One of my favorite things to write about here is the Teen Titans. They are the stars of some of my favorite comic books of all time (including the NEW TEEN TITANS run that was the bestselling DC comic book for eleven years). So, unsurprisingly, my all-time favorite DC animated series was the original Teen Titans series that aired during the early aughts. Now, thanks to the power of DC Universe, this amazing show is more accessible than ever!
Unlike some of the juggernaut series (Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League), the original Teen Titans animated series might not have reached as many potential viewers as its hilarious successor, Teen Titans Go! So, allow me to run down all of the most amazing aspects of this phenomenal series.
Firstly, you have to be impressed by the characterization. For myself and many cartoon watchers since, this is our first introduction to all of the members of the Teen Titans that aren’t Robin. This puts the series in a unique position of creating definitive versions of Cyborg, Starfire, Raven and Beast Boy for a generation of fans. Despite the characters never using their given names and very little about their lives outside of Titans Tower ever being addressed, they are introduced in broad strokes that immediately allow the viewers to get a handle on who they are. Then, over the course of the show’s five seasons, Teen Titans slowly takes their most outlandish—dare I say “cartoonish”—traits and humanizes them.
Here is the best example, in my humble opinion. Raven (as voice by the awesome Tara Strong), is introduced as the goth girl in the pilot episode. It’s a good shorthand and an easy way to ease the expectation of viewers about who Raven is and what types of things she might be interested in. Then, when we later learn that she is half-demon and that her powers are derivative of another darker plan, it’s not a bitter pill to swallow.
Yes, Raven is dark. Yes, Raven is moody. Her personality and interactions with her fellow teammates reflect that. For example, she has little patience for the antics of Beast Boy and Cyborg who are very self-focused and competitive. However, the classic Raven/Beast Boy romance does come into play (and I weep for happiness every time I watch it!), and we get to watch Raven come to terms with her identity as it relates to her father, Trigon, and as it relates to all of those people she surrounds herself with. She opens herself up to Beast Boy’s affection and the moment when she hugs him for the first time has become so iconic in the scope of popular culture that it’s now a very famous .gif on Twitter.
All of the Teen Titans characters get this style of development that was pretty uncommon on animated shows of the era. Ultimately, it speaks to the dynamic characters and story arcs that make up the baseline of the show.
Teen Titans was fortunate to be in a position where they had an outstanding pool of potential characters to pull from. The New Teen Titans team make up most of the young superheroes that appear throughout the show. For the most part, the legacy characters (with the exception of Robin), are left out of the show only to pop up late (Hey, Speedy! Hey, Aqualad!) and are a welcome addition when they do pop up. Not only do the strength of the characters aid the staying power of Teen Titans, but also the dynamic storylines. New Teen Titans strikes again!
Remember when I mentioned that New Teen Titans was a bestselling series? That gave the creators of the show such a great jumping off point to craft the story of these young misfits coming together and forging a superhero family.
The second season of the show stars around newcomer to the team—Terra (!!!)—and tells a stripped-down version of THE JUDAS CONTRACT. If you are reading this article, then there’s a good chance you’re pretty familiar with The Judas Contract and I’m not going to take any great pains about spoiling it here. I only want you to know that not only is The Judas Contract considered to this day to be one of the greatest Teen Titans stories to have ever been told (shout-out to Marv Wolfman and George Perez for all of their hard work on it!), but also one of the greatest comic book stories to have been told period.
Granted, on Teen Titans the betrayal-driven narrative is pretty stripped down compared to the deep complexities of the original story, though it is no less riveting. It is no less tragic. When Slade Wilson (as voiced by the epic Ron Perlman) is introduced, he is sufficiently mysterious. When viewers go on to learn what an impact Deathstroke has on the larger DC comic book universe, there is no doubt that the Teen Titans were up against a spectacular foe.
There are more episodes that take on classic Teen Titans stories:
- Starfire and Robin’s romance is introduced and explored
- Starfire’s history with her evil sister, Blackfire, is the focus of an especially good episode
- Robin’s maturation and adopting of the Nightwing identity is explored (fun fact: Dick Grayson debuted as Nightwing in TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS #44 in 1984)
- Cyborg learns to embrace and understand his techno-biological existence
These aren’t even ongoing storylines!
And if that’s not enough, I’ll let you know that the series culminates in Trigon’s return to Earth to reclaim his daughter Raven in a tremendously epic narrative that is lifted directly from the original comic book source material, and of course, it’s up to this team of silly misfit young people have to save the world.
I’m not certain if the final season of Teen Titans is as well-known and beloved as it ought to be. By the end, the team comes together to tell a story that is in every way as epic as what Justice League Unlimited was throwing down at the same time. Teen Titans manages all of this with a more profound sense of self-awareness and an animation style that marries both Eastern and Western traditions. Much like the comic book team from which the cartoon draws its name and inspirations, it is truly special and deserves to be revisited.
If this has sparked an interest in you to hop over to DC Universe and check out a few episodes, please let me know down in the comments section! What episodes are you watching? The stories are at our fingertips like we’ve never had them before. Teen Titans, go!
Teen Titans is now available to stream in full on DC Universe.