Monday, May 8, 2017

Teen Titans: A Look Back at the 2003 TV series (Part 1 of 3)


        Let’s re-wind back to the early 2000’s, my child hood generation of animated programming, and an age when super hero shows were at an all time high. My favorite show at the time by far, and still one of my all time favorite programs ever is the 2003 TV series “Teen Titans”. Obviously I’ve grown up sense the early 2000’s and watch shows like “Game of Thrones”, “Breaking Bad” and so forth, but “Teen Titans” is just one of those special rare animated shows I still love watching even as an adult. This will be the first in a three part series of reviews. For this post I’m going to cover all the principle characters, and walk through all the main season story arches. In part two, I’ll count down my personal favorite stand alone episodes. Finally in part three, I’ll review the animated movie based on the show. The series revolved around five teenage superhero’s who are the protectors of Jump City. The series also came out at a time when Warner Brothers had their own DC animated universe revolving around shows like the Batman, Superman and the Justice League, but “Teen Titans” was separate from those shows, with its own set continuity, and its own unique style. This was my ideal superhero show that I just couldn’t get enough of, it payed tribute to Japanese anime and broughy new life into the superhero genera. It was unlike any other of its kind, finding a flawless balance between the high stake, action adventures and a cartoony sense of hummer that was all its own. It could be laugh out loud funny, and it could be dark and serious. Sometimes it provided deep character-based stories that often delved into the struggles of growing up, other times we could just kick back and have fun with them.

      This style was very appropriate for this specific team because unlike the X-Men or the Justice League, these heroes were still kids and this show took full advantage of the fun things that wide eyed, youthful teenagers do. When they weren’t out saving the world, they’d be playing video games, going out on pick-nicks and just enjoying life to the fullest. It made me want to be a part of the team more than any other super hero series out there. Even the villains ranged from sinister and frightening to comedic and silly. While the shows style was way out there, it still stayed true to the source material, recreating some of the Teen Titans most classic stories.
Both the action sequences and the animation were all top notch, and of course that blasted theme song was as catchy as they got. The comedy packs a much bigger punch than you'd expect from a show of this sort. Raven in particular has some of the best one liners. More than anything, it was the characters that kept bringing me back. I honestly think this show has the best cast of any superhero TV series. I loved their individual relations, I loved their banter, I loved their arch’s and they just created this atmosphere that made the Titans feel more like a family then just another team of hero’s. So before I cover all the highlights of the show, lets first take a closer look at the individual characters.


Robin 

First we have Robin, the honorable team leader. This is the character that initially drew my attention to “Teen Titans”, as I thought the show may have some tie-in with Batman. Alas, the Dark Knight never makes an appearance, but it really doesn’t matter. Now to be honest, Robin never interested me as Batman’s side kick, but as the leader of this team, he somehow became one of my favorite superheroes. This portrayal of Robin has the traits you’d commonly see from heroes in a Japanese anime. He’s got the ambition and drive to do good, but also has a lot of angst, and it’s his struggle of understanding the value of heroism that make him intriguing.  While Batman was a very dark hero, this shows version of Robin is noble, but with flaws he has to work through. For all his mistakes, I still cheered for him, and he had no shortage of pure awesome moments. 


Star Fire 

Next we have Star Fire, who’s the heart and soul of the team. She’s an alien princess who can fly, has unlimited strength, and can fire green energy beams from both her hands and eyes. In short, she has all the traits we’d associate with cool superheroes, but she’s also one of the cutest animated characters I’ve ever seen. She’s an explorer in a strange new world, which adds another layer of innocence and charm to her. She can also be really funny as she frequently gets confused by earth behavior, and gets our common phrases mixed up. The only downside is that Star Fire never had a story arch like the others did, which made her feel the least developed. Never the less, Star Fire was one of the many great breakout characters of the show. She was cheerful, compassionate, always acted like a cute, innocent child, and could always put a smile on my face.   

    
Cyborg 

Then there's Cyborg, and as his name would suggest, he’s half man, half machine and all awesome! He’s usually the smart tech guy of the team, but can put up a good fight with his enhanced muscles, and an energy gun that’s built into his hand. Despite his tough exterior, he’s actually got a fun, playful personality, and is probably the liveliest member of the group. He always shouts “Buya!”, and loves to celebrate every victory with sweet food. He also has his share of deep human emotions, and serves as a nice role model at times, proving to have a heart of gold underneath the circuitry.


