Sunday, January 27, 2019

Too Much TV: TITANS (2018 - ?)

In response to DC Comics' dominance of broadcast television, Marvel Comics formed an alliance with Netflix and quickly earned a reputation for edgier superhero shows. That alliance is winding down as Disney, Marvel's corporate parent, prepares its own streaming service for Marvel, Star Wars and other properties. DC and Warner Bros. beat them to the punch by starting the DC Universe streaming service last fall. It features many DC-based movies, cartoons and TV shows, a library of DC comics for your e-reader, a weekday program of news and promos, and original shows, starting with Titans. If Marvel's Netflix shows had more edge than DC's shows on The CW and elsewhere, DC Universe promised to be edgier still with an instantly notorious trailer in which Dick Grayson, aka Robin the Boy Wonder, sneers, "Fuck Batman!" at a bunch of criminal victims. That set the tone for Titans, the latest iteration of DC's old Teen Titans formula teaming up the kid proteges of the company's long-established heroes. It pulls as well from the most popular version of the concept, the New Teen Titans comics of the 1980s, using two characters created for those books alongside Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) and Gar "Beast Boy" Logan (Ryan Potter), originally the kid mascot for the Doom Patrol, who'll get their own show later this year after a preview appearance here.

 Grayson has quit his job as Batman's sidekick and has become a midwestern policeman, hoping to overcome a violent streak acquired under Bruce Wayne's tutelage by keeping his distance from Gotham City. He gets involved in the case of Rachel (Teagan Croft), a girl whose foster mother is murdered, who then kills the murderer with a mysterious display of power. In a masterstroke of disorientation, the story abruptly shifts to Germany, where Kory Anders (Anna Diop) seems to be either a whore or a hitwoman -- despite her trampy blaxploitation outfit she's unsure herself. She, too, has mysterious powers that she uses to incinerate some local gangsters.The one thing she seems sure of is that she has to find the girl we know as Rachel and comics fans know as Raven -- just as they know Kory as Starfire, aka Princess Koriand'r of the planet Tamaran. Much of the suspense of the show comes from the delayed, and by season's end still not quite complete reveals of these characters' true selves. While fans may feel they know who all these people are, the show's clear creative license keeps things mysterious and keeps us wondering about the degree of Grayson's alienation from Batman and his style of crimefighting. We get the impression that being a kid sidekick is a rough life that may are glad to be out of, not just from Grayson but from Donna Troy (Conor Leslie), formerly known as Wonder Girl but now some sort of federal agent who retains the superhuman strength and magic lasso of your typical Amazon. Those who still enjoy the life, whether grass-roots crimefighter Hank Hall or Batman's punk of a new sidekick, Jason Todd, seem dangerously self-destructive, or simply dangerous.

We actually meet quite a few costumed crimefighters and weirdos in this eleven-episode opening outing, and for the most part Titans maintains a nice balance between its several digressions and its main story, which has some nebulous corporate-seeming entity pursuing Rachel with a murderous family of androids and other resources, seeing the troubled girl as some sort of savior or harbinger of a new world. Rachel herself is determined to track down her birth mother, who's been locked up in an asylum, even as she dreads each fresh manifestation of her powers. Titans presumably takes place on a different one of DC's multiple earths from those we see on The CW or in the movies, and the characters' confusion and backstory bitterness should make the viewer highly curious to know what's different about this world, while meeting denizens of it (e.g. Hawk and Dove) who so far seem exclusive to the DC Universe universe. Some folks may like superhero shows to feel familiar and treat any creative deviance from established texts as error, but the extreme difference in tone from other shows -- even though TV mogul Greg Berlanti made this as well as most of the others -- makes this more exciting than its story alone would necessarily make it. For better or worse, there's a sense that now there are no constraints imposed by TV networks or advertisers and that DC is its own master in a way that Marvel. great as it often is, never really can be. Whether subsequent DC Universe shows can maintain and justify this feeling will be one of the intriguing pop-culture stories of 2019.

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