It’s been a rough several years to be a fan of DC Comics’ Teen Titans. Back in 2011, DC rebooted their comic book line, and erased most of the groups’ history. It was clearly planned poorly, as different books at the time gave conflicting accounts about whether there had ever been a ‘Teen Titans’ and even how many Robins there had been. In 2013, the Teen Titans cartoon was cancelled and replaced by Teen Titans Go!, which abandoned any sense of heroism or good story for bad sight gags and immature characters. In recent weeks, Wally West (Kid Flash, Flash) and Roy Harper (Speedy, Arsenal, Red Arrow) were killed in the comics, Dick Grayson (Robin, Nightwing, Batman) received a traumatic brain injury which has made him a whole new (and far less likable) person. And Donna Troy (Wonder Girl, Troia, Darkstar) has abandoned her usually sunny disposition to become an angry alcoholic.
There’s been talk of a Teen Titans live action show for a few years. Originally, it was supposed to be on TNT, but languished in production hell. Then, when DC began planning for its new streaming network, the project was revitalized and brought to the network. For those who don’t know, the original Teen Titans were Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad, quickly expanding to include Speedy and Wonder Girl. The team had various members and even a second branch on the West Coast before their best known next incarnation, the New Teen Titans, debuted, led by Robin and consisting of Raven, Kid Flash, Cyborg, Changeling, Starfire, and Wonder Girl. The team that seems to be forming in the premier episode, “Titans” consist of some of those characters… in name only.
The show opens with Rachel, a “normal” name made up for Raven several years ago that has stuck, having a dream about Robin’s origin as the Flying Graysons die before both her and Dick’s horrified eyes. She wakes up, and her mother takes her through some deep breathing exercises. Rachel has apparently been having dreams about the “circus boy” for a while now. She asks her mom to check the locks on the doors, and we see their place is filled with crucifixes.
After a very short title sequence, we see a man in a car, going over a case file and glancing occasionally at the high-tech case on the seat next to him. Apparently, this is Dick Grayson, now a police detective in Detroit. When he finally goes back to police headquarters, he meets Amy Rohrbach, his new partner and a supporting character from Nightwing’s comic book career. Dick is apparently against having another partner, citing unspecified problems with his “last one” back in Gotham, clearly a veiled Batman reference.
In Traverse City, Michigan, we see Rachel’s mother waking up after what seems like a rough night. She has some very disturbing looking wounds on her side, old claw marks of some kind. Rachel is already up, eating breakfast, and ready for school on her own. They argue over Rachel having coffee, her mother (Melissa, a nurse) smoking, and hear that Rachel can tell when people lie to her. Rachel goes to school, having a run-in with a neighbor and typical “outsider being bullied” on the school bus. Someone stands up for her, but then ignores her at school.
We’ve seen that Rachel’s reflection talks back to her and urges her to do things, which is a hint of things to come. She gets home to find a stranger in her house, spouting threatening religious talk and saying he knows things about her past while holding her mother at gun point. Rachel shows us a new power, but too late to save her mother.
Dick goes back to watch the people he was staring at before, and finally makes a decision. We get a good idea what’s in the case next to him when the next thing we see is two groups meeting up for a shady deal in an alley. Their drug deal is interrupted when Robin attacks, showing the rage and brutality of the second Robin, Jason Todd, and the fighting staff of Tim Drake, the third. This is no version of Dick Grayson I know of. He’s a brutal, nasty, vicious fighter, nothing like the modern swashbuckler Nightwing. This is the scene of the infamous, “Fuck Batman!” line from the trailer that generated so much chatter when it was first released.
Later, Dick goes home to an empty apartment which is ridiculously large, playing records while he cleans his weapons and costume. When he goes back to work, the Captain gets briefed on the Robin attack. Apparently it’s been a year since Robin has been seen, and no one is happy he’s in town. The news calls him a vicious psychopath, which I’d say is fair from that scene. Dick seems to have mixed emotions about both the anti-Robin sentiment from his fellow cops and the media coverage.
On the run and on her own, Rachel buys a bus ticket, seemingly at random, to Detroit. With the weird musical choice of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats’ “S.O.B.” playing, Rachel wanders the streets, and ends up in a homeless shelter to eat. She gets befriended by a woman named Sally who wants her to go to special shelter for young kids. Sally leads her down an alley where her reflection in a puddle warns her of danger as thugs stalk up behind her. She fights her way free with her powers and then gets help from the police in a novel way.