Beast Boy 

Next we have Beast Boy, who’s the jokey goof of the team, and has the power to transform into any animal. By default, he is my least favorite member of the team. He’s not “bad”, I just don’t like him as much as the others, and his solo episodes tend to be my least favorites. Still, he has his funny quips, and even some good story arches.   








Raven 

At last we have Raven, a shadowy gothic hero, who harnesses dark magic. To call her my favorite of the Teen Titans is a serious understatement, because Raven is honestly one of my top 3, all time favorite animated characters. Every superhero has their own motivation or back story as to why they become heroes, and Raven’s always stood out as one of the most multi layered, complex and intriguing. Initially created by a demonic villain to bring about the end of the world, Raven feared the harm she would inevitably bring to others, but decided to utilize her life to whatever good she can possibly achieve, and thus became a super hero. She’s a powerful witch, with hex casting charms, but her greatest strength and power is “hope”, hope that that she can accomplish more good then evil. Even with that said, she still keeps quiet to herself and is still very dark. However, despite being so cold and mysteries, she is still brimming with personality, and has some really funny remarks for just about any situation. Voiced by the incredibly talented Terra Strong, Raven might just be one of the funniest and most charismatic animated hero’s I’ve ever seen. More than anything Raven is a great role model to follow in regards to how one persons “hope” can bring about something pure from a dark place.


The Villains 

Throughout the shows run was a whole gallery of memorable villains, some were funny, some were stupid, some were menacing, and some were main threats till the end. Most of the shows villains were all gathered under one organization called the Brother Hood of evil, but there were some stand out’s. There was the evil cult leader named Brother Blood, who aimed to control everyone’s mind and reshape the world in his own image. Then there was Ravens demonic father Trigon, who sought to bring about the apocalypse on the whole galaxy. 
But let’s cut to the case and discus the shows big breakout villain ... the masked criminal known as Slade. This was a different class of villain, Robins personal enemy, and honestly, one of the all time greatest animated villains ever. The great Ron Perlman supplied the voice, and was downright chilling. He was a villain shrouded in mystery, who knew that the most effective way to take out the hero’s is by turning them against one another, and usually in very violent ways. Unlike the other bad guys that aimed to rule the world, Slade aimed for the very heart and souls of our hero’s. He aimed to poison their minds, and have them follow in his evil legacy. As a result, he brought a level of personal pain and loss to our hero’s on nuclear levels. It’s largely thanks to this shows portrayal of Slade that he’s become one of my all time favorite comic book villains.  
   
    Now let’s look at the show as a whole, it had 65 episodes that lasted over 5 seasons. The majority of the episodes were self contained, but there was always a main story arch for each season that revolved around a single team member. Season 1 is Robins arch, and revolves around his struggle to be a hero without crossing the line. This first couple episodes feature Slade sending various obstacles, challenges and cryptic messages to the team. His schemes get more and more threatening, to the point where Star Fire almost looses her life. This accelerates Robins obsession to catch Slade before he can do anymore harm. In the mid season episode “Masks”, Robin begins masquerading himself as a villain called Red X in an effort to draw out Slade, but his foe still remained one step ahead of him. Robins desperation to become Red X is the closest our hero comes to crossing the line, and worse, almost looses his friends in the process, as they no longer trust him. In the two part season finally titled “Apprentice”, Slade secretly implants microscopic death machines in the titans and threatens Robin that if he doesn’t join him, he’ll kill off his friends from the inside-out. Now Robin is forced to become the very thing he fought against, and engages his team in various battles. My favorite moment of all is when Star Fire stands her ground against Robin, and puts him to the test to see if he really is evil. It all builds to an exhilarating finally where Robin challenges Slade, and proves himself a hero by making a sacrifice move in an effort to save his friends. In the end, Slade spares his life and escapes, the titans are set free, and Robin regains his status as a heroic team leader. This is one of the shows best story arches, and personally my second favorite behind season 4. The conflicts between our hero and the villain were engaging, the battles thrilling, and the emotional struggles between our team members definitely hit home.  


