Film and drama

Screen Themes: Titans vs Elseworlds

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It’s time to pull on the lycra as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out a couple of small-screen superhero shows, the dark and gritty Titans and the body swapping fun of Elseworlds.

Titans

Created by Greg Berlanti, Akiva Goldsman and Geoff Johns (2018)

First appearing in comic book form back in 1964, the Teen Titans were made up of sidekicks including Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl and Aqualad. Initially aimed at younger readers, the series hit a creative highpoint during the 1980s under the creative team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez, introducing adult themes and new, edgier characters including Raven, Starfire and Cyborg.

It is this '80s incarnation that inspires the new live-action series Titans, as a violent, jaded version of Robin (Brenton Thwaites) makes his break from Batman in a new city. The former boy wonder begins to put together a team to protect Rachel (Teagan Croft), a teen orphan with supernatural powers who is being chased by a secretive order of religious fanatics. The only other adult on the team is Starfire (Anna Diop), an alien princess with amnesia and sun-based powers and they’re joined by former Doom Patrol member Beast Boy (Ryan Potter), a perky teen with green hair and the ability to turn into a tiger.

The series also introduces tragic heroes Hawk and Dove, a drug-addicted former football star and his ballerina partner, who get a dedicated episode later in the season which skirts a fine line between character deep-dive and outright filler. Still, it’s this commitment to character which separates Titans from something like Suicide Squad — they’re both gritty and violent, but after a couple of episodes you genuinely start to care about what happens to Robin and friends, while I would have happily watched the entire Suicide Squad go up in flames if it meant that the movie would finally be over.

While Titans isn’t currently available to view in Australia without a VPN, there are strong rumours that DC will soon be announcing an Australian partnership with Netflix, which makes sense in light of the Disney/Marvel partnership that Nine-owned streaming platform Stan has announced this week. Either way, it’s worth tracking down for fans of the adult superhero genre.

Elseworlds

Created by Greg Berlanti (2018)

In the fairly likely event that you’re not a regular viewer of the DC TV universe, things all kicked off with Arrow, a relatively humourless take on the “billionaire superhero who isn’t Batman”, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell). And so it came to pass that Arrow begat Flash, which in turn begat Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow, forming a loose collective that fans often refer to as “the Berlantiverse”. Over the last few years, there has been an annual crossover between the shows, usually achieved by introducing an interdimensional bad guy that requires the teams to come together to achieve victory.

The big bad guy in Elseworlds is the Monitor (LaMonica Garrett), a god-like being who carries a book that can rewrite reality, then chooses to give it to one of the hillbillies from Justified (Jeremy Davies), a mad scientist with a mullet. The reason the Monitor does this is to prepare the heroes of Earth for the upcoming Crisis, another cataclysmic interdimensional event that is sure to be 2019’s big crossover.

Probably the biggest reveal of this year’s crossover was the introduction of Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) and her alter-ego, Batwoman — an openly gay vigilante who has taken over the mantle of her oft-mentioned but never seen big-screen cousin, Batman. You see, while it’s fine for a TV version of Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) to be flying around and a bunch of different TV Flash variants whizzing about (Grant Gustin, Keiynan Lonsdale, John Wesley Shipp), it seems that Batman is a big screen or animated character only.

As a rule, Berlantiverse crossovers tend to have a lot of laughs and Elseworlds is no exception, with much of the humour coming from a bodyswap between Flash and Green Arrow. Dressed in each other’s costumes, Grant Gustin and Stephen Amell compete on how much they can act like the other, eliciting some genuine laughs from their co-stars. Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl is as charming as ever, and Tyler Heochlin proves that you don’t need to spend a year doing CrossFit to play a decent Superman. It’s all a lot of fun.

The Verdict

I would be far from the first to suggest that the dour DC cinematic universe should take a leaf out of Greg Berlanti’s book and try to rediscover the joy of comic book characters. Also, it doesn’t always have to be raining and there are more colours in the world than grey.

Titans is a very different show from the rest of the Berlantiverse, but it shares the ability to build characters with layers; sure, Dick Grayson is a bit of a whiner, but he’s just come out of an abusive relationship and he’s taking it out on everyone. With the right showrunner, Titans could go from pretty good to great and with a second season already greenlit things are looking positive.

While highly entertaining, the only bummer about Elseworlds is that it didn’t include the Legends of Tomorrow. The least popular of the pack and often on the verge of cancellation, Legends is a show with a lot of heart and recently got even better with the introduction of John Constantine (Matt Ryan) as a regular cast member.

Titans — 7/10

Elseworlds — 8/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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Say what you want about Ruby Rose, she makes a pretty decent Batwoman!

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