Whether you’ve seen the Titans premiere or not (and if you haven’t, you really, really should), by now you've probably realized that our heroes are up against some truly nasty forces in DC Universe’s first original series. But it's not just trying to cope with the mysterious darkness that lurks within Raven, or attempting to run from a less-than-perfect past—the Titans are facing off against a group of real-deal supervillains.
If you’ve seen the photos from episode 2, you’ve no doubt noticed the weirdly sinister suburban family with a penchant for syringes. That’s the Nuclear Family, and they spell bad news for Robin, Raven or anyone else they come across. But no worries if you’ve never heard of them. That’s what we’re here for!
The Nuclear Family got their start back in the mid-1980s with THE OUTSIDERS #1 where they took their name pretty literally. The family wasn't actually a family at all but a group of superpowered robots invented by a man named Dr. Eric Shanner who was obsessed with studying nuclear power. Dr. Shanner's earlier research triggered a major meltdown that cost him the lives of his actual family, who were all made terminally ill by the radiation poisoning.
In his grief, Shanner developed a team of humanoid androids—you know, like you do—all of whom were designed to simulate his family. He even made a younger version of himself. What he didn’t give the family were real names. The androids were simply called Dad, Mom, Biff, Sis and Brat. They even had a robot dog named—you guessed it—Dog. Of course, the Nuclear Family wasn't just a group of creepy robots, they each had their own unique nuclear-inspired power, like the ability to recreate fallout, blast waves or electromagnetic pulses.
Their name and powers were an obvious callout to the actual real-life historical trope of "nuclear families" which spun out of the pre-Cold War era. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the term "nuclear family" was often used to speak about an idealized family unit comprised of one mother, one father, one son, one daughter and sometimes a dog. The trope gained real traction during the late ’60s and ’70s when family-based sitcoms and TV shows boomed in popularity, and has since carried through to become one of the quickest and easiest ways to represent the aspirations and ideas of post-WWII America. Though the actual term itself had nothing to do with nuclear weaponry, the fact that it became so popular during the height of the Atomic Age certainly didn't hurt the association.
Back in the comics, the Nuclear Family became a sort of pastiche of that Cold War ideal. They were robotic—lethal and creepy in more ways than one—and a direct attempt to play off of those white picket fence aspirations. They never really got a huge chance to showcase their skills, however, and only went up against the Outsiders and Firestorm in particular a few times before they were defeated, ostensibly for good.
In Titans, we're about to get a brand-new take on the Nuclear Family concept—one that’s been reimagined for the show in the most terrifying way possible. Are they lethal? Yes. Are they robots? We can't be sure. Do they have superpowers? If brutal torture is a superpower, then maybe, but otherwise, who can say? The whole family is shrouded in mystery and wrapped up with a terrifyingly normal-looking bow. On the outside, you'd never guess what any of them were capable of, but on the inside, they're absolutely rotten to the core. And what's worse, they're coming for the Titans, and they're more than ready to take out anyone (and we mean anyone) who gets in their way.
And you thought your family was brutal.
Catch the Nuclear Family in this Friday's episode of Titans, "Hawk and Dove," exclusive on DC Universe. Click here to subscribe.