[This review contains some minor SPOILERS!]
Robin hasn’t been seen in Gotham City or anywhere else for nearly a year. Coincidentally, he vanished about the same time that a rookie detective named Dick Grayson was hired by the Detroit Police Department. Dick prefers working alone for reasons he’d rather not go into, but he’s known in the department for having a soft spot for kids.
This results in his being assigned the strange case of one Rachel Roth – a runaway who claims to have just seen her mother shot by a strange man. She also claims to have seen Dick Grayson in her dreams, in another life where he was part of a family of acrobats called The Flying Graysons. She also claims to have something inside her trying to get out.
Half a world away, a woman wakes up in a car with a dead man next to her. Her passport says her name is Kory Anders, but she doesn’t remember who she is, how she got there or where she came from. People seem to know who she is though, from the staff at the expensive hotel where she apparently booked the penthouse, to the Russian mobsters trying to kill her.
And then there’s the boy who turned into a green tiger, so he could steal video games from a big box electronics shop…
Titans courted controversy from the moment its first trailer was released at San Diego Comic Con 2018. With a Robin who seemingly beat random thugs to death and dropped the F-bomb in regards to his mentor, many feared that Titans would sacrifice story and superheroics in favor of grittiness and angst. Indeed, many comic fans on-line joked that somewhere, someone had complained about Teen Titans Go! and wished for a serious Teen Titans show within earshot of a monkey’s paw.
While the first episode of Titans is nowhere near as bad as fans may have feared, it does little to justify the necessity of being M-rated. Most of the worst material in the episode was revealed in the trailers and none of it is strictly necessary to the plot, save for the spooky business involving Rachel Roth’s story. Given that, it’s no surprise that Rachel’s story is the strongest element of the show so far and Teagan Croft does a fantastic job of playing up Rachel’s terror as she starts hearing a voice in her head that warns her of the evil intentions of people around her.
In many ways this episode reminds me of the first season of HEROES, in that there are several unconnected subplots that will presumably come together later. The difference is that while HEROES had engaging, sympathetic characters connected to its mysteries, Titans has four ciphers and only two of them get that much screen time.
As such, it’s impossible to accurately judge the show so far because there is so little else beyond the scenes of Rachel seeking out Dick Grayson and the first appearance of the dark forces trying to find Rachel. Beast Boy is only in the episode for one non-sequitur scene at the end of the episode. Starfire’s subplot suggests a bigger story but it is difficult for the audience to develop a connection with an amnesiac character who knows even less about themselves than we do.
That being said, the sequences centered around Raven are fantastic and the shadowy aesthetic of the show perfectly fits her story. One almost wishes they had elected to do an American Horror Story-style series built around Raven rather than the hodgepodge combination of horror movie, cop drama and sci-fi mystery we have.
Titans is as strange a beast as anything Garfield Logan could shape-shift into. It’s unclear where this series is going and there’s little to encourage sticking around to find out beyond the Raven storyline. Fans of the comics will likely be annoyed by the deviations from the books, while newcomers will be either confused or bored by it. Still, those fans who are familiar with the characters may find this series interesting as an Elseworlds’ examination of the classic Teen Titans.