There have been crazy moments in the Teen Titans animated series, but nothing as dark as several of the following points in our top-20 list. Just to be clear, we’re not just looking at the show here. The animated movie and comic books that featured ‘Team Titans’ exist too! These show more members joined the team and grew into full-fledged superheroes. They're interesting, and they add a bit more lore to the animated show than we would have originally thought.
From what is supposedly a children’s show, Teen Titans has proven to showcase rather weird stuff. From dark sides and moments, bizarre facts and instances, to quite inappropriate relationships, they have everything. This is especially noticeable in the comics that were published years before the animated series hit Cartoon Network. This had us wondering what the developers were really trying to convey through the script and their resultant animated renditions.
So, are you ready to look into the things you might have missed from one of your favorite shows? Are you ready to dissect the supposedly "family friendly" Teen Titans universe? We sure are! Sit back, relax, and read on. We can’t guarantee that what you’re about to read will not ruin your childhood memories of the Teen Titans. Also, there are spoilers.
The fact that she’s an alien means her physiology is not quite human. But just how different is Starfire’s body from what we might call normal, even by extraterrestrial standards? Her orange skin may be a dead giveaway of her space origins, but did the animators deliberately make her appear like a girl? Some of her scenes in the Teen Titans animated series begs this question, especially in light of the incident with Mother Mae-Eye. The baddie forces the team, Starfire included, to eat pie that is really a brainwashing food ‘tool’ to bring the Titans under her control. The others fall prey to the effects but Starfire’s nine stomachs (yes, you read that right) shields her from total submission. If she has this many stomachs, what other strange innards does she possess, and how will her true-to-life image look because of it? Reptile meets fish, perhaps?
Robin went in disguise to stop Slade Wilson (aka Deathstroke). He took on the identity of Red X. The special suit he donned during that ‘phase’ was stolen, and a secret personality started impersonating Red X. It’s quite nerve-racking to learn that the Titans never apprehended this character. No fancy final face-offs here, folks. They came to learn that Robin was Red X, but they are also yet to learn who the new imposter pretending to be X is. It feels like an algebra problem that simply will not end. Fans have enjoyed connecting Red X to Jason Todd, who has shown quite a high degree of competence against Robin’s combat skills. Jason’s younger than Robin (lore-wise), not older like Red X seems. We feel like calling out the ‘timeline interference’ card, but he isn’t called X for nothing.
One thing is certain, the little Robin in Teen Titans comes trained by Batman and has been his sidekick for a while before, apparently, starting a side-job with the Teen Titans. The most prominent fact is that we’re looking at Dick Grayson, the premier Robin. But there’s more to his characterization than meets the eye. The developers have indeed let slip that they used bits and pieces from other Robins in the franchise; Jason Todd, Tim Drake, even Stephanie Brown. Think about it, naysayers... Drake’s detective skills, Grayson’s acrobatics and backstory, Brown’s recklessness, and Todd’s cruel streak... Our little Robin is a schizo-combo, ideally mixed. The dark part of this entire mash-up has to do with whether or not Teen Titans’ Robin is real, in the strictest sense. After all, if you’re a chimera of four different alter-egos, are you a ‘real boy’ or just a fancy clone?
We know for a fact that she’s all alien (she hails from the proud race of Tamaraneans) but what really makes Starfire feel so relatable? You may assume that we find her charming because the creators have humanized her extraterrestrial image, but in truth, Starfire shares more similarities with felines than us. The developers have even hinted at this by turning her into a cat in Teen Titans a few times. According to her character-lore, her race traces its origins back to cat-like higher-organisms. Aside from being agile as well as strong, Starfire also displays fine-tuned instincts and a somewhat unpredictable behavior pattern. Add to this the fact that she can turn deadly at a moment’s notice, and we can’t quite understand what sort of bloody scenes the developers had in mind when they chose to characterize her after one of the most ruthless species on Earth.
You must admit, it was rib-tickling as well as blush-worthy to watch the scenes and dialogue between Beast Boy and Raven. The show’s writer, David Slack, has made them out to be a ‘cute couple’, and we’ve all seen it. But did you know that he went ‘off-script’ a little bit? He’s even on record stating that Boy and Raven’s interactions were intended to resemble a married couple’s. We don’t know about you, but this reveal kinda ruined our memory of the happy-go-lucky Beast Boy and the forever-serious Raven. Teen marriage subtext in a children’s show, really? If you’re a huge fan of the series, you might like the thought of them squabbling like a ‘pair’, but when you see the show again with the ‘marriage’ element thrown into the mix, you’re sure to feel a distinct thread of awkwardness, and we don’t blame you.
Fearless, a natural strategist, and a born leader. These are characteristics you can certainly attribute to one of Batman’s protégés. But then why hasn’t there been any mention (glaringly so from Robin himself) of the Dark Knight in Teen Titans? Except for occasional Gotham City moments, there seems to be nothing, not even a tiny mention, of Batman. Any fan worth their action figure collection knows the link between the bird and the bat, which leads us to assume that there must have been some sort of falling out between Boy Wonder and the World’s Greatest Detective. We can only wonder what lore or message the developers/writers seem to want to convey by this, but given the fall-outs that have sourced from Batman’s trainees, we won’t be wrong in assuming the worst.
