Suggestions For 'The Teen Titans' Television Series
Warner Bros. is developing a series for TNT based on The Teen Titans, one of DC’s Comics’ most prestigious and beloved titles. While details are slim, what’s been released is this: the series will be focused on Nightwing—Dick Grayson, the original Robin—and the characters of Starfire and Raven will be on the team with him. Going by this, the producers are clearly influenced by the Marv Wolfman and George Perez New Teen Titans era during the early 80s. I’ve discussed this era before; it’s not only the best Teen Titans run but one of the most important runs in comic book history.
One of DC’s big advantages over Marvel was always their legacy characters. The sidekicks that Stan Lee eschewed, in the long haul, were the right way to go. While the staples of Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Superman never really aged, their sidekicks did. They went from 10-year-old kids to their late twenties; they got married and divorced; they had kids of their own; they had their own adventures. It also set up this idea of “fulfilling the promise”; eventually they would take over the role of their mentors. Wally West did that. He was the Flash for over twenty years. Dick and Donna took over as Batman and Wonder Woman for a while—and although those weren’t very long runs, they were important because it was an organic change set up from day one. There were even tangential stories taking place in the future that clearly established these characters being the next generation of superheroes—the students became the teachers; the child became the parent.
At a time when comics were still rubbing the camp from their costumes, there were only a handful of titles that were doing some heavy. Aquaman’s toddler was murdered; Harry Osborn was a drug addict; Gwen Stacy was killed; Speedy was using heroin; Joker became a mass murderer again; the Suicide Squad was fighting Jihadis. The Teen Titans went from sci-fi to dark drama. Wally West left the team to take over as Flash; Dick Grayson had a falling out with Batman and became Nightwing. The series shifted to explorations of family, race, statutory rape and betrayal. The Comics Code Authority hated and lambasted the title; it won an Eisner.
It’s already been confirmed that Nightwing, Starfire and Raven will be part of the cast; here are some pointers
Nightwing: He’s the leader; he was trained by Batman. He’s a tactician that enjoys improvising. He moves as an acrobat, and despite tragedies he has managed to maintain a sense of humor and a relatively optimistic point of view. I don’t usually do fantasy casting, but I will this one time. Cast Steven R. McQueen. He’s a very well established Dick Grayson fan, he has the right look, and he’s the grandson of Steve McQueen, the inventor of post-John Wayne cool.
Starfire: She’s an alien warrior princess who is also very attractive. Let’s not go down the New 52 route and make her a dumb bimbo.
Raven: She’s tied to the supernatural elements of the DCU. Try not to make her this mono-dimensional creepy character who can’t stop worrying about Trigon.
Considering TNT’s dramas are light and sweet, a Titans show has the opportunity to be more. Make it dark (but not unrelenting). Use the cable to show the sex and violence that other superhero dramas can’t because of network regulations. Use the Titans runs by Wolfman and Perez as a template; then go to more modern arcs by Geoff Johns, Sean McKeever and JT Krul; avoid Scott Lodell and Judd Winick’s runs like the plague.
It’s also important to add both Wally West and Donna Troy to the main cast of characters. Both Wally and Donna are part of the original Titans cast. Wally was Kid Flash, a speedster, and came from an absolutely unpleasant and broken home. Donna Troy has a mysterious past before being taken in and given powers by Wonder Woman and the Amazons. Having a Wonder Woman representative in the show could greatly help raise the character’s profile in the wake of her appearance in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice as well as that character’s rumored standalone film.
Grayson, West and Troy became particularly close, forming a young trinity the way Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were the primary trinity of the DCU. It’s these three—Grayson, West and Troy—that are one of the few comic character to have actually grown up and aged.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to see Wally West in the show because of the current Flash series that features a young Barry Allen, and Donna Troy was essentially erased by the New 52. Regardless, having a Titans show without them is going to be strange and likely detrimental to the genesis of the story. However, even if they were added, showrunners Akiva Goldsman and Marc Haimes should use a generation-spanning cast of characters that rotate throughout the years:
Superboy (Conner Kent): During Reign of the Supermen story back in the 90s, it was revealed there was a new Superboy. Turns out, that he was a clone made from the DNA of both Superman and Lex Luthor. Needless to say, Conner had some identity issues. He had complicated feelings toward Lex though he was raised by the Kents. He often questioned his own worth because he was neither human nor Kryptonian. He didn’t have all of Superman’s powers (and the powers he did have were only about a quarter of the capability) but he still had Superman’s weaknesses (magic, Kryptonite, etc.). Much of Conner’s story is the struggle to fit in and find his place, which is the story of any teenager and something any audience can identify with because they either went through it or currently are.
Stephanie Brown (as Batgirl or Spoiler): This will never happen. Not in a million years, but I’m putting it here anyway. Steph is a very un-comic booky character. She had a kid at fifteen that she had to give up for adoption. Her father was a Z-list villain, the Cluemaster, that ruined her and her mother’s life (mom became a pill popping drug addict before getting her life together and becoming a nurse). It was alluded to that her father’s friend attempted to molest her as a child; when Cluemaster found out about this, said family friend was found killed a few days later.
As a hero, she is kinda mediocre. She doesn’t have much training and tends to work more off impulse than common sense. It’s gotten her into trouble, but it makes her more identifiable. She sometimes screws up. She makes mistakes.
Despite having dealt with so much tragedy, she isn’t a dark, brooding character. She’s prone to quips, talks in internet and pop culture lingo. She quotes Star Trek and always looks on the bright side of things. She always rebounds. It’s nice to have a three dimensional non-perfect human character in comics; it’s unfortunate that DC Comics, outside of Bryan Q. Miller rarely knows what to do with her.
Ravager (Rose Wilson): She’s the daughter of Deathstroke, one of Nightwing’s greatest enemies. She’s a vicious well trained assassin that Grayson eventually turns good when he makes her aware of the width and breadth not only of Deathstroke’s evil but of the ways he’s manipulated and endangered her over the years. She can add some unpredictability to the team once she joins.
Roy Harper (as Red Arrow or Arsenal): I don’t care for the Green Arrow character or anyone from his supporting cast; however, he is important to the nature of the Titans—legacy characters—and was one of the original members. He probably can't be used, but if we could, he'd be a foil to Dick. Also, his addiction issues could be great for relatable personal stuff they'll want to put in.
Static (Virgil Hawkins): Another possible comic relief, but also has that Spider-Man charm of being relatable to the normal guy.
Impulse (Bart Allen): The Titans need a speedster. If we can’t have Wally, we should at least have Bart, Barry Allen’s grandson from the far future who was sent back to our time because…plot. Impulse lived in a false reality where everything was always perfect and therefore never learned that action had consequences. The character shift from this childlike naiveté to responsible individual is no different than a kid becoming an adult, and would be something audiences can easily identify with.
Terra (Tara Markov): She eventually betrays the Teen Titans, revealing herself to be a mole for Deathstroke. She was a sixteen year old who was in a sexual relationship with the nearly fifty year old assassin, which was a very controversial story explored by the title. The fact that she was played as an innocent, sweet somewhat naïve kid made her betrayal in “The Judas Contract” more surprising and very dark.
Aqualad (Kaldur'ahm): With Aquaman coming more into the public awareness, having Aqualad—specifically Kaldur’ahm—as an Aquaman supporting character for the Titans is an important one. Kal is particularly badass. He has technologically advanced equipment, hydro-swords, hydro-kinesis, and bio-electric energy blasts. He's only known Atlantis as a home and can feel out of place. Depending on the continuity, he is sometimes the long lost son of Black Manta, which can be easily used for dramatic use in the show.
Jericho (Joseph Wilson): For a good obligatory body-swapping episode. Could also be useful if they had permission to use Deathstroke which would require Rose the Ravager as well, playing a cameo/tertiary role in the series before having her origins revealed to the villain.
Kid Eternity (Christopher “Kit” Freeman): For fun raising-the-dead, supernatural goings-on.
Miss Martian: She’s a White Martian, and the adopted niece of the Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz. She’s a fairly lighthearted character but does have difficulties with her heritage (The White Martians were essentially alien Nazis), and due to her shape-shifting, is often useful in espionage settings.
Obsidian (Todd James Rice): Obsidian is the gay son of the original green lantern Alan Scott. He had trouble coming to terms with his sexuality and became very self-destructive. He has shadow based powers that are visually perfect for the screen. Having him on the series would also open doors to telling JSA stories, which makes the TV universe of Teen Titans all the more larger and can help establish to non-fans the greater scope of DC’s library.
Bunker (Miguel Jose Barragan): This is a bit of a maybe. He’s out of the closet gay, which is important for comics, but his creator Scott Lobdell is a terrible writer. Given actually talented writers there may be a place for him.
Stargirl (Courtney Whitmore): Another legacy character, also tied to the JSA. Her lack of experience and powerful cosmic staff make her a bit of a problem. Also, her connection to Starman can open up many interest avenues that are only explored within the comics.
