DC Universe is an ambitious prospect, a dedicated streaming service that includes thousands of comics alongside a large selection of films and TV shows while also launching original programming. That last offering could’ve gone horribly wrong, but if what we’ve seen of Titans is anything to go by, then the risk has paid off in a massive way. From the conversation-sparking “F*** Batman” trailer that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con to the confusing promotional materials that often looked closer to a bad tie-in comic for a TV movie rather than a prestige series, expectations for Titans were mixed. But we’re here to tell you that the pilot of the show is actually really great.Looking more like a HBO limited series than a CW show, Titans quickly establishes itself as a unique, sometimes harrowing, and surprisingly engaging prospect. It’s one that doesn’t fall into the slow pacing and overwrought narratives of some “serious” comics adaptations. In fact, the show often feels just like reading a comic book. Interesting framing, original action, and dynamic character beats make the first episode of Titans fly past while still making us care about the core cast that it introduces. Though the trailer may have suggested otherwise, Titans‘ main character isn’t Brenton Thwaites’ Dick Grayson. The show is actually a pretty balanced ensemble piece once it gets going, but the pilot quickly establishes Raven as the centerpiece of the narrative. And this is lucky, because is lucky because 14-year-old Teagan Croft is fantastic. As soon as the show introduces Raven, the dark tone makes sense; for those of you who haven’t read the comics, Raven is the daughter of a demon and a literal portal to hell, so if we’re working within the constraints of a realistic world where Raven’s powers are tangible, that prospect is honestly terrifying.Croft is an engaging lead, elevating herself out of the classic moody teen archetype to a character you care about even though she’ll likely be the cause of the end of the world as we know it. Raven deals with the gravity and confusion of her situation with just enough teen angst to be authentic without ever becoming the sexist hysterical woman stereotype we’re so often presented with. Thwaites is a solid Dick Grayson, giving the role a gravitas and severity I wasn’t expecting. It helps that most of Dick’s arc seems to be focused on recovering from the trauma inflicted on him by his adoptive father who took him in only to use him as a weapon. We are, of course, talking about Batman. And trust me: in the context of Titans, Dick’s trauma, and Thwaites’ performance, when the controversial moment from the trailer finally arrives you could easily find yourself saying the contentious phrase with him. The last member of the Titans we’re properly introduced to in the pilot is Anna Diop’s radical Starfire. Though her questionable costume gave fans pause, it looks far better in the show. Good lighting and an interesting origin make it a little more palatable, and it’s unlikely to be Starfire’s only outfit going forward. Diop gives a breakout performance as an amnesiac with incredible fighting skills and unexplained powers fighting to find herself while a lot of Eastern European mobsters try to hunt her down. Diop crafts little tics, nods to a person striving to remember anything earlier than a few days ago, and it’s that search that leads her to Raven and Robin. One downside though is that we don’t really get much of Ryan Potter as Beast Boy, but there is a great stinger at the end of the episode that fans of the character will love.The cast is at the core of what makes Titans so enjoyable, but it’s also dependent on Geoff Johns and Akiva Goldsman’s script, which manages to surprise and entertain while telling what should be a reasonably rote and recognizable story. The writing pair throw in some great curve balls, and the driving conflict of a doomsday group attempting to hunt down Raven to bring on the end of the world is a pretty great one, which fully justifies the show’s quick descent into horror-tinged darkness. The pilot also has a wonderfully dark and creepy cliffhanger that once again promises something different from what we’ve come to expect from a superhero show. If the rest of Titans delivers on the promise of the pilot, then DC Universe has clearly got some serious tricks up their sleeve and we can’t wait to see what the Titans get up to next. Did you watch the premier of the new show at NYCC? Just want to see Robin say “F*** Batman”? Excited to see if the show lives up to the hype? Let us know below!4 out of 5
Images: DC Universe, Warner Bros.