The DC Comics Universe is a rich tapestry of compelling and memorable characters. Marvel may the best heroes (not counting Batman and Superman), but DC, hands down, has the best villains. Yet for some reason, live-action DC properties always feel like they use the same group of characters, again and again and again and again: Joker, Zod, Batman, Superman, Lex Luthor. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. I’m a big fan of Zack Snyder‘s Man of Steel. However, as excited as I was for that film, I was so disappointed that General Zod was the film’s main antagonist. Superman has so many amazing villains that has never been in a big screen, live action Superman film before. Characters like Darkseid, Mongol, Metallo, FUCKING BRAINIAC! To be fair, I think Michael Shannon is fantastic as General Zod. In fact, I think he is one of the best villains in the DCEU so far. However, I think that changing the villain in Man of Steel would have made a massive impact on how that story was received and how well it worked. Had a badass villain like Brainiac been utilized, an already damn good Superman movie, could’ve been an all-time great comic book flick.
Wow. Um, that got away from me pretty damn fast… Believe it our not, I’m actually here to talk about the new season of Titans on HBO Max. The reason I opened with a rant about my desire to see a more diverse group of DC characters brought to life in live-action, on TV or film, is because Titans scratches that itch big time! Each season showcases a plethora of our favorite DC characters and concepts, many making their live-action debut. It’s one of the reasons Titans is such a big draw for me.
Titans premiered as the flagship show in the now defunct streaming service DC UNIVERSE. It was the first of multiple original series that the fledgling service rolled out over the course of it’s initial launch. It was followed by a Doom Patrol series, the resurrection of the beloved animated show Young Justice, Harley Quinn: The Animated Series, and a great Swamp Thing show that was cancelled before it even premiered, airing only one season (apparently it was WAY TOO expensive, but who really knows?). All of the shows were varying degrees of exceptional. They were all well received by both critics and fans, except for Titans. While the show was considered a success upon it’s launch, it was the only original DC UNIVERSE series that was met with a harsh critical reception. With DC and HBO both falling under Warner Bros ownership, along with the DC streaming service underperforming, Warner Bros was looking to invest additional content and resources and into HBO Max. Titans, Doom Patrol, and Young Justice all made the transition to the new streaming service. Doom Patrol Season 3 debuts in September and Young Justice Season 4 is currently in production.
Titans premiered in the wake of films like Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Both highly anticipated DC projects that were criticized for being overly dark and left many fans massively disappointed. When the first trailer for Titan’s dropped, the teaser infamously featured a very angry Dick Grayson, in his Robin uniform, giving some thugs a brutal beating, and declaring “Fuck Batman” at the end if the fight. I think that so many critics and fans were turned off by the sensibilities of the DCEU films and they saw Titans is simply an extension of what they disliked about the DC movies. Another overly serious, ultra dark, violent, superhero tale that takes the joy out of these classic characters. In my opinion, this point was one of the big reasons that Titans wasn’t greeted warmly by critics and certain fans, when it debuted. I personally don’t agree with that particular criticism, but I understand. Regardless, I enjoyed the hell out of season one, I couldn’t wait for season two and it easily surpassed season one by telling a fantastic Deathstroke story.
As much as I’ve loved this show, its biggest problem has always been the story. In the first two seasons, different storylines and character threads don’t always mesh and come together exactly as well as you would want them to, and it can leave the show feeling a little disjointed. I’m very pleased to report that with season three, it seems like Titans has really ironed out it’s storytelling problems to deliver a tight, compelling, and extremely entertaining narrative.
For a guy who is viewed as such a loner, Batman surrounds himself with a rather large surrogate family. He frequently opens his home to people with nowhere to go and in some cases trains and drafts them in his war to protect Gotham City. With the exception of Alfred, Dick Grayson is by far Batman‘s most well-known and interesting partner. Everyone knows who Dick Grayson is, whether they consciously know it or not. When people think of RobIn, the character they have in their head is Dick Grayson. He is the original Robin, but there’ve been many others to take up the mantle of Robin.
While Titans is ostensibly a team/ensemble series, this is the Dick Grayson show through and through. The series opens with a nice, little easter egg comic book reference, after his falling out with Bruce, Dick leaves Gotham and becomes a detective for the Detroit Police Department, he did something similar in the original comic book run. The first two seasons largely focus on his struggle to come to terms with his own personal demons and his complicated feelings about Bruce Wayne. Dick is a very angry young man, especially at the beginning of the series. He knows he has real darkness inside him, which he hates about himself, but he hates Bruce even more for nurturing those feelings and, as Dick sees it, weaponizing them for his own ends. This feeling is only reinforced when he meets Jason Todd for the first time, a young man who introduces himself to Dick as the “new Robin”. The fact that through Bruce just replaced Dick without a second thought, putting another young man in harms way, confirms what Dick has suspected for a long time. He loved Bruce as a father/brother figure and now he realizes he was nothing more than a soldier in Bruce’s insane war. It’s also important to remember that the mantle of Robin was Dick’s to give away, that was a persona, a hero, that Dick created to be Bruce’s sidekick. So it feels like an extra kick in the teeth, when Dick meets his own replacement, decked out in full, Robin regalia.
It’s a difficult and continuing road, but through his experiences with The Titans have put him on the path he was meant to walk. Dick is intelligent, emotionally well balanced, and compassionate enough, to work through these feelings by leaning on other people he cares about. Instead of trying to carry his burden alone, which allows him to become his own man and a hero in his own right, as Nightwing. Leaving Robin behind forever, but still fulfilling his destiny as a superhero. Eventually, he even manages to forgive Bruce, realizing that no matter warped and unhealthy it may have been, Bruce was only trying to help and protect Dick. He was trying to save him and help him in the only way he knew how.
