TAGGED AS: Comics on TV, HBO Max, streaming
Titans was the scrappy DC superhero show that could.
From the negative response to its first trailer — in which Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), then still operating as Batman‘s sidekick Robin, explained his split from The Dark Knight by uttering the infamous “F**k Batman” line — to the dissolution of its initial home, streaming service DC Universe, and a relocation to HBO Max (itself soon to be renamed “Max”), Titans weathered the punches. Even within the fictional reality of the show, the team of young superheroes held up against opposition that included inter-dimensional demon Trigon, vengeance-obsessed hitman Slade Wilson (Esai Morales), and the deadly duo of May Bennett (Franka Potente) and her son, Sebastian Sanger (Joseph Morgan), aka Brother Blood.
After four seasons, the series concluded its run this week. But there’s still more story to tell.
The ending was surprisingly hopeful and — as showrunner Greg Walker told Rotten Tomatoes in an interview conducted before the Writers Guild of America strike began — was a glimpse into some ideas he and his writing team had about a potential subsequent season.
“The funny thing about Titans is there‘s all these shows embedded into the show. You could take any of our main cast — the core four and beyond — and make a very exciting TV series around them,” he said.
In the series finale, most of the team choose new directions. Empath Rachel (Teagan Croft) decided to attend college in Bludhaven. Shapeshifter Gar (Ryan Potter) elected to travel The Red, the ephemeral realm of animal consciousness. Superboy Connor Kent (Joshua Orpin) elected to spend some time with Superman. And the show‘s latest Robin, Tim Drake (Jay Lycurgo), chose to split his time between Metropolis, where his boyfriend Bernard (James Scully) lives, and Gotham City, where he will continue to train as Robin. Dick and fire-powered Tamaranian Princess Kory Anders (Mame-Anna Diop) finally acknowledged their mutual attraction and returned together to San Francisco.
The group also got one last adventure when they defeated Blood Brother. This proves that, even though they may need some time apart, the Titans will always be stronger together.
“We wrote ourselves into a corner intentionally,” Walker explained.” How do you bring back the various Titans from where they are in their lives? What kind of momentous event would do that? We’d just started talking about that when our fate was revealed.”
The decision to cancel the series came just after the writers and Walker were spitballing ideas for what they’d expected to be a fifth season. These stories included reincarnating Jinx (Lisa Ambalavanar), an ally in season 4 who died during a battle with May and introducing Terra, a character from the comics. There was even talk of doing a season centered on Dick and Kory.
Other ideas Walker shared with Rotten Tomatoes included Gar spending a long time exploring The Red, but not, Walker said, to “the exclusion of his Titans family.” And he said that Tim would have carried on as the show‘s Robin both because of the emerging universe spinning out from 2022 feature film The Batman and a desire to doubled down on what New Teen Titans comic book creators Marv Wolfman and George had already established. They were even pitching a Red Hood spin-off with a mostly-reformed Jason Todd (Curran Walters), Dick‘s successor as Robin who went off the deep-end in Titans‘ third season.
A glimpse of that Red Hood show could be spied in Titans‘ penultimate episode, which saw Lycurgo‘s Tim finally don the Robin costume – a suit heavily inspired by his comic book counterpart’s first major costume – while training with his immediate predecessor.
Lycrugo told Rotten Tomatoes that his Robin was different from the previous ones because “[Tim] has always come from a place of honesty and purity.”
“Dick Grayson had a very hard life and, because of that, he wanted to fight crime. And with Jason Todd, there’s a huge rebellion in him where it’s quite toxic,” he said. “But I feel like, with Tim Drake, there was always this thing that he just wanted to save lives. He just wanted to be a hero. He had this passion for something that he couldn’t help. It was all subconscious and also accompanied with an incredible mind.”
Walker said that the traits Lycurgo keyed in on also signify how the Robin persona has evolved from one that was “born of dysfunction” and “loss.” Dick‘s family died in front of him; Jason’s abandoned him to an addict uncle and he later ended up in foster care and working as a petty criminal. Tim not only grew up with his birth parents, but they are very much alive when he sets out to become a Titan at the end of season 3.
“Robin was medicine for Dick or a life vest, and certainly [also] for Jason Todd, given his background,” he continued. “It‘s different for Tim. Tim doesn‘t come at it as broken. And because of that, there‘s a little more joy and fun in it. Tim has his people. He has his family. He‘s loved.”
Of course, the showrunner noted, he is also loved by the Titans. This is shown in the way they all look out for him, be it Dick‘s methods in training him or the casual affection Tim and Gar share throughout season 4. (This happened off screen as well. Lycrugo recalled that actor Potter, who was the first of the seasoned series regulars to work with him, invited him to come to set to meet the cast. Since that first night of bonding, Lycrugo said it was a “two-step” with Potter that fed into the way the characters also interacted).
“If you want to picture what it‘s like with me and Ryan on set, it is really us in an intense scene and then all of a sudden we just start dancing,” he said.
This included the scenes when one or both of them were in superhero suits.
Although supersuits are not the easiest costumes to wear, Lycugro said, “everyone wants to dress as a superhero.”
He recalled his first costume fitting for the Robin suit, another of costume designer Laura Jean Shannon‘s contributions to the series. He listened to a playlist of songs that WWE wrestlers have used as their walkout music.
“I had my bo staff and I was playing around with it, and I just felt like a real badass,” he said of practicing wielding his character‘s weapon.
Tim’s debut as Robin may have come later than some fans may have liked. But Walker said the issue was “credibility” both because Tim needed on-screen practice and because Dick would never quickly hand him that title.
“He needed to grow into it in terms of the team, his emotional maturity, [and] his actual skills,” he explained. “We didn’t want somebody [to] just pop into a suit just because fans know he’s going to be Robin.”
Walker and the writers also had to consider how quickly to drop Tim into the darker and overtly supernatural aspects of the Titans’ work. But then his partner was injured during one of Sebastian/Brother Blood’s schemes.
“Dick was protective. He didn’t anticipate that this would come to a head so quickly … once Bernard was put in jeopardy, I think Dick understood that it was inevitable that Tim would get involved,” he said.
Related: How does May Bennett stack up against other moms from comic book TV shows?
The Brother Blood story also served to complete several other long-standing narrative threads, be it that Kory had originally come to Earth to kill Rachel (although she found a way not to do that) to the return of Trigon after his brief appearances in seasons 1 and 2. The treatment of Sebastian, a Titans villain from the early days of Wolfman and Pérez’s New Teen Titans, was thoughtful and sympathetic. This made it all the more powerful when he commits himself to the “destiny” his mother, one of Trigon’s servants, urged him to accept.
Walker said there was never any thought that Sebastian could be redeemed.
“I don’t think that would’ve been satisfying because I think it wouldn’t do justice to, really, what he wanted,” he explained. “His actions to that point had all led to this complete embrace of ego and complete embrace of what he thought his destiny was going to be.”
Walker even doubted Sebastian would want to be saved.
“He became more obsessed with greatness,” he continued. “At first, he wanted to help people. He wanted to bring the world together. [But] he became increasingly more self-absorbed, and it became all about what he could do. He lost himself. So, I don’t think you get back from that. Not in our world; not in that one. It would have just been too gentle.”
Sebastian was not the only character contemplating a destiny, though. Both Dick and Kory had visions of a future where they had a child – a notion seemingly backed by Trigon’s great fear that Earth and Kory’s homeworld of Tamaran would forge an alliance. A fifth season could have furthered that plot, but Walker doubted Kory (or Dick for that matter) would ever be “looking at a very settled life.”
100% Titans: Season 4 (2022) can be found on HBO Max.