DC Universe, the streaming service which launched in September, has released its first original series, Titans. This isn't the Teen Titans team you're probably more familiar with. This is a more adult team, in a darker world, based on the DC Comic series of the same name. While this opening episode may be a bit tough to swallow, the series, as a whole, gets a lot better.
Titans follows police officer Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), who brings his vigilante justice as Robin to Detroit. He comes across a troubled girl named Raven (Teagan Croft) who is being hunted for unknown reasons. On the other side of the planet is Starfire (Anna Diop), who has no clue of her own identity or where she is, and you don't begin to figure out how she fits in to all of this fully until Episode 3.
Raven comes off early on as the series' MacGuffin, the character everyone is after for one of two reasons: to kill or protect. However, she's coming into her own as a super-powered being, and it turns out she doesn't need much protection at all. Her story is compelling and incredibly interesting, although there are more questions than answers presented in the first episode, a theme that repeats itself ad nauseum. She and Robin have this forced mentor/menteeship that's very new but has a lot of potential from an audience's perspective. It's a focal point for this and following episodes, with good reason. It's complicated, intriguing, and paints these familiar characters in a new light. These superheroes don't always act like the good guys. Sometimes, they have to make hard decisions that make them seem "not so super."
On the flip side of the world, in Austria, is Starfire, and the audience will be just as confused as about her as she is, especially because of the fact she's not introduced until relatively late in the episode. Starfire--also called Kori--is seemingly a club kid who is maybe a secret agent who's possibly in love with a mobster/club owner. There's a whole lot of confusion that doesn't get a full explanation, but because of this, you find yourself in the same position as Kori. Unlike Robin and Raven's story, this confusion about Kori plays much better for her plot. Some things get answered, but all-in-all, none of it matters as her final goal is to find Raven. Along the way, Kori kills people and burns up a bunch of mobsters, and Diop plays this role incredibly well.
It's familiar characters in an unfamiliar world. Yes, this is the same DC Universe where Batman is running around punching bad guys, but the Titans characters are completely untethered from it. For the viewer, this can create this weird vacuum where you're going to expect more inclusion from the rest of the DCU--concepts, cities, and objects, not just characters--and not going to get it, as the show's focus is entirely on this specific cast, with few (if any) Easter eggs. Titans wants to be its own thing, and that's fine, but for an audience that's been trained to expect tongue-in-cheek nods to the camera referring to other comic book properties, it's strangely jarring not to get that.
That isn't the only hump to get over in the first episode of Titans though. This show is violent and oftentimes brutal in a way we have never seen with these characters. Case in point, during one scene, Robin smashes a car window and rubs the driver's face on the jagged, broken glass--a truly cringey moment you can't unsee. Once you get in the mindset that scenes like this are the norm, it's not as unsettling. Additionally, there are reasons why Robin is so unhinged compared to his comic book counterpart, we just don't know why yet.
Episode 1 of Titans isn't bad by any means, but it sure is different from what DC fans are used to. Future episodes help put everything that happens here and the tonality of the world into a better perspective, but this show is a huge departure from the CW series and even DC Cinematic Universe movies. This is a much more serious series than the trailers presented, but there are a few one-liners here and there, to show it has a sense of humor about itself. There is a learning curve to Episode 1, and it may be a little bit of a turn off, but this is a series to stick with, as Episode 2 paints a much better picture of the world and its characters than the pilot.
Titans is available now on the DC Universe app, and new episodes debut every Friday.
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