Back when news first broke about DC Universe's first original series, Titans, fans went crazy speculating over what version of Dick Grayson would show up. Now that the first four episodes have debuted on the DC streaming service, it's clear that this Dick Grayson is nowhere near to becoming Nightwing, his comic book destiny. But could that change in episodes to come?
Dick's troubled past, hinted at in flashback sequences and in his present-day behavior, has shaped him into a much different Robin that fans were expecting. His skills, honed by years at Batman's side, have taken an ultra-violent twist now that he's on his own. Even his former vigilante partners Hawk and Dove were shocked to see what the former bastion of all things good has become. This is definitely not Nightwing. He can hardly even be defined as a superhero—he’s more like an antihero.
None of which is a criticism. One of the best parts of Titans so far has been seeing the person that Dick Grayson has become, and that's exactly what Executive Producer Geoff Johns wanted. The longtime DC writer reveals that the biggest change he set out to make from the Teen Titans source material was that of who Dick Grayson is at the start of the series.
"We talked a lot about starting Dick Grayson as Nightwing," Johns says. "We all got to a point where we're going to miss and hop over what I think is a really interesting period of Dick Grayson's life where he left Batman and he was struggling to find a new identity and who he was."
That's when Johns, along with fellow Executive Producers Greg Berlanti and Akiva Goldsman, decided that Dick's journey would better mirror that of Rachel/Raven's if he wasn't Nightwing just yet.
"We took a sliver of the comics that dealt with Dick Grayson post-Batman a little bit and amplified that even more, exploring what that period for Dick Grayson was really like," Johns explains. "Nightwing is such a stable, confident, emotionally balanced character—he's Dick Grayson when he's found his place in the world. We wanted to build up to him becoming Nightwing."
Below, Johns dives deep into what fans can expect to see from the rest of the first season, including more Beast Boy, when the Titans will all finally come together and more.
As DC Universe's first original series, what was the main priority you needed to accomplish with Titans?
Greg and Akiva and Warner and DC, everybody wanted it to just be different than the other superhero shows out there, both streaming shows and network shows. And not just tonally but also story-wise—to tell a serialized story, to tell more of an 11-hour movie instead of a multi-episode series.
Speaking of tone, the first three episodes were really dark. Is that going to continue throughout the whole series?
The tone for us came out of character and story. We wanted to go back to the catalyst that Marv Wolfman and George Pérez did with the creation of the NEW TEEN TITANS in the ’80s. That started with Raven.
When we looked at Raven's story it's really about a young girl struggling with this internal darkness. She lives and comes from a world that is more in the supernatural and horror vein. We decided to lean into that and have Dick Grayson's journey mirror that. He has his own darkness that he's struggling with and trying to overcome. When he meets Rachel, they're both on a similar path of confronting this darkness that is within each of them and trying to move beyond it, control it, understand it. It's really only with the help of other people who are lost and trying to find their place in the world that they can all come together and help one another. That's what the DNA of Titans is—a surrogate family. The characters and the best runs have always been about that. But the tone of it is really dictated by our first story, Rachel and Dick's story.
What about Titans made it the perfect series to launch DC Universe's originals slate?
The Teen Titans is one of the greatest universes of characters in DC comics. I wrote the book for several years and I've read the books since I was a kid. It's got a great animated series. It's just a beloved group of characters, and they haven't been executed in life-action yet. The chance to take something this prominent with Robin and Raven and Starfire and Beast Boy and all the others and launch our first DC Universe show with a title like Titans was just the greatest opportunity.
The trailer for Titans garnered a lot of enthusiastic and critical response in equal measure, especially that one extremely memorable line from Robin. What did you think about that response?
We knew that line would be polarizing in the episode. The attitude and the story behind it, it's powerful. But out of context it's a line that people are going to over dissect. So when I heard that they were going to use it in the trailer, I knew it would be polarizing because it's out of context. Originally, we were excited for people to find it in the show because it's part of a bigger scene, but we knew that it was going to be polarizing no matter when people saw it. And I can't wait for people to see the rest of the show.
Going back to some of the changes you made from the page to the screen, what else did you want to evolve as you adapted the Teen Titans into Titans?
We wanted to introduce Raven and Starfire in a more grounded way. Beast Boy, his origin is almost exactly what it is in the comics. He's part of the Doom Patrol, which we'll see early on in the season which is a lot of fun. He brings a lot of the humor and lightness to the show. And then Hawk and Dove, I've always loved them in the comics and those characters are changed a lot. The spirit of Hank Hall is definitely what Alan's take on Hawk is, but the conflict of Hawk and Dove and the relationship between them with the show, we got to go deeper and take a different look at a more codependent relationship, something a little bit more real. They're really different, but our goal was always to capture the spirit and the DNA of them. We explore them in a different way. Our goal is to do an adaptation so there are things that will surprise even the most hardcore fans.
The Hawk and Dove episode seems to be a fan favorite, exploring the realities of them living a vigilante life and the toll it takes over time. Where did the inspiration for that storyline come from?
Ever since Akiva and I first started talking about Titans, we always loved the idea of Hawk and Dove. This all came from Dick Grayson because we wanted to illustrate the toll [the vigilante life] takes on people, the psychological toll, the physical toll. With Dick Grayson, you see the psychological toll, but with Hank and Dawn you see a physical toll. That's where those characters grew from and the space they occupy on the show.
In the episodes we’ve seen so far, the characters are extremely far from forming a team. Is the first season going to follow them as they slowly become a team or is that a larger series concept?
You'll see them come together as a team pretty quickly, pretty early on. The goal of this season is not to end with the Titans—the goal of the season is we're forging the Titans. So, they might not all be on the same page, but they'll all occupy the same space very soon.
So what would you say is the overarching story arc for the first season?
It's what we set up in the pilot. It's really about Rachel and helping Rachel, trying to find out what she's dealing with and help her come to terms with that. At the same time, all the other characters are dealing with their own issues. Dick Grayson is dealing with his past with Batman, and we'll reveal what that really was and what happened. With Kori, right now she's dealing with a lack of memory of who she is and why she's on Earth, but she knows it has something to do with Rachel. Beast Boy is just breaking away from the only surrogate family he's ever known, which is the Doom Patrol.
Speaking of, Beast Boy is only sprinkled a little bit into the first three episodes. When does his story pick up steam?
The next episode, episode 4. It’s when we really feature the Doom Patrol. It's a really fun episode and I can't wait for people to see it.
Looking ahead at the future of the series, what do you envision as the long-term goal for Titans?
To introduce this universe of characters and peel back the layers of who they are a bit. My goal always at the end of any project I do is for people to go, “I love (whoever the characters are).” Like I love Aquaman, I love Robin, I love Beast Boy, I love Stargirl. I love these characters and I love DC, and at the end of the day, the main goal is I hope you become fans of these characters. They mean something to people, they mean something to me and a lot of other people and there are good reasons for it. They're all good people who struggle with things that we can all relate to and ultimately our heroes are fighting for a better world and trying to be better people. That's universal and that's why I love superheroes.
What has surprised you the most about how Titans has come together?
The last episode surprised me the most, and I think it's going to surprise you the most because of where we went and how we got there. I can't wait for people to see it because I don't think it's something I ever thought I'd see on TV. It's cool; it's really good. It's a crazy episode.
Episode 4 of Titans, "Doom Patrol," is now available for streaming on DC Universe. Click here to subscribe now.