DC comics’ Teen Titans are a brilliant mix of illustrative excellence and amazing story-telling. The books beat the show any day of the week. They’re supremely darker. Take the Rebirth storyline in said comics where Damian Wayne has taken up the mantle of Robin; and team leader. Guess who his grandpa is? Ra’s Al Ghul (dun dun dunnnn!). To settle a personal matter with the ‘Head of the Demon,' Damian plays his usual reckless card. In order to gain their help with the situation, the son of Batman (via Talia, Al Ghul’s daughter) took advantage of the Titans’ weaknesses and made them comply to his way of thinking. He even dared the ‘new team’ to help him take down his granddad. All in all, he played the role of junior-dictator quite well.
We come now to the Infinite Crisis storyline for the Teen Titans in DC comics where things pick up a year from where the last series left off. By this time, several members joined and several others left Team Titans, and there was so much dissension that Deathstroke found it relatively easy to start his own anti-Titans team called East Titans. One of the ‘good’ team’s newest members was Bombshell, who shares quite a number of similarities with Captain Atom. But the real dark part is yet to come because she (Bombshell) presently betrays the whole team. In her Deathstroke-appointed mission to claim a disc that contains the cruel villain’s son, Jericho, she assaults Raven and makes good on her escape. This is practically what led the good guys to uncover the existence of East Titans in the first place.
The DC comics’ sub-universe featuring grown-up versions of the Teen Titans takes readers and fans through a veritable saga, with Deathstroke as the main villain. Starting things off on a sour note, Grant Wilson (Deathstroke’s son) aims to kill the Titans. He taps the power-infusing capabilities of a serum that worked well for daddy and junior dies. This results in a messy series of events that brings Deathstroke himself to the fore, as well as a certain secret concerning Dick Grayson (aka Nightwing). ‘The Lazarus Contract’ crossover-comic sees ‘Man Wonder’ being ‘hired’ by Deathstroke to teach his baby girl Rose in the ways of good. He wants his daughter to turn out better than he did; talk about a father’s sincere hopes and dreams. The cat's out of the bag, and it becomes too late for Nightwing to win back the trust that was lost.
The Titans have grown up, and grown a bit darker as well. In the New Titans series in DC comics, we see one of the more inevitable plot-twists taking place, a popular pair gets married. This is precisely what happened with Nightwing and Starfire. Talk about ‘...speak now or forever hold your peace’. Raven jangles the wedding bells when her ultra-evil father, Trigon, takes over her body and wreaks havoc. S(He) went on to kill the priest presiding over the wedding. We can’t comment on the subtext, but Trigon went on to plant a seed in Starfire at about this time, ruining more than just a marriage. This scene reminds us of the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones, and we’re not reaching.
In any list of the worst parents ever, Deathstroke might probably be vying for top-place. This is probably what he was feeling when he took a knife to his only son. He’s had kids before, but Titan Jericho (aka Joseph Wilson) seems to have gotten the worst of it. DC’s Titans Hunt storyline is bizarre, purely because we see Deathstroke and the Teen Titans grudgingly joining forces to make sense of a new threat, namely the Wildebeast Society. Jericho taps into his corrupt core when it’s revealed that he’s behind the takings of several Titan members. It wasn’t intentional, though (not that his actions are excusable). When he comes out of the trance, he implores daddy-despicable to kill him before he does worse. Deathstroke does the honours.
Losing a bestie early on in life... sound familiar? Then you’ll agree that it’s a terrible feeling. Tim Drake (aka Robin #3) concludes his (mis)adventures in Infinite Crisis only to go through the experience of losing his best friend, Connor Kent. Yep, we’re seeing a Batman-Superman connection here, but more on that in the next point. Connor plays Superboy, and Drake has been helping him figure out the source of the other part of his DNA. He’s actually a clone of two of the most unexpected DNA-pairs in comic history, namely Superman and Lex Luthor. After being through so much, Connor’s loss hit Drake hard enough to jeopardize the integrity of Team Titans. Desperate times call for... cloning measures. Drake attempted to breathe new life into his genetic-bestie, only to end up feeling more traumatized.
In almost Batman vs. Superman fashion, we see Connor Kent (aka Superboy) going through his own inner battles in the Teen Titans comics by Geoff Johns. It’s not easy having two genetic dads, especially when these two are Lex Luthor and Superman. No, don’t think sleazy thoughts, it was a simple cloning process, nothing more. Luthor is his evil self, no more than usual, and decides to ‘flip a switch’ in Connor’s mind, some sort of backdoor programming seems to have been present in Superboy’s cloning phase. Like one of the fathers, like son... Superboy was in a relationship with Wonder Girl at the time, but even his love for her does not keep him from going rogue and attacking his entire team. Is there any kryptonite in the house?! He broke Tim Drake’s arm while on his rampage while looking an awful lot like a re-imagined version of Luthor.
