We’re incredibly excited for the live-action Teen Titans series. The Titans are to DC what the X-Men used to be for Marvel: ragtag misfits trying to get along long enough to save the world. While the X-Men were often used as an allegory for racial struggles, the Teen Titans' world was devoted to exploring how difficult adolescence is. The awesome battles and superpowers are just icing on the cake. The title was so important that it helped keep DC Comics afloat during its decline in the '70s, selling four times as many books as anything else in the catalog.
Now with the series coming to DC’s new streaming service from The Flash’s Greg Berlanti and legendary Teen Titans scribe Geoff Johns its roster is coming together. It looks like we’ll have the classic Titans line-up with room to add in more characters as time goes on.
According to Johns, we’ll even potentially be seeing the adaptation of numerous touchstone Teen Titans stories. If the series is going to stick to the comics more than other DC shows have, there’s unlimited potential for how awesome this show can be. Whether they are going in this direction or not, there are things the writers need to do to make this adaptation worthy of the team. This is Teen Titans: 15 Things From The Comics We Need To See On TV.
15 Character Evolution
The New Teen Titans allowed for change more than any comic book before it. Robin became Nightwing. Kid Flash became the Flash. Donna Troy got married and started a family. Characters moved on and new ones came in, and eventually, the Teen Titans we knew became the adult mentors to the new cast just bursting onto the scene. This allowed the series to be constantly refreshed and kept the team dynamics continuously shifting. It also made the characters feel more real—we aged with them. (Except for Jericho, who just kept dying.)
If it wasn’t for the work done in the Teen Titans, characters like Dick Grayson, Wally West, and Donna Troy never would have been developed the way they were. They were uncertain of themselves; they tried on different personalities until they learned to be confident in who they were. Of course, you have exceptions to the rule. The less said about Red Arrow becoming Arsenal and talking to cats the better. Teen Titans was where DC looked when they wanted to create new A-list characters (again, just not Arsenal). The show needs to reflect this.
14 The Dystopic Titans of Tomorrow
We all love dystopic futures—or at least we tolerate them because comics and science fiction love using them. In the comics, Titans Tomorrow provided a tense look at the future of these characters, who had gone rogue after the death of Superboy. In response to an increasingly bleak world, they embraced the darkness. What’s better is that the present-day and future teams confronted each other.
Badass fighting was intercut with strong character exploration. Each Titan got to understand why their future-self was so screwed up and why. In particular, Tim Drake became everything he feared. It allowed him to finally give voice to the things he didn’t want to admit about himself or his situation. And it ended with him threatening to kill himself while his future-self freaked out. Yeah, that’s a weird sentence to read. But it was cool. And how many people can say that they started the destruction of humanity by kissing a pretty girl? Tim Drake can.
13 Titans East
When the Teen Titans book grew in popularity and more young superheroes cropped up, DC spun the Titans off into different corners: Titans East and Titans West. It’s something the show should strongly consider adopting as well. It would allow them the opportunity to grow the catalog of superheroes and villains, and it would make the world more mythic and more in line with the comics. Imagine the face melting threat that would cause these two teams to come together. Darkseid. Mongul. Low ratings. The possibilities are limitless. Imagine the different team dynamics or the possibility of a traitor in the midst to create conflict between the two teams.
Imagine having Dick Grayson, leader of the Teen Titans, coming to blows with an original team member who has also now founded another Titans crew. We love watching superheroes fight each other for almost no reason. Why stop now?
12 Nothing from the New 52
If you were to read the New 52 incarnation of the Teen Titans, you might think writer Scott Lobdell was still working for Marvel in secret and attempting to destroy DC from within. Devoid of character development, emotion, or a reason for existing, Lobdell rewrote Starfire into a vacuous pin-up girl with nothing on her mind besides sex. Tim Drake, the obnoxious wunderkind, and Cassie Sandsmark, the klepto cover girl model, were no longer friends with Superboy, the sociopath, and Bart Allen was a fundamentalist Christian terrorist from the future. To say that this run was garbage is an insult to industrial waste. In the New 52, there were very few titles worse than Teen Titans; Lobdell seemed to want to create a more “adult” incarnation of the team, but his vision of adulthood was seemingly realized through the eyes of a nine-year-old.
If you want an idea of how bad it was, take a look at Geoff Johns’ Rebirth one-shot. He spent more time erasing and fixing the events of that title more than anything else in the book.
11 The Right Kind of Angst
The Berlanti shows over on The CW definitely love their soapy stories and angst-ridden characters. The Teen Titans do lend themselves to that kind of storytelling, but it was implemented with care, and it should be done for the TV show as well.
