From the moment the Titans trailer dropped that startling line of dialogue, "F--- Batman," it was obvious the DC Universe series was going to go above and beyond to set itself apart from the lineup of other popular DC shows. We knew we weren't going to get the kitschy world of superheroes we've grown used to, and when it comes right down to it, Titans isn't even the canon-friendly story viewers might expect.
The early stars of the series are Dick Grayson, aka Robin (Brenton Thwaites), a Detroit detective trying to sever ties with his past, and Rachel Roth, aka Raven (Teagan Croft), a girl with dark and often chaotic powers who finds herself on the run. These two find themselves thrown together in an unexpected and not entirely welcome partnership, and while their dynamic is lukewarm at best, things begin to heat up when Kory Anders (Anna Diop) is added into the mix as Starfire. Sadly, the fourth member of what will one day be known as the Titans, Gar (Ryan Potter), doesn't get his due in the first handful of episodes, only popping up occasionally.
While these are all characters we know and love, Titans doesn't set out to tell their origin stories in a way we've heard a thousand times before. The whole series takes a familiar premise and twists it into something new — successfully in some cases and unsuccessfully in others.
Let's start with the most obvious difference from the source material: This show is dark. Not like, "Ohhh Oliver Queen broods a lot" dark. Titans is grittier than all the darkest moments of the CW superhero shows put together and more violent than even the most brutal of the Netflix Marvel series. I've got no problem with a bit of gratuitous violence every now and then, but the violence in Titans doesn't quite achieve what it sets out to do. Instead of lending a graphic, too-real feeling to the show, it stands out as a not-so-subtle attempt to show the world that Titans (and the DC Universe streaming platform by extension) doesn't have to play by Standards and Practices' rules. It's a little reminiscent of Daredevil Season 1, when Netflix was playing around with the "violence for violence's sake" approach. That being said, the action scenes serve their purpose in the overall narrative, turning Titans into a fast-paced and action-packed series that will draw any supernerd worth his or her salt in.
As for the subtle changes to the comic book canon, most characters have the same basic framework, with slight adjustments to their backstory. The most drastic changes occur within Starfire's subplot, and while some fans will no doubt riot against them, I found this new take on the character innovative and refreshing. There's a fierceness to her that instantly pulls you in, and her mysterious origins put a nice spin on the "alien learning the ways of earth" story we know and love. Diop's performance and her outstanding chemistry with other members of the cast is no doubt to thank for the bulk of this success. The series finds a less successful revamp with Raven's origin story, which is scary enough to make you want to sleep with the lights on, but ultimately a little maudlin for the superhero genre.
The most refreshing element in Titans, however, is that it's not afraid to give nods to major DC comics players in any way. Given that Robin obviously grew up with Batman, it would have been hard to skate around the Caped Crusader, but even so, I was not expecting as many Batman references as we got, especially in the form of lighthearted jokes or references here and there, which give the show enough levity to balance out its dark nature. We'll also get to see Hawk (Alan Ritchson) and Dove (Minka Kelly), who provide an interesting look into the greater DC Universe that the show does not shy away from.
The one thing likely to hook most viewers in — and keep them hooked — is the overarching mystery that pulls all our players together, giving us and them few answers, but quite a few chilling questions. Even if the violence and deviations turn viewers off (as they almost did for me), the quest these characters are on is engaging enough to keep even the most casual viewer intrigued and coming back for more.
Titans premieres Friday, Oct. 12 on DC Universe.