While Titans rocketed into the public eye with the first reveal of Brenton Thwaites in one of the best looking live action superhero costumes in recent memory, followed by a somewhat controversial trailer where Dick Grayson revealed his opinion of Batman, the show has had a far longer and more winding road to the screen than you might suspect. I spoke with executive producers and writers Geoff Johns by phone before the premiere of the first episode on DC Universe, and with Akiva Goldsman during a roundtable interview at New York Comic Con about the early evolution of the series and the challenges they faced.
“I met Akiva [Goldsman] when he was working on a version of a Titans movie and that never really happened. At some point he and I got together and we were talking about a TV series idea,” Johns says. “We didn’t quite know how it would work and over the years it evolved.”
That evolution, from a Titans movie now apparently lost to the fog of time, also included a proposed Titans TV series for cable network TNT. Certain details from that show, such as the idea of Dick Grayson working as a police detective, have made their way into the new series, while others, such as the presence of Barbara Gordon in her post-Batgirl identity of Oracle, have not.
“I totally can’t remember the movie, to be honest with you,” Goldsman says. “That really was a long time ago. This is [more like] the TNT series. This is an iteration of the thing Geoff and started to develop all those years ago. It’s moved around a little bit. It’s been softer, harder but lightly the same series, although it has changed. Sometimes it was the day after [Robin left Batman] and now it’s a year. It’s always been that story of ‘I have become my father. In a way I’d rather not be.’”
Adding to their difficulties, “there was a time when no one was allowed to put Dick Grayson on TV,” Johns says, perhaps alluding to DC’s now-defunct policy of keeping characters slated for movie appearances off of TV and vice versa. That’s fortunately no longer the case, of course, as Johns said at the time that “we need Robin.” (I wrote more about some of the early difficulties in bringing Titans and Dick Grayson to life here.)
Goldsman, of course, had experience bringing Dick Grayson to life, having written the infamous Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, both of which featured Chris O’Donnell as the first live action Robin since Burt Ward. Goldsman is able to take an almost philosophical view of those movies, laughing with reporters at NYCC about the suggestion that Titans is his “apology tour” for Dick Grayson.
“When folks of my particular age group and generation started getting into Hollywood, it was a lot more challenging to be reality based and psychologically make characterizations,” Goldsman says of Titans’ notably darker approach. “Although I think the appetite was there and I think that kind of narrative already was surfacing in comics and graphic novels. Still people were hesitant to support and fund darker narratives.”
The arrival of Arrowverse mastermind Greg Berlanti, who pioneered the idea of working an intricate superhero universe on TV, helped them find their way. But it wasn’t until the opportunity to bring Titans to DC’s superhero dedicated streaming service, DC Universe, that it “really took shape” according to Johns.
“When we were working with Warner Bros TV and the idea of this DC streaming service came up and it was like, well Titans is one of the properties we’ve got,” Johns recalls. “It would be great to launch it there and it would be great to do something that’s different from all the other shows in execution and that’s kind of how it was born.”
The unique creative freedom afforded, not just by a streaming service, but one specifically geared towards DC fans, allowed Titans to flex its muscles, combining brightly colored, comic book accurate costumes, with a violence and language usually associated with their competition’s superhero shows over on Netflix. While critics remain split on Titans (I’ve enjoyed it so far, despite its flaws), there’s no denying that it’s unique among the increasingly crowded superhero movie and TV field.
Titans drops new episodes every Friday on DC Universe. We’ll have more on the series each week.
Read and download the Den of Geek NYCC 2018 Special Edition Magazine right here!