Titans S4 E1 & 2 REVIEW: a bloody and twisty path to a better team of Titans
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Anna Diop, Ryan Potter, Joshua Orpin, Teagan Croft, Jay Lycurgo.
It took four seasons, multiple character evolutions, and a solid tonal shift but I finally love Titans. The fervent stubbornness of my inner child kept me on track through seasons 1 & 2, a glimmer of hope in my eye that the old magic of the Teen Titans comic books may one day be recaptured. It may have taken it awhile, but the patience paid off. Season 4 of Titans kicked off on HBO Max with the one-two-punch release of the first two episodes, both with twists and turns I frankly didn't expect from this series. Picking up from Season 3's embarrassing defeat of the Scarecrow and saving of Gotham City, Season 4 finds the Titans on a road trip to Metropolis. From blood in abundance to Lex Luthor himself (calm down, it was announced ahead of time), Titans has become what it always aspired to be: a good show.
If we are bringing Superboy to Metropolis then obviously we are going to face some awkward paternity questions. Though nary a red cape was seen, we were still treated to the opposite side of the coin in Titus Welliver's delectably despicable Lex Luthor, who chews through every scene with a rapturous delight at his own malevolence. Essentially, he slides into the role with an ease that should bring the actor's loved ones a sense of immediate suspicion. Every incarnation of Lex from Clancy Brown to Jesse Eisenberg has been calculating, but Welliver brings a lived-in sense to the character, insinuating a lifetime of vaudeville villainy. His every interaction with the Titans —Superboy, especially— is teeming with complexity. Our heroes themselves bring a more lighthearted tone to a show more used to dreary, muted blues; the characters are taking more of a front seat and embracing hard-won personalities. Of particular note are Beast Boy and Superboy, who get to stretch their legs and really shoulder some narrative in their own right.
The more character-driven, empathetic side of the Titans is a delightful return to form as a huge fan of the animated series and comics. The brooding always suited the mentors, but it never fit right in terms of Dick's "&%$# Batman" shenanigans. The heavy, darkened portrayals of past seasons was suffocating, but these first two episodes seem a breath of fresh air as our heroes are allowed to grow. Starfire has embraced who she is. Gar is controlling his powers more and more. Rachel is safely dealing with her traumas. Superboy is . . . getting more lines at least, and Dick is finally putting down the chip on his shoulder to become the quippy Nightwing he always should have been. Though this doesn't grant any of them a reprieve from world-saving. Aside from the Luthor in the room, Titans is serving up blood by the gallon in its introductions of Mother Mayhem and (eventually) Brother Blood. There is a lot of literal viscera in such a short amount of time and I haven't a single complaint. It seems fair that if our heroes lighten then our villains darken, giving a contrast that the superhero genre milks like the family cow; however, though used constantly, it's being pulled off well here. It's used to shock in just the right moments and manages to create immediate unease. This creates a looming threat that permeates even the most mundane or emotional scenes.
I can't believe I'm writing this so vehemently but: YOU SHOULD BE WATCHING Titans. After what I consider to be three troublesome seasons, Titans seems to have found a groove that manages to meet a crucial intersection of past media and past comics inspirations. This doesn't mean I'm without hesitation, but if heroes have taught us anything, it's hope.
Catch new episodes of Titans every Thursday on HBO Max!
Now, let's talk READING RECOMMENDATIONS because oooooo do I have some for you. If you want the full briefing on our Titans roster and this season's bloody bads, then give Marv Wolfman and George Perez's The New Teen Titans a thorough reading (plus, the omnibus has the Judas Contract storyline!). Though, if you want something more modern I'd have to suggest Titans: The Lazarus Contract, a brilliant spiritual follow-up to the aforementioned Wolfman/Perez story. I would love if you'd grab these from YOUR LOCAL COMIC BOOK SHOP (!!!) but if that's too far out of reach then I've provided easy links!
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.