Story Pile: Titans

You know, one thing I’m really glad of, in this current era of missing the point in the most catawumpus ways, is that nobody’s gone out of their way to try and make a standalone Teen Titans live action TV series. It’s just such a bad idea to approach the Titans in a way that isn’t already ensconced in a larger media space.

I mean, think about it.

When you get down to it, the Teen Titans is a supergroup that works primarily because they are able to treat superheroics like youth culture; they’re a group of characters who have power enough to be independent and forces for good, but also crucially, not yet adults, meaning the problems of being a teenager are all metaphorised in the kinds of characters you present. There’s a lot going on in the Teen Titans, with Starfire as the alien outsider (transfer to a new school and feel like nobody understands you), Raven as the brooding goth chick (there’s something inside you you don’t want to talk about, be it dark feelings or being a trans lesbian or, let’s face it, being a teenager), Cyborg serving as a metaphor for a host of things including growing up big, or brown, or with a physical disability, (I can tell I’m different and people treat me differently because of how I look and it makes me feel inhuman), Robin as the son of an overachiever who has a lot to live up to (the worst helicopter parent), and Beast Boy is there.

But you can only do that as long as those characters exist in a space where there are enough adults with powers going around that the idea of leaving teenagers to protect the world from major threats isn’t grossly irresponsible. You need those existing superheroes around them, so things like ‘he can turn into a leopard’ and ‘her demon dad is trying to use her to reach into this dimension’ can be minor beats on the way to telling the story about what in these characters’ lives is illuminated by them being teenagers don’t need to be explained in full. You need them to exist in a superhero story space with a lot of bright colours and big lights to make the fact they’re teenagers dealing with serious subject matter more of a contrast.

I mean, if you didn’t have the existing structure of being ‘a superhero story’ you’d have to spend all sorts of tedious time building up backstory and lore and you’d probably wind up with something that looks like Gotham trying to shit out Degrassi. Worse, one of the characters you need to get people up to speed on is post-Batman, pre-Nightwing Robin, and that guy is a complicated thing to do if you can’t point to Batman and say ‘like that.’ In fact if you don’t have Batman around to do that with, you then have to try to create this negative space Batman, show people what Batman is like in this universe without any ability to show Batman. What’s more, in a cheaper live-action space, without bright colours and lights, you’re going to have to basically make Christian Bale’s Batman on a budget, which means you wind up with a shadow of a shadow of a shadow of a Batman, who mostly lurks in shadows and growls at things.

No athletic, acrobatic, colourful puzzle-solving detective Batman, just the implication of a growling, snarling, no-killing-but-still-spooky Batman, and then without him around to give Robin something to do, they’d probably have to do something awful like all these other fuckin’ superhero TV shows and connect him to an existing source of power that we perceive as meaningful in our universe, that sort of glad-handing shortcutting bullshit you see in the MCU shows too where everyone who’s a badass is either a cop or a soldier, or loses to cops and soldiers. Hell, they’d probably just go the next step and make him a straight-up cop, because they’d see the one story where Nightwing pretended to be a cop and go ‘oh hey, that’s a great idea, what if he was a cop with a secret identity of even more of a cop.’

And then, because you’re working with low budgets, you’d probably wind up scooping up a budget Hemsworth’s budget Hemsworth, an attempt to get the lightning strike of getting Australians to play these characters. You might even go deep enough into the barrel to recruit someone who starred on Home and Away, and that means you’re basically going to be hiring a store mannequin whose idea of conveying emotional depth is looking like he’s trying very hard not to cry after you took the last tim-tam.

What’s more a Robin who’s a cop, and who’s mostly coming at things from a no-goofy no-fun Batmannery is a character to whom characters like Starfire (who normal Robin would consider ‘an alien, like Uncle Superman’) and Raven (‘a mage, like Zatara,’) are complete out-of-context problems. He doesn’t have a backlog of occult contacts or alien experts, he doesn’t have that experience, he does cop stuff, and he needs to be bad enough at cop stuff that you can emperil those characters early on, because if they’re not in danger, how are you going to show off how cool and good they are at their special abilities in ways that you know, you’d really rather they not be known for.

That’d be just a total waste of an opportunity, because now you have to treat Starfire and Raven as horror monsters and Beast Boy is also there, and Robin isn’t an expert seasoned and trialled by similar threats that can stand proud against everything they throw at him and show his tactical ability and experience, he has to be a cop cop who cops coply. And a cop working with horror monsters means they’re going to go to the awful well of villains that are more tedious than interesting that come down to ‘dude with gun and a mental illness,’ because lords knows that’s enough of a reason to do things in comic book TV series. Hell, you’ll probably think you’ll go to the Slade/Terra twist in a season or two because you don’t realise that that is disastrous and the person who came up with it probably needs to be on a watch list.

And when you’re boxed in by that you’re now adrift with this horror-monsters-and-cops-and-Beast-Boy-is-there narrative space where episodes can’t actually use the characters in their lore space because it’s got to bother introducing them. Characters like Hawk and Dove can’t be successful superheroes in their own right, they have to be budget budget budget Batmans and you’d have to show how edgy it is by, I dunno, repeatedly bringing up dicks and balls and trauma to same, over and over again in the same fucking episode, because that’s how you show how real and dangerous your enemies are, with gunshot wounds and ball torture. It’s not like criminals in those situations wouldn’t just shoot the weirdo in the head and move on, they’d gotta get that dick-stabbing out of the way first.

It’s just such a bad idea to try and do a live action Teen Titans without a good, solid anchoring superhero universe to build them into, like the Flash or CW’s Supergirl series, where for all the angst and moping, there are actual moments of levity and superheroes exist and people know to expect them existing and the audience doesn’t need to have the very premise of the show gone over in painstaking detail before you can put people in costumes and do a suit-up-stand-up moment.

Anyway, time to boot up Netflix and see if they’ve got anything in the superheroes category that’s been there for eleven months, and oh god damnit. I’ll be right back.

Oh, okay, I tapped out at episode three.

That was fuckin’ garbage.

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