It’s been 10 years since Warner Bros. and DC Comics announced at Comic-Con in San Diego their plans to start a series of straight-to=DVD movies based on their huge stable of comic book heroes. The first three announced were Superman: Doomsday, Justice League: The New Frontier, and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. The first two happened and were released within a year to great sales, but Teen Titans was put on hold….and then quietly cancelled. Despite having just wrapped a hugely successful run of five seasons on TV, the powers-that-be at WB decided the name “Teen Titans” wasn’t a big enough draw, and that was that.
Well, it’s taken a decade, but the Titans finally have made it to their own DVD animated feature, although they do have to share the title with their mentors in the Justice League. Directed by Sam Liu and written by Bryan Q. Miller, Justice League vs Teen Titans—which premiered at WonderCon in Los Angeles this past weekend—has the Titans take on the possessed form of the League when they’re taken over by the evil sorcery of Trigon, an inter-dimensional demon who can give Darkseid a run for his money. Who, by the way, also happens to be Titans member Raven’s father.
Despite having their name in the lead, the Justice League are not the focal points of this story—it’s really a Titans tale through and through. In fact, it draws heavily on Teen Titans’ comics history. There’s a lot of the 2003-2006 animated series elements in here, as well as some from the more recent Young Justice show, and the original New Teen Titans comics from the ’80s. The film is set in the same continuity as Justice League: War, Son of Batman and most recently, Batman: Bad Blood, and uses the same voice cast as those films. (Jason O’Mara is once again Batman, Stuart Allen is once again Robin, etc.) And yes, that means some ugly ass costumes on the Justice League characters (especially Wonder Woman…that costume of hers in this series is a hot mess).
In this adventure, Batman’s son Damian Wayne, a.k.a. Robin, almost botches a Justice League mission against the Legion of Doom, who attack the League in their new Headquarters, the Hall of Justice (as a Gen-X kid who grew up on Super Friends, I did love those callbacks). Robin almost costs the League their victory, cocky little brat that he is. So Batman decides that joining the Teen Titans—which Nightwing used to be a part of—would be a great idea for Damian, so that he can learn teamwork from his peers. Damian reluctantly agrees, and is taken to Titans Tower, where he meets Starfire, Beast Boy, Raven, and Blue Beetle (Cyborg is a member of the League in this continuity, but don’t worry, he’ll show up). Of course, at first, Damian doesn’t get along with his fellow Titans at all, but as the movie progresses, he finds himself more and more a true part of the team.
It’s not long before Raven’s father, the inter-dimensional demon known as Trigon, played by former Walking Dead star and current Punisher Jon Bernthal, begins to make trouble for the Titans. Eventually Raven, voiced by American Horror Story actress Taissa Farmiga, gives her entire sordid backstory, which is straight out of the early ’80s comics (something this old fan appreciated). Raven’s mother was a young runaway who fell in with a Satanic cult, who offered her up as a “Bride of Satan.” While it wasn’t exactly Satan whose bride she became, Trigon was close enough for that cult I guess. She gives birth to his daughter, but before he can use her to anchor himself in Earth’s dimension, she’s taken away to the pacifist world of Azarath. But eventually, Trigon comes looking for his lost child.
And this is where we get to the “vs” part of the story, as Trigon’s demonic spirit possesses Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the League in a bid to conquer the Earth, and the Titans have to stop him. Cyborg becomes one of the earliest Leaguers freed from possession, making him an unofficial member of the Titans for much of the movie and giving fans the cartoon series line-up that they’re totally paying to see (without violating the continuity of this series).
And that’s your basic story—the Titans have to figure out a way to stop Trigon and his League minions from destroying the Earth. Fisticuffs ensue, quips are thrown (mostly from Beast Boy, always the team’s comic relief), and a few twists and turns take way. For instance, we find out that a classic Batman villain has a very cool connection to the demonic Trigon. But the bulk of the movie is just the Titans proving their mettle by fighting off a possessed Justice League, and freeing their mentors from Trigon’s clutches.
But “basic” doesn’t have to mean “bad.” The movie is mostly entertaining with some pretty fun action beats. It captures the essence of the Titans, shown mostly as they were portrayed in the animated show, but with a slightly more grown-up feel. Since that series wasn’t in continuity with Justice League Unlimited, fans never got to see any interaction between the two DC teams when they were both in prime-time. So in many ways, this is the crossover we’ve been waiting years for. And it mostly lives up to what we’d want.
Hopefully, sales on this movie warrant a Teen Titans movie going forward without the crutch of the Justice League having to be a part of it. Right now, the only Titans in media is the Teen Titans Go! series, which barely counts as a superhero show and is aimed at very little kids. In fact, the teaser tag at the end of this movie suggest we might be getting that original Teen Titans: The Judas Contract movie announced back in 2006 after all. Better late than never.
The film is available now via digital download; it will arrive in stores on DVD and Blu-ray April 12, 2016.
RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS
IMAGES: Warner Bros. / DC Comics