The Grimdarkness of DC’s ‘Titans’ Television Show

Titans DVD cover art
Complete season 1 of Titans, now on sale.

The Grimdark of the Titans Show

How grimdark, you ask, is season 1 of the television show Titans, which aired on the DC Universe streaming service? (And now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.)

So grimdark that at one point in an early episode, Dick Grayson walks to the record player and literally plays a sad song so he can be angsty and brooding.

So grimdark that Starfire/Kory Anders accidentally burns up a whole nightclub of mobsters and shrugs it off.

So grimdark that even the nuns, who seem to be nice people otherwise, lock up Raven. (And, alas, they’re not wryly funny either, like the Good Omens satanic nuns.)

So grimdark that Dick Grayson’s new partner on the force, a character taken straight out of the original Nightwing run by Chuck Dixon, is summarily tortured to death and her demise only gets a short announcement and then it’s forgotten.

So grimdark that the only well-adjusted and decent character seems to be Donna Troy, who doesn’t show up until near the end of the series.

And I haven’t even mentioned the infamous “F*** Batman” quote.

So, then, you ask, what if I like grimdark? Is Titans worth watching?

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE OF TITANS BELOW

I can’t answer for everyone who likes their television viewing to be depressing and poorly lit but I can say that Titans has other problems than its general tone.

Titans grimdark show cast
The Titans assemble: Gar, Rachel, Robin, and Kory/Starfire

Titans: Changes From the Classic Versions:

First, I acknowledge that my viewing of this show is invariably colored by my affection and memory for the original Marv Wolfman/George Perez classic Teen Titans run that introduced the characters of Raven and Starfire, reimagined Dick Grayson into Nightwing, and picked up the obscure character Beast Boy and made him an integral part of the team.

I’m not concerned with the plot changes as much as the emotional changes which essentially make some of the show characters different people than their comics counterparts.

The biggest change from the original material is the reimagination of Starfire as an assasin sent to kill Raven, as is eventually revealed when she attempts to choke Rachel out after regaining her memory. First, Anna Diop does a terrific job as the character created for the show. Diop has charisma to spare and the show always has more energy when she’s on-screen.

But the character itself is far closer to Blackfire, Koriand’r’s evil sister, than Starfire. Comics Koriand’r has a fascination for new things, a wide-eyed innocence at encoutering what’s new to her. The show’s character is cynical about everything. Yes, she’s a warrior and would kill if necessary, but the show’s character doesn’t give a damn about people dying at all.

At one point, she beats up cops that are responding to a legitmate call about someone breaking and entering into Raven’s old home. She wants to get away, yes, and there were so many ways this scene could have played out, but instead it leaned into the physical violence–meaning the audience sees every blow, every injury to these cops who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And Kory Anders simply doesn’t care. At all. Neither does Dick Grayson seem to care much, even though he’s supposed to be a cop in this show, and one would think he’d have some sympathy for what happened.

Again, Diop does a great job with the character. But if you’re looking for Starfire, this isn’t her.

On the good side, Gar/Beast Boy is well done, if a bit muted, and he adds some needed lightness to the show. Raven is mostly an angsty, unhappy teen but that’s understandable given people killed her mother and keep trying to kill her.

Dick Grayson, however, is also far from his traditional self. I get that he’s supposed to realize he needs to re-engage in the world but this Dick Grayson is so completely ill-adjusted that he basically revels in violence and, at one point, orders the destruction of an entire facility, no matter who might be inside.

This Grayson seems to be a combination of Dick/Jason Todd from the comics. And, yes, Jason does show up in the show, and he initially adds some fun to the story but then he’s busy beating up people for the thrill of it, and that frustrates Dick, except Dick basically does the same thing later and it seems to be shown as a good thing, so I’m not sure what point the show was trying to make about how they’re different.

Titans show Grimdark Robin
Brenton Thwaites as Dick Grayson/Robin image copyright WB/DC Entertaniment

Titans: All the Women Revolve Around Dick

The strength of the original Wolfman/Perez Titans was their evolution as more than a team, as friends who wanted to help each other, even as they made mistakes in their relationships with each other.

