“Is this guy gonna do Teen Titans?”, I was asked. Sure! Let’s have a look at Filmation’s Teen Titans segments from the sixties, Teen Titans from the noughties, and Teen Titans Go from the last few years.
The Monster Machine (by George Kashdan)
SEIZURE ALERT! The epileptic fit-inducing colours of the intro background for this show are red, orange and green! Teen Titans here are Kid Flash, Wonder Girl, Speedy and Aqualad – no Robin! Bit of a Jaws opening as a giant robot with four legs and pincers arises from the sea. Kid Flash looks like he’s wearing a beret with his big hair. It’s a super-accelerated plot, as with The Adventures of Batman, so it’s not boring, but there lots of bits and shots missing that show they’re cutting corners. Ted Knight is in as the intro announcer and doing guest voices, in this case an alien computer. I could tell you everything that happened in this episode, but I couldn’t tell you why anything happened, so lacking is the story.
The Space Beast Round-Up (by George Kashdan)
An alien ship crashes to Earth… except they animate it the wrong way, so it looks like it’s taking off. They maintain their altitude by jettisoning a cage containing alien animals that look like dinosaurs in blue, green and pink. The Titans are immediately on the scene to round them up. Aqualad (like Kid Flash in the last episode) has a bizarre manner of attack, which is to run at something and headbutt it as hard as possible.
Banter between the Titans is on this level:
Speedy (referring to the sea): “This is your neck of the woods, Davy Jones.”
Aqualad: “Leave it to me, Robin Hood!”
Then the aliens come back to recapture the creatures and explain that they are hunters, so the Titans offer to help them with getting them back, seemingly passing over the point that they’re probably going to kill them once they have them!
Operation: Rescue (by George Kashdan)
What an unimaginative title! Seemingly carrying on from last episode, but not explained, a boy is being chased by a pterodactyl, as you do. Luckily Speedy and “Davy Jones” (don’t do the gag so often, even if it’s not funny in the first place) are around. Turns out the boy is the son of an explorer who is now losts. As they fly over the mountains in the Teen-Copter is attacked by mutant men, with horns on their heads, who nonetheless live in a picturesque village. Now their prisoners, Kid Flash (“Twinkle Toes” and “Fleet Feet”) and Wonder Girl (“Doll”) turn up to rescue them, noting they’re behind the eight ball. I feel like that’s not the only eight ball involved in this production.
How to sum up this series? It looks good in every aspect that Filmation was always good at (backgrounds, sets, character and vehicle designs). Story-wise, you would need to get a pen and pad out and pause the episode every few seconds to fill in the gaps. Very bad.
Classic Titans (by Brady Klosterman)
Now, a rebuttal, from season four of Teen Titans Go! Not a fan of the updated theme tune. Control Freak takes over the Titans’ TV to insult their favourite programme, which is basically a way of facing criticisms about this show. CF reminisces about OLD TV programmes, specifically the show we’ve just been looking at (“People only watched them because there was nothing else on TV!”, responds Cyborg). He decides not to tell them why they were good, but to show them.
Cue intro with vile colours, aged up with static, stodgy announcer, and sixties version of the theme tune, which is far better. The Titans in the show remark upon how their movement has been severely limited by the animation in a stilted manner. The only way to escape is to see the episode through, in… The Dino-Rocket Dilemma! The dinosaurs are back! The characters then get into an argument with the narrator about whether he deserves his role in the show in a scene that lasts a minute in the T-Jet so they can restrict the animation further.
At Dinosaur Island, Robin having to tell the narrator to stay quiet gets them trapped by a One-Dimensional Villain Who Won’t Ever Be Seen Again After This Episode. He has a breakdown for two minutes about his life, which gives him a fair reason for siccing dinosaurs on the world. Slowly and lacking any peril, they are lowered into a shark pool before escaping. Enter a Tyrannosaurus as Robin works through his entire arsenal of birdarangs. Control Freak’s starting to realise that the episode is getting boring, so he brings in the heroes from the Titans’ favourite show to save the day.
This is a pretty good deconstruction of the old shows, which did have plenty wrong with them, while not too badly poking fun at their own show. If we can take one thing away from it, not everything old is bad and not everything new is good… Or is that not everything old is good and not everything new is bad? Ah, next show!
Sidekick Assemble! (by Marsha Griffin)
I forgot that Batman: The Brave and the Bold did their own Teen Titans episode too, let’s watch that!
Teaser: The Justice League of America, aboard the Watchtower, prepare to stop a meteor heading for Earth. With their backs to the camera are mostly off-limit characters Superman and Wonder Woman. Junior members Robin, Speedy and Aqualad are on the sidelines and get into a fight about it, so they fight Black Manta, the Clock King and Gorilla Grodd in a “Danger Room” simulation theatre to work on their teamwork. Speedy is quite endearing in a youthfully innocent way. The seeds are sown for a future team between them.