     Season 2 revolves around a new Titan character named Terra, and young teenage girl with the power to control the earth itself. She’s instantly welcomed to the team, and for once it’s kind of cool to have a sixth Teen Titan. Even Beast Boy forms a cute little relationship with her, and the two start dating. Terra gains the Titans trust on several missions, but there’s still this lingering feeling of doubt and dread with her presence. In the seasons best episode titled “Betrayal” it’s revealed that Terra was an agent working for Slade the whole time. This episode features some of the best dramatic moments of the series, and sets the stage for a riveting finally. In the two part final titled “Aftershock”, Terra aims to kill off the Titans one at a time, and with no regrets. The only hope left is for Beast Boy to reach out to her, and convince her to make the right choice. In the end, Terra turns on Slade, rescues her new friends and saves the city, but this time it actually comes at the coast of her own life, ending the season on a very somber note. Slade too meets his demise falling into a pit of lava, and ending his rain. This season had some sensational action, and one-upped the drama, but it still wasn’t quite as good as its predecessor. Personally, I just didn’t care for a season revolving around a one-shot character as opposed to one of our five principle heroes. 


    Season 3 gets back to basics and gives us an arch revolving around one of our main characters, this time its Cyborg’s story. It’s great to have a season revolve around one of our main Titans again, but the down side is that our other four hero’s are hardly seen this time, unlike the other season arches in which the whole team still stay involved. As the season begins, Cyborg goes undercover to infiltrate an evil organization called the HIVES, and discovers that the leader is brainwashing the minds of his students to do his bidding. It’s here that we meet the malevolent cult leader Brother blood, who becomes the shows new main villain in Slades absence, although he doesn’t hold a candle to his predecessor. Once Cyborg is discovered, Blood offers him a chance to become human again, in exchange for his services. Cyborg refuses, destroys his base, and thus we have a new rivalry between a team hero and a villain. Cyborgs new obsession to catch Blood propels him to leave our heroes and lead a new team of young titans called Titans East. Blood soon gets the drop on them, takes control of their minds, which forces them into a confrontation with the original Teen Titans. It’s cool to have a finally with heroes battling heroes, but I just didn’t care for the new team that much. In the end, Cyborg gets into one final showdown with Brother Blood, and shows that his humanity comes from his spirit, rather than his organic components. Brother Blood is defeated for good, the Titans East become new allies, and Cyborg returns to the team. It’s overall a very good arch, but it’s personally my least favorite of the series, as it features a mediocre villain, and lacks involvement from our other heroes.

     Season 4 is Ravens story, and this is the best arch of the whole series by a mile. Right from the first episode titled “Birthmark”, it was a clear indication that this season was going to be the darkest, most urgent, most compelling, and most character driven thus far. It’s revealed that on Ravens birthday, a chain reaction would be set into place, leading to the resurrection of her demonic father Trigon, and the death of all life on earth. There’s a lot of mystery and mythos being explored and discovered, which leads to some terrifying places, and the animation has gotten a lot better. In the episode titled “The Prophecy”, our hero’s find an old library where Raven is meant to be sacrificed to her father. What fallows in an epic battle with some terrifying spirits. Trigon had made an appearance before in season 1, but this is where he took full rain as the new main villain, and provided our hero’s with the greatest challenge they’ve ever faced. To make matters worse, Trigon resurrects Slade from the grave to be his faithful servant, but Slade has his own malevolent plans. Even though Slade is no longer the main villain, he still owns the show, and is fleshed out into an even more interesting anti-hero of sorts. The 3 part final simply titled “The End” is the stuff of legend, honestly one of the greatest season finals I’ve ever seen from an animated program. Every one of our hero’s gets involved, there’s a dooming yet thrilling atmosphere that sustains throughout, some of the shows best action takes place, and through it all is a resonant theme of hope, and how ones hope can shape us into who we are. This arch further establishes why Raven is my favorite character from the series, and her climactic showdown with Trigon gives me chills every time. In the end, Raven is victorious, Trigon is vanquished, Slade escapes never to be seen again. the whole universe is saved, and our hero’s celebrate, while looking to the future at new beginnings. It’s just the perfect ending to the best season, and could have been the absolute best way the end the show.



