Teen Titans premiered in 2003 when the DC Animated Universe was still going strong with the Justice League. In Sam Register’s (Current President of Warner Bros Animation) words, the show was initially conceived as a children oriented show; primarily targeted at 7 and 8 year olds. The show however, evolved into so much more than that. So much so that, in spite of Teen Titans Go’s recent success, die-hard fans of the original series are still clamouring for a revival.
So what made fans fall in love with this show ? After all, this was a Warner Bros and DC property that aired on TV when the DCAU was still in its prime.
Based on the New Teen Titans comics created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez in the 80s, the show retains the original team (Robin, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy and Cyborg). An interesting aspect of the show is that its creator Glen Murakami (who also worked on Batman Beyond), decided to use a lot of anime-inspired gags in the show. This can be seen whenever the characters are sharing an over-the-top light hearted moment. The characters are usually shown in their chibi form (small cute form) during these moments. The anime influence on the show has since been affectionately labelled Murakanime style by the fans.
Of course, there is a lot more to the show than just a smattering of anime influences.
Different from DCAU
Although initially targeted at younger audiences, the series delved into more mature themes as it progressed. In the process, the targeted demographic of the series expanded way beyond what it had initially bargained for. In my opinion, what really endeared this show to the fans (Myself Included) is its character development and character centric stories. While these aspects were not new to DC Animation, the way in which these aspects are addressed in this show are a little different from its DCAU predecessors.
The juggernaut that started it all, Batman: TAS, was noted for its psychological themes and for really exploring the psyche of all its characters. Some of these aspects can also be seen in Teen Titans as each of the titans has an episode or a story arc that focuses on them. However, there is also a lot of focus on how each titan evolves as a person through their friendships and as a team. It is this main aspect that separates it from the rest of the DCAU.
Looking back at the different DCAU shows, super hero team ups were usually portrayed as a temporary thing. Hence, there is no real chance to get to know the characters on a deeper and continuous basis. Now, you might be wondering if I’ve totally ignored the Justice League. Yes, it is true that the team members of the Justice League have fought many battles together. Team members such as the Martian Manhunter often spend a lot of time in the Watchtower.
There is also the romantic relationship that develops between John Stewart (Green Lantern) and Shayera Hol (Hawkgirl) as a result of being on the team and spending a lot of time together (And a few other relationships). Yet, it feels almost as if the team members are working for a company and any character or relationship development that takes place is more co-incidental than anything else.
All the titans share a very close bond each with other in contrast and basically live together at the Titan Tower. While, it is never clear what the titans do for a living (or otherwise !!) aside from fighting crime, they usually don’t take life too seriously. It’s this fun aspect that really comes through in the show’s favour and gives it a unique flavour especially in the show’s lighter episodes.
Stories and Themes
Just like the comics, the titans are based in Jump City and live together in the T-Shaped titan tower. The show ran for 5 seasons and altogether totalled 65 episodes. Each season usually had an overarching story arc in addition to several standalone episodes. The tone of episodes would range from funny to absolutely ridiculous to super-gritty and intense.
One of the show’s strongest points was the titans’ greatest foe, Slade (aka Deathstroke). Interestingly, the name Deathstroke was never mentioned at any point during the show’s run. The reason given is that the network felt that the name Deathstroke would be too dark for a children’s show. His name notwithstanding, Slade’s sociopathic and manipulative ways often made for some riveting story-telling.
Also noteworthy are the constant mind-games that Slade plays with Robin. Both view each other as equals. Yet at the same time, Robin feels that he is the only one who can truly stop Slade and he often obsesses over Slade. This theme is explored beautifully in the 2-part season 1 episode ‘Apprentice’ and the Season 3 standalone episode ‘Haunted’. Despite being a standalone episode, Haunted is arguably my favourite episode of the whole series. There are some dark themes in this episode that make this possibly the most psychologically intense episode of the series (Note: The mysterious ending of this episode could have been explored further).
The famous Judas Contract storyline from the comics involving Slade, Terra and the titans is also explored; and serves as the main story arc of season 2 (The best season in my opinion). Other foes serving as the main antagonists of a season include Brother Blood & The H.I.V.E Academy (Season 3), Trigon (Season 4) and Madame Rouge & The Brotherhood Of Evil (Season 5). All these villains definitely added to the variety and evolution of the show and its main characters.
The varied and contrasting personalities of the titans make them very relatable and lovable as this slightly motley crew. Robin is the leader of the titans and cares very deeply about the other team members. Yet Robin can be impulsive at times and his obsession with Slade is sometimes to the detriment of the team.
Starfire is portrayed as a very naive, happy and affectionate person. However, she can really let lose when angry. A potential romantic relationship between her and Robin is always teased but is never explicitly shown in the series. It isn’t until the series’ follow-up movie Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo that they finally confess their feelings to each other.
Beast Boy and Cyborg are the comedic duo in the team and are constantly playing video games, eating junk food or playing pranks on each other. Despite their generally fun nature, their issues and darker sides serve as the main plot of some episodes (The Beast Within and Only Human are prime examples); thus really adding to their character depth. Finally, Raven is always shown to be this gothic-emo and reserved empath with mystic abilities. The season 4 arc involving her character evolution and her demonic father Trigon was great fun to watch. It’s also interesting to note that her relationship with Beast Boy from the comics is never really touched upon in the series.
Conclusion & Future
The show ended on a strange note (With some loose ends till left to be tied). Apparently, these loose ends were supposed to be tied in the planned follow-up season (Which of course never happened). The show did get a spin-off movie Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo which was reasonably entertaining but no attempt was made to resolve the loose ends of the show. That said, the enduring popularity and fan-base of the show have time and gain teased a potential series revival over the years. After several years, the show has finally been revived in the form of Teen Titans Go. This show is much light-hearted in tone than the original series and focuses on what the titans do when not fighting crime. Despite much criticism from the fans of the original series, Teen Titans Go has proved to be extremely popular with younger audiences (Review for a later post). A spin-off movie has also been slated for a theatrical release in the summer of 2018.
With the live action Titans series set to release soon, it is unlikely that the teen titans will be revived in its original form anytime soon. It is interesting to note that there are several references to the original teen titans series in Teen Titans Go (One notably makes fun of how bad teen titans go is compared to the original). All said and done, it is hard to say whether a series revival is on the cards or not in the foreseeable future.
The voice actors of all the titans (Scott Menville, Hynden Walch, Khary Payton, Tara Strong & Greg Cipes) are terrific and continue to reprise their roles in Teen Titans Go. Ron Perlman is phenomenal as Slade and really adds an extra layer of depth to his character. The English and Japanese intros for the series are performed by the Japanese pop-rock band Puffy AmiYumi. This ties in very well to the anime influences in the show and is one of the memorable aspects of the show.
Teen Titans was one of the best animated action series during its run and its strong fan base today is testament to that. Despite its strong run, the ending of the show left me with a somewhat empty feeling (The mystery of Terra and possibly Slade unresolved). If anything, I personally feel that the show deserves a 6th season to tie up these loose ends (Maybe even revisit the mysterious Red X character). Another possibility would be a movie, considering that DC is very interested in revisiting the DCAU (Read Batman & Harley Quinn). With the revival of Young Justice, I wouldn’t bet against it !