Main episode: The Society of Shadows attempt to steal tech from STAR Labs and teenage Robin, Speedy and Aqualad turn up to stop them. Then Batman, Green Arrow and Aquaman arrive, and it’s actually them that fuck things up, patronising their sidekicks as they go. In a test, the two sets of heroes split a mission between them, with Robin picking the mission that sounds boring but is likely to be more exciting, but does indeed seem to be boring. But then Batman and his buddies get attacked by man-eating plants on the other mission, leaving the sidekicks to face the main villains, Ra’s al Ghul, Talia and Ubu.
It’s good to see the sidekicks get to shine. These versions of Ra’s, Talia and Ubu aren’t as deep or nuanced as the Batman: The Animated Series equivalents, but they’re one-and-done characters for this series, so it’s fine. Ra’s gets a flying island weapon to destroy the world with, Talia gets a killer fringe, tight bodysuit and wiggling walk to show off her ass. Andrea Bowen affects a decent enough quasi-English accent that I had to check whether she was for not knowing her. There’s not that much depth to the episode, full stop, but it isn’t ever boring, and unlike the Filmation show from earlier, everything makes sense without being overexplained.
Concluding the episode, the sidekicks get their respect, their independence, and Robin gets a new name and identity, Nightwing… Batman chose the name for him, though.
We’ll finish with three of my favourites from the best version of Teen Titans.
Nevermore (by Greg Klein and Tom Pugsley)
From season one, with an early build towards the entrance of Trigon, who would be the main villain during season three. Awesome opening with the Titans fighting and almost succumbing to Doctor Light until Raven traumatises him by revealing her inner demon. Everything is on point, from the music to the animation to Light’s lines, although a very forced tiff is inserted between Raven and Beast Boy, who has to make up to her before the end of the episode. Raven then disappears to deal with her demonic side. Beast Boy and Cyborg follow her into a dark dimension.
Good, creepy episode, with seemingly cute little birds calmly beckoning to “Turn back!” before revealing two pairs of eyes and shark teeth. Raven is revealed to have divided herself up into different aspects of her personality, each represented by a different colour, to the point that the pink, happy one is one you’d be on your guard against because you don’t know if she’s for real. Trigon turns up towards the end of the episode for a battle with his daughter, during the period where the show was much closer to Justice League with the battles and more serious action. Trigon’s stilted comic dialogue is a good aspect of his character at this point (“FEEL MY FURY!”). Great animation too!
Bunny Raven… or… How To Make a Titananimal Disappear (by Louis Hirshorn and Joelle Sellner)
Towards the end of season three, bringing back the magician Mumbo, who debuted in season one. He magically transports the Titans inside of his magic hat and turns them into animals (except for Beast Boy, who already can turn into animals). Raven becomes a rabbit, followed by Robin as a monkey, Starfire as a cat, Cyborg as a bear, and Beast Boy as a lamp at first.
Lots of fun with music hall production of the show, with old posters, piano music, traps and weapons involving magic tricks and props. A convincing world is created for Mumbo to exist in. There’s a Disney aspect with killer gloves turning up at one point, walking around on the middle two fingers and using the thumb and pinky as arms, and walking cards. Mumbo is a good cross of an old time magician and the Joker, written like the former and played like the latter. He even gets a musical moment too, which is far better than I Go Looney from The Killing Joke.
Homecoming Part 1 (by Rob Hoegee)
Combining two recent focuses, the Teen Titans meet the Doom Patrol. The final season became the Titans and all their friends against the Brotherhood of Evil, who have called in all their available allies, starting with this episode. In the past, Beast Boy was a part of the Doom Patrol. In the present, he is tasked with finding them when they go missing.
The version of the Doom Patrol here, with the Chief out and Mento in, isn’t as strong as the version we recently looked at in Batman: TBATB, although some good casting choices with Peter Onorati as Robotman and Judge Reinhold as Negative Man. The version of the Brain they face is better, though, with Glenn Shadix delivering his lines in an emotionless way, heavy modulated to sound like a machine. There isn’t too much to the search and Beast Boy is presented with a dilemma in the past and the present that he resolves in a way that makes most happy, except for Mento. He’s a bit of a dick and doesn’t seem happy unless the Doom Patrol’s destruction is assured. I imagine this became an ongoing story point for the season, but it’s been fifteen years since I watched it properly. Maybe I’ll revisit it further to find out, because this was a pretty interesting team-up season.
Conclusion: I just chose some episodes of Teen Titans that stood out by their title or my memory of them, but I could’ve chosen a lot more great episodes as well. It’s an awesome series, the best iteration of the Titans. Recommended watch.