      Of course there was one last season, and while season 5 couldn’t reach the same impactful scale of its predecessor, it at least tried, and was a worthy final outing. This was Beast Boy’s season, giving him an arch of growing from “boy” to “man”. In the episode “Homecoming”, we learn about Beast Boy’s back story, that he was a member of another team of hero’s called the Doom Patrol. After failing a mission, he left to join the Titans, but now in present day, our hero has the chance to put things right. He’s successful, and regains respect from his old allies, but it comes at the coast of the team making some lethal new enemies called The Brother Hood of Evil. After their first loose to the Titans, the Brother Hood retaliates by assembling an army of every single reoccurring villain from the show. The rest of the season splits up our hero’s as the recruit various new young Titans to join in their war against this new aliened army of evil. The Brother Hoods sinister leader is called The Brain, an appropriated title considering that he’s just a brain in a jar. The Brain will be the last main villain of the show, and in my opinion, he’s the stupidest by far. Thankfully, the evil Brother Hood make up for that with a wide variety of new main villains. In the episode “Trust”, we meet Madame Rouge, the Brother Hoods most lethal member. She engages both Robin and a new Titan named Hot Spot in a nail biting game of cat and mouse, which leads into one of the villains big turning points of the season. As the arch wraps up, the villains launch a global attack on all young hero’s, and take the majority of them prisoner. All that’s left is for Beast Boy to assemble his own small team of lesser appreciated Titans, and rescue their comrades. It all builds to an epic final battle with all hero’s from the show battling all the villains, and it is arguably the most stunning final battle of the whole series. While it’s still not as powerful as the season 4 final, it is still pretty darn epic. Unfortunately, this still wasn’t the end of the series.

     After Season fives finally wrapped everything up in a perfect little bow, there was one last episode titled “Things Change”, and it completely spoiled everything. This episode was meant as a launching pad for a potential sixth season that never happened, and thus we have a series finally that raises all new stakes and all new questions that never get resolved. Some mysterious white skinned creature attacks, the majority of the Titans chase after it, and we never see them again, heck we don’t even know if they beat the thing. The remainder of the episode focuses solely on Beast Boy who’s following a school girl that bears a striking resemblance to Terra from the second season. Whether it’s really her back from the dead or some look alike is never explained, but it does lead to an important moment for Beast Boy to grow up, and move on with his life. There’s also a completely random scene with Beast Boy getting attacked by a robot version of Slade, which also raises several questions that never get answered. This episode also has a very joyless atmosphere, ends the series on depressing note, and is subsequently my least favorite episode of the whole show. There was a special 12 minuet short called “The Lost Episode”, which was basically another goofy Beast Boy adventure involving a stupid new villain called Punk Rocky. At last there was the animated movie titled “Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo”. This movie had its flaws, but was a welcome add on to the series, and at least closed things on a more positive note.    


     Honestly, I could just keep talking about this series all day, because there are still so many great highlights that I haven’t even touched on yet, but I think I covered all the important stuff. I’ll review the movie in more detail later this month. Up next I’ll be posting a list of my top 10 favorite stand alone episodes of the show. Personally, I feel very privileged to have grown up with this series. Back then, I didn’t even know that Teen Titans were a real comic book, so this series helped expand my comic book knowledge. There have been great superhero shows before, and plenty great ones after, but nothing has recaptured that same magic I experienced with “Teen Titans”. The only other animated TV show that I’ve ever considered on par with “Teen Titans” was “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, and that wasn’t even a superhero show. Also, there are still some other super hero shows I still love including “Gargoyles”, “Wolverine and the X-Men”, “Batman” and “The Spectacular Spider-Man”, but they still come in second when compared to “Teen Titans” ... my all time favorite super hero show, and one of my all time favorite TV programs, animated or not.

 
                           I give the 2003 TV series “Teen Titans” a perfect 5 stars out of 5.  

Stay tuned for part 2, I’ll be counting down my top 10 stand alone episodes of Teen Titans.  
To Be Continued ...

   

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