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Why DC's Titans Will Blow You Away

The Titans trailer released during the San Diego Comic Con drew a lot of negative responses, particularly at Robin's infamous "F— Batman." Of course, if you could completely judge anything by a trailer, then Ant-Man would have bombed and David Ayer would need to buy a new house to store all the Suicide Squad awards.

No one will be able to make a full judgment until Titans is streaming, but what we know shows the potential of a unique superhero show that can go where DC's other CW TV properties — and even where Marvel's various streaming shows — can't. Its relationship to its four-color source material and larger narrative universe is like nothing we've seen in Marvel's street-level Netflix heroes or the Arrowverse. Unlike Luke Cage or Danny Rand, the world Dick Grayson moves in doesn't shoulder the weight of 10 years of movie and TV continuity, and so finds itself free of the narrative landmines of Marvel's already crowded movie and TV worlds. Because the characters of Titans are diverse and allow the plot to take audiences to just about any setting or any genre, there's no telling where future seasons might bring us.

For all those reasons and more, here's why DC's Titans will blow you away. 

And the Batmobile he rode in on

Robin's F-Bomb in the Titans trailer bothered a lot of fans. Polygon spoke to Titans writer and executive producer Geoff Johns at the San Deigo Comic-Con about what Robin's issue with Batman might be and what it means for the show.

"The trailer shows a piece of the tone of the show — the show's not all that," Johns said. "But it does make you go, 'Why is he saying ["F--- Batman"]?'" Johns — who is also the former DC Entertainment president and chief creative officer — went on to say a lot of what's going on with Robin takes its cue from the classic Marv Wolfman/George Perez run of New Teen Titans.

While the phrase may not have hit the right note with a lot of fans, it does point to a more complex Robin. The hero's lame factor suffers a high rating in popular culture. Fans of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy breathed sighs of relief to learn Christian Bale vetoed Robin appearing. Part of the problem is that Robin is defined by Batman — you can't pretend he exists independent of the Dark Knight. For Robin to move out of Batman's shadow — and possibly become Nightwing – he has to acknowledge that shadow and wrestle with it, and the story of that character is much more interesting than a sidekick on a break or a sidekick pretending his boss doesn't exist.

Going where no Arrowverse has gone before

In spite of the traditionally family-friendly Disney, since the release of Netflix's Daredevil in 2015, Marvel's adaptations had a foot in a world where DC's live-action narrative had yet to find a home: more mature content. When Vincent D'Onofrio crushed a Russian mobster's head by repeatedly smashing a car door against it, no one was confused and thought they were watching a Captain America movie.

With the violence and the language we saw in the Titans trailer, we know Marvel's domination over mature content is over. That's not just good for lovers of gratuitous sex, violence, and naughty words; it also opens the door for more complex and compelling stories. Critical darlings like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage tackle serious issues like racism, sexism, sexual assault, ableism, and PTSD. Arrowverse shows can send, and have sent, positive messages into the world by doing things like creating roles that rail against stereotypes. But, for example, the kind of powerful and unfiltered look at assault and its aftermath that Jessica Jones gave audiences just isn't going to happen while the Flash Team is hanging out at Jitters. Now, with Titans and the shows that follow it, the Worlds of DC are no longer constrained to subjects that family-friendly entertainment allows.

The Outlaw

One of the most promising things we learned about Titans during the San Diego Comic-Con was the confirmation of Jason Todd's appearance in the series. While speaking in a spotlight panel on the Con's first day, Geoff Johns told fans both Todd and Donna Troy would show up in Titans.

These days, Jason Todd is the violent hero Red Hood who stars in the comic book Red Hood & The Outlaws. But long before he two-fisted pistols and ran with the likes of Bizarro, Todd was the second boy to take the sidekick name "Robin" after Dick Grayson graduated to become Nightwing. Todd was brutally murdered by the Joker in 1988's Death in the Family story, but eventually returned to land of the living as the Red Hood.

Whether you love Jason Todd or hate him, the character is a linchpin in some of DC's most successful comic book stories, including Death in the Family, Under the Hood, and Hush. His presence in Titans means the potential of adapting any or all of those stories becomes more likely. To the anticipation and joy of any fans hoping that Titans will bring the transformation of Dick Grayson from Robin to Nightwing, Todd makes that story more possible as well, since he might be there to pick up the sidekick slack.

Virgin territory

Someone at Marvel TV working on a new series has to be at least a little careful. Any new story in Marvel's live-action adaptations is part of a narrative that includes years of movies, streaming shows, and network TV series. In Marvel's narrative, there's history already crowded with heroes and villains. It's probably not as burdensome as it is to write a Marvel comic book, but definitely comes with more layered continuity than writing an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Stranger Things.

Titans, on the other hand, is new territory. We don't know yet whether Titans and its companion series like Doom Patrol and Stargirl will be part of the Worlds of DC, but even if that's the case, it still comes with far less baggage than anything at Marvel. The writers of Titans have a rich selection of DC heroes, villains, stories, and exotic locales to choose from. They're not yet neck-deep in a narrative that slams walls in their path. For now, at the beginning of the DC Universe's streaming shows, there are no stories they can't tell.

Unless, you know, the Hulk is in them or something.

