Last week news broke that the TNT cable network was looking to bring the classic DC series The Teen Titans to live action as regular series, simply called Titans. Although only a pilot has been ordered, it’s said that odds are looking favorable for this one to see the light of day. After all, superheroes are the safest bet one can make in popular culture right now.
The Titans might seem like a property that would be much, much more suited to the big screen upon first glance. After all, the team involves a witch, an alien princess, a half man/half machine and a kid who turns into green animals. Many of their most well known adventures take place in space, or in other dimensions, all things that are difficult to pull off on a television budget, and its scope is just more widescreen in nature. But here’s the problem, and why television might be smartest route for the Titans to take: in movie theaters, we already have the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and soon, the Justice League and maybe even the Legion of Super-Heroes, if rumors are to be believed. The Titans could get lost in the wilderness of super team movies….or, they could be the first ever super team in a regular live action series on television.
For fifty years, there has been a team called the Teen Titans in the DC Universe, with various members and different incarnations of the group. But truthfully, there are really only three versions of the team that anyone really cares about -the original line-up of five sidekicks (Robin, Wonder Girl, Aqualad, Kid Flash and Speedy) who were essentially the “Junior Justice League”; the 1980s Marv Wolfman/George Perez era, which added such new iconic characters as Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Changeling, and which was DC’s most popular title of that decade; and the Geoff Johns early 2000s era, which had the ’80s characters as mentors to the former Young Justice kids, who had graduated to Titans status.
There are other groups of character who referred to themselves as the Teen Titans over the years, but none really caught on, and DC kept coming back to the ’80s lineup, or some kind of variation of it, because that team just worked. And when it came time to do the animated series, which really rocketed the Teen Titans to household name status, the producers went with a version of the 1980s team. Even DC’s upcoming Teen Titans: Earth One is using a version of that line-up. So given that the original Deadline article mentioned Nightwing, Starfire and Raven as being part of the show, I would say the writing is on the wall: they’re going with the Wolfman/Perez version of the Titans for this television show.
If this show gets the greenlight, some things are just going to have to be accepted by the fans right off the bat. First off, this isn’t going to be connected to the upcoming DC Cinematic Universe being set up in Batman v Superman. This is probably going to be set in a universe without a previous generation of adult superheroes, with the probable exception of Batman, because the concept of Robin transitioning to Nightwing only makes sense if there was a “Batman and Robin” combo at some point. But don’t expect Batman to be showing up, and if he does for some reason, definitely don’t expect it to be Batfleck.
Warner Brothers will probably try to avoid cross-pollinating with their DC movies and their other TV shows as much as possible because this seems to be their way, love it or hate it. Having said that, I think Cyborg will be the exception to this rule, and we will see a version of Victor Stone show up in both Titans and Batman v Superman, simply because Cyborg is such an iconic member, and there’s no way Titans is going to be an all-white people show. He’s a character Warners will “share” between movies and TV just for this reason, although his design and possibly even characterization will probably be really different in both projects.
So how can something like Titans ever work on the small screen? There are lots of crucial things needed for the series to make the transition and still be the anything resembling the comics, but it can be done, and here are five things that Warner Brothers, TNT, and producer Akiva Goldsman should really consider when bringing Nightwing and company to television screens.
Keep The Soap Opera Dynamic
One of the most essential things that made the Titans work was the soap opera element; Starfire was in love with Nightwing, who was more conservative with his emotions than the far freer alien princess, which made for all kinds of romantic drama. The same goes for Wonder Girl dating a much older professor, or Cyborg falling for a woman who teaches disabled kids, and could see past his metal shell, and the list goes on and on. In many ways, these aspects of the comic series make Titans perfect for the television format.
Another soapy element that the television series should mine is the “every villain is a blood relative” idea. The team’s biggest foes were in some way related to a member of the group, making the stakes way more personal; Trigon was Raven’s father, Blackfire was Starfire’s sister, Deathstroke was Jericho’s dad, etc. Some aspects of these characters would have to be toned down for a TV (maybe the demon Trigon doesn’t have to be bigger than the Empire State Building on television), but the concepts behind the relationships should remain.
