Do We Really Need More Comic Book Adaptations? A Review of DC’s ‘Titans’
DC’s Titans was recently added to Netflix (Australia). I’ve gone back and re watched this first season in preparation for the second season, which is due for release later in 2019.
So the question stands, is Titan’s a comic book adaptation worth the watch?
DC’s Titans is a dark retelling of the usually more family friendly teenage group of super heroes that first appeared in Brave and the Bold #54 in 1964. Rather than using the popular recent model of telling stories from the perspective of a pre-existing team whose abilities and characters are well established (such as Teen Titans Go! Justice League v Teen Titans, Teen Titans: The Judas Contact) Titans instead chooses to be an origin story, with the full roster of the four main ‘titans’ not together until after several episodes.
— DCUTitans (@DCUTitans) October 12, 2018
This series follows the gathering of the team, set around fleeing some ‘unknown’ danger. Most characters start with very little information about them, with more and more detail revealed deeper into the 10-episode arc. The season finishes on an obvious set up for another series, and fans will be pleased to know that there is another on the way, with rumours of classic Titans villain Deathstroke playing a major role.
Too Dark or just Right?
Not only did the series angle for a fresher take on the team (with only one of the original four characters used), but it was a very dark version. While the series was emotionally taxing, the theme worked in favour of Titans for the most part. For example, the way that Robin acted and certain choices he made was because he was an edgier interpretation of the character, which had impact on the progression of the story. Had Robin been a comic accurate telling, he would not have made these choices, and thus the story would not have progressed.
As the series has an MA15+ rating, there is a lot of gore involved. This is another choice that could not had been made if the character of Robin was not as warped as this telling makes him.
While the dark themes may have worked through the lens of Robins story, it feels very problematic from the perspective of Raven. As Titans is a live action production, it is far more evident to the audience that Raven is a child, and thus certain arcs her character experiences have an uncomfortable tone as the viewer is confronted with how out of depth she is at times.
Overall, the darker tones do nothing to make the show any more or less entertaining, and for the most part it just feels unnecessary for a team such as the Teen Titans. The program would have been more enjoyable had it been told in the exact same way but with original characters.
The original four Teen Titans were Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin (with Wonder Girl added a few issues later). Only two of these four make an appearance in Titans (Robin and Wonder Girl – referred to only as her alias ‘Donna Troy’), with Robin the only one who could be considered a main character.
This series focuses on four main characters; Robin, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy. There are also several side characters of varying levels of depth and relevance, the primary ones being; Hawk and Dove, Jason Todd and the Doom Patrol.
— DCUTitans (@DCUTitans) October 22, 2018
As mentioned previously, this series would have been far more enjoyable had it not been called Titans. Each character clearly resembles their comic book counterpart – but is warped enough to the point that they may as well have simply created entirely new entities.
Starfire’s main change was too make her more violent, impulsive, and an amnesiac. The last change also caused the character to lose her traditional alien orange skin tone for a more human one, for a late season reveal to trick only those who had no knowledge of the character. The general performance was overall quite good, but it was a reminder that had the audience not already had prior knowledge of the character (from comic books) the reveal would have been far more enjoyable.
Beast Boy was another character ruined by comic book knowledge. The sharp wit, iconic green skin and degree of charm were all elements that felt accurate, however the fact that his ability to change into any animal was reduced to only a tiger was frustrating to watch, knowing that it could have been so much more. There were several compelling elements to his story, but watching a super-hero show where a member’s powers are comparatively non-existent was hard to ignore.
Raven suffered the same issue, with expectations of far more interesting character traits and powers never satisfied. Raven’s character, similar to Beast Boy she also suffered from a certain immaturity, which for the most part was passed of as charming, but at times felt a little too cringe-worthy. While it was mildly infuriating at times to watch her so helpless – knowing the potential of her powers – we can guess that we will see a more exciting version of her in the next season, as she continues to develop as a character within the series.
— DCUTitans (@DCUTitans) October 31, 2018
Robin was an extremely frustrating character in Titans, for several reasons. For context, there has not been just one Robin in comic books (and animated series/films). Each Robin has had his own unique personality traits, some being more loyal to Batman, some more violent and some more independent. For fans of Dick Grayson (the iteration used in Titans), the series is almost unwatchable. However, the reason for frustration in this instance is not due to a lazy live action adaptation, but because the writers were spoiled for choice of Robins to use, and used the one least like the character they actually wrote. For this show, Damian Wayne would have fit far better.
— DCUTitans (@DCUTitans) July 18, 2018
There was also a specific choice to have a grown-up Dick Grayson still as Robin, rather than the hero he eventually becomes – Nightwing – which seems like it would have suited the adult character more. However, Executive Producer Geoff Johns hinted that this may change, which bodes well for fans of the character.
Quite unlike most ensemble superhero shows; the side characters in Titans were often more entertaining and likeable than the main cast. The Hawk and Dove pairing were an enjoyable addition, and while they added some unnecessary personal drama, they were two of the most compelling characters. Jason Todd was a fun addition, but rubbed salt in the wound of the poor adaptation of Dick Grayson. Donna Troy was a promising addition, and hopefully will feature more in the second season.
— DCUTitans (@DCUTitans) September 15, 2018
Adaptation Aside – How Does it Stand?
Ignoring the fact that the show is an adaptation and not an original work, the series becomes far more enjoyable.
The editing and cinematography were textbook ‘comic-book show.’ There were a flurry of cuts, fast transitions and overused establishing shots, but nothing out of ordinary for the genre. This was still entertaining, but nothing that made it stand out from the crowd.
The choreography stood out slightly more, with Robins introduction in his initial fight scene very thrilling, if quite gory and confronting. However, the writers once again shot themselves in the foot by quite literally pointing out that “it’s not Batman”.
The use of special effects was subdued for what could have been. Three of the four main Titans have (or should have had) abilities that would require a far larger special effects budget, but as these were barely used, and (as discussed previously with Beast Boy) non-existent what was present was less impressive than what could have been.
The costume design was mostly impressive, but felt lacklustre in some instances, such as with Raven and Starfire. In both cases, it seemed the designers wanted to pay homage to the source material, but instead they ended up being bizarre interpretations that didn’t quite fit. Otherwise, the costuming was done well, if not predictable.
The performance of each actor was mostly strong, with certain issues coming mostly from script. For example; Alan Ritchson’s performance as Hawk was excellent, but at times melodramatic due to the lines he was given, rather than his deliverance of them.
Like all adaptations, Titans suffers from a degree of predictability. However, by featuring less overused characters (at least from an on-screen perspective), the series breaks the formula enough to provide an enjoyable experience.
Overall, it is too hard to ignore the fact that the series is an unneccesary adaptation, and the best way to enjoy it is to have as little knowledge as possible about the history of any of the characters. By far the stand out episode was ‘Hank and Dawn’ – the ninth of the series. Focused around two classic characters who are not nearly as well known as the rest of the ensemble, showed the audience a taste of what could have been.
Despite the frustration because of an at times poor adaptation, Titans still provides for an entertaining and enjoyable viewing experience. It is by no means something that one should drop everything to watch immediately – but still worth adding to a ‘my list’ on Netflix for eventual viewing.
3 out of 5 stars