Titans, a new DC series based upon Teen Titans, received a rather striking trailer at the 2018 San Diego Comic Con. It was dark, and I’m not just talking about the cinematography. It almost seems like Titans is going for the gritty, Riverdale effect. It is trying to keep up the trend set by recent DC Extended Universe movies like Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad. The thing is, it seems like it could be going too dark. After watching the clip, people may wonder if Titans is trying too hard. Especially since one of the most striking lines in the trailer has Robin saying, “F@#k Batman.”
There is a tendency in media to try and age up old properties or ones that have a certain sort of stigma attached to them. Titans is based upon Teen Titans, a line of comics and shows that follows a group of young adult DC superheroes. They are led by Robin, in this iteration Dick Grayson, and fight crime. There have always been tragic backstories attached to some of the team’s members. Robin’s family was killed in front of him. Raven has demonic powers. Starfire is in exile after a coup on her home planet. Beast Boy gained his powers after an experimental treatment to save his life from a disease. These people have had a rough time. But, in spite of that, much of the media surrounding Teen Titans has been more uplifting.
Let's watch the Titans trailer.
The problem here comes from many sources. When introduced to Grayson as Robin for the first time, we see him acting in a way some might consider out of character. We would expect to see Nightwing, his later person, killing people and using questionable behavior to accomplish his missions. After all, Nightwing at one point killed the Joker and was fired by Amy Rohrbach for his behavior. But here, we see Robin very obviously snapping someone’s neck, using force that borders on unreasonable, and saying, “F@#k Batman.” In the comics, such behavior is almost always associated with Grayson’s Nightwing persona, which some may find unnerving.
Perhaps it is just me, but it also seemed like the Titans trailer was trying too hard to be edgy. With Riverdale or Wonder Woman, there was a sense of balance. Yes, things seem darker than the source material. There is more action. Story elements that are more mature are introduced. But what we have here packs so much melodrama into two minutes. There is Raven coming to The Flying Graysons performance space, where Grayson is apparently brooding. Robin’s throwing of his shuriken shaped like an R and “F@#k Batman” can seem more like the behavior of an unruly child throwing a tantrum than a haunted individual. Raven’s descent into darkness scenes seem more goofy than scary. It is like it is trying so hard to be dark and edgy that it overshoots, it might be landing in campy and cringe-worthy instead.
It might also be difficult for someone to take Titans seriously when Teen Titans Go! is running at the same time. The much lighter cartoon series is currently enjoying a surge of success. Its fifth season aired on Cartoon Network in 2018, and Teen Titans Go! To the Movies hit theaters as well. The latter of the two even has the team finding out other DC Universe heroes have their own movies, so the plot of the whole project is to try and be taken seriously by saving the Justice League and world from Slade, so they can get their own movie greenlit. Essentially, it could prove hard for people to take the Titans series seriously when Teen Titans is succeeding by leaning into campiness and goofiness.
It would be great if Titans ends up being good and finding an audience. It would be nice if people would get as excited about DC Extended Universe film and media projects as they do about new entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But, there is a point where companies might have to question whether immediately turning to dark and gritty is the right idea. Teen Titans has dabbled in both the serious and silly. Right now, its Teen Titans Go! interpretation is doing well. Making the decision to have Titans be super dark might not be the best choice. We’ll have to see how things go.