Make New York City a Character
One of the things that made the classic New Teen Titans series works so well was that, unlike other DC comics set in fictional cities like Gotham, Coast City, or Metropolis, Titans was very much set in a more less realistic New York City. This made the book feel more like a Marvel comic, which were all set in or around Manhattan. Using real locations just made everything feel more realistic, and it was fun backdrop for the giant soap opera that Titans was. Of course, shooting in New York City is possibly more cost prohibitive than having characters go into outer space or fly, but it is definitely something the producers should consider.
Keep To The Core Concepts Behind the Characters, But Be Prepared to Make Adjustments
In the comics, Starfire flies and shoots energy bolts, Raven teleports in a giant cloud of smoke, and Changeling turns into various green animals that can all somehow talk. Obviously, with a television budget, no matter how much money TNT throws at it, adjustments would have to be made in bringing these characters to life. Starfire should absolutely still be a hot, buxom orange woman with pupil-less green eyes. (To anyone who says audiences won’t buy it, I have one word for you: Mystique.) Having a beautiful orange alien woman would be a strong visual to hang a lot of the advertising around and, if done right, could look really cool. To be equal opportunity, keep Changeling green, and make him a hot young green guy for the Teen Wolf crowd who takes his shirt off a lot-spread the multi-colored sexiness everywhere.
But, this being television, powers would have to be adjusted. Maybe Starfire doesn’t fly; flying still looks cheesy when done on a TV budget, and if Smallville could get away with making a Superman show with no flying in it for years, then so can this show. Same applies to Changeling. Just how do you do Changeling/Beast Boy on a TV budget? Like with Starfire, adjust his power set. Instead of turning into green elephants or green bears, give him the ability to mimic animal abilities similarly to how the character of Animal Man does it in the comics. Except maybe when he channels some of their powers, his physical features adjust to look like whatever animal he’s channeling. It would be more subtle, kinda cool, and way more workable on a TV budget.
Forget Both Kid Flash and Arsenal
I know lots of fans are hoping that Kid Flash/Wally West (who is confirmed as eventually appearing in the upcoming Flash TV show) and Roy Harper/Arsenal (who already is a part of Arrow) will cross over and join the TV Titans. Hey, that would be neat, but don’t hold your breath guys. Aside from Flash and Arrow, Warner Brothers and DC CCO Geoff Johns have gone out of their way to clarify that each of these shows is in their own universe. Titans, being on a cable network, is probably going to be in no way related to either Arrow or Flash, which are on the CW.
And it’s really not that big a loss. In their ’80s heyday, Wally West was the first member to leave the team fairly early on, and Roy Harper was just an occasional guest star. Even though as a longtime Titans fan I would like to see them appear, the truth is they’re not really essential, and you can have a great Titans team without them.
But Don’t Forget Donna Troy
Much more important to the team’s line-up is Donna Troy, a/k/a Wonder Girl. Donna is the perfect balance between the other two women on the team — neither as pacifistic or as emotionless as Raven, nor as vicious a warrior as Starfire can be, Donna is the emotional center in that trio’s dynamic. Now, Donna can be tricky to use in a live action context because of her connections to Wonder Woman, but the comics have already set a precedent for how to do Donna without having her tied to Wonder Woman. After Crisis on Infinite Earths changed DC Comics history, Donna’s back story was altered; instead of being Wonder Woman’s adopted baby sister, she was now a child who was adopted by the ancient Titans of Greek myth, and given powers and raised by them instead of the Amazons. It kept Donna’s ties to Greek mythology (and all the story potential that goes with it) but allows Donna to be a character separate from Wonder Woman.
Eventually the comics would restore Donna and Wonder Woman’s family ties, but the point is that there is a way to make Donna Troy a character that works without the explicit ties to Wonder Woman if they want to, and they really should. Heck, she doesn’t even have to go by the name “Wonder Girl”-much like Jean Grey over at Marvel, she’s had so many code names she is now known more by her civilian name than any superhero title.
So there you have it Titans fans. Was there anything you feel that’s crucial to Teen Titans lore that I kept out of this list? Sound off in the comments below.