Dick asks Amy if there’s any word on that “Robin thing,” and gets a series of well-earned smart comments now that he’s actually talking to her. Another cop pops up and asks him if still has that thing about helping kids, which of course puts him in the room with Rachel. She recognizes him as the boy from the circus, and Dick isn’t pleased about bringing up the memories. She tells him about her mother, and he makes a call to have someone look into it after the young girl has begged him for help.
Meanwhile, outside Vienna, Austria, we run across the cast member who has the least in common with her comic book incarnation. A nameless woman who we know will eventually turn out to be Starfire wakes up after a car crash. She seems confused, the car riddled with bullets, and her driver dead. When a car speeds down the road towards her, she runs into the woods to hide. Cleaning up later in a gas station bathroom, she finds ID for the name “Kory Anders,” a name Starfire used in the comics as an Earth approximation of her actual name, Koriand’r of Tamaran. She also finds a hotel key card and some strange key with a tag on it. Kory goes to the hotel, bluffs her way through a scene in the lobby with the concierge, and finds out she has the entire top floor.
Up there, she finds a trashed luxury suite that comes with complimentary thug tied up in a closet. She asks him some questions he really thinks she should know the answers to, and gets pointed to her next clue, a gangster called Konstantin Kovar. In the comics, Kovar is the father of the Russian superhero and Titan ally Red Star. More recently, he was a recurring villain on the Arrow tv show. Getting the information she wants, Kory then kills the man who was talking to her.
Dick gets slightly more humanized in a few scenes with Rachel reading his past and Amy finding out about some of his background. Dick tells Amy that his Gotham partner was a good man but tried to solve everything with his fists, and Dick left because he felt he was becoming too much like him. He even banters with Amy a bit about not really being an asshole being bad for his rep. it’s the most likeable he gets during the episode.
While Rachel gets taken away by a uniformed cop, Dick gets a call from Traverse City, confirming Melissa’s death. Dick goes to get more answers from Rachel, getting there too late. Kory confronts Kovar and his men, learns a bit about what she’s been up to that she can’t remember, gets a plot tie-in in the form of a picture of Rachel, and then shows that her powers work very differently from the comics and kills everyone in the room. Yep, this is hero material here. I think it’s the laughing over the dead body that really sells her as someone trying to do good.
Rachel wakes up tied to a chair, and the creepy guy that killed her mother is back, spouting more weird talk about who and what Rachel really is. Dick gets there but somehow the accomplished hero can’t figure out how to get through a locked door, while Rachel’s powers go into high gear and deal with her captor. Dick finally gets in, frees her, and agrees to take her “someplace safe,” in his very nice car that he calls a family heirloom. She asks if he means the circus, and he cryptically comments, “Not the one you’re thinking of.”
Typical of most of his appearances over the last several years, Gar Logan (Changeling, Beast Boy) gets shafted in the premier. He shows up at the very end in a short scene. Even Amy Rohrbach gets more screen time than he does. Apparently, in Covington, Ohio, there’s a huge video game store that has its own armed night security. The stereotyped white overweight guard’s night of playing games on the clock gets interrupted by a strange noise. When he goes to investigate, we eventually learn that Gar is using his shapeshifting powers to steal video games. Here’s another fine candidate for a team of heroes.
What I liked: Not much. I’ve been a Titans fan for just about my whole life in their various incarnations. This was the characters in name only. Robin certainly knows how to fight, I’ll give him that. And Gar was green and changes to animals, so that’s right. Kovar is tied to the Titans in the comics, so I’m glad they at least used a name that made some sense.
What I didn’t: Just about everything. These characters borrow the names of their counterparts, and that’s about it. Dick is, indeed, a violent sociopath as the news dubs him, and his grim, rage-filled persona is a lot more Jason Todd than Dick Grayson. Kory kills whoever she finds convenient, but not like her warrior self in the comics, and has none of that character’s light or hopefulness or optimism. Rachel is not only ridiculously younger than everyone else, she’s utterly ignorant of who she is. Gar, from what little we see of him, is a thief. The Titans are heroes. This is a collection of criminals plus a scared little girl.
I’m giving this a low 2 out of 5. It’s not a 1 because I try and give some latitude for a first episode, and I’m intrigued by who is supposedly coming up. And because I’m a fan of the Titans. But not, so far, of whoever these people are supposed to be.
It’s ironic for a team whose battle cry is “Titans Together!” that only two of them are even in the same state.