Remembering (Kinda) The Titans
Here's today's “Okay-I-know-no-one-asked-me-BUT”, dept!
Just watched the “Titans” series on Netflix over the last week or so. I should mention that I was in fact looking forward to seeing it. That said, couple of things, if I may?
1) Dear DC, what the everluvin' frik?! How, after everything that's been said (Admittedly, some fair, some not so much) about “Man of Steel”, and “B v S” are you guys still not getting it?
Boy howdy, you're reeeeeeally leaning into the “dark and gritty” side of things here, huh?
For crying out loud, one of the Titans can turn into a tiger (so far) but is also somehow not completely amazed and overjoyed by that?! I see. Better man than me. If I could turn into a friggin' tiger, I'd get friggin' tshirts made. I mean, (spoiler alert), you have Garfield (“Beast Boy”) and Raven meet the goldang Doom Patrol (SO!…happy!), but they are somehow oblivious to the amazing cast of characters they're sharing a plate with? Um. Anyone else notice we're sharing onion-rings with an 8 ft. tall robot-man?! No? Just me? I'll say it again. A! Robot! Man!! I mean geez, how jaded do you have to be, to not be wowed by a guy whose brain is floating inside a giant robot “suit”?
For a company so intent on making their characters “real”, you seem to spend a lot of time focused on the “suck-ass” parts of “real”, and completely gloss over how insane and fun it must be to have “powers”. Sure, show the effects/affects of said powers, as dark as they may sometimes be, but that doesn't mean that the “blue filter” has to be used for every, single, scene, does it? There are literally hundreds of examples, whether in TV or Film, that cleverly relay the “dark” message, without defaulting to easy visual tricks that have already proven to not go over with audiences,
P.S. It's this lack of self-awareness that your main competitor has so cleverly used to their advantage, by doing the exact opposite.
And, 2) Hey. 'member when comics were fun? (Sighs nostalgically). Look, before you lump me into the “old-crotchety-bastard” category, hear me out. To do “dark and gritty”, particularly for the Titans, is in my estimation to miss the whole point of the Titans, and particularly as to how they fit into the DC canon. I was weaned on the Wolfman and Perez glory days, but one thing those comics always were, with mythic storylines and real world situations no less, were FUN. Now there are certainly moments, real glimpses of “fun”, in the Titans, but they are just as soon quashed and replaced with close-ups of “scrunchy”, angst-riddled frowning faces, and a ton of scenes using what some might call “an overly enthusiastic use of the pipe-to-the-head aesthetic”.
Titans, the comic series at least, is at it's heart a team about family. About living in the shadow of what came before. About coming to terms with powers, to borrow a line, “beyond the ken of mortal men!” It's about accepting commitments that you may not want or are even ready for. It's a team about inclusion, and finding out who you are while not under the shadow of your predecessors. It's a team built around the idea that we make our own families, that we choose and accept those who will be with us, and who we will be with. And back when I was just a “husky” 11-year-old, spending my Saturday mornings ignoring my accordion lessons* so I could read comics instead, it was a message that resonated fiercely with me. And one seemingly ignored in this series, in favour of splashy uber-violence, and a tritely whimiscal “Yeah, but imagine how cool Robin would be if he was really 'real'!"
(*Yes, accordion lessons. I'm trying to hit as many Italian stereoptypes as I can. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to eat an entire leg of prosciuto and a soccer-sized ball of provolone cheese.)
