Beware; spoilers for TEEN TITANS: THE ANIMATED SERIES are abound! Check out Part 2 of TEEN TITANS: THE ANIMATED SERIES: A Retrospective.
There has been a persistent debate regarding children’s entertainment’s capacity to maintain mature themes. Some think children’s shows are meant exclusively for an audience of children. Others argue that there is more to children’s entertainment than meets the eye. TEEN TITANS, an animated series that ran from 2003 to 2005, was a popular Cartoon Network original during its run.
On the surface, it was a light-hearted show. From its humor to subtle commentaries on puberty, TEEN TITANS: THE ANIMATED SERIES was abundant with entertainment value and appeal to kids. Despite this, the series managed to focus on topics that other animated, children’s series shied away from.
One episode of the series went as far as depicting a physically abusive relationship between an adult man and a teenage girl. Another featured the tragic consequences of obsession and addiction. Of course, these are incredibly serious topics to expose to children. However, TEEN TITANS handled them in a way that children could have a capacity to understand.
So, maybe you used to watch TEEN TITANS: THE ANIMATED SERIES. Maybe, you never saw the show in your life. Either way, let me prove to you why this series is incredibly important today despite being off the air for nearly thirteen years.
Firstly, let me recount the members of the Teen Titans in the animated series. There’s Robin, former sidekick of Batman. Robin is often depicted as the leader of the team. Then there is Cyborg, who is commonly known for his catchphrase, “booya.” Excitingly, fans got to witness its delivery on the big screen in the 2017 film, JUSTICE LEAGUE.
Starfire originates from the alien planet of Tamaran. So, it is a common trope throughout the series for her to misunderstand various Earthly customs. Raven is arguably the most powerful member of the team. She comes from a place called Azarath and possesses a plethora of abilities from astral projection to telepathy. Finally, there is Beast Boy, who possess the ability to morph into any animal of his choice. Now, my personal favorite character in the series was Terra. However, she is a complicated individual. So, we’ll get to her later!
TEEN TITANS: THE ANIMATED SERIES, A Coming of Age Tale?
The crux of TEEN TITANS: THE ANIMATED SERIES explores an adolescent’s entrance into their personal identity. Each character has a past that they wish to conceal to a certain extent. For example, it is implied that Cyborg’s mother died some time before the events of the series. Also, the accident that led to his cybernetic implants affected his youth to a great extent as he never completed high school. Interestingly though, these vignettes of Cyborg’s past are the only pieces of information we get about his origins.
This lack of background is common amongst the rest of the Teen Titans. The members solely refer to each by their alter egos. They also rarely discuss their lives prior to joining the Titans. Thus, the identities of each member of the titular squad are rooted in their heroism. The show attempts to distinguish each character from their previous incarnations as it is not about Robin as a sidekick to Batman or Beast Boy as a member of the Doom Patrol. Each character is now within an environment where others understand their personal conflict of finding their place as a hero in the world.
Robin’s past with Batman is rarely discussed in the series. However, one can assume that Robin has recently left his role as Batman’s sidekick to pursue his own career. His efforts to serve as the Titans’ leader exemplify his desire to redefine himself. There are many moments throughout the series when Robin comes across as a little too serious about his role. This quality is especially apparent when his obsession with defeating the primary villain of the show, Slade, goes too far.
Ultimately, this characteristic is mainly Robin’s attempt to escape Batman’s shadow. He still admires his former mentor, something that is featured when Robin states in season 1 that he once had a father upon which a multitude of bats flies above him. With this, it seems though that Robin has never been without guidance. As a result, he is susceptible to making mistakes as a consequence of his rashness and desire to be his own hero.
This staunch aspect of Robin’s character is particularly interesting when you consider that audiences do not necessarily know which incarnation of Robin the series portrays. His look parallels that of Tim Drake. However, many subtleties allude to him being Dick Grayson throughout TEEN TITANS: THE ANIMATED SERIES.
Firstly, there is an episode where Starfire travels to a future timeline in which Robin has become Nightwing. Then there is a brief flashback to the death of Grayson’s parents in the episode, “Haunted.” This ambiguity only furthers the distance between the Robin of the past and present.
Sure, his previous experiences have influenced his role as a leader and hero. However, he is not letting the events of the past define him anymore. He’s a Titan now.
Many of the conflicts in TEEN TITANS parallel real-world issues. Among these issues is one that anyone can relate to familial disputes. The second episode of the series, “Sisters,” features the introduction of Starfire’s sister, Blackfire. This episode also introduces Blackfire’s villainous nature, an aspect that creates a big rift between the sisters throughout the series. Sure, the whole “enemy sibling” trope is common in various entertainment mediums. However, in a series such as this, a trope such as this one humanizes these heroes.
Of course, the familial relationships TEEN TITANS depicts are not entirely realistic. However, it does present the concept of imperfect relationships to its audience. Sometimes, the rift within a family is irreparable. For example, Raven and her father Trigon have their fair share of problems throughout the show.
Raven, Lost Daughter
Trigon serves as the show’s big bad in season 4, perhaps the best season of the series. The relationship between Raven and Trigon is vastly different from that of Starfire and Blackfire. Their interactions exhibit little to no humor as Trigon is basically evil incarnate. Additionally, the two never reconciled. In fact, Raven defeats her own father in a battle to save Earth from destruction.
Upon first viewing, one may not perceive this defeat to be poignant. However, if you look closer, you will come to realize that Raven’s life is actually quite tragic. She will never have a genuine relationship with her father. Realistically, the only family she has is the Teen Titans. Raven is often presented as an introvert who keeps her feelings to herself unless she is pushed to the edge. This can be perceived as a result of her fear of trusting anyone due to the betrayal of her own father. So, you can’t blame her for not wanting to open up.
Fortunately, her time with the Titans seems to reassure her that family does not always lie in blood. Family lies in the relationships you choose to make, and that is just one among the many lessons the Titans acquire as they come into their own, distinct hero.
“The more you feel, the more energy you unleash.”