Stealing from the best

Old-school comic book fans who were worried the makers of Titans don't know the source material or don't care about it have nothing to fear. Talking to Polygon at the San Diego Comic-Con, Geoff Johns said the inspiration for the first season comes from what he called "the greatest comic book Titans run ever": the '80s New Teen Titans stories by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. The influence is clear in the trailer unveiled during SDCC, which shows Raven doing what she can to win Robin to her side, just as — in the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans — it was Raven who brought the team together to fight her demonic father Trigon. We don't know if Trigon will appear in the show, but considering the trailer mentions inner demons, it's not a bad guess that he could be the first season's Big Bad.

The influence the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans had on comics in general, and DC in particular, is clear. Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire — all still mainstays in DC across different media  – were introduced in New Teen Titans. It was in the pages of that series that Dick Grayson went from being Robin to Nightwing. And believe it or not, it was in New Teen Titans the world first met the villain (or anti-hero, depending on which comic you're reading) Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke. So, if nothing else, we know Johns and co. are stealing from the right material.

Rebel yell

One of the things Titans can give us that no other comic book-adapted TV show can offer is the story of teens rebelling not only against their elders, but against the heroes we've already gotten to know. In the comics, where it's a much simpler proposition to have someone like Batman or Wonder Woman appear in a Titans story, it's not rare at all to find the younger heroes at odds with the likes of the Justice League — usually either because the older heroes are being overprotective, or they don't trust those rowdy youngsters to not do something stupid. We haven't had the chance to see that on the small screen, though. Sure, the characters of Runaways and Cloak & Dagger may inhabit the same world as the Avengers, but they have no relationship with them. As far as we know, the Avengers have no idea who any of them are.

From the outset, with Robin's infamous F-bomb, we know Dick Grayson isn't going to be friendly with Batman whether or not the Dark Knight eventually makes an appearance. We know other characters set to appear in Titans have direct connections to older heroes. Jason Todd is just as attached to Batman as Grayson. Donna Troy was originally meant to be a younger version of Wonder Woman. While they're little more than speculation right now, some fans believe there's proof we'll see Superboy in the show's first season. Whether it ever gets physical or not, there's a good chance the series will show us a conflict between the Titans and the old guard.

Shadow of the Bat

There's no shortage of Batman in popular culture, yet we don't know if we'll ever see him in Titans. There's some speculation that we already have proof that he'll be there. And whether or not he shows up, we know his favorite nightlight will. Regardless, one of the more refreshing things about Titans is that even if he isn't there, his shadow will loom large over the story.

If you want an example (or just a great comic), you can check out Ed Brubaker and the late Darwyn Cooke's 2002 relaunch of Catwoman. Batman almost never appears in the story, and when he does it's brief — and that much more powerful because of it. In spite of his absence, he's an undeniable presence. Catwoman is always concerned about what Batman knows, what he could find out, or what he would think of her if he knew what she was doing. As a reader you come as close as you could to feeling the response Batman wants from the "cowardly and superstitious lot" upon which he preys — that he isn't a crimefighter so much as a dark god.

The possibility Batman could cast a similar shadow over Titans is exciting, and yet another reason to think the show will be unique among comic book adaptations.

Doom Patrol

In February, Geoff Johns announced that the Titans would eventually be joined by the team dubbed "the World's Strangest Heroes," also known as the Doom Patrol. First conceived in the '60s, the franchise got a shot in the arm in the '80s when writer Grant Morrison took the reins. Jumping on board with Doom Patrol #19, Morrison made it one of the comics that defined the post-Watchmen era genre-defying superhero comics. Some of the characters included in Morrison's Doom Patrol were a villain who believed himself to be both Jack the Ripper and God, the hero Flex Mentallo who was actually a character from a Charles Atlas comic book ad, and Danny the Street. Danny...the Street. Dude was a street. Literally. That was his thing. He was a street.

We don't know exactly what version of Doom Patrol we'll be getting in Titans — and subsequently in their own series — but we do know at least a few of the members who will show up. April Bowlby (Drop Dead Diva) has been cast as Elasti-Girl, Jake Michaels (Designated Survivor) will be playing Robotman (a member present in just about every incarnation of the team), and Bruno Bichir (Sicario: Day of the Soldado) will appear as Dr. Niles "The Chief" Caulder. In the comics, Beast Boy was an early member of Doom Patrol, so it's possible he'll be used as the connective tissue between the teams.

The potential for a team this bizarre appearing (there's a dude who's a street) should be enough on its own to make you want to give Titans a chance.

Doorways to anywhere

Speaking to Polygon at San Diego Comic-Con, writer and producer Geoff Johns said that one of the goals with the first season of the series is to show it can go anywhere. "We really wanted to lean into the idea that every Titan of these Titans is a doorway into another genre," he said. "With Rachel [a.k.a. Raven], it's the supernatural and the horror...You can see that tone in the trailer clearly." Johns isn't wrong. The Titans trailer opens with Raven's psychic visions of Robin's past, and ends with her shrieking and the screen shattering like glass.

As Johns points out, one of the great things about superhero stories is that they touch all other genres. With the Titans lineup we know of so far, that already means a half dozen different genres the series can play with. Assuming she's an alien just as she is in the comics, Starfire offers a doorway to science fiction and space opera. Robin gives us the same world of mystery and even noir fiction as Batman. Raven, as Johns pointed out, brings horror and dark fantasy into the mix. As the series progresses and more members enter the fold, we're likely to be given keys to even more worlds and more directions. The Titans can solve mysteries in Gotham City, fight demons in other dimensions, or blast off into the stars.