Teen Titans: The Complete Third Season (DVD)

By now, they’re probably all middle-aged suburbanite titans.

By the time the third season of Teen Titans started, the show was officially a hit. Taking the beloved DC Comics heroes and reinventing them in an outrageous anime style paid off for the show’s creators, with a cast of likable characters, huge action and in-your-face comedy.

With 13 new episodes to produce, the creators brought aboard a new villain, looked into the heroes’ heads and back stories, and introduced a second set of Titans, all set to the tune of Puffy Ami Yumi’s supernaturally peppy theme song.

Meet the Teen Titans, young superheroes operating out of their giant tower headquarters, saving the world from evil when necessary:

• Robin (Scott Menville, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?), martial artist and master strategist, with crimefighting training by that guy who dresses like a bat.
• Starfire (Hynden Walch), an angelic space alien who can fly, has super strength, and can fire powerful energy blasts—not to mention her relentless positive attitude.
• Beast Boy (Greg Cipes, Club Dread), the jokester of the group, who can transform into any kind of animal he thinks of, from a hamster to a tyrannosaurus rex.
• Cyborg (Khary Peyton), a half-human, half-machine powerhouse, whose advanced tech provides all sorts of weapons and gadgets.
• Raven (Tara Strong, Ben 10), the cloaked, gloomy member of the team, who commands dark, supernatural forces that look to me like just telekinesis.

This year, the Titans infiltrate a school for villains run by the persuasive Brother Blood (John Di Maggio, Futurama), who takes an interest in Cyborg, hoping to claim some of the hero’s super-tech for himself. Along the way, they deal with a British invasion, an animalistic transformation or two, a visit to Starfire’s home world, alien pets, magic books that spawn fire-breathing dragons, ghostly visits from the past, and a fantastic voyage. It all comes to a head with the formation of Titans East, a new group of new heroes, for the final battle against Brother Blood.

The success of Teen Titans all has to do with balance. When the show is firing on all cylinders and entertaining wildly, it’s because it’s found the right balance between the extreme, stylized action and the shrieking comedy hysterics. Whenever the creators attempt an all-comedy episode or an overly serious episode, it never quite works. But with just the right elements in just the right amounts, suddenly Teen Titans defies expectations and becomes quite the amusing superhero cartoon.

The creators decided to make Cyborg the focus for this year’s ongoing story arc. It’s a move that pays off nicely, with a chance to explore the character with a little more depth than we’d previously seen. The season premiere, “Deception,” has Cyborg going undercover in Brother Blood’s Hive Academy. To do so, he uses hologram technology to look like a regular guy, without all his mechanical parts. This gives him a taste of what a normal life might have been like for him. Later, when Brother Blood steals Cyborg’s blueprints and uses the tech for evil, Cyborg feels violated, and spends the rest of the season driven to take down Blood, no matter the cost. These are some pretty intense emotions the character goes through, and although they never explode into full-blown dramatics, the creators should still be applauded for putting him through the wringer like this.

I’m guessing Robin is probably the toughest character on this show to write for. He’s the leader, who always knows what to do in a crisis, and he’s the one the others rely on to always do the right thing. The writers play with his unmoving sense of morality in the episode “X,” when a mysterious stranger steals the Red X gear from the first season. Robin blames himself, and gets even more confused when it appears this new Red X might not be such a bad guy. Later, in “Haunted,” Robin is tormented by visions of the Titans’ former nemesis, Slade (Ron Perlman, Hellboy). This one showcases his “never give up” attitude, and it also shows how he needs his friends at his side, so he doesn’t push himself too hard.

Raven benefits from a few nice character moments in the episode “Spellbound,” in which she longs to meet someone who understands her. “I’m not creepy, just different,” she says. When she does meet that special somebody, she’s heartbroken when he turns out not to be what he appears. That’s when her friends are there for her. A little less thoughtful is the “Bunny Raven” episode, in which a rival magician transforms her and the other Titans into cute, cuddly animals. This one’s supposed to be about Raven outsmarting her rival, but instead it devolves into comedy antics and a screwball musical number.

Similarly, Starfire has some nice character moments when the Titans visit her home world, just in time for a confrontation with her evil sister Blackfire. In “Can I Keep Him?” Starfire adopts an alien pet with Beast Boy’s help, which ends up being a mistake, as the critter grows to gigantic size and draws the attention of some destructive villains. Again, this one leans too heavily on the comedy side, with too much time spent on her babying the creature. Beast Boy also has a couple of moments to shine, in “Crash,” where he shrinks to amoeba size to save Cyborg’s life, and in “The Beast Within,” where he loses control of his powers and gets truly monstrous. Mostly, though, he’s the one the writers turn to most often for comedy high jinks, and he starts to get annoying when watching several episodes in a row.

The big event this season is the founding of a new group of heroes, the Titans East, with Aqualad (Wil “Wesley Crusher” Wheaton), Speedy (Mike Irwin, She’s Too Young), Bumblebee (T’Keyah Crystal Keymah, Cosby), and super-fast twins Mas y Menos (both voiced by Freddie Rodriguez, Grindhouse). These new Titans spend time working both with and against the regular Titans, depending on the plot, but by the end, they prove themselves worthy of the Titans name. Of course, there’s no explanation as to who’s funding these massive Titan headquarters, one on each coast now, just as there’s no worries for these heroes about stuff like school, parents, etc., but there’s just enough character work here so that these unknowns don’t ruin the show.

Like I said above, the humor of the series mostly doesn’t work for me. For jokey moments, the characters suddenly switch from their normal looks to exaggerated cartoony forms, often reacting with extreme close-ups right to the camera, with bulging eyes, huge gaping mouths, and occasional bits of drool and/or bulging forehead veins. It’s a little less humorous and a little more obnoxious. During the most of the comedic scenes, I found myself wishing they could get on with the story.

One plus for this DVD is the flat-out spectacular visual transfer, where the colors are so bright and vivid that there are “Wow!” moments in every episode. The 2.0 sound is decent, booming out of the speakers at the appropriately explosive action scenes. The featurette has the show’s writers and producers discussing the various villains and their approaches to bringing the bad guys to life on TV. The only other extras are some trailers.

Teen Titans isn’t a perfect series, but it is compulsively watchable. Sure, some of attempts at comedy are cringe-worthy, but when taken as a whole, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

The Verdict

Not guilty, but try to tone down on the joke attempts next time, Titans.

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