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Things Only Adults Notice In Teen Titans Go!

Teen Titans Go! is a candy-colored colossus of a cartoon. It has toys. It has chart-making music. It has its very own movie, released in actual theaters. And when it comes to movies released straight to streaming? It has one of those, too. This popularity comes as no surprise, as the show is a vibrantly animated tornado of humor, weirdness, and flat-out absurdity. It's the kind of cartoon kids fall in love with immediately, often to the confusion of the adults in their lives. Can a show truly survive on, as Robin himself once put it, "dookie jokes" alone? Apparently, yes. 

But for all its gross-out gags, there's quite a lot for the adult viewer to enjoy in Teen Titans Go! In fact, there are entire jokes, story lines, and even whole episodes meant to appeal to those beyond elementary school. Did you know that Teen Titans Go! has a lot to say on the topic of rent control? How about references to the hard-boiled classic The Dark Knight Returns? Had you any idea that Teen Titans Go! manages to sneak in multiple references to that giant of grown-up superhero comics, Watchmen? Join us as we explore all the moments Teen Titans Go! devotes solely to their adult fans, from the Filmation references to the 1980s power ballads.

A Superman over 20 years in the making

While Teen Titans Go! To the Movies focuses on the titular team, it's a delight for any DC fan. This might come as a surprise, given the cartoon's reputation for an absurdist approach few DC properties employ. It's largely earned — Batman: The Animated Series this is not — but that doesn't mean a diehard fan won't be delighted by all the references, in-jokes, and tributes Teen Titans Go! To the Movies crams into its runtime. One of the most charming is also the fulfillment of one particularly dedicated DC fan's long-held desire. Yeah, we're talking about Nicolas Cage's role as Superman.

Now, Cage isn't your garden-variety superhero fan. He paid $2.16 million for a pristine copy of Action Comics #1, in which Superman debuted. He named his son after Superman, and he didn't opt for Clark but Kal-El. He's about as devoted as any fan can be, which made the collapse of Superman Lives, the Tim Burton-directed film in which he was set to play the big blue boy scout, all the more devastating. But years later, he finally got to play the role in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, a union of fan and icon all adults in the audience could appreciate. It might not be Superman Lives, but it sure is better than nothing.

A very special episode ... about rental property

"Finally a Lesson" isn't quite like any other episode of Teen Titans Go! In it, Robin takes the Titans on a whirlwind journey ... through the world of property investment. It's time the team learned something practical, he's decided, and what's more practical than real estate? Thus the teens, however reluctantly, learn about down payments, rent control, and most importantly of all, building equity. That last part in particular becomes a lot more exciting once they learn it's just a fancy way of saying "money." Hurrah for a real-life lesson!

The point of the episode — that it's boring and adult-centric — isn't lost on kids, who get that Robin is a stuffy dweeb enforcing a hilariously inappropriate tone upon the show. But what they can't grasp is how sound Robin's advice is. "Finally a Lesson" is, in fact, a great introduction to the rental market, with decent advice on building a credit score and how to save for retirement. Sure, the airhorns that blare when Robin celebrates all that equity finally funding "OLD PEOPLE MEDICATION!" are sarcastic, but darn it if watchers over 30 won't be nodding along. Decades later, perhaps some of the show's youngest fans will look back and realize that Robin's lessons are the reason they became realtors ... or, you know, just that they made them laugh at how much "equity" sounds like "equestrian."

Putting the 'teen' in Teen Titans Go!

For a cartoon aimed at grade-schoolers, Teen Titans Go! spends quite a bit of time on romance. Generally speaking, it keeps things fairly tame, but entire episodes are devoted to Robin wanting to see Starfire in a bikini, Beast Boy drooling over Raven's exposed legs, and a whole lot Looney Toons-style wolf-whistling. Adult eyebrows might raise at these PG-13-ish moments, but really, that sort of borderline-risque content has a long history in kids cartoons. After all, Shrek has multiple jokes only adults notice, and Red Hot Riding Hood is a bona fide classic.

But every so often, Teen Titans Go! steps over the line. Witness the scene from the episode "Real Magic," in which Beast Boy waits on Raven's bed, clad only in his underwear, having set the mood with candles and a scatter of rose petals. She's not interested, but the implications of the moment are clear — and pretty adult. Kids might not grasp the full meaning of the scene, but in the minds of many adults, it's better not to test that theory. In fact, UK fans have reported the shot cut from their broadcast.

