Review: Titans 1×1 (US: DC Universe; UK: Netflix)

Superheroes from four different genres unite

Titans

In the US: Fridays, DC Universe
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix. Will air in 2018

‘Tis the season to launch new streaming TV services, apparently. You’d think there were enough already, with the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Crackle et al already here and charging a healthy $10 or so a month for a subscription, but ‘No Large Media Conglomerate Left Behind’ and all that. Disney (which owns Marvel) is contemplating its own service, while WarnerBros, which is already mulling its own streaming service, has just launched another one for its DC Comics property.

It’s going to end badly, you mark my words.

Anyway, a streaming TV service needs TV to stream. Although DC Universe has a decent back catalogue of movies and TV series, a lot of DC’s comic properties are already doing nicely on other networks so are tied up elsewhere. The Flash, Arrow, Gotham, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Constantine, Krypton, and Black Lightning won’t be gracing DC Universe yet. Instead, the company is working through some of its lesser, quirkier properties. Later down the line, we’ll be seeing live-action Swamp Thing and Doom Patrol series, but first up, we’re getting Titans.

Unsurprisingly, to ensure its first scripted outing is a success, DC Universe has chosen to commission the US’s most powerful and prolific TV producer Greg Berlanti (producer of virtually all those other DC superhero shows, plus the likes of You and a few other shows, too) to head it. Equally unsurprisingly, it’s pretty damn good. Who needs Batman, hey? F*ck Batman.

Titans Raven

Titanic genre mash-up

The roster of DC’s ‘Teen Titans’ – and indeed name – has changed considerably over the year, so for this series, the DC has been able to pick whatever sub-grouping it desires – as long as it doesn’t involve characters tied up in other networks’ shows (at least, not for now). Here, Berlanti, together with DC head creative Geoff Johns and Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind), have chosen to give us a combined origin story for just four of those familiar superheroes, who have a roster of different abilities – and genre styles.

Best known is Robin – as in ‘Batman and…’ – or, more accurately, Nightwing, since it’s Dick Grayson. You know, the Robin who was orphaned as a kid when his circus performing parents died in an accident and who was taken in by Bruce Wayne. Here, Dick (Home and Away‘s Brenton Thwaites) is all grown up and has parted ways with Batman, disagreeing with his methods, and has moved to Detroit, where he’s joined the local police force as a detective. He likes to work alone and, sometimes, at night, he gets out the old Robin costume to take down the drug dealers by himself.

Nightwing’s storyline is actually pretty decent. Tonally, it’s in the same arena as Batman Begins, season 1 of Arrow and Marvel’s Daredevil. It’s all gritty realism, with just a hint of superhero absurdity. Robin might go around at night throwing Robin-arangs at the bad guys, but he doesn’t mind using extreme force to hurt the bad guys a bit more than necessary and when he wakes up in the morning, there’s no butler there to clean up his body armour, so he’s got to do it himself.

Next up is Raven (Home and Away‘s Teagan Croft). She’s the daughter of a demon and a whole bunch of people believe she’s going to bring about Armageddon, so are trying to kill her. She goes on the run to Detroit, where she meets Dick, whom coincidentally she’s been dreaming about. Her story is a different genre, all possession and demon worship, with hints of Outcast and The Exorcist.

Over in Austria, however, we’re in sci-fi territory with Starfire (The Messengers‘ Anna Diop). She’s lost her memory, thanks to a car accident. She wants to know who she is and why men with machine-guns are trying to kill her, so she’s going to piece it all together in Vienna. Before she knows it, she discovers she has super-strength and when, push comes to shove, can incinerate the entire contents of a room at will.

Last up is Beast Boy (Big Hero 6‘s Ryan Potter). He’s got green skin and can change into animals. Although he only gets five minutes at the end of the first episode, so we don’t really get to learn what genre he inhabits.

Other superheroes are on the way, including the least well liked Robin, Jason Todd, vigilantes Cloak and Dagger and Wonder Woman’s sister Donna Troy (aka Wonder Girl); a crossover with Doom Patrol is also on the cards, too. But for now, that’s our set of ‘Titans’.

Starfire

The Bourne Possession

I actually really enjoyed the first episode of Titans, in the same way I enjoyed that first season of Marvel’s DaredevilThere’s a real attempt to do something with variety and a certain degree of mimesis. Dick’s attempts to forge his own life away from the shadow of the Caped Crusader and as a sidekick (the show’s already notorious for its immortal line “F*ck Batman”) are credible and there’s a decent attempt to make this a real world, yet also one that’s familiar from the comics. Cops from Detroit hear Dick’s from Gotham and immediately start wondering what it was like having to deal with the likes of the Joker. There’s also a reasonable exploration of the inevitable “I don’t work with a partner” sub-plot that’s standard for cop shows.

At the same time, the show’s flirtations with other genres are equally well done. Raven’s constant battles with her demonic half are moderately scary and by the end of it, you’re wondering if maybe the bad guys trying to kill her have a point. Starfire’s Bourne Identity/Bourne Supremacy meets The Man Who Fell To Earth storyline plays with familiar beats, while flipping them upside down through the addition of her devastating super powers, and there are acknowledgements even here to her somewhat racy comic book personality. Whether they’ll all work so well when the goodies are in the same scenes together remains to be seen, but separately, they work just fine.

It’s not without flaws. The show’s occasionally a bit sillier than it needs to be for its genre choices and there are some pretty dire supporting actors. The recreation of Austria was semi-credible, but whoever used Google Translate to come up with ‘Petrol Bahnhof’ for petrol station needs to be dispensed to the nearest Tankstelle ASAP. Fight scenes are a little over-choreographed, but are at least reassuringly competent.

But for the first TV series of a brand new network, Titans is a very confident, very credible first step that’s on a par with any other superhero show already out there. It probably wouldn’t be enough to make me subscribe to DC Universe if I lived in the US, but watching it on Netflix in the UK? That’s a no-brainer.