Gert from Runaways could destroy the Teen Titans with a single sarcastic wisecrack.
Many fans were initially dismayed when they saw the overly cartoony reinvention of beloved comic book heroes the Teen Titans when the animated series of the same name debuted. And yet, the show became a surprise hit, thanks to the over-the-top action and the outrageous comedy, both of which were heavily inspired by Japanese animation. In this second season, the titular Titans not only face the usual superheroics, but a personal conflict as well, as a new friend turns out to be more than what she seems.
Meet the Teen Titans:
• Robin (Scott Menville, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?), expert martial artist and master tactician.
• Cyborg (Khary Peyton), half machine hero, with super strength, a built-in laser cannon, and Bond-style gadgets galore.
• Beast Boy (Greg Cipes, Club Dread), who can transform into any kind of animal, from a mouse to a tyrannosaurus rex, depending on the situation.
• Starfire (Hynden Walch), an alien princess with a perpetually perky demeanor, who can fly and fire powerful energy blasts at enemies.
• Raven (Tara Strong, The Powerpuff Girls), the requisite “dark” member of the team, who harnesses shadowy mystical powers.
Throughout these 13 episodes, the Titans befriend Terra (Ashley Johnson, Fast Food Nation), a young girl with amazing powers, eventually making her one of the team. But when Terra is revealed to have a connection to super criminal Slade (Ron Perlman, Hellboy), suddenly loyalties are torn, and friends must now face each other as enemies.
In superhero mythology—or any mythology, for that matter—few story types carry as much dramatic power as that of the betrayal. This is when the hero of the story must face a former ally in battle. It happened to Obi Wan and Anakin, it happened to Captain America and Iron Man, and it even happened to Buffy and Willow. Now it’s the Titans’ turn, as they meet Terra, welcome her as one of the “family,” and are then heartbroken as she becomes the deadliest foe they’ve ever fought.
The whole Terra arc is expertly played out over the course of the season, making this one a cut above the often-too-silly first season. Terra’s friendship with the Titans, and especially with Beast Boy, builds gradually and naturally, as does her eventual turn to the dark side. This gives her final confrontation with the Titans in the two-part season finale a lot of dramatic weight, because we’ve been tracking this character and her relationship with the heroes all along.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that this season becomes the superhero equivalent to Othello. It’s just that the series seems to be at its best when in its more serious moments, rather than when it flips into outrageous comedy mode. Two of the season’s finest moments are Beast Boy’s late-night date with Terra and Robin’s last-ditch effort to sway her to good. Similarly, Terra’s one on one mud fight with Raven (you heard me, a mud fight!) is one of the most expertly-animated moments of the entire series, and is worth the price of the disc all by itself.
Does all of the above praise mean Teen Titans: The Complete Second Season is the new gold standard of animation? I’m afraid not. I was very critical of the first season, because it seemed to me that the two key elements of the series—the action and the comedy—were often at odds with each other. The action is incredibly stylized, and usually with high stakes. The comedy, meanwhile, is just as stylized, without any subtlety. Every comedic reaction is punctuated with huge bulging eyes and gaping mouths, or by making the characters look absurdly comical for a few seconds. It’s as if there’s a tug of war going on screen between the butt kicking and the slapstick, and that can be frustrating to watch. One episode here, “Winner Take All,” is all action, with the Titans squaring off in a challenge against other semi-famous DC heroes (including Aqualad, voiced by Wil “Wesley Crusher” Wheaton). The constant fight-fight-fight mentality gets exhausting by the end. Similarly, “Fractured” is an all-comedy episode, with Robin meeting a ridiculous alternate universe version of himself. The onslaught of loud, noisy slapstick in this one made it almost unbearable. The better non-Terra episodes, meanwhile, maintain a fragile balance between the two elements, with a time travel adventure, a haunted house-type story, a villain blackmailing Robin into a date, a transformation for Starfire, and Cyborg testing his limits.
Another criticism I had of the first season remains true in this one—that we don’t really know enough about these characters or their world. It frustrates me that these “teen” heroes don’t have to deal with stuff like school, parents, money, secret identities, and so on. Also, they don’t appear to do a lot of active world saving. Usually, they’re hanging out in their tower headquarters, and danger comes looking for them. Now, I know, this series is aimed at kids, who will enjoy indulging in a “fun, carefree life” fantasy seen here, but I would have enjoyed it a lot more if just a little more realism could be added.
One part of this disc that can’t be criticized is the picture quality. Almost every episode had a “wow” moment in terms of how vivid and razor sharp the visuals are. Colors are bright and bold, almost jumping off the screen, and black levels, during the few dark moments, are deep and rich. The 2.0 sound does its job, especially during the action, with Starfire’s energy blasts sounding especially effective. Aside from some trailers, the only extra is the “Catching up With the Titans” featurette, but it’s only a collection of clips from both the first and second seasons. Pretty weak, considering all that could have been done for the show’s large fan base.
• So, Raven’s “dark, mystic powers” are really just telekinesis, right?
• Does Starfire have a “thing” for Robin or doesn’t she? It seems to be hinted at during one episode, but I could be wrong.
• A lot of viewers have wondered how (or if) this Robin fits into continuity with Batman: The Animated Series. I don’t know, either.
• Like so many others, I too can’t get that unnaturally peppy theme song by Puffy Ami Yumi out of my head.
The Terra storyline makes this season a definite improvement over the first, and will scratch that itch for anyone looking for some sweet superhero action. Just know that the show’s mix of goofy comedy and stylized action might not be for all tastes.