Titans S3E10-13 and Season REVIEW: "Holy brighter outlook, Batman!" and the return to familiar faces

Spoilers may be IMMINENT, but I will try to avoid them altogether.


S3 Ep. 1 gives us a function team, on the surface. After the cameras go home, the masks don't seem to come off.

The final four episodes in season three of HBO Max’s Titans drastically pushed a tonal shift begun in the first episode of the season into a more comic-based interpretation of the titular not-so-teen Titans. Titans first attempted to mimic the Snyder-esque grit often found in nothing good. This darker iteration served to separate these beloved characters from the very traits that make them iconic. Now after two seasons of <meh> and a third season of holy $h!t!, Titans has become a must-see.


Nightwing: Year One; “He dreamt of justice. He dreamt of helping the weak,” he says. “He used his talents and his skills to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.”

Titans is a difficult show to enjoy if you’re a diehard, comics-accurate type of viewer. The “%&$# Batman” line from season one notoriously positioned this series away from the Titans that us comic nerds know and love. However, this season has shown it’s willing to meet us in the middle, by emphasizing those aspects of the characters that had us all initially jumping from panel to screen for Titans.


Nightwing has been sold to us as “broken” up until this season. He swears, he consistently makes the same mistakes as Batman, and he doesn’t quip. HE DOESN’T EVEN QUIP! Dick Grayson has always been the mirror to Bruce Wayne in terms of origin, but he’s always been the more empathetic and kinder of the two. In the comics, Dick has always had a problem with Bruce’s methods and lack of communication, yet the Dick we see in Titans is...well...his namesake. Dick constantly keeps his team at arm's length and strikes out on his own to often disastrous effect.


Batman #416 (1988) "White Gold and Truth"; Denny O'Neil and Jim Aparo (among others) crafted this relationship quite specifically

Season 3 creates consequences for ill-fated moments to be sure, but more important: Dick is learning from these mistakes. He doesn’t want to be Batman, and that’s always been the point (to me). The Red Hood storyline helped work out this transition, as Dick got to see what this emotional distance can do to a person, a kid especially. Dick’s progress is so well paced it’s only near the final episodes that you’re hearing him quip more and operate more as an empathetic leader.


Dick sees his "brother", Jason, suffering under Batman's weight and Scarecrow's influence, and sees the actions Jason will take as a result under the Red Hood. Dick has to be better.

The rest of the team is given much of the same treatment. Previous (bad) storylines in the series are cleverly evolved to lead our heroes closer to their comic counterparts, while also maintaining the element of originality. Gar is the heart of the team, just as we’ve known him to be. He goes out of his way to save people AND forgive them, as shown in his arc trying to help Jason (and when Starfire repeatedly punches him in the face). Connor is notoriously known for his attitude in the comics, and that’s something we are starting to see as well in the series. His questions of identity are exposing some Luthor-ish traits while he still maintains the do-goodedness of Kal-El.


Starfire is just as good a leader and a friend in the series as she is in the pulp pages. There are some...heavy differences, of course, but the core of the character is there. The originality comes in her relationship to Blackfire, which traditionally goes down worse than a political conversation at Thanksgiving dinner.


The New Teen Titans #23 (1980); We would be forgiven for assuming the worst of Blackfire given the mountains of evidence against her throughout various canons.

Blackfire is colder than her sister, but not villainous. Her behavior fits, given the secrets we discover about her parents (watch the show to know more). I loved this consistent approach to Blackfire merely being misunderstood. As viewers, we are determined to hate her because we know her history, but Titans (so far) has challenged our assumptions of who the real heroes and villains are.


Blackfire and Starfire's relationship isn't winning any medals, but it presents an interesting alternative to making her a predictable villain.

The draw of Titans is and always has been (for me) its focus on character. Before the first season, I was so excited to see Nightwing in live-action. Then came new episode after new episode where I saw the familiar costumes, but the faces under the masks were unfamiliar to me. These characters didn’t talk about doing good so much as brutalizing criminals for self-prescribed therapy. The point behind these characters was forgotten. Titans season three makes me think they’re finally remembering. The season finale carried so much heart and wild shenanigans, that I felt I was seeing something out of a comic, or, simply put, the feeling I get whenever I watch any given episode of Doom Patrol.


Rather than hate and anger, Nightwing confronts Scarecrow with a smile and a quip, despite everything he'd done.

I’m able to recognize my heroes under their masks now, thanks to season 3 of Titans. Now, this only means the series cleaned up its own mess, but the future looks bright as our heroes find peace and a sense of humor. Watch all of Titans season 3 now on HBO Max.


 

Austin Kemp read Batman #315 (Batman vs Kite Man) when he was 5 years old, and hasn't stopped reading comics since. Austin is a college writing teacher and has a masters degree in Comics Studies. Austin and his partner, Savanah, live in Massachusetts with their master, a cat named Chaplin.

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