Titans S3E1-3 REVIEW: So far, so amazing! New city, new costumes, new characters
Major Spoilers for the first three episodes of Titans Season 3 ahead. You’ve been warned.
Titans has been a black hole experience for me since the show’s debut in 2018, my enthusiasm failing to escape the unnaturally blue-lit event horizon. An avid fan of the Teen Titans, I sat with bated breath as the first episode of Season One started. Roughly an hour later I rose from my seat with a look of disgust on my face. I hated this show. This didn’t deter me from watching every single episode that followed, a spark of hope carrying me through the rest of that first season and all of Season Two. By the end of Season Two, Beast Boy still couldn’t transform into anything but a green tiger, Dick Grayson finally became Nightwing after a drawn out (and weird) stint in prison, and my hope had become a festering rot-hole that stood in memoriam of the characters I loved so dearly. Then...and I’m still confused about it as I write these words...I watched the first three episodes of Titans Season Three, and my hope was renewed. The rot fell away and I found a small part of me still excited to see these characters in live action. Now I know I have not painted a kind portrait (or panel, ha!) of Titans, but this new season seems aimed at retribution, an apology to those like me who wanted so much and had so far received so little. With so many aspects of this season needing attention, I’m gonna break this review down into tiny, Teen Titans GO!-sized pieces.
The Titans as a Team (Finally!)
Episode one gives us a stellar scene of the Titans actually operating as a unit. The drama and manufactured tension finally takes a backseat to the Titans doing what they are supposed to do: fight crime. Nightwing, Starfire, Beast Boy, Superboy, and Krypto (a very good boy) take apart a robbery attempt with good action choreography and characterization. Nightwing sheds his brooding for a more fun and quippy demeanor, humiliating criminals just as often as hitting them. Starfire literally becomes the shining light/heart of the team as she dispenses fiery justice as well as tempered wisdom to the younger team members. Beast Boy and Superboy have their own rapport, establishing a nice buddy-duo dynamic that plays well with their youthful personas. Beast Boy, though still unable to become anything other than a green tiger, has moves of his own, while Superboy is essentially a concrete wall that throws himself around in front of bad guys with reckless abandon. Then there’s Krypto, ‘nuff said. Past seasons of Titans fostered storylines determined to keep the team from working together, devoting too much narrative time to individual characters without bringing them all together in the end.
This season, as far as I’ve seen, is still putting focus on individual characters, but this time these subplots take back seat to the actual team (a wise decision, considering the LITERAL NAME OF THE SHOW). Dick seems to finally be past his daddy issues—for now—and is embracing his own identity, which includes being team leader. This role pushes him in his new moniker of Nightwing to "be a better Batman," a sentiment explicitly stated in this season. Starfire is experiencing odd visions that end with her waking up in odd places spouting Tamaranean, teasing her eventual encounter with her sister, Blackfire. Beast Boy is dealing with the recent departure of Raven, and is trying to push his abilities past the usual tiger transformation. Only Superboy seems to be void of narrative potential at this moment, which is a shame given the travesty that was his initial reveal in Season Two. I will admit that to follow a Superboy storyline is to either include Superman/Lex Luthor or perilously avoid them both. Given that Bruce Wayne freely strolls in and out of various situations, I can’t rule out a future Superman appearance, but I’d hesitate with it as it could overstuff a show that’s just now finding its footing.
Red Hood, the Bat Family, and A LOT of Gotham
Last season introduced us to the insolent bat-brat Jason Todd, who remarkably surpasses his comic counterpart’s annoying personality. Titans has created a world where Robins can curse vehemently, and grotesque violence reigns supreme. Translated to Jason Todd, this means the character is the embodiment of a douchy teenager given a mask and a license to maim. This all makes Season Three’s opening scenes all the sweeter, as we see a Home Alone Jason Todd track down the Joker, despite being called off by Batman. The result is as obvious as a crowbar to the face. The act itself is portrayed quite differently from the source material, but fits well with what we know about Jason’s character in this universe. The ramifications of Jason’s “death” lead to the Titans making Gotham their new home, as the Batman has forsaken his mantle (in a completely understandable way), and left Dick a city to protect, lots of questions, and a shadow to move out of.
