“Evil beware. We have waffles.”
What’s this? Character development? Intriguing plotlines? Witty, insightful dialogue? Humor timed appropriately and not overused? Is this really Teen Titans I’m watching?
The Teen Titans are back in Teen Titans: The Complete Fourth Season two-disc set, taking on criminal masterminds, otherworldly menaces, and their biggest challenge yet—growing up. Roll call:
• Robin (Scott Menville, Mission Hill): Team leader, martial artist, strategic genius.
• Raven (Tara Strong, Ben 10): The dark n’ gloomy member of the team, with telekinesis and other strange, shadowy powers.
• Cyborg (Khary Payton, Hellraiser: Hellworld): Armed with hundreds of gadgets, not to mention plenty of muscle.
• Starfire (Hynden Walch, Karas: The Prophecy): Alien princess with the powers of flight, strength, and energy blasts, plus a non-stop perky demeanor.
• Beast Boy (Greg Cipes, Club Dread): He can transform into any animal, he’s a wisecracker, and he’s a vegetarian.
This time around, the emphasis is on Raven. As she celebrates her birthday, she senses that a prophecy about her is about to come to pass. It’s been foretold that Raven will be instrumental in the end of the world. Now that she’s getting older, Raven’s at an identity crisis—does she exist only to fulfill prophecy, or can she become more than that?
It’s as if the show’s creators read my mind. From the first time I ever saw an episode of Teen Titans, I always thought of it as a good show on the verge of becoming great. The obnoxious, in-your-face humor was a negative for me, as was the animators’ over-reliance on aping anime visuals. In this fourth season, though, the humor is kept in check, and the show’s style is now its own.
Does this mean that Season Four is a brand-new Teen Titans? No, it’s still the same show. It’s just that by now, it’s found its own identity. The anime style is still here, as is the exaggerated humor. The difference is that by this point, the writers and animators are experienced enough and confident enough with these characters and this world, that they’ve worked out how to tell smarter, deeper, and emotionally rich stories—even if those stories still have huge explosions and clownish slapstick.
Raven’s arc throughout this season is the best example of this. All her life, she’s been told that she’s the one who will fulfill this prophecy and destroy the world. This is her purpose, she’s been taught. And yet, in her heart, she doesn’t want to destroy the world. She’s more at peace keeping her dark side in check rather than indulging it. She’s joined the Teen Titans because she desires to good for others, not evil. And yet, there’s her father, the demon Trigon (John DiMaggio, Futurama: Bender’s Big Score), telling her that she is evil, and there’s nothing she can do about it. Her heart pulls her in one direction, but her alleged destiny pulls in another. Although the fate of the world is at stake, the heart of the story is still one that viewers can relate to. Just think about how many kids out there have been told by parents, “You’ll be a doctor (or lawyer, or pageant queen, or whatever) when you grow up,” when the child thinks “But what I really want to be is an artist (or pro skateboarder, or beet farmer, or whatever).”
Raven isn’t the only one with some surprisingly nice character development this time around. Cyborg shines in a couple of episodes that continue to explore where his machine half ends and his human half begins. In one episode, he time travels to the past where he has to go from low-tech to high-tech. In another, he orders a futuristic upgrade for himself, one that has him pushing himself a little too far for his teammates. Comic relief hero Beast Boy, meanwhile, has to put up working at a fast-food joint that may or may not have something to do with UFO sightings in the area. When watching past seasons, it always bugged me that these so-called “teen” heroes never had to worry about stuff like money, school, etc., so it was fun to see one of them actually work to earn a couple of bucks. It gave the show a “down-to-Earth” feeling that it often lacks.
Team leader Robin also gets a few moments in the spotlight. A martial arts-themed episode has him learning a lesson about respect and humility. Even better, though, is an episode in which he and Starfire end up stranded on a hostile alien world. The show has in the past hinted at a possible romance between the two, and it’s finally fully addressed in this one. Despite the usual space-battle craziness, this is another emotionally strong episode. Robin is an expert when it comes to dealing with a crisis, but when a pretty girl reveals that she likes him, he has no idea what to do. (Bruce never taught him about girls?) Speaking of Starfire, she gets another space-based episode centered around her when a hero well-loved by the other Titans looks down on her.
Long-time fans of this series will also be glad to learn that the Titans’ No. 1 nemesis Slade (Ron Perlman, Hellboy) is back this season, with his own role to play in the whole Trigon/Raven plotline. The character is still a formidable force in the Ttians’ lives, and Perlman entertains with his cold, icy voice. Well-known DC Comics baddie Dr. Light shows up as well, but it’s mostly just a cameo. Fans of the DC universe know just how much of a major scumbag Dr. Light is, so maybe he’ll get a “big bad” role on TV sometime soon.
Video and audio continue be excellent for this series. The bright, vivid colors on display are breathtaking, and the characters’ movements are fluid and detailed. The sound is appropriately booming during all the explosions and laser blasts. The only extra is a mostly disposable featurette about some of the series’ villains.
Yes, this season is a distinct improvement, with more of a focus on story and less on “extreme” visuals and comedy, but it’s not a complete 180 turn. One episode has the Titans pampered by a Mother Goose-like parental figure that turns out to have malevolent plans for them. This one is a return to the “wacky comedy” style of earlier episodes, and it stands as a reminder of why the show’s humorous side often doesn’t work. Instead of jokes, witticisms, or even some well-timed slapstick, the method of humor here is in overreaction, where characters’ faces will suddenly change into a cartoonier style, filling the screen with exclamations of surprise or frustration. Maybe some of the littlest little kids might laugh, but whenever this happens, I just think, “Can we please calm down and get back to the story?”
The Terra storyline in Season Two showed that this series could handle bigger, more serious storylines. In Season Four, that’s exactly what it delivers. For everyone who’s waited for this show to grow up a little, this is the season in which that happens.