As I say a lot, Dick Grayson is my favourite comics character. Ever. So my initial reaction to the announcement of Titans was much the same as my reaction to the announcement of his solo movie – a healthy mixture of excitement and apprehension. And time – along with information – has only increased that feeling for me.
I want to go into this open minded. By that logic, I shouldn’t say anything – if I have a negative opinion going in, a confirmation bias might prevent me from enjoying something great, and it’s not like we’ve seen much yet. But that’s difficult when this is the first real adaptation of my favourite character, where he’s going to be taken totally seriously. I have a lot of opinions.
I saw a Tweet that was something alone the lines of, “people that don’t like this portrayal of Dick are usually not familiar with the post-Crisis version of the character” and that just set me off. I myself am guilty of doing the same sometimes – I occasionally pull out the comics when I’m making a point. I shouldn’t, usually, but it’s become a habit. And it is true that people are trying to use the Teen Titans cartoon as “evidence” that Titans doesn’t respect the source material, which is utter nonsense. But – ready for a controversial opinion? Here goes. Nobody “knows the comics”. I’m a comics fan. I have a decent amount of knowledge of a lot of characters. But superhero comics have existed for decades, it’s not possible to read them all, and what one writer says will be blatantly contradicted by another. There are different, equally valid interpretations. That’s not to say there aren’t common traits that should be kept consistent. But it is to say that it’s condescending and stupid to suggest that the reason people don’t like a portrayal is that they don’t know the comics. Maybe for some. But certainly not all.
For me, part of the reason I’m not sold on this is a simple matter of the fact they aged up Dick. Brenton Thwaites is twenty eight. And yet the Dick Grayson he’s playing is still Robin, not Nightwing. And that casts a whole different light on his, for lack of a better term, rebel period. I talked a little bit here about what I find off about the portrayal of Bruce and Dick’s falling out, and all that is still true, but now that the trailer has been released, I see a different issue – behaviour that would be believable if this Dick were, as is traditionally the case, a teenager comes across as just childish and immature.
At first viewing, I thought the “fuck Batman” line was pretty silly. But I didn’t know why. I figured it was just stilted delivery. Then I watched it again. I didn’t change my mind about the delivery – though it may sound better in the actual episode – but I came to realize that I’m just not a fan of the line. We’re talking about a grown man that’s been away from Bruce for years talking about him like a petulant child. Context suggests that there will eventually be a reconciliation between the two. After all, Jason is supposed to appear – in an important enough role that he has an episode named after him – which indicates Dick will move on to become Nightwing and presumably get past his issues with Bruce. That, coupled with the fact people will be furious if they completely set fire to Bruce and Dick’s relationship, makes it seem like Dick has spent a decade pouting because he wants to be his own person and was chafing under Bruce’s need to control him. I understand their relationship being strained. I understand Dick being mad at him from time to time. But this feels over the top and ridiculous.
On the other side of the issue, I vehemently disagree with those that are calling this show “too dark and gritty” or suggesting that Dick is acting more like Jason, whether because Dick is fighting brutally or because he said “fuck Batman”. Dick Grayson is the original rebellious Robin. Jason did not invent the concept. Dick was disobeying Batman and having screaming disagreements with him long before Jason ever existed. And as for the fighting aspects of it…Dick became Robin as a child. He has no powers and frequently fights villains that do. Even when his opponents are regular humans, when he first started fighting crime, he was much smaller than them. It absolutely makes sense that his fighting style will be violent. Dick is an excellent character and a very good person, but he’s not just there to be the fun, light, non-action guy to Bruce’s muscle.
It seems to me that both people that like the trailer and people that don’t are flattening Dick’s character to justify their position. But the way I see it, both perspectives are true. That’s what makes him such a good character. Canonically, yes! Dick has a bit of a temper. He lashes out at and pushes away the people he cares about. He was trained by Batman, so, yeah, there’s going to be some amount of “do whatever keeps them down” in his fighting style. But he’s also a fundamentally positive character that’s admired and respected by heroes all throughout the DCU. He’s charming and likeable and good hearted. He’s been an older brother and a mentor figure to both Tim and Damian. He keeps Bruce from descending into the dark. He’s suffered and lost people, but he’s still found happiness and a family and loves the life he’s had. As he once put it, “I wouldn’t trade this for the world”. It’s one of the many reasons I love Young Justice. It managed to balance the different aspects of Dick’s character better than just about anything else.
At first I thought Dick had crushed that one guy’s neck, which I wasn’t a fan of, because that doesn’t ring true to me – while one of his flaws is his anger and while angry, he does things he’ll regret, it takes a lot to get him there. He stopped himself from killing the man that murdered his parents. Even the Joker – Dick only beat him to death with his bare hands when he thought he’d killed Tim. So that made me worried. But then I looked closer and saw that he broke the guy’s jaw instead, which is a whole different matter. So that much I’m okay with.
On the whole, I fully support new takes on characters, but this doesn’t feel genuine. It feels contrived. The only way I can see it working is if Dick starts understanding Bruce better through his relationship with Raven. It would be similar to the way comics Dick learned to control his anger when Bruce was presumed dead and he’d been left in charge of Damian – a great dynamic and source of character development for both of them.
Moving on from Dick, not much is catching my attention about this. I’m liking the looks of the flashbacks to the Flying Graysons – maybe we’ll also get some more to Bruce and Dick in happier times? The burgeoning Dick Raven dynamic is interesting, and I’m curious as to what Dick and Kory’s relationship will be like. Aesthetically, though, it’s not doing much for me. Beast Boy and Raven’s looks aren’t appealing to me very much yet. Starfire is a little better – ironic, considering the backlash to her wig and dress a while back – but I don’t love it. So far, the heavy colour splashes feel a bit Suicide Squad-esque, and while I do think that was an entertaining enough popcorn movie, I wasn’t big on its visuals.
It’s impossible to tell what the show is going to be like from a few posters, a less than two minutes long trailer, and a single article of story details. But I didn’t love the trailer, and it hasn’t sold me on the show. Sure, it’s possible – even probable – context will make it more palatable to me. But as of right now, my expectations aren’t high.