After a much-maligned first teaser introduced us to a gritty, edgy version of the not-quite-teen Titans, the DC show evolved into becoming quite a unique superhero show. For one, the gore and the violence were used to explore the severely messed up psychology of the characters, and the show explored parts of the Batman mythos we’d never really seen on the screen. Despite this and the fact that the show’s title implies a story about a team, Titans has mostly revolved around Dick Grayson/Nightwing (Brenton Thwaites) and his struggles with stepping out of Batman’s traumatizing shadow. Now in Season 3, the show is pretty much still the same, for better and for worse.
In the five episodes available for press, we get a fascinating new adaptation of the iconic Under the Red Hood story arc, distinguishing itself from other adaptations by focusing on the brotherly relationship between the two Robins, even if it does come at the expense of the rest of the Titans.
After a death in the family, Batman disappears, leaving Nightwing and the Titans to take care of Gotham by themselves. At this point, however, the Titans are no longer just a mismatched group of broken people with abilities, but a fully formed superhero team. When they bust a bioweapon operation, the cops thank them, while news crews follow their latest exploits. Behind the superheroes, however, things are less than ideal inside Titans Tower.
With Rachel/Raven gone to Themyscira to try and revive Donna Troy, and Hawk (Alan Ritchson) and Dove (Minka Kelly) keeping out of the hero business, we are left with Gar/Beast Boy (Ryan Potter) feeling like the most powerless member of the team, especially next to his new comic relief pal, Conner/Superboy (Joshua Orpin), who is struggling with the fact that he is a clone of the Man of Steel and also Lex Luthor. Meanwhile, Starfire (Anna Diop) is having strange blackouts and visions.
These are all interesting premises that can make for entertaining stories. If only the show seemed interested in them. Though Starfire’s visions get the spotlight in an episode, the rest of the characters are treated as guest stars rather than main characters. We get just a couple of brief mentions of Logan and Conner’s motivations and personal problems before they are quickly tossed aside for the next major plot point in the main storyline.
Still, the few scenes where we see the Titans interact with one another are a lot of fun to watch. The dynamic between Gar and Conner is especially entertaining as we finally get a resemblance of the lighthearted comic relief fun Beast Boy was known for in his Teen Titans days, with Conner standing in for Cyborg. Seeing Superboy showing off his abilities to tease Beast Boy, before the latter teaches him about simple things like not eating off a book (remember, Conner has only been alive for a few months), makes up for the inherent darkness in this season.
Sadly, all of this gets mostly pushed aside with the arrival of a new player in the Gotham City underworld: Red Hood. Though the show doesn’t really show much of Gotham, we sure hear a lot of it, as every character takes any and all opportunity to remind us that it is the worst city on the planet. It is here that we meet another big DC character — Barbara Gordon, now Commissioner (Savannah Welch), who has a long history with Dick Grayson, and brings out some of the best moments of introspection the season has to offer.
Sure, the huge focus on Nightwing at the expense of the other characters gets a bit repetitive, but it helps that we get some genuinely good subversion of the Batman mythos. For one, the season is at its best when it draws parallels between Batman’s treatment of Dick and Jason, and how Dick currently leads the Titans. Thwaites makes a good case for himself as the new Batman, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, unable to properly communicate his traumas, and taking in a group of orphans to form a superhero family. Iain Glen also shows us a more surprisingly vulnerable Dark Knight, one that even acknowledges his failures in a performance that feels more in line with something like Mask of the Phantasm. Honestly, that’s the best compliment I can think of when it comes to Batman.
That being said, it is Curran Walters who steals the show as Jason Todd, embodying the pain of having to follow such an iconic superhero as Dick Grayson, while feeling the pressure of working with Batman. The whole getting thrown off a building in Season 2 sure builds up to an explosive character arc that may anger some DC purists, but offers a uniquely distinct twist on the Red Hood story that quickly justifies its existence.
Indeed, there are some truly shocking moments in the first five episodes of Titans, which walks the line between original and sacrilegious. For instance, there is the addition of Vincent Kartheiser as Scarecrow, who takes an almost Hannibal Lecter-like role. It remains to be seen whether these bold choices pay off, especially since the show is so far jumping so fast from one plot point to the next that it is almost forgetting to make what came before matter.
For now, Titans is continuing to fall victim to some of its worst tendencies, while reminding us that it is still a bold, gritty, striking take on the DC mythos. If the rest of the season pays off some of the big surprises of the first five episodes, we may be staring at a worthy companion to the animated Under the Red Hood as one of the best Batman/Robin stories of the past decade. One can only hope the show also remembers to give us a good Titans story before then.
Titans Season 3 will premiere on HBO Max on August 12.
KEEP READING: ‘Titans’ Season 3: Everything to Know About the Newest Robin, Tim Drake