Only adults will notice these DC details

Teen Titans Go! isn't exactly reverent when it comes to the DC canon. Where iconic animated series like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited became beloved for their serious approach to superheroes, Teen Titans Go! treats the genre more like a carnival. If a hero can be made silly, they will be. If a power can be mocked as ridiculous, it will be. Trigon might be the terror of a thousand galaxies in the comics, but on Teen Titans Go!, he's Raven's dorky dad who's mercilessly mocked for briefly possessing two butts.

Yet Teen Titans Go! is just as much a DC property as any sober-minded entry into the canon, nor is it any less fun for a DC diehard to watch. Every single episode is jam-packed with references, shout-outs, and in-jokes, some of them among the most obscure ever put into a DC cartoon. Wonder Twin Zan can be seen as Robin updates his social media accounts. Jonah Hex, the Challengers of the Unknown, and Balloon Man turn up for the team's big-screen debut. Nite Owl — that's right, the one from Watchmen — pops up beside Green Lantern, on movie posters, and in pictures pinned to bedroom walls. Teen Titans Go! is an absolute smorgasbord of content for fans eager to glimpse their favorites, even if they're D-list Silver Age bad guys, heroes from R-rated masterpieces, or minor characters from the Titans' 2003 incarnation.

Teen Titans Go! is hating on the haters

Teen Titans Go! made its mission clear from the very first episode: silliness to the extreme, with a generous dollop of outright bad taste. Butt jokes, bad puns, extensive mocking of Batman — it's all fair game. Many viewers, especially kids, love it for exactly those reasons, but there have always been those who can't stand its goofy approach to one of DC's most beloved superteams. Fans of the 2003 series have especially made their displeasure known, but while younger viewers might not realize this, Teen Titans Go! has addressed those critics directly in what have informally become known as the "hater episodes."

These episodes, starring ultra-nerd Control Freak as an aggrieved 2003 fan, essentially thumb their noses at those most vocally displeased with Teen Titans Go!'s approach. In "The Fourth Wall," Control Freak even plays clips from the 2003 cartoon to compare the current team unfavorably against, only to have his fandom roundly rebuffed. But he's undaunted, appearing again and again to taunt the Titans with deleted scenes, 1960s Filmation-style sequences, and an endless supply of complaints, nitpicks, and rants. He is, in short, the sort of commentator who's dogged the series from day one ... and the show misses no opportunity to make it clear, through him, how they feel about that segment of Titans fandom.

Deadpool vs. Deathstroke

Slade, known in the comics as Deathstroke the Terminator, was a long time coming to Teen Titans Go! Teased in background gags and episode titles, he was the 2003 team's main villain, one of the 1980s team's major menaces, and an increasingly major part of the DC universe as a whole. Finally, he made his Teen Titans Go! debut in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies ... only to be mistaken for Deadpool.

Given Deadpool's R-ratedness, this gag was already meant more for adults in the audience. But there's a whole other level of reference to this joke only the most seasoned of Titans fans grasped: Deadpool was, in fact, a rip-off of Slade. When Deadpool co-creator and artist Rob Liefeld presented writer Fabian Nicieza with his early concepts of the character, Nicieza actually remarked, "This is Deathstroke from the Teen Titans." Liefeld wasn't deterred. In fact, Nicieza christened the character Wade Wilson, an overt joke to Deathstroke's name, Slade Wilson. None of that matters to the Titans, of course, nor the kids watching, but to the savvy adults in the audience, it's a joke decades in the making.

A tour through Teen Titans history

Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans is, as expected, a treat for fans of the 2003 series. Animation styles are compared, catchphrases are shared, and 2003's Robin struggles to figure out whether or not his three-heads-tall counterpart is the "baby Robin," the "jerk Robin," or the "bobblehead Robin." In the end, all that matters is that they're each and every one a hero and a member of the Teen Titans of whatever Earth they occupy. 

And oh boy, are there a lot of Titans on a whole lot of Earths. In bringing a multiverse into play, Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans unloads every single bit of Titans-related trivia, reference, and in-joke it can think of, much to the enjoyment of grown-up fans everywhere. Among the Titans glimpsed are the Titans of the 2017 Teen Titans: The Judas Contract film, the 1967 Filmation era, Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani's Tiny Titans comics, and, most charmingly of all, the Titans of Marv Wolfman and George Perez's 1980s New Teen Titans series, which created the Titans as fans have come to love them today. That last group is the only one to remain bound to the comics from which the team sprang, communicating in speech bubbles and moving in jerky, page-turning bursts. It's a joy for anyone to watch but especially a fan who's stuck with the team through years, mediums, and age ranges.

