The Kids are Alright: Comic TV With Dan

Runaways and Titans: two shows where I expected little, but got a lot.

The Basics: Runaways

Who’ve even run away now!
[Image: Hulu]

When last we left the titular teens, some had powers, some had weapons they’d stolen or built, one of them was Alex, and having learned that their parents were all up to some serious supervillain shenanigans, they ran away from their various homes to try to find a way to fight back against their parents’ organization, known as Pride, and their alien benefactor Jonah.

I know I keep harping on this, but that really didn’t feel like it needed ten episodes to get there. Fortunately, this season, things are moving at a much brisker pace. There are all sorts of mini-arcs throughout the 13 episodes, from Alex’s attempts to get close to his father’s gangster frenemy Darius (or, more accurately, Darius’ niece Livvy); to the arrival of Topher, who might be a kindred spirit but also might be a dangerous interloper; to Alex’s misguided attempts to bring down Pride’s dirty cops; to former actor Frank Dean trying to seize control of the Gibborim church when his wife tries to shut it down upon learning that its alien messiah, Jonah, is a total dick. Enough is happening in season two that they reach a confrontation that felt like it should have been the season one finale at the halfway point.

And while the teens struggle to find a way to escape or defeat their parents (those committed to the idea…), Pride is also a fascinating bunch. The smartest thing this adaptation did was not rush to get through the kids vs. parents storyline, and spend more time building each set of parents as full characters, not simply villain archetypes (mad scientists/gangsters/magicians/aliens etc.). Because while the Runaways comic ran for many years after the Pride story resolved… it was never the same. So the longer James Marsters and Alias’ Kevin Weisman are hatching schemes the better, says I.

The one odd thing is that everyone is really fast to turn on poor Alex. It’s almost as if the other Runaways read the original comics, think TV Alex has also been a mole for Pride this whole time, and are trying to turn on him first. It’s just weird that he draws so much of their ire. I dunno, maybe I only think that because even in the comics, Alex was always my favourite.

Also two of my favourite Pride members (and at least one other character) are… changed in the back half, it takes people too long to notice, and I’m not convinced it’s for the better.

And then there’s Titans

Look at these goobs.

Can I have another season of these goobs? Like, right now?
[Image:DC Universe]

Titans has no excuse for being as compelling as it is. Especially since I devoured the entire first season and I still don’t understand why it even exists.

I mean… the Teen Titans, whatever is happening in their comic, have become DC’s most kid-friendly characters, thanks to the various animated series and the really fun Teen Titans GO! To the Movies. My niece loves the Teen Titans, she loves them so much, and I love that she loves them because that’s something we can share (she was correct in her assessment, at age nearly-four, that I do not know much about the Octonauts), and I would be horrified if she saw this show, given the frequent F-bombs and dark tone and Robin fucking curb-stomping a dude in the first episode. This dark, angst-ridden Titans show stars most of the same characters as the goofy, kid-friendly Teen Titans GO! (save for Cyborg, who they instead put into their weirder and superior second offering, Doom Patrol, which I’m only three episodes into but already love to goddamn death), then made the least kid-friendly superhero show I have ever seen. Yet I personally actively enjoyed each episode, and that baffles me.

So I developed a strategy for dealing with my confusion over the show existing. Every time I wonder how this or that moment even came to be, I picture a conversation between the three main executive producers: top DC writer/mastermind Geoff Johns, Arrowverse architect Greg Berlanti, and their weak link, Batman and Robin scribe and harbinger of half-assed franchise movies (who has an Oscar, somehow?) Akiva Goldsman. Examples…

Geoff: I don’t know, can we make a show this dark with characters we normally target towards kids?
Akiva: We can. We have to. It’s vital that they swear and damn near murder criminals.
Geoff: I just… I don’t see how it could work.
Voice: Perhaps I can be of some assistance.
[Swivel chair dramatically turns around]
Geoff and Akiva: Greg Berlanti!
Greg: Let me tell you what we did with a little show called Riverdale.

Akiva: And then they tear into the bad guys, bones breaking, blood everywhere…
Geoff: Dick Grayson is constantly complaining about hating his dark side, but we sure do lean into the fight scenes. Is that a problem?
Greg: It’s fine. Just have him be really conflicted about it later.
Geoff: That works?
Greg: It’s been working for Green Arrow for seven years.

Akiva: Robin should fuck.
Geoff: I have no issues with this. Dick Grayson absolutely fucks.
Greg: I honestly didn’t even think this would be a conversation. He 100% fucks.

Taking a page from the origin of this particular lineup (the moment in the 80s when the Teen Titans stopped being a group of teen sidekicks and became, well, this bunch plus Cyborg), it’s Raven, or rather Rachel Roth, who brings everyone together. There’s something inside of Rachel… a power that is connected to a darkness she can’t control. Members of a sinister organization come looking for her, leading her to police detective and former Robin Dick Grayson.

In Europe, a woman wakes up with no memory, only an ID reading “Kory,” a lot of angry gangsters after her, and to her surprise the ability to fire blasts of energy that mean the gangsters aren’t a problem for long. Her only clue to her past was that she was looking for Rachel. And when Dick’s attempts to pawn Rachel off on his old friends and former allies Hawk and Dove goes really badly, Rachel comes across a fellow outcast named Gar Logan, who can turn into a tiger, and we are off to the races.

A race against a cult trying to summon the powerful demon Trigon, which we understand to be a very bad idea, and their chief henchmen, the Nuclear Family. A typical, happy, 50s suburban family chemically enhanced to be extremely loyal and devastatingly violent, while always talking like they’re in Leave It To Beaver.

Between the Nuclear Family here and the Masters of Disaster turning up on Black Lightning, it’s been a good year for obscure Outsiders villains on TV. I confidently call them “obscure” Outsiders villains, because barely anyone even knows the Outsiders, so they’re all pretty obscure.

The Titans, who might one day even call themselves that, need to figure themselves out to stop Trigon, whether it’s Kory figuring out her past, Dick Grayson determining his future, Rachel confronting her heritage, or Gar coming to terms with the beast within. And it’s… actually a really interesting watch. Did not expect that.

I mentioned the fight scenes a couple of times before, and they are pretty damn slick. The fight choreo gives Daredevil a run for its money. Sadly, they’re also as underlit as many of the Daredevil season two fights were, because Robin tends to come for people at night. But what can be seen is visceral and pretty stunning, especially when the not-yet-Titans come together to take on the Nuclear Family. At night. So… again… pretty dark.

Dick Grayson’s constant grousing about Batman, and what he became as Robin wears a little thin, and I don’t understand why Gar/Beast Boy can only turn into a tiger (even Legends of Tomorrow could afford multiple CG animals), but overall? This show works. The characters are weirdly compelling. Gar might not yet be living up to the claims of his intro rap from TTG!ttM (Beast Boy can change straight up to any animal. Animal? Animal! Yes any animal), but he has all the awkward charm he needs, and gave us our first glimpse of the Doom Patrol (albeit with a different Chief, but that’s another blog).

I don’t… I do not understand why it happened, why they thought their most kid-targeted franchise needed the least kid-friendly adaptation possible, but I really dug it.

So… let’s meet our kid heroes.

Next: All the hero kids in their pumped up kicks

Author: danny_g

Danny G, your humble host and blogger, has been working in community theatre since 1996, travelling the globe on and off since 1980, and caring more about nerd stuff than he should since before he can remember. And now he shares all of that with you.

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