From the time they burst onto
the scene in 1964, the Teen Titans has been the sort of
superteam that adults were sure would capture kids' imaginations.
After all, it's a bunch of youthful wards and teen sidekicks
banding together to prove that just because they're young,
that doesn't mean they can't fight evil on their own.
Except for brief guest appearances
on the 1967 Superman/Batman Adventure Hour, the Titans
surprisingly haven't broken out of the comic book medium.
Even Robin, the most well-known member, tended to appear
in cartoons as an adult, not a kid. Must have been that
Casey Kasem voice.
Well, wait no more. On Saturday,
July 19, at 9 p.m., Cartoon Network finally brings the kids
into their own. And as is perhaps appropriate, Teen Titans
is definitely a show for kids.
After more than a decade of
darker, more adult fare with various Batman shows, Superman,
and of course the occasionally brilliant Justice League,
producer Glen Murakami has taken a younger approach. Along
with Bruce Timm and Linda M. Steiner, the WB animation vet
has absorbed the style of more popular children's shows,
namely anime imports.
The result art-wise may take
some adjustment. Some of the character design remains recognizable
to the rest of the animated DC Universe, particularly in
the villains. But the Titans themselves could rub shoulders
just as comfortably with Ash and Pikachu as Batman and Superman.
It's most noticeable with Starfire and Raven; in particular,
Starfire moves and expresses herself more anime than classic
What does that really mean?
Characters' faces become more malleable to reflect emotion.
The lower halves of their faces become just huge mouths
as they shout and cry - and there's a lot of shouting and
crying. Villains flail comically before fleeing before the
might of Cyborg or Beast Boy in dinosaur form. And for further
emphasis, during tense scenes the characters all become
It's not just a matter of
forced perspective; bodies shrink and heads enlarge. Even
inanimate objects move when necessary; there's a silly little
moment with Titans Tower ejecting team members by scrunching
down before violently regurgitating them. Kids today eat
it up, but it may be jarring for those used to the regular
stylization but realistic portrayal of these characters
from Timm and Murakami.
For what it is, though, it
works. Seeing the adult superheroes this way might not,
but the Titans are definitely younger teenagers in this
show. As such, they may not hold older viewers' interests,
but kids will definitely see themselves, only with cool
superpowers, in the team.
In appearance taken from Marv
Wolfman and George Perez' most critically-acclaimed version
of the team, the characterization actually owes more to
Peter David's run of Young Justice. For some reason,
the Titans live on their own in a San Francisco-based Tower.
They're very much teens of
today. Beast Boy and Cyborg spend a lot of time playing
videogames. As is only appropriate, Robin tends to be stand-offish,
wearing the ostensible mantle of team leader. The alien
princess Starfire is love-sick over the boy wonder, and
though she'll kick bad guy butt in a pinch, she'd clearly
rather write about Robin in her diary. Starfire does, however,
still make reference to the Gordanians, so she probably
has some serious troubles still lurking in her past.
Even the demon spawn Raven
has been made semi-normal. Though she has some vague command
of magicks and still seems creepy to the rest of the group,
Raven has been recast as a goth girl, more playing at a
dark worldview than really worrying about suppressing the
evil legacy of her otherworldly father Trigon. Heck, she's
even kind of cute. By animation standards.
If there's any form of adult
supervision, the first three episodes leave that unexplored.
They really need it, though, if only to make them clean
the tower. There's a semi-running gag about all the food
in the place being moldy; Starfire doesn't know that's not
Starfire's older sister Blackfire
does appear, so we know that at least her parents
know where she is. (Rather than the raving psychotic of
the comics, Blackfire comes off as a cool but troubled older
sister - definitely an issue young girls can understand.)
The only actual adult that
seems to have a regular presence is, of course, Slade. Occasionally
known to fans by the unwieldy moniker Deathstroke The Terminator,
he has streamlined for animation. Voiced by Ron Perlman
(soon to be Hellboy), Slade stays in the shadows, literally,
a dark outline with one baleful white eye.
In two out of the three initial
episodes, Slade manipulates the Titans from behind the scenes.
First he hires H.I.V.E.'s "graduating class," consisting
of Jinx, Mammoth, and Gizmo, considerably younger than they've
appeared in comics. Later Slade stages a breakout for the
grotesque monster Plasmus. Both episodes, though, the Titans
remain unaware of their true enemy's identity.
Murakami and company have
struck a decent balance between the points they're trying
to make about teen life and actual adventure. Again, it
skews a little younger than you might expect, but perhaps
for the first time with this creative group, this superhero
show really is meant for kids. Even more impressively, the
Titans actually seem like real kids.
Overall, the series looks
influenced by all of its comic past. Wolfman is on board
as a writer for the show, though none of the preview episodes
we saw were written by him.
Even the opening credits go
back to the team's origins. Definitely intended to have
a sixties vibe, the title design offers a retro look, all
the while with a strangely cool theme song. Done by the
Japanese pop band Puffy AmiYumi, the Teen Titans theme combines
modern pop with a little surf guitar and a hint of "Secret
It's cool. It's groovy. But
really, your kids are going to have a much better time with
it than you will. In fact, as I write this, my daughter
is hypnotized by the tape. Between this and Spy Kids
3, this summer is a good time to be a dad trying to
raise the next generation of fan.