In Episode 4 of DC Universe’s Titans, we finally get some backstory on the Tiger/Teen we met in the Pilot (reviewed here). His name is Gar and apparently also “Beast Boy”, since that’s what the subtitles say whenever he talks.
Continuing the story from the second and third episodes (reviewed here and here), we follow Rachel from the exploded convent into the woods where she meets up with Gar, who takes her to a mansion full of the Chief’s rescue projects. These are all people who had been given up on by modern medical science, but whom the Chief’s mysterious serum had saved. The Chief offers to “cure” Rachel, which she at first agrees to and then (while strapped to the operating table) changes her mind. We have an ominous moment when the Chief tranquilizes Gar and then begins to proceed against Rachel’s wishes.
Meanwhile Dick and Kory continue to search for Rachel, which Dick does by lying and beating up mostly-innocent bystanders. Kory tells him that he needs to deal with whatever is bothering him and that he can’t do so alone. Dick and Kory arrive at the Chief’s mansion (home of the “Doom Patrol,” I guess, based on the title of the episode?). Dick arrives just as Rachel, who has beaten up the Chief and opened some kind of portal, is about to do whatever it is that they’re trying to stop her from doing. Dick tells her that he was wrong in the last episode, and that they shouldn’t be alone and that they are all in this together. Rachel, Dick, Kory, and Gar all leave together, and we’re promised in song that we’ll be seeing the Chief and crew again.
In some ways, this episode was better and in some ways worse than the preceding ones. It was worse in that there was much less going on. It was better in that we get some actual backstory and information about what I assume will be a major character (Gar), and in that there was much less senseless brutality. And yet, the bit of brutality there was is especially disturbing as we see Robin beat up an innocent eyewitness in front of his (the witness’s) own child. To be sure, it was a reasonable mistake (the eyewitness was sending all sorts of “I’m a bad guy or at least a jerk’ signals). But it was still especially wrenching to watch.
This is a part of a trend in DC Comics (at least the live-action stuff that we’ve see over the last few years) that I’m not overly fond of. While I don’t mind some bleakness in my comics, part of what sets DC apart from Marvel has been its optimism. And yet starting with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises and being really driven home by Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel, the idea that DC needs to be darker, grimmer, and more “realistic” has infected virtually everything outside of the TV universe. (I’m not sure if we should count Titans as more of a TV series or more of a serial film, given that it is only available on the unique DCU platform.)*
And, well, look. I don’t want every review to be about how needlessly dark the Titans series is. Instead, I’ll bemoan the fact that the shows seems to be taking the lazy way out in terms of storytelling. As Kevin Smith points out in the DCU teaser, DC’s heroes are gods put into human situations. That means, when done right, they should be hard to write about. When every normal problem can be solved by means of Superman punching someone through a wall, more interesting and difficult problems have to be written. This is especially the case when the lead character is good, and simply punching Lex Luthor hard enough to vaporize his head isn’t really an option, however much we might want to see it. That’s one reason Superman vs. Darkseid was so satisfying:
That is a clip of what Justice League could have been (heck, what Man of Steel could have been). And Titans is setting itself up for that kind of potential in terms of superpowers, but the angsty, mopey characters are not yet the kinds of people who can rise to the occasion. We don’t need a complicated plot, because the characters spend all their time being internally complicated.
Fortunately, for those of us who want familiar characters done in new settings, there’s this:
Meanwhile I’ll keep watching Titans, but I’m not optimistic for the direction the show seems to be going. I know that Geoff Johns is one of the main writers, so there is some hope. I’m still not going to hold my breath on the show moving back in the direction of what makes DC Comics great.
*Of course, we’ve seen something of the inverse of that in the MCU, which, aside from the Infinity War film, has been largely upbeat and positive—in direct contrast to the comics.
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.