m being perfectly honest Titans has always kind of felt like it wanted to be a grittier live-action Young Justice, but it never really found its footing. That being said, Young Justice is back for its fourth season (now on HBOMax) and it is easily one of my favorite of DC’s animated series. Check them both out and decide for yourself!
I’ve worked my whole life to become a comic book illustrator, writer, and stand-up comedian. Batman and Captain Benjamin Sisko helped put a good head on my shoulders. I spent most of my childhood saving Hyrule and the Mushroom Kingdom and seeing the Justice League save all of creation time and time again. I live in Johnson City, TN with my wife Kary and daughter Laila enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery and occasional show. Three puppies round out the family and take up the rest of the time that isn’t spent debating which Wes Anderson or Studio Ghibli movie to watch. I spend an inordinate amount of time binge watching SVU, Futurama, and Letterkenny, and when I’m not watching I’m listening to “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” or playing the occasional game of D&D. If there’s a nerdy endeavor out there, I’ve probably at least tried it.