Roy Harper (names over the years: Speedy, Arsenal, Red Arrow) has had his own tragic series of events, which makes his love for Cheshire somewhat understandable. It mattered not that she was a spy, and a fatal one at that, who has even attempted to take him out (as in assassinate) in the past. Talk about closing in for the kill, this pair-up seems to be a mistake that simply can’t be undone (wonder if they asked Green Arrow’s blessing). As an undercover government agent for a time, falling in love with an assassin (no matter how drop-dead gorgeous) is a no-go. But the ‘Harper weds Cheshire’ invites were already in the mail before any intervention could take place. They tied the knot and later added another member to the family, a daughter called Lian.
We alight once more style, specifically ‘The Future Is Now’ plotline where the Team Titans are portrayed in a ‘back to the future’ light. What could potentially be? That seems to be the prevalent theme in this tale. The core team members seem to have experienced an uncommonly dark twist. Robin (aka Tim Drake) becomes Batman, no kidding, with slight alterations (and we’re not referring to his costume). He took to the rogue's gallery scene, wielding a gun and using lethal force not to incapacitate (like Batman taught him to do), but kill in cold blood. In this future-setting, we see Arkham Asylum as a cemetery dedicated to fallen villains and friends who’d fallen in the line of duty. Nearly every reader wanted to escape that time-loop and get back to the real state of things.
To be honest, this storyline marks one of Teen Titans' most historic game-changers. Terra made all the difference to Team Titans, but then she starts favoriting Deathstroke, and how. A fifteen-year-old should not be looking at an older (older) male the way Terra gazes upon Deathstroke. The show portrayed a much milder version of their ‘bond,' whereas the comics quite clearly represented a physical connection between the two. ‘The Judas Contract’ (both the series and the animated movie) reveal the darker side of things with the team: Terra’s diabolical infiltration and Deathstroke’s consequent victory. We felt deeply for Beast Boy who was genuinely in love with Terra, unbeknownst to the fact that she’s been out to get Team Titans all along. It was a gigantic risk as story-telling goes, but fans received it well; darkness and all.
You’d never have thought for one second that baby-killing will be condoned in a children’s show, let alone the more grown-up renditions involving comic-book characters. Yet this is exactly what happens in the 90s comics where Team Titans go back in time to inform a pregnant Donna Troy that her son will grow up to become the super-villain Lord Chaos and that the infant needs to die. They’re telling Donna all this, because Chaos grows up to not only go mad with his god-like powers but also kill his mother (the selfsame Donna) soon after. This came across as serious to Titan Donna, who already possesses powerful abilities and understands how they can be used for wrong. But a mother’s love is unconditional indeed because Donna Troy sacrifices her own powers to ensure a good outcome for her baby, only to end up trying to reclaim said powers later.
Remember Hawk and Dove, the opposites who worked well as a team? Hawk (aka Hank Hall) has proven to give in to his dark side. We see this in Armageddon 2001 where the Titan member grows into a world-class villain called Monarch. It gets darker because the writers never quite planned this outcome originally. Captain Atom was exposed as Monarch for which select personages wanted Hawk to be used as an apt replacement. He used his newfound ‘position’ to engorge himself with power until one day he started to wield a mysterious force and came to be called ‘Extant.' This latter name is attributed to Parallax’s (i.e., super bad guy) right-hand psychopath in the Zero Hour storyline. Fans weren’t happy, and their complaints came in droves. This forced the writers to don their cleverest hats and remake Hawk’s image into the positive one it used to be. Thankfully, they succeeded.
Children are hugely influenced by superhero themes in any form or package. So it's really a surprise that Speedy (Green Arrow’s ward) has been shown to struggle with substances. The problem began back in the 70s (when Hippies were kinda reigning supreme) in the Green Arrow / Green Lantern comics featuring Roy Harper. His addiction was true-to-life, welcomed by fans, and made more moral sense than later when Green Arrow ended up throwing the poor boy out on the streets. There’s good guardianship/parenting for you! If Hal Jordan (aka Green Lantern) did not bring Harper to Black Canary (who’s proficiencies include ninja meditation), the boy might have lost himself to substances.
Remember the psychopath from the movie A Clockwork Orange? Alex (played by Malcolm McDowell) gave a brilliant portrayal of madness, trickster-style. What’s really creepy is that the British super-villain Mad Mod in Teen Titans is based on Alex’s character, in fact, McDowell was even cast as the voiceover artist. How dark is that! It gets worse. Remember Mad Mod’s brainwashing technique in the ‘Detention’ episode? There are glaring similarities between it and what Alex was subjected to in Clockwork. The movie is so violent that it will leave you shuddering at the end. No wonder Mad Mod’s aim to drag all of America back under British rule felt so convincing.