Focus on Grayson and Kori’s relationship without going full Olicity; their cultural differences are great fodder to explore. Dick is on his own, away from his surrogate family. Kori is essentially a refugee. Give Wally his abusive backstory or a subplot having to deal with Barry’s death. Donna's lack of a family is solid territory to mine. Raven and her father (he’s the Devil! How do you reconcile that with your psychiatrist?) would work well on the small screen. Cyborg may fall in love with someone but may no longer “have the mechanics” to do something about it. That’s sad, powerful stuff—right out of The Sun Also Rises. Same goes for Beast Boy. He can turn into almost anything—except for someone who looks normal. Let the drama come from the characters, not to them because the script needs padding.
10 Embrace the Craziness of the Comics
Teen Titans isn't just hormones and character development. At it's best, it's also the best kind of comic book crazy. They've gone to the 31st century. They've battled Starfire’s war-like people. Do you want to know how bad they are? Their wars destroyed their planet, and then they settled on another planet and destroyed that one too. Now, of course, it was probably traumatizing for the Tamaraneans, god bless them, but it was great for the audience. Seeing Starfire throw hands with her miserable sister would be worth the apocalypse (and the large budget).
They've fought dinosaurs and hung out on Themyscira. They’ve literally fought demons in a hell dimension on their way to save their friend from her nine-eyed antlered father. Don't short shrift us now. Worried about the budget? Stop paying Scott Lobdell.
As important as character is, sometimes, there's no substitute for absolute insanity. Comics excel at this. There's no need to bog it down in hyper-grounded realism.
9 Who is Donna Troy?
A major New Teen Titans story arc focused on the confusing history of Donna Troy—Wonder Girl—who was trying to track down her birth parents. Donna was going to get married and wanted to figure out what her old life was before she started her new one. Along the way, her relationship with Dick Grayson is underlined; he represents the rest of the Titans, who have been her family in a way that her actual blood relatives have not. Identity plays a huge role in the best Teen Titans stories and it does so here as well. It’s a familiar feeling for anyone in a similar situation.
The mystery travels down dark avenues, specifically human trafficking, rather than something involving supervillains and sci-fi. It helps ground the story and gives the reader a personal stake in it, seeing how it affects Donna. It’s a bleak story (if you hadn’t noticed) with an earned happy ending, focusing on the humanity of the characters and the things that even superheroes can’t fix.
8 Conner Kent
Conner Kent had a rough time in the New 52, but some of his best adventures were in Teen Titans comics under Geoff Johns. Under the steady hand of Johns, Conner learned that, as a clone, his Kryptonian DNA came from Superman and that his human DNA came from Lex Luthor. Naturally, this turned Superboy’s world upside down as he raced to find a cure for male pattern baldness. After that, he needed to figure out what this all meant. He already had identity problems stemming from being a clone, and now he had to wonder what else about himself he didn’t know.
If introduced in the Teen Titans show, Conner brings in a built-in A-list villain for a father, the powers of Superman (plus tactile telekinesis), and the indecision of any teenager. He’s built for the Teen Titans. Also, it’d be good to give the writers a chance to redeem the character after he was treated so poorly in the New 52. That Tron outfit and gritty sociopath thing weren't great colors on him.
7 The Friendship Between Dick and Wally
There are few friendships as natural and organic as Dick Grayson and Wally West. Both are hard-luck, normal people in an abnormal world. They grew up together and both struggle with keeping their optimism in a dark world (how many Fast and Furious movies can you make? Isn't this against the Geneva Convention?).
Outside of the mythic craziness, Dick and Wally are some of the more “normal” people in DC Comics. They do friend stuff. Wally had to meet Dick’s girlfriend Shawn first to give her his seal of approval. They were each other's best man at their weddings. They help each other move. In a Teen Titans show, it’s their friendship that can easily make the darker elements more palatable (and hopefully not as whiny as the relationships on Arrow and The Flash).
6 A-List Villains
You know what strangles DC’s shows? No, not just the melodrama or the repetitive subplots; it's the lack of major villains. Warner Bros has put an embargo on the use of certain characters out of fear of confusion and over-saturation (but for some reason, they don't think having two different Barry Allen Flashes is confusing to casual fans). So, considering the embargo, what villains does that leave us with? Brick and the Bug-Eyed Bandit? Ugh.