Anyone familiar with the comics to any degree knows that death is not always a permanent state, and Jason Todd is yet another example. Not so coincidentally, following his death, a new player enters the Gotham underworld sporting a red hood and a brutal taste for murderous “justice”. Obviously, Red Hood and Jason Todd are the same person (though we don’t quite know how this is possible yet). One scene in particular pays homage to a scene from the comics' Batman: Under the Red Hood, delivering a phenomenal entrance for our new antagonist that had me on the edge of my seat. A room full of crime bosses and a duffel bag full of severed heads always sets the mood for a badass character reveal. Red Hood’s plan isn’t decipherable as of yet, but his methods are cruel and seek to manipulate his former friends into questioning their own moral edicts. One instance of these mind games results in the loss of one life, a loss I actually felt to my core, in a moment that capitalized on a lot of character work from past seasons. These brutal tactics have the Titans scrambling for help, especially before they know it’s the former Robin beneath the hood. This help comes in the form of multiple character introductions that expand the Batman mythos within the show.
Barbara Gordon and Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow make their debuts this season alongside the top tier name drops of Raz al Ghul and Commissioner Gordon. Barbara is the new Commissioner (and also post Batman: The Killing Joke), while Scarecrow is behind bars, acting as a consultant for the GCPD. The former harbors intense anger towards Bruce Wayne for recruiting children to his crusade (fair point), and the latter apparently loves marijuana and is allowed to have it in prison in return for his cooperation. While I love seeing these characters on screen, I’m sensing an intense attachment to the Bat-family. Titans suffers from a lack of confidence that’s very apparent in its unrelenting allusions to Batman, but just like Dick Grayson, this show needs to step away from the Bat and into its own identity. I’m betting these new characters will play key roles this season, but the obvious pattern has to be addressed when Batman plays a bigger role in the morale of the team than he ever has in any other context.
Bigger Picture and Final Thoughts
There are definitely bigger threats at play this season that we aren’t yet privy to. We’ve encountered Red Hood early in the season, and it’s already been stated that Jason isn’t up to this complex of a plan on his own, so there must be a mastermind hiding in the works. Blackfire has yet to rear her head. Scarecrow is obviously being prepared for a grand scheme. Soon we will follow Raven on Themyscira. Then we have the understated introduction to Tim Drake, which I believe will yield tremendous dividends. All of these threads promise either an intriguing season or a mess of one. My hope has been dipped in a Lazarus Pit and revived by these first Season Three episodes, but that comes with consequences. My hope is momentarily feral and lacking in clarity so I may be off, but I’m betting we get an amazing Season Three of Titans.
Titans has helped me overcome a character flaw I have, when I get so attached to strict character requirements that I forget I can just enjoy a story. I’ve been against this show due to its differing portrayals and creative liberties, but now I’m seeing the beauty of the comics at play. Different creators explore different avenues that lead to different outcomes. Without this approach we would experience the same stories again, and again, and again. Titans is enjoyable when preconceived notions are abandoned in favor of a unique experience. This mindset is welcoming and allows for more enjoyment and less gatekeeping, something I think we should all practice if we really love these characters (and comics in general) as much as we say we do.
I've made a lot of comic references in this article, so I hope it made you interested enough (or confused enough!) to seek out the various source materials. If you want some background on Jason Todd and Red Hood, be sure to check out Batman: A Death in the Family and Batman: Under the Red Hood on Amazon or (preferably) your LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP! For those with a stronger stomach, pick up Batman: The Killing Joke from the aforementioned places. Now in counter to my hypocrisy of recommending strictly Batman stories, go grab Teen Titans: The Judas Contract to get a good idea of what this team is all about, through one of their greatest stories. And catch up on previous seasons of Titans on HBO Max.