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Teen Titans
Reviewed by Joe Crowe, © 2003

Format: TV
By:   Glen Murakami (producer)
Genre:   Superhero action
Review Date:   July 29, 2003
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

Teenage superhero groups have always been popular. Here's why:

1) The characters are all closer to young folks' ages, so fans identify with them on a certain level even if their comics are terrible. They etch their little place in comics fandom and stay there. This is true for every group from X-Men to the Legion of Superheroes to the New Warriors (who were still called that years after their debut).

2) The girlies in it are drawn really hotly. Sure, Wonder Woman is awesome to look at, but she's like 30. But Wonder GIRL... she's somebody you might have a shot at.

"Teen Titans" debuted in 1964 as a group starring Robin and the other teen sidekicks like Kid Flash and Aqualad that were in vogue during the time; they even appeared in a cartoon a couple of years later. But the concept didn't really come of age until the 1980s, when Marv Wolfman and George Perez revamped it as DC's reaction to Marvel's phenom "Uncanny X-Men." The book was a huge success. All the characters had angst, and George Perez drew the hottest freaking woman in comics, the cleavagy Starfire.

The "Teen Titans" cartoon is directly inspired by those characters. Every member of the main group from the comics is here: Robin, Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy (Changeling in the comics). Missing are former teen sidekicks Kid Flash and Wonder Girl. The press release says that they wanted a series that stood alone, that didn't call for viewers to be fans of their other series. But no ranting from me about that this time, I promise. Kid Flash grew up to be the current non-kid Flash, anyway. And Wonder Girl has had at least 3 comics storylines trying to sort out her continuity. Leaving them out may be for the best.

The Titans were always a product of their era. In the 1960s and 1970s, they fought a villain called "the Mad Mod" and their HQ was in the basement of a disco. In the 1980s, their HQ was a gleaming tower paid for by one of their dads -- very Reagan. So it's perfectly appropriate for the 2000-era toon Titans to play video games and listen to CDs all day. That's what teens do, technically.

In fact, the cartoon emphasizes the "Teen" more than the comics ever did. Wolfman and Perez's "Titans" were called "Teen" but they were all really 18 or 19 at the youngest and trying to move past "teen" issues as quickly as possible. Their angst was more young-adult than adolescent. Speedy was a reformed drug addict. Robin and Starfire slept together. (Robin and a hot alien chick? Obviously overcompensation for all those Bat-rumors.) Nearly every member of the group resented their father for something. In the new cartoon, there's no angst. Even poor "I-hate-being-a-freak" Cyborg is totally cool with his half-robotness.

Each character seems about 14 or 15. Unlike with "X-Men: Evolution," the de-aging works because it culls the characters to their essence. Beast Boy is the class clown, Robin is the class president. The only problem is that mega-hot boobs-a-poppin' Starfire is now 13. So if you liked her "like that" back in the 80s, now you're going to feel very weird and conflicted. Best to stop thinking about her now.

The cartoon series has the same high-quality animation as its Cartoon Network predecessors, but with brief yet irritating additions referencing cheap Pokemon-level anime; some reaction shots are direct swipes, where a face turns into two big saucer eyes and a straight line. Maybe this is supposed to be a visual cue to fans of the cheapass anime, to make them go, "Hey, this is like that crap I like." But because these experienced animators can do so much better, it seems like pandering. Like, "Hey, here's that crap you like. You like ours too, right? Huh? Please?"

Apart from Starfire's, uh, narrower profile, the biggest change to any character is to Raven, and it's not that big. Instead of being a sorceress, she's now a telekinetic. The lack of angst means she won't have any daddy issues with her devil father Trigon. According to an upcoming episode list, Trigon may be the only 80s Titan villain who WON'T show up. But then, he'd be pretty hard to adapt: Raven's mom was in a cult, which summoned Trigon, who ravished her mother, which begat Raven. And Trigon, a big red devil guy, wore only strips of cloth. I think he was the first DC villain to show nude pelvis.

So there are devilish characters on other Cartoon Network shows like "Cow and Chicken" and "Powerpuff Girls," but not a straightforward superhero show. Weird.

The show does know its source. Marv Wolfman himself is on the writing staff, so you know that at least they've got his phone number. Fans of the comic will immediately recognize lots of villains, and especially the shadowy recurring nemesis. I enjoy the way he's played here.

So the show is good. It doesn't top "Justice League" for me, but it's fun enough. Not thinking about Starfire. Not thinking about Starfire. Not thinking about Starfire.

Joe Crowe is news editor of RevolutionSF.

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