“Titans” is a superhero hybrid – a live-action series that essentially weds the CW’s DC Comics-inspired fare with the gritty, premium-cable approach of Marvel’s Netflix dramas. That’s not a bad formula, and it yields an entertaining, heavily serialized show; whether it’s reason enough to ante up for DC Universe, the new dedicated streaming service, is another matter.
Although “Teen Titans” has become a popular animated staple on Cartoon Network, “Titans” – which employs the same (mostly) mix of characters – is squarely aimed at an older crowd, tersely serving notice of those intentions when Robin is asked about Batman and delivers a colorful four-letter reply.
Here, super-sidekick Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) is actually well into his 20s, and a new detective with a decidedly bad attitude. When he finally does leap into action in costume (and like the Netflix shows, there’s a lot more tough talk and posturing), he certainly doesn’t pull any punches.
The series, however – like “Flash,” “Arrow,” et al., from Warner Bros. and producer Greg Berlanti – unfolds on multiple fronts, introducing other characters with extraordinary powers and plenty of questions about how they got them. That includes Raven (Teagan Croft), a teenager being pursued by shadowy forces; and Starfire/Koriand’r (Anna Diop), a magenta-haired amazon whose destructive gifts are a surprise even to her.
Slowly dribbling out plot, and seemingly in no hurry to bring the team together, “Titans” wants to capture the youthful uncertainty traditionally associated with X-Men as well as the dark, brooding environs of Marvel series like “Daredevil” and “Luke Cage.”
On that score, it largely succeeds, although unless viewers know a good deal about the underlying material, it’s easy to grow impatient with all the cryptic clues. Ditto for some of the heroes that turn up in later episodes, including Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly, respectively, as the crimefighting duo Hawk & Dove, who have a complicated history with Robin.
As the first marquee title from a streaming service dedicated to all things DC, “Titans” would seemingly have that luxury. Yet because DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. (like CNN, units of WarnerMedia) have generally lagged behind Marvel – and indeed, despite “Wonder Woman’s” stellar performance, appear to be at something of a crossroads in the movie area, with Superman and Batman in flux – it remains to be seen how many fans will feel motivated to add another expense to their entertainment diet for what amounts to a lot of library material and series based on second-tier characters.
DC still seems to be finding its way, which also applies to a digital space where everyone is eager to plant their flags – including Marvel, in concert with its parent Disney and sister assets like Lucasfilm.
Creatively speaking, “Titans” – already renewed for a second season – feels like a step in the right direction. But the title notwithstanding, it’s a relatively small player in what promises to be a much larger battle.
“Titans” premieres Oct. 12 on DC Universe.