When Chief Justice Mike Jackson was a teenager, the only thing that was titan about him was his extreme geekiness.
Our reviews of Teen Titans: Divide And Conquer (Volume 1) (published November 10th, 2004), Teen Titans: The Complete Second Season (published October 25th, 2006), Teen Titans: The Complete Third Season (published April 18th, 2007), Teen Titans: The Complete Fourth Season (published January 11th, 2008), Teen Titans: The Complete Fifth Season (published August 6th, 2008), Teen Titans: Fear Itself (published December 21st, 2005), Teen Titans: Switched (published May 19th, 2005), and Teen Titans: Trouble In Tokyo (published February 28th, 2007) are also available.
"I respect that you don't eat meat. Please respect that I don't eat fake meat."
The Teen Titans have a long history in comic book form. The team first appeared in 1964, gaining their own ongoing series in 1966. The team originally consisted of the young wards of older heroes—Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Wonder Girl, and Speedy (Green Arrow's ward)—but would later gain other standalone teen characters. The title has been reinvented several times, and continues on to today.
The Teen Titans cartoon launched on the Cartoon Network in 2003. The quintet featured heroes drawn from the comics, mostly from the '80s revival of the series, including:
• Robin (voiced by Scott Menville): The de facto leader of the
Titans. Bold, fearless, and intense, he focuses with laser-like concentration on
his goals. While there's no indication in this season which Robin he is from the
Batman continuity, in the early comics he was Dick Grayson, and there's been
hints in later episodes that that's who he is here too. But, in the interview
supplements they say he's Tim Drake, the third Robin introduced in the comics in
Over the course of the season, the Titans laugh, love, and kick some ass. Let's go!
Facts of the Case
• "Divide and Conquer"
• "Final Exam"
• "Forces of Nature"
• "The Sum of His Parts"
• "Deep Six"
• "Car Trouble"
• "Apprentice" (Parts I and II)
It's difficult to pin down Teen Titans. On the one hand, it seems like the creators—Glen Murakami, Bruce Timm, and Sander Schwartz—pitched it at a younger audience. After all, they're the Teen Titans, and kids like watching those their own age or a little older. The art style is bold and funky, full of bright colors and strong lines. The action is always kinetic—this isn't a show that stops to catch its breath. It carries a strong anime influence, though from the sort that appeals to pint-sized okatus, like Pokémon or Dragonball Z, not Ghost in the Shell. The characterization is straightforward, without the complexities Timm et al brought to Batman. There's a simple moral to every story, though the lesson to be learned amounts to "work together with your friends" so often, you'd think that the Titans would work together like a well-oiled team by the third episode. They're pretty dense.
But on the other hand, this parent would be hesitant to let his child watch it. I have a three-year-old son who is obsessed with superheroes. We watch Batman and Superman and Justice League on a regular basis. He's watched every live-action comic book film my wife will let me show him (so Batman yes, Blade no). There's just something about Teen Titans that makes me uneasy. Perhaps the youth of the characters worries me he'll want to imitate their violent behavior. Perhaps it's the teenage angst, which he can worry about when he's old enough to inherit my Nine Inch Nails albums. I think what really concerns me is…well, some of you are going to think it's kinda silly. I grew up in a very conservative Christian household. My parents would've never let me watch this cartoon—which is the furthest thing from my mind, mind you. See, Raven is part demon, and invokes her powers with an oddly authentic sounding incantation—far more authentic sounding than the pseudo-Latin J.K. Rowling uses in the Harry Potter novels (which don't bother me a bit). The subject is subdued in most episodes, but "Nevermore" is definitely out of bounds for the Little Dude, and "Switched" really toes the line. I'm particularly concerned about exposing Gavin to that sort of demonic imagery and "Satanic" content until he's old enough to formulate his own thoughts on that subject matter. I'm no prude and I'm far from a Bible-thumper—remember when I mentioned Nine Inch Nails? When he's a teenager, I'm sure we'll both enjoy Buffy the Vampire Slayer together. I just want him to be ready for that sort of thing.