The Teen Titans have gone up against Lex Luthor, Deathstroke, Brainiac, Trigon, The Reverse Flash, Ra’s al Ghul, Cheshire, Superboy-Prime, and the Legion of Doom. They’ve earned these giant threats. We’ll treat the Titans as A-list if they have A-list threats. Sorry, Ding-Dong Daddy, you're just not going to cut it.
Especially in an ensemble show like this one, you need worthy villains—and well-represented villains. None of the Legends of Tomorrow Vandal Savage crap. That man deserved better.
5 Adding to the Cast
The Teen Titans are like a school. Eventually, people graduate. Like the comic series, the show can go on indefinitely and keep itself fresh by rotating in new characters. As the originals get older, die, or take up the mantles of their mentors, lesser known characters or other fan favorites can be added to the team. Solstice, Ravager, Red Devil, Lilith, Jericho, Captain Marvel, Jr., Flamebird, Jesse Quick, and Power Boy are just a handful of dozens of characters that could help fill the void by a major departure. Some of the originals should stay behind, of course, now mentors themselves, teaching the new recruits how to function as teenage superheroes.
Add characters that wouldn’t get this kind of exposure in the first place. Build fans for characters we never knew we could care about like Killer Frost or Vibe. Actually, not Vibe. Bad example. Like Killer Frost and Eddie Thawne.
4 Focusing on the Humanity of the Characters
What made the Teen Titans excel was the embracing of youth. The characters were young, flawed, and put-upon with responsibilities they weren't ready or prepared for. What generation hasn't felt that way? At its best, a series arc can go in for several issues without needing a large villain presence. The drama came from the characters. Their relationships, their backgrounds, their secrets, and lies. They're younger and even more diverse than the Justice League; they can't get along easily. All those hormones and whatever the hell Beast Boy has would never allow it.
Dick Grayson is a powerless human who has to lead them, and he tries to manage his optimism with realism. Cyborg is terrified of what's happening to him. Wally just wants to escape his father's abuse and mother's neglect. Red Arrow is useless. These are important aspects of the characters that shouldn't be lost.
3 Justice League vs. Teen Titans
Every generation does a little bit better than their parents. Given that the Teen Titans started their crimefighting careers earlier and had been taught not only by their mentors but from each other, there's an argument to be made that, compared to the heroes of the A-list Justice League, they are potentially the better team. And, like every kid, they eventually have to succeed their parents. Remember that episode of Boy Meets World where Cory finally beats his father at basketball? Yeah, that. Just, you know, with awesome fight scenes and superpowers.
We've seen the JLA fight the Titans in the comics and a recent animated movie. If it were to happen in the live-action series, it needs to feel huge. Just don't send the Justice League C-listers because of a dumb movie-embargo. It's embarrassing to us all.
2 A True Adaptation of The Judas Contract
To say that the recent animated adaptation of The Judas Contract was flawed is an understatement. One of the major problems it had was that it didn’t have the room to tell its story that it needed. Imagine getting to know Terra over the course of a season or so—really getting to care about the character—before her inevitable betrayal. Imagine how entwined the lives of her and the Titans become. The betrayal can really feel Judas-level by then (Hey! That’s like the title!). Over the course of the season, we could see Dick Grayson finally cut off from Bruce Wayne and figuring out what it means to be on his own; his own man, his own relationship, and his own leadership.
Imagine giving more screen time and development to the Nightwing/Deathstroke feud—really exploring the enmity that develops between them leading up to the Judas Contract, even more than the comics did. Building up how awful Slade is and how dangerous HIVE can be would be another worthwhile endeavor. As a serialized show using the comics as a guide, they can build on the stories and characters in a much more open and spacious medium.
1 The True Point of the Series: It’s a Metaphor for Growing Up
What the Teen Titans series needs to focus on is the characters, even more so than the action. At its core, it’s about trying to survive adolescence. Dick and Kori’s relationship is about first love—trying to maintain it in the real world, and likely failing; moreover, turning Robin into Nightwing is imposing the person you want to be over the person your family thinks you are. Wally transitioning from Kid Flash to the Flash is that first horrifying foray into adulthood. Donna finding her parents is about figuring out where you came from. Beast Boy and Cyborg are the school outcasts trying to figure out where they belong. Raven is trying to not become like her parents. Anyone and everyone can identify with this.
Everything you ever felt as a teenager is in these comics—just with the bonus of superpowers and an endless supply of people with perfect bodies, teeth, and bank accounts. Use Buffy and Angel as a guidebook for the metaphor. Let the cast develop and grow up.
What do you want to see in the live-action Titans series? Let us know in the comments.