HBO Max’s Titans seems to have a vendetta against me. That isn’t to say that I’m innocent in all this. My thoughts on the show have been made clear and are typically…negative. I’m talking "Superman splitting into two red and blue versions of himself with different powers" kinda negative, but I’m getting off track. My last review of Titans was less than favorable. The vendetta I speak of comes from the next three episodes making me eat my words. Proven wrong on many accounts, I am here to proclaim (for now) that Titans is subverting my expectations and making me admire a show I formerly hated. Let me go into why that is.
Warning: Some spoilers are coming at you like a Bat-Signal in the sky, so BEWARE!
Episode 7, “51%”
We have a solid episode of character moments here. I’ve lamented the lack of attention paid to characters with DECADES of history, but it seems we are off to the races this season. Titans has learned to take its time and build on moments in subtle ways, making me like the person more than the persona. In this episode, the relationship between Jason and Scarecrow reaches a crescendo, my opinion of Blackfire is overturned, and Gar is given an amazing arc.
Jason has unleashed hell on Gotham by distributing the Scarecrow’s toxin without permission. Sure, Scarecrow loves the chaos but hates the disloyalty. Jason falls victim to a special batch of Crane’s toxin and falls as low as he can. Isolated from the Titans and now from Scarecrow, Jason is realizing he was never in charge. I feel rather bad for Jason. He is someone trying to figure himself out, because he raised by someone who did it wrong (I’m looking at you, Batman). Cue Gar finally taking center-stage and reminding me why I love superheroes.
Gar will not accept leaving Jason out to dry. Gar sees Jason as a lost soul in need of help, and he will help him no matter what it takes. Gar seems to be the only one that takes the “family” aspect of the Titans seriously. He searches Wayne Manor and finds evidence leading him to find Jason. Ultimately, this leads Gar to a woman close to Jason before his “death”. Gar shows heart here in a way that Dick wishes he could. Killing Jason is not an option. Gar sees the drugs and manipulation that brought Jason to the decisions he’s made and will do anything to prove no one is beyond redemption.
This leads me to my mistake about Blackfire. She is not a villain in this continuity, but my opinion of her and how the show would use her was tainted by my assumptions (and we all know what they say about those). Blackfire is a pain in the ass to be sure, but I would be too if my world treated me like a curse and my sister abandoned me again and again, while calling herself a hero. Blackfire is set on a more relatable path, killing her parents just as they were to sacrifice her to appease their people’s superstitions. All it took was a shift in perspective and a small amount of understanding to make Starfire see that her sister is good and just craves a family (though all of this may be shite in the near future, so stay tuned). I will say, there is a key arc in this episode concerning Blackfire and Starfire that I can’t spoil...but it will have some ramifications for Starfire in the future.
Episode 8, “Home”
It’s in this episode that the theme of family becomes primary. Dick is hit by a car while looking for Jason, and finds himself lying in the street with a conflicted Jason looking over him. Dick passes out only to awaken in the hospital (having missed a gala and his first public outing with Barbara). Dick discovers someone at the scene called 911 and assumes it was Jason (it was). This is where we start seeing the real issue. Jason wants to be bigger and better than the Bat, but he’s lost sight of Batman’s flaws. He pushes away his family and thinks he knows best. Jason obviously idolizes the wrong person; however, his willingness to ultimately save Dick’s life begs the question: Should Jason be forgiven? Jason is now more lost than ever. Can Jason come home? Can he escape the consequences of his misguided actions? The Titans are divided on whether Jason should be forgiven. Normally, I’d say no since Hank’s death hit me like a punch from Supergirl (pretty sure she’s stronger than Superman). This is where Gar’s previous detective work pays off. Jason’s friend, Molly, helps Gar set up a meeting between Jason and Dick. Doing so in the abandoned tunnels under Gotham that Batman frequented, we learn Jason only wants to come home. Should he get the chance? Well, turns out Scarecrow was listening the whole time, so we have to table that question for now.
All of this adds up to the introduction of Tim Drake. In a bid to become the new Robin, Tim shows up at Wayne Manor and just outs Dick to his face, telling Dick he’s known he was Nightwing/Robin since seeing him perform a move only seen previously...in the Flying Graysons. I love that Titans is using the comics accurate backstory (in part) for Tim, as it’s a beautiful tip of the cap to Tim’s intellectual abilities and his skills of detection. There is a lot of character work being done in this episode, a lot of chess pieces being moved into place.
Episode 9, “Souls”
With Tim shot and dying, we get a glimpse of the afterlife, or a train in this case. In a greyed-out land, we get the return of Hank and Donna as they help Tim reach the light so he can return to the land of the living. This is an interesting turn in an otherwise non-supernatural season, which promises more magic in the future.
That brings me to Raven, who is back on Themyscira with the Amazons, trying to resurrect Donna. Here we find Raven in the midst of learning her powers, while feeling isolated because of them. This may lead her to go back home for acceptance, given enough time. These interactions with the afterlife and Raven serve well as an introduction to the more supernatural elements of these characters (as well as letting me have one final good-bye with Hank). I look forward to seeing this angle done better than it was in the first season.
Much of the point in this episode is the finding of identity. Raven must find her place, while Donna must find herself worthy of coming back to life. In the end, we get the beautiful revelation that we get to have our cake and eat it too, as both characters are coming home.
On the mortal side of things, we get an operation gone wrong (I’m skipping over some finer points here). After Scarecrow resorted to running away in the last episode, he finally comes up with his master plan. Tricking the Titans into blasting through Gotham’s waterlines, Scarecrow manages to dose the water...the water that flows to all of Gotham.
This season is adding up to a reunion and a climax, promising both heart and comic-level action. I’m officially sold on this season now that character seems a bigger concern. True, this show doesn’t reflect the more juvenile aspects of the comics, but it does take them into consideration and give them due homage. The love for the material is here, but we have to get used to new stories with new perspectives. Titans has proven to have a unique perspective that is worth following.
Check out new episodes every Thursday 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.