Which is such a bummer, because the only reason I requested to review this disc was because I wanted Gavin to be able to watch it. Fact is, I watched it a time or two when Teen Titans first hit Cartoon Network. I never cared for it. I like Bruce Timm's other comic book adaptations, particularly Batman, which so perfectly captures the Dark Knight that the live-action variations are almost superfluous. What really turned me off was the flashes of anime—for the adult viewer they intrude into the story (but then again, I'm not really much of an anime buff). Watching 13 episodes at once, I warmed up to it a bit, but for me the series really works best when it keeps things serious, not silly. "Nevermore" is an extreme example, and is the most blatant example of why Gavin doesn't watch the show, but the focus on combat and serious psychological issues made it a stand-out. The eps that focus on the show's enigmatic villain Slade are the best, particularly "Masks" and "Apprentice." Ron Perlman is such a great choice for the voice of a comic book villain. Sure, he was great as a hero in Hellboy, but that rich, deep voice is the perfect match for a baddie. He never really does anything other than sound evil and try to destroy the Titans, but this is comic book drama—does the villain need anything do to other than fight the good guys?
The voice cast is uniformly excellent—I have the utmost respect for these unsung heroes of the entertainment industry. Most toil in obscurity, their résumés longer than Christopher Lee's yet packed with roles like "Additional Voices." Rarely do you see them working in live-action roles, and few people recognize their names, let alone their faces. But oh, the wondrous variety of characters they bring to life! Most of the time, you can barely recognize their voice from one part to another, for that's the crux of their talent—creating with only their voice. Over the course of this first season, Teen Titans features many cartoon voices you've hopefully heard before, like Kevin Michael Richardson (The Animatrix), Lauren Tom (Amy on Futurama, though in live action she was one of the most memorable parts of Bad Santa), Tom Kenny (Spongebob himself), Rodger Bumpass (Squidward on Spongebob), and Clancy Brown (a well-known character actor, but who distinguished himself in the cartoon world for his pitch-perfect Lex Luthor on the '90s Superman). Among the Titans, the most well-known voice is that of Raven, Tara Strong. The funny thing is, it's a completely different character than you've heard her play before. Who would've known that the voice of Bubbles (Powerpuff Girls) or Timmy Turner (Fairly Oddparents) or Dil Pickles (Rugrats) could do something other than a squeaky-voiced kid of either gender?
This isn't a disc for the gearheads out there, so I'll cut to the quick and say the video (presented in its 4:3 TV aspect ratio) and audio (2.0 stereo) are fine. The extras have also been recycled from the individual volumes, but they're interesting. "Finding Their Voices" is an eight-minute discussion of casting the voice talent to match the visions of the characters—and how sometimes the voice talent helped shape that vision. "Comic Creations" is 22 minutes focusing on the comic book itself. While there's a lot of input from the show's creators, comic book writer Marv Wolfman, and comic artist George Pérez, it still seems pretty superficial. I learned much more about the comic from reading Wikipedia (why is it that Wikipedia is such a treasure trove of minutia about the completely mundane?). The "sneak peek" at Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi is a 30-second commercial for the show, nada mas, nada menos. The Puffy Ami Yumi "featurette" is a painful 13-minute "interview" between stock footage of the Titans and the subtitled singers. Skip it, for the love of all things good and holy. If you gotta have your Puffy Ami Yumi fix, stick to the video for the show's theme song—which, handily enough, is included. One puzzling extra is an episode of something called "The Hiro's" (sic), a "Toon Topia" "show." The only information I can find about it online is other reviews of Teen Titans discs saying they don't know what the hell it is. Regardless, it resembles a pastiche of My Life as a Teenage Robot and Kim Possible, except with Asian leads, and is about eight minutes long. And if you act now, they'll also include promo ads for other DC Comics adaptations, absolutely free!
In classic double-dip fashion, we've already seen—and reviewed—all these episodes before. But, at $15 a pop for those discs, anyone brave enough to want to collect Teen Titans on DVD yet hasn't purchased those volumes would be better served by this $20 collection. Reading the reviews of the smaller volumes by my fellow judges, I see that I'm in the minority in not enjoying Teen Titans. I love cartoons—even supposed "kids" cartoons—but I've been spoiled by years of Batman, Superman, and Justice League (and don't even get me started on the brilliance of Invader ZIM, the darkest kids cartoon ever made). I like my superheroes a little more serious, and the childish antics of Teen Titans just aren't my cup o' Mountain Dew.
Not guilty, but the Judge awards no punitive damages to the defendant. Court adjourned.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
• Featurette: "Finding Their Voices"
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