Dark but engrossing gritty superhero series

Brenton Thwaites broods as Robin in Season 1 of the Netflix series Titans. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros / Netflix
Brenton Thwaites broods as Robin in Season 1 of the Netflix series Titans. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros / Netflix

With a string of disappointing films that have been criticised for being too tone-focused while lacking story and refined visual effects, it’s no secret that Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment had their work cut out in turning their original series Titans, streaming now on Netflix, into a success.

For the most part the show rises above previous attempts by the studios at delivering a well-developed and compelling story that feels fresh yet remains faithful to its fans.

Unfortunately, this is frequently overshadowed by tone issues as Titans shifts between the campy, B-movie qualities of the sixties to the darker style of more recent graphic novels.

This fluctuation, occurring predominately within the first few episodes, creates a feeling of disjointedness, hindering the viewer’s ability to enter into the story and its iconic characters.

For those who do not have children who watch the popular animated series Teen Titans Go and don’t know who the Titans are, they are a team of superheroes made up of Robin, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy. (Cyborg is also part of the team but does not appear in this adaptation).

The series focuses on the character of Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), AKA Robin, who is trying to leave his old life as the Boy Wonder behind in fear of becoming too much like his mentor Batman.

Moving from Gotham to Detroit, Grayson now works as a detective who fights crime by the book by day but by the batarang at night.

After crossing paths with Rachel Roth (Teagan Croft) AKA Raven, a girl possessed by a dark force, Grayson finds himself caught up in the middle of a conspiracy aimed at bringing about an apocalyptic prophesy.

He is joined by Kory (Anna Diop) AKA Starfire and Garfield Logan (Ryan Potter) AKA Beast Boy who help fight to keep Rachel safe and out of the hands of an unknown foe.

Even though the title suggests an even representation of all four heroes, there is considerable focus on Dick Grayson’s character and backstory, which becomes one of the highlights for this first season.

Through strong storytelling that draws parallels to Marvel’s Daredevil, the show does well to present Grayson’s struggle in leaving behind his alter ego, which has defined him for most of his life.

This, along with a fragmented friendship with Bruce Wayne and anger issues that drive his fear-of becoming another out-of control vigilante, establishes a good foundation for his evolution from Robin to Nightwing.

The series is well-casted and the leading four actors portray their characters faithfully to the DC Comics universe while still making them their own.

Teagan Croft is a standout, brilliantly portraying Rachel Roth as both a vulnerable teenager and an enraged dark entity.

Unfortunately, Starfire and Beast Boy are overshadowed and, besides a few moments displaying their individual powers and alluding back to their origin story, they become less like teammates and more like sidekicks.

However the good that is accomplished by well-written scripts and well-acted performances is ultimately tarnished by the same issues that plague the DC film franchise.

Use of poorly-executed and cringe-worthy special effects, at times looking like they came out of the 90’s, saturate the fight scenes especially when Beast Boy gets involved.

Even when it’s just Robin beating up on his enemies, scenes are cut badly, losing authenticity in the action, which is disappointing as it has the potential to be just as good as Marvel’s Daredevil.

Following suit to recent DC films, the series still has not fully worked out how to replicate the dark and realistic atmosphere of the graphic novels on the screen without making it dreary and joyless.

Teagan Croft (Rachel Roth/Raven) and Ryan Potter (Garfield Logan/Beast Boy) stars in Titans, now streaming on Netflix. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros / Netflix
Teagan Croft (Rachel Roth/Raven) and Ryan Potter (Garfield Logan/Beast Boy) stars in Titans, now streaming on Netflix. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros / Netflix

For avid DC fans, this first season is worth a watch as the well-developed Dick Grayson/Robin/Nightwing subplot and the array of guest stars and cameos of some of DC’s iconic characters will keep you going until the end.

As an R rating is the only way to capsulate the grittiness and rawness of the comics, Titans is definitely not a show for the children. This series is more appropriate for mature audiences from 16 above.

Though not entirely gratuitous and, for the most part, in line with the graphic novels, the series does contain gore and brutality in almost every episode, profanity, horror and scenes of torture.

People might find some scenes hard to watch, particularly those who are a bit squeamish when it comes to blood or horror.