Review of Titans: Pilot.
If you’ve not yet had your fill of gritty comic book movies, then DC Universe’s Titans is the show for you.*
I’ll go ahead and admit up front that I don’t know much about the source material. I’ve not read the comic series it’s based on, or seen any of the animated movies/TV series (which are apparently excellent, as are many of the DC animated films). Which means that other than Robin the characters in this series are all new to me.
And also, spoilers abound.
In the Pilot episode, we meet a young girl named Rachel who has some kind of supernatural something going on. She can tell when people are telling the truth, has some kind of sense for danger, and can do… something? Kill a man from across the room while tied to a chair? She seems to have a voice or other person in her head who can occasionally communicate with her, or even take action.
We also meet Dick Grayson, most well-known to us as Robin, recently moved from Gotham City to Detroit and working as a detective for the Police Department. He has a connection with Rachel in that she knows what happened to his parents and has unconsciously been seeking him out.
We also meet Kory Anders, who may not remember much but knows she is looking for Rachel, can stop bullets and incinerate people with an (unintentional?) wave of her hand. Despite not remembering much, she is also somehow fluent in German. (Again: I don’t know the backstory here.) We also briefly meet someone who can turn into an animal. Or possibly a tiger who can turn into a person. The internet tells me this is “Beast Boy”, so I’ll assume it’s the former rather than the latter.
The bulk of this episode is character introduction, mostly by means of brutalizing people and destroying things. We don’t learn much about backgrounds or details about powers, and most of the plot is compressed into a couple of moments in the episode. e.g The man who killed Rachel’s mother (in front of her and in front of us) manages to kidnap her and tell her that he has to kill her because she is the doorway to some kind of demonic power. Of course, he has already killed Rachel’s mother and some nameless stranger (whose heart he proceeded to cut out), so he may not be the most reliable individual we’ve met in the episode… In any case, there is clearly going to be some kind of supernatural-ish content here that we should pay attention to.
The thing that stood out to me, and I assume other who are unfamiliar with the Titans source materials, is the brutality of Robin. I know enough about the DC world to know that he eventually changes over into Nightwing, so maybe that’s the way his character developed and they’re just being true to canon. But as someone who has enjoyed the Batman materials, Robin’s incredibly violent beat-down of a child abuser, while perhaps deserved, is something that we’d expect from Marvel’s Punisher, rather than from the protégé of the Dark Knight.
Maybe this is the direction they’re going to go, but I still think there’s a good point to be made here. Batman is (or was, anyway) about Justice. In the Christopher Nolan movies that means he doesn’t kill, but beyond that in the comics (the more canonical ones, at any rate) that often means that he just catches criminals and lets the system handle the rest. Sure, he may knock around bad guys, but it is theoretically never more violence than absolutely necessary.
What we see from Robin here is something more than that. The beating Robin gives the child abuser is not merely enough to stop him from escaping until the police arrive (something that would have been easily arranged, given both that Dick Grayson is a cop and that said child abuser was selling drugs at the time). Instead, it was enough to stop him from escaping, fulfill some level of just punishment, and begin to move into Tarantino revenge fantasy territory. What Robin does is what people talk about wanting to do to child abusers in thoughtless or unguarded moments, usually right after hearing about some particularly heinous act. We’ve all heard it (and maybe even said some variation of it):
“Can you believe that [awful criminal] only got [punishment handed out by the government]? I think people who do that should be [hung/beaten/castrated/other violent response that seems appropriate in the moment].”
And that should in fact give us pause, both as American citizens and (for readers of this blog) as Christians. We should pursue justice. We should want appropriate punishment to be meted out. We should sorrow when the system fails to do so. But we should not let those failures of the system become an opportunity to unleash our own inner sin. When we have a gut-reaction response to a horrendous crime, that may indeed be our sense of righteous justice rising up. But I suspect that more often it is the part of us that wishes to dominate and harm others while glorifying ourselves as the heroes of the story. In this case, the victim becomes little more than an end to the expression our own pride in a socially acceptable way. God and his legitimate agent—in this case the state—are replaced by our own egos.
Anyway, those are just thoughts in process. The opening episode of Titans is excellent and will be of interest to Christians who are willing to deal with the profanity, violence, and other mature content.
*I don’t know if it’s available (legally, at any rate) to non-DCU subscribers, so apologies to all of you out there who have no access to the show. I’ll do a review later this month of the DCU service itself.
Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO.