Titans: How the DC Universe TV Series Got Made

The DC Universe Titans TV show offers a new look at familiar characters.

The Teen Titans have already been the subject of one of DC’s most-acclaimed series: Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s New Teen Titans. They headlined two wildly successful animated shows (three, if you count the Titans-adjacent Young Justice). They’re led by the most famous Robin of all, Dick Grayson, a character whose DC history is matched only by Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman himself. All that’s been missing from their legacy is a live action interpretation.

Titans, a 10-episode series coming to the DC Universe streaming service in October, will fix that. The series will unite Robin (Brenton Thwaites), Raven (Teagan Croft), Starfire (Anna Diop), Beast Boy (Ryan Potter), and other DC characters with an eye on telling more mature, harder-hitting superhero stories than you might find elsewhere. And, while there have been previous attempts to bring Titans to the screen, it was worth waiting to tell the story right, with all of its necessary characters.

“There was a time when no one was allowed to put Dick Grayson on TV screens,” Titans  executive producer Geoff Johns says. “I remember [writer and executive producer] Akiva [Goldsman] and I were talking and I said ‘we really can’t do Titans without Dick Grayson. We need Robin.’”

Fortunately, Titans found its Dick Grayson in 29-year-old Brenton Thwaites. With Titans, Thwaites becomes the first actor to play a live action Robin since Chris O’Donnell hung his cape up after 1998’s Batman &  Robin. “He comes with this wisdom and almost haunted nature behind his eyes,” Johns says of Thwaites performance. “It just felt like he had lived a long life already… it’s a very hard character to cast because he has to be youthful, yet old for his age.”

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 Thwaites, who admits he wasn’t a big superhero fan growing up, was drawn to the role of Dick Grayson once he was briefed on the plans for Robin in Titans. “For once in my life, it was me auditioning them,” Thwaites says. “When I read up on the character and heard about their vision for the show, I thought ‘If I would ever do one of these, this is the one to do.’”

Perhaps even more than Batman, Dick Grayson is a character defined by his fighting prowess and athleticism. The already fit Thwaites had to make sure his Robin could walk the vigilante walk, brushing up on his boxing and Muay Thai skills and learning how to wield kali sticks. “I wanted to be physically and mentally fit because I knew it would probably be a pretty tough gig in terms of the longevity of the show,” Thwaites admits, although he is quick to give credit to his stunt double, Mustafa Bulut. “He was amazing and did everything, physically, that my character needed.”

Titans is not only the team’s first live-action adaptation, it’s the first TV exploration of what Dick Grayson’s life was like after stepping out from Batman’s shadow. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve probably noted the grim tone and brutal fight scenes, not to mention Robin’s less-than-charitable view of his former partner. Robin’s intensity is a product of his background. “Dick sees himself as Batman’s weapon, his sidearm,” Johns says. “That’s what he’s struggling with. When he clicks over into Robin mode, he goes into what he was trained to do and he’s definitely lost himself to it.”

further reading: Titans Review – DC Universe TV Show Aims for the Fans

As a result, there is a noticeable divide between Dick Grayson, police detective, and Robin, street fighting vigilante. Robin fights with a viciousness that would make Batman proud, even as he is trying to distance himself from his mentor. Thwaites says that “Dick thinks a little less about consequences and more about what’s happening” during the fights. On the other hand, his civilian identity is “a little more measured… his moral compass is more centered. That’s the guy who really thinks about what he’s doing and wants to change and wants to figure out what to do next, but doesn’t quite know how.”

Dick’s inner conflicts find a parallel in Rachel “Raven” Roth (Teagan Croft), a young woman struggling with a dark lineage and supernatural powers she fears she can’t control. “One of the big stories you see is a struggle of internal darkness,” Johns says. “In Rachel’s case, it’s a literal darkness and in Dick’s case, it’s an emotional and psychological one.”

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Their meeting is an important step, but they have a long road ahead before they can start a superhero team. “The first season really leans more into the horror [and] the supernatural because that’s what the story is about,” Johns says. “The story is all about darkness and what it can do to you and when you’re surrounded by violence, what that does to you, and how you evolve past it.”

Those horror elements center on one character in particular. “Rachel doesn’t want to be anything that’s close to evil, but she’s got something inside her, or she is something, that she’s struggling with,” Johns says.

The darkness is amplified by the freedom afforded by a streaming service. “We’re not doing this just to do it,” Johns says of the show’s use of strong language and violence. “It’s tied intrinsically to the theme of the first season. The limits are just going to be what we think is right for the show.”

Of course, Titans takes place in a world where Batman and Robin are already well established, which raises the question of how many other DC heroes are out there. The answer, it would seem, is all of them. “When Marv Wolfman and George Perez evolved New Teen Titans, it was in a really cool apex for the DC Universe in the ‘80s,” Johns says. “We’ll see Raven, Beast Boy, and Starfire, and we’re going to meet other characters. We’re going to evolve this team, just as it evolved in the DC Universe. But, to me, the whole DC Universe exists within Titans.”

Mike Cecchini is the Editor in Chief of Den of Geek. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @wayoutstuff.

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