The issue with the series seems to be part “idea”, part “execution of said idea”. I will say in fairness that I think the cast is great, and they're clearly trying to make the whole thing work. But it's hard to do that when you've got no choice but to keep hitting the same “tone” note over and over again.There are some genuine “feel good” moments in the series for sure (The close up on the “team” after they've won the fight with “The Family” outside the motel, being one. The aforementioned Doom Patrol cameo, or the Donna Troy vs. K'oriandr “fight”, for two others), but I can't imagine people won't tire quickly of the show's insistence on dark, muted tones, regardless of whether the scene playing out actually needs to look like “Sweeney Todd's” storage locker. The show shares what I believe the overall industry itself suffers from at times. The itch for new writers and artists assigned to a particular series, to “brand” the character they're working on with their own “touch”. And sometimes that's great. But ”modernizing” a character for the sheer sake of it can easily seem forced and ironically, stale. Some writers and artists are more than capable of working within that paradigm. Jenkins, Bendis, Hickman, Morrison, Ennis, Moore, and Allred, come to mind. That's because they all share the same point of view in regards to older “iconic” characters. They write them from a place of love and that's why they ring true. That's why any good story rings true.
As much as I was tickled to see the appearance of “B” characters/fan faves, Hawk and Dove, Doom Patrol, et al., it's DC's reticence and seemingly outright refusal to have fun with these incredible characters that leaves the audience a little unfulfilled. I mean, sure, I love cotton-candy as much as the next guy, but any 5-year-old can tell you that's the surest way to a stomach ache. It brings to mind DC's insistence to continually re-introduce characters like Superman and Batman (or “At's-a da Batman-a”, as my mom would say) in each new movie to their audiences. Is there literally anyone on the planet at this point who doesn't know that Superman is an refugee/immigrant from another planet, and that Batman's folks were murdered? Instead of just trusting the audience and the story (Which the first GOTG movie used extremely wisely. Seriously, who aside from my fellow comic-nerds, knew what the hell a “Groot” even was, before that movie?), they insist on spoon-feeding things to their audience that have already entered the common pop-culture zeitgeist a long, long time ago (Thanks, George!). I can assure you that absolutely no one is watching a Batman movie at this point and thinking “What?! His parents were murdered?! When did that happen?!” Look, I'm not saying it needs to be all jetpack-wearing, penguin-missiles, but come on, smile a little, willya?! Where's my silver kryptonite when I need it, dammit?! Let's hope the (spolier!) Superboy and Krypto cameos indicate a change, or at least a balance, in tone.
To be clear, I understand that we live in a complicated world, and some could argue that “gritty” is an appropriate reaction to said world. But, and without getting to hoity-toity about it, that's not what Art is. Art isn't a reflection of society, it's a reaction to it, and more importantly, the best art shows you where to go, how to move forward, from the reacting bit. Argue with me if you like, I feel that comic-books are one of the purer Art forms around. “Lighten up!”, you may be screaming at the device you're reading this on. “It's a comic-book show, for cryin'-out-loud!”, you might also say. First off, stop yelling, I'm right here. And secondly, that isn't the point for two reasons. One, these aren't “comic-book” stories, these are in fact, the oldest stories in the world. They are the same stories we have been telling for thousands of years. They are the stories discovered on prehsitoric cave walls. They are Shakespearean in scope, and they become our myths and our cultural foundation, regardless of whether we're talking about Bruce Wayne or Gilgamesh. Just ask Joseph campbell. As it turns out, we are made not only of stars, but of stories.
And two……..hmmm……okay, it occurs to me while re-reading this that perhaps I have spent too much time alone. Okay, time to put the family-size bag of “Fiddle-Faddle” down and step away from the Netflix…I'm off to take a walk…
Luigi Saracino has worked as a musician, composer, writer, stand-up comic, actor and voice-actor, for over thirty years. He plays, writes, and performs music primarily with a lovely group of guys in a kick-ass rock band called Better Living Through Chemistry, as well as playing, writing, and performing, with an 80's "revival" act called Dreams Go Colour, a folk-based duo called Bocca Del Lupo, and a deep-house music project called Young Hollywood. Luigi loves living in Ottawa, is naturally buoyant in freshwater, and believes wholeheartedly that “Slinkies” are powered by a combination of “magic” and “bluish-hued imps from the 7th dimension.” Luigi would also like everyone to know that he is only a little bit ticklish, mostly "Jolt-powered", and a huge sucker for any movie with the incomparable Burgess Meredith in it.