Jason Todd, the current Robin, on the other hand, is nothing like Dick and doesn’t have any of Grayson’s positive qualities I mentioned a moment ago. He’s not particularly intelligent, he’s reckless, and unable to keep his emotions in check. He also has a big chip on his shoulder, as well as a serious inferiority complex. Sadly, anything Bruce may have learned during his time with Dick, certainly didn’t transfer to Jason, because that kid is a goddamn mess. Curran Walters who plays Jason, has absolutely crushed it since he was introduced mid-Season 1. He plays him like a mix between a live, exposed electrical wire and a lost, desperate puppy. Jason is a key character in Season 3 and Walters brings 100% to a complicated role.
Going into Season 3, Dick has finally come to terms with his past, to become the hero and leader he needs to be, as Nightwing. This new iteration of The Titans have have come together as a formidable team of heroes. They’re working like a fine oiled machine. The Titans have even become quasi-celebrities. Adored by the media and the public for their heroism. Whaddaya know? Turns out is you actually SAVE a few people and don’t level a city in the process, the public actually likes superheroes! Who knew? The active Titans, consisting of Connor AKA Superboy, Kory AKA Starfirfe, Gar AKA Beast Boy, Dawn AKA Dove, Hank AKA Hawk, and Super-Dog Krypto, are thriving as a team with Nightwing at the helm. While some of the mainstays of the team are off screen until later in the season, like Raven and Donna Troy. Things are looking great, which is of course when those old Gotham City demons show up pounding on Dick Grayson’s door.
(Minor Spoilers here, but nothing that hasn’t been shown in the trailers) Tragedy strikes when the current Robin, Jason Todd, is brutally killed by The Joker.
Anyone who really knows the character, understands that Batman handles the death of a loved one poorly, at best. Batman handles Jason’s death just about as badly as you’d expect. It’s a fucking train wreck. He callously throws himself into his work as The Dark Knight, hiding from his grief. The series first introduced Bruce Wayne in Season 2, played by Ian Glenn (Ser Jorrah Mormont from Game of Thrones) and he’s been great in the role ever since. We see a Batman that has serious problems processing grief and instead of dealing with it head on, in a healthy way, he dives headfirst back into being Batman. It’s like he’s escaping from his trauma into this monster of his own creation. Following the death of Jason Todd, we have never seen the character more mentally unhinged and emotionally broken.
There’s a fantastic moment in The Batcave between Bruce and Dick, Dick is horrified to discover that Bruce has already been researching possible “recruits” to replace Jason as Robin. When a furious Dick confronts Bruce about this, looking and sounding like a lost little boy, Bruce almost timidly asks “Do you wanna be Robin again?”. Dick’s reaction is a shocked mix of disgust, pity, disbelief, and genuine concern. The fact that Bruce would even ask him this, shows exactly how far gone, mentally, he really is. It’s almost as if Bruce is experiencing some kind of psychotic break and the gravity of the moment is not lost on Dick. Things get worse before they get better. With Batman off the deep end, a brutal and dangerous new player storms into Gotham’s underworld: The Red Hood.
He’s a compelling and genuinely threatening villain, and if you don’t already know the character, the less said the better.
Following the recent death of her father, former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, has reluctantly taken on the thankless role of Gotham City Police Commissioner (mainly because no one else was crazy enough to take the job). Like Grayson, Barbara has her own less than perfect history with Bruce Wayne, she’s done with vigilantes and the questionable cycle of violence Bruce perpetuated. So the last thing she wants to do is pick up with Nightwing, where her father left off with Batman, but The GCPD is stretched to it’s limit. Dick isn’t thrilled with the situation either. He thought he put Batman and Gotham behind him to build something better with The Titans. Instead, he’s forced to “step into his Father’s shoe’s” and bring a still relatively green group of heroes into a city where mistakes put you in the morgue instead of the emergency room.
As Dick and Barbara re-establish their fragile partnership, the new Commissioner reveals that Dick and The Titans aren’t the only “consultants” she’s been forced to work with. Straight out of “Silence of The Lambs”, while currently incarcerated in Arkham Asylum, The GCBD has been utilizing the skills of one of the world’s best criminal psychologists and profilers, Dr. Jonathan Crane, better known as The Scarecrow.
Some might find the “Hannibal Lector” angle a little derivative, but the show manages to get away with it because it’s so damn fun to watch. Crane is played by Vincent Kartheiser, better known to audiences as Pete Campbell from Mad Men, Connor from Angel, and a slew of various roles on the big screen. Kartheiser really makes the role his own. We’ve never quite seen the popular Batman villain portrayed like this. I don’t want to SPOIL too much, so if you don’t want to know anything, skip down to the next paragraph where you’ll see “END SPOILERS”….
…. I wont go into specifics about the role of the character in the series. However, when it comes to the level of danger he presents, some fans tend to think of Crane as a pretty minor Batman villain. But anyone who’s played the video game, Batman: Arkham Knight, knows that Scarecrow is capable of being a massive, city-wide threat that we tend to only associate with characters like The Joker, Ra’s Al Ghul, or Bane. Dr. Jonathan Crane is not to be underestimated.
After 2 seasons largely focused on Dick Grayson’s journey from Robin to Nightwing. Now in Season 3, the series has come into his own and Nightwing’s return to his hometown, along with the rest of The Titans, couldn’t have come at a more difficult time. As Dick and his team try to live up to the legacy of Batman as Gotham’s protector’s, a violent and formidable new threat has emerged from the Gotham underworld. A criminal who may have a much deeper and more personal connection to Dick and Bruce than either of them could have imagined. If you’ve ever thought about giving Titans a chance, now is the time to do it, because the series has never been better.
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