Cyborg (Vic Stone): He’s an original Teen Titans member, though the New 52 has him as a founding Justice League member. He’s a technophile, a hacker. Should look more like his Smallville iteration, with the cybernetics inside mostly. I’m tired of him being a black superhero whose skin color is only shown on like five percent of his body nowadays. As a character he is somewhat similar to Conner. He’s no longer certain he’s human because of his cybernetic components. He’s also got daddy issues. His father Silas is a brilliant scientist who is distant because of his work and trying to deal with his recently passed wife. Vic was more of jock, and he and his dad didn’t really have much to say to each other after the mother passed.
Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner): This would be a good way to give Green Lantern another chance in a motion picture medium without spending too much money or forcing the whole GL mythology on fans.
Deathstroke (Slade Wilson): Deathstroke is more famously known in the comics community as the primary villain of both the Teen Titans and Dick Grayson than he is as an enemy of Green Arrow. Deathstroke seduced and turned Terra against the team. Then, Nightwing lead Deathstroke to his first professional failure as an assassin. Deathstroke’s remaining loyal son attempted avenge the betrayal but was killed in the process. Slade tried to use his daughter to bring Grayson down, Grayson turned her.
Slade then drops a nuke on Nightwing's city and then a year later used nanites to control Damian Wayne’s body in an attempt to behead Nightwing (who was Batman at the time; long story). So, yeah, they don’t get along.
Brother Blood: Another Titans/Grayson enemy that Arrow has adapted. He’s a psychotic cult leader with political connections.
The Titans: These are the actual Titans of myth, closely associated with Wonder Woman’s stories. The original Titans did actually fight the Teen Titans during the Wolfman/Perez years in a beloved story called “Clash of the Titans.”
The Prankster: Originally a terrible Superman villain, New 52 Nightwing writer Kyle Higgins reimagined the character as a Dick Grayson villain. Here, he is riff on Anonymous, a highly intelligent and talented hacker who has a gang of sympathizers. Prankster is a three dimensional villain in that he does fight corruption, it’s only that he has no concern over the collateral damage his crusade has created.
Lord Chaos: An alternate universe version of Donna Troy’s son (Robert Long) with Terry Long. This alternate version was an adult, and an evil crime boss who had learned to manipulate time and space. This can be a particularly powerful story considering that in the regular universe both Long and their son were killed in a car accident when the boy was still an infant. It could be a very emotional story, perfect for character development.
Black Manta: He’s the estranged father of Aqualad. They are on opposing sides of the law. It writes itself.
Owlman: Another Grayson villain. In the Forever Evil event it is established that this Owlman is an evil universe incarnation of Batman. He’s called Thomas Wayne, Jr. (long story) and in his evil earth, Owlman killed Grayson’s parents and took him on as his ward and partner, Talon. Though this is an evil counter-earth, the two shared a positive friendship (Evil Alfred: “He never found the brother he always wanted. The brother he knew Bruce could never be. But Dick nearly was.”)
The partnership at some point soured. Eventually, the Joker (a good guy in this dimension) killed Talon, cut him into pieces and wrapped him in boxes as Christmas presents. He felt guilt; something Evil Alfred said Owlman never felt, not even when he had his parents and brother killed.
When Owlman found his way to this earth, he found that this Richard Grayson was still alive and became fixated on righting the wrong, at least in his own way (it involved torture and attempted brainwashing). Using Owlman here would be smart. Owlman is essentially an evil Batman, so Grayson would be fighting someone parallel to his mentor. To beat him would mean he was capable of beating Bruce, and that could be an important moment—if not kinda sad. Dick would come to the realization that we all do: eventually, we move on from our parents.
Lady Shiva: One of the greatest assassins on the planet, who also has a strange fixation on Nightwing.
Terror Titans: Led by Clock King, a master strategist and sadist. Members are Copperhead, Disruptor, Dreadbolt, Persuader and Ravager—all legacy characters like the Teen Titans, but villains.
Zoom (Hunter Zoloman): Wally West’s version of Reverse Flash. Wally refused to go back in time and change things for his friend Hunter, so Hunter went insane (combined with an accident that gave him super-speed). He believes Wally can be a good Flash, but also thinks the reason he’s not as good as Barry is because Wally never suffered enough tragedy. Hunter then decides he’ll make Wally a better hero by being his villain. He makes Wally’s wife Linda Park miscarry their twins.
Inertia: The evil clone of Impulse.
Blackfire: She's Starfire's evil sister, and current despot of their home planet Tamaron. She had her family and their allies killed because she wanted to be queen. Starfire is the rightful heir, but since she's out of the picture, Blackfire is the current leader. She wants Starfire dead so she can fully legitimize her claim to the throne.
A Teen Titans series is a no brainer. God knows it's had plenty of animated portrayals. This new setting, however, means new exposure and can be one of DC's biggest successes. They just need to make the right choices for once.