Only adults will notice the avalanche of animation in-jokes

Even the dourest detractor can't help but admire Teen Titans Go!'s innovative, entertaining aesthetic. But it's not just the look of the show that impresses — it's how many obscure, inventive, and outright weird animation in-jokes that Teen Titans Go! manages to pack in, to the delight of cartoon nerds and professional animators everywhere.

Episodes featuring the villain Control Freak tend to lead the pack here. An animation nerd himself, he forces the Titans through style changes that poke fun at whimsical student films, crude 3D animation, and Filmation's retro look. But not even his in-jokes about reboots can compare to "The Self-Indulgent 200th Episode Spectacular!," however, in which the Titans confront their creators at Warner Brothers and attempt to make their own episode. Jokes about voice acting, awkward writers, and the perils of scheduling abound. It's funny stuff for anyone, but it's especially funny for adults in the audience who know the pain of Adobe Flash crashing in the final stretch of work.

Taking it back to the 1980s

The episode "40%, 40%, 20%" unleashed an awesome force upon the Teen Titans Go! universe. That's right, we're talking about Cyborg's ultimate pump-up jam, "The Night Begins to Shine." A smooth, synthy ode to, uh, whatever "the night beginning to shine" means, its effect upon Cyborg is so potent as to have become a bit of a crutch. But who could blame him? When exposed to its power, the Titans transform into radical versions of themselves, with gravity-defying hair, artfully ripped costumes, and motorbikes. Transported to a neon desert, they cruise, lost in the sweet riffs that Cyborg's treasured cassette tape brings them. So powerful is this sequence that it spawned a four-episode arc entitled "The Day the Night Stopped Beginning to Shine and Became Dark Even Though It Was the Day." It's exactly as righteous as you're imagining.

To a kid, this is all extremely cool. But an adult will immediately adore Teen Titans Go!'s spot-on parody of 1980s sci-fi, down to the minutest detail. The Titans' 80s transformations are straight out of Mad Max, their world like a fever dream from the pages of Heavy Metal, all of it sprinkled with glitter straight out of Jem and the Holograms. In "The Night Begins to Shine," Teen Titans Go! doesn't just poke fun at the decade that so enraptures Cyborg. It celebrates it by bringing its best ideas to the fore and wrapping them up in an absolute banger of a song.

Gotham's darker details

Batman isn't exactly a fearsome force of justice in Teen Titans Go!. He spends most of his time giggling with Commissioner Gordon, playing electric guitar, and serving as a celebrity judge on talent search TV shows. Not quite the Dark Knight of legend, but that's how Teen Titans Go! rolls, right? No one is as sleek, cool, and powerful within its cartoon confines as they are in other DC media. Batman might be the world's greatest detective and the hero Gotham needs elsewhere, but in Teen Titans Go!, he's Robin's weirdo, manchild pseudo-dad.

Except when it comes to background gags. In these, Batman's corner of the universe is just as brutal and ruthless as its ever been, but only the sharp-eyed grown up is likely to catch it. Consider "Sidekick," an episode that sends the Titans to Gotham City. References to more serious minded Batman stories are thick on the ground, from "Hush bandages" to a bucket of "Renuyu," but nothing comes close to what's on the middle shelf of Batman's display case. Next to a photo of Batman and Robin, there stands a crowbar and an urn ... labeled "ROBIN II." This is a reference to the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd, in the infamous 1988 storyline "A Death in the Family." It's a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, but boy does it flesh out the world of Teen Titans Go!'s Batman for those who manage to catch it.

Teen Titans Go! isn't afraid to poke fun at the DC movies

Teen Titans Go! might be a TV cartoon, but that doesn't mean it doesn't comment on DC's cinematic ventures. In fact, there might be no greater source of DC movie-teasing than Teen Titans Go!, especially since its own theatrical feature, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies premiered, much to the enjoyment of adult viewers, aware of the DC movies' missteps.

To begin with, there's the premise of Teen Titans Go! To the Movies itself. In the age of the omnipresent superhero movie, Robin wants one to call his own. After all, as a scene set at the premiere for the latest Batman film reveals, even utility belts, cars, and genteel butlers (behold Alfred, world's greatest grime-fighter) have movies, so why can't he? Superman has had so many (and "more to come," he notes winkingly). Wonder Woman admits hers took a while, but it's been made. Green Lantern joins in, as he's had one .... only to admit that "we don't talk about that one." Parodies of cinematic Batman branding over the years fill the screen, from the bright yellow of the Tim Burton era to the brushed-steel aesthetic of the Dark Knight trilogy. But nothing comes close to topping the Batman v Superman joke that sees Batman and Superman growling at each other about their "mommy's name." Teen Titans Go! might love the DC universe, but that doesn't mean it won't roast its movies.