Those complex friendships, especially between the female characters, have been devolved in the grimdark Titans to, basically, everyone wants Dick.

First, Dick is connected to every single women on the team. He’s the centerpoint, he’s their first mode of interaction with each other. They do not develop separate relationships between them, save on the very surface level. In the comics, Donna and Kory are great friends who help and support each other. In the comics, Raven also develops a friendship with the other two ladies, even though Raven is a hard person to know.

In the show, Starfire and Raven encounter each other but they never even partially recreate that friendship, especially since Starfire is, you know, there to kill Raven. Donna and Starfire have barely met.

The one person most important to Raven? Dick Grayson, though in a mentor protector way, as even though he tries to leave her a whole bunch of times, he becomes the only person she trusts. (I wouldn’t trust him too much, Raven, as he doesn’t care about his partner being murdered nor does he seem to care about any responsibilities of the job he supposedly wanted.)

The one person who interacts with Starfire most? Dick Grayson, especially as they fall into bed with each other, without any grounding in why they’d have sex. I mean, they seem to hate and distrust each other. So hate sex? Because they had a relationship in the comics?

Meanwhile, Dawn/Dove is important in the story not because she’s a hero in her own right but because she’s Hank Hall/Hawk’s sole means of emotional support/lover and because she used to be Dick’s lover. It ended badly. There was a glimmer of Dawn and Raven creating a bond in an early episode but it ends badly again for Dawn as she’s tossed off a roof in a particularly violent fight scene. That happens so that Hank can fall apart and blame Dick for everything.

I’m not sure why the show needed to create a sexual relationship between Dawn and Dick. Perhaps to show why Grayson is one of the sexiest men in comics? But the reason women find Grayson sexy in the comics is, yes, because he’s built like a gymnast, but also because he listens, he’s kind, and he’s understanding. Not because he sleeps around which, really, he doesn’t much.

So, not only is this Dick Grayson not someone to admire or even trust, but all the women are drawn to him anyway.

Titans: No Moral Code

Last but not least, what probably makes Titans grimdark most is the lean-into-killing and violence.

The hand-to-hand fight scenes are brutal. No matter who’s doing the punching, people are being violently injured, perhaps permanently injured. So the show would definitely earn a PG-13 on this count alone. (I guess they threw in “F*** Batman” in episode one to make it R-rated.)

Daredevil Season 1 also had some brutal, well-choreographed fight scenes. But the difference with Daredevil is that even though Matt generally beat up some very bad people–Russian mobsters, members of the Hand–or people trying to kill innocents, he felt guilt about this, he felt wrong, he felt there was a “devil” inside him. He struggles with this throughout his series. He’s not shown as being in the right all the time.

Titans includes the same kind of graphic violence but without the same examination of what the violence costs the supposed heroes or their victims. The show itself seems to think it’s fun to show the villains torturing people, like Dick’s dead partner, or the various anonymous people turned into mindless contract killers. It’s not darkly humorous. It’s torture porn.

But, more than that, the only main character who seems to think killing is wrong is Gar/Beast Boy. He’s never bitten anyone before and when he does kill someone in tiger form, arguably a really bad guy, he’s appalled at what he’s capable of. No one else seems too concerned. Raven seems a nice enough kid until she, too, decides that those who manipulated her should just be dead, boom, no worries.

Starfire kills at the drop of a hat. It never bothers her, save for a worry that Dick will be mad at her.

And Dick Grayson, our arbitar of what is right by the end of th show, is fine with blowing up a whole building and leaving people dead and injured behind. In the show’s last episodes, it attemps to show Dick struggling with his morality, and worrying that he’s a weapon, and finally giving into the darkness except Dick has already given into the darkness, so the entire struggle makes little sense.

Why are these people heroes? I have no idea.

Perhaps the creators behind this show wanted to make a point that they’re not heroes at all. Fair enough. But then why should I root for them rather than the people they’re fighting? They leave almost the same kind of destruction in their wake.

Oh, and the show ends on a cliffhanger, so any sliver of light for these characters is probably going to have to wait at least another season.

::deep sigh::

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