Quick note: I didn’t realize the new Doctor Who came out this weekend. I won’t get to review the new show until next week because I honestly want to take time to see what this lady Doctor is going to be like apart from my misgivings already. But I will give a fair assessment. And speaking of fair assessments…
I want to open the article proper by stating I am not angrily ranting at the cast of DC Streaming’s Titans show. I do understand their perspective. They are actors hired to do a show and probably aren’t very aware of the source material. And the article I’m going with doesn’t paint them as frustrating as the Man Of Steel team trying to convince me their take was so much better than 80+ years of a character that’s become my favorite superhero and a favorite of kids not into Batman despite DC’s attempts to deny kids superheroes. (Except for the merchandise of course because some people really don’t understand how merchandising works outside of some business teachings that forget they’re marketing to people with their own tastes and not a demographical hive mind, but that’s for another time.) That doesn’t mean some of their statements aren’t worth addressing in the hopes that someone out there will understand why people unhappy with the trailers to Titans are not happy with what they saw.
Speaking of shows I have yet to see, I have not seen this show. I don’t have the money to spend on DC’s “DC Universe” streaming and comic library service. Considering how many shows and comics are available plus other projects this is one service I’d consider given my love of the DC Universe, or at least the one Dan DiDio is trying to destroy but we had that rant yesterday. Odds are I probably wouldn’t watch it anyway because I don’t like this darker tone DC and Warner Brothers are putting into their shows and movies, although at least the movies are trying according to the Shazam! and Aquaman trailers. By the way, I heard James Gunn, who was fired from Marvel Studios due to rather perverse comments he made on Twitter, is being tapped to do the Suicide Squad sequel only a day after I saw a video essay about how the first movie was trying to be Guardians Of The Galaxy. The timing is coincidence, but I’d wager the choice is not.
So what did Brenton Thwaites, who plays Robin(/Nightwing?), Minka Kelly (playing the Dawn Grangier version of Dove because she stuck longer than Hawk’s brother and who remembers him outside of the Justice League Unlimited appearances) and Anna Diop, who portrays the controversial version of Starfire, have to say about their critics? Read the Variety article for context and then see what I have to say.
The article starts with Mr. F-Batman himself as he comments on the negative reactions.
“I understand that fans can react to certain things that they feel are strange,” series star Brenton Thwaites said. “As an artist…it is part of your heart that goes in to making these shows — you want to show the guys and the girls something they have not seen before. I feel we really should stay true to our own vibe and our own style. I take [the criticism] with a grain of salt, but I do take it.”
This is the disconnect I was talking about. Thwaites isn’t looking at this as a fan of the comics or as someone who loved the DC Universe growing up. For him it’s no different from playing a completely original character. My problem is more with the creative team than the performing team. It’s their job to get an adaptation right, and it’s not like the comics didn’t do their own take on Robin’s transition to Nightwing. Even the DCAU did it and with less swearing, and a Raven that plenty of people liked. I want to point out one particular phrase though.
“–you want to show the guys and the girls something they have not seen before.”
And right there’s the problem. Fans don’t want to see something they “haven’t seen before”, at least not up to a certain point. I’m not saying fully adapt Marv Wolfman’s script for New Teen Titans #1 or anything like that. But we wanted something we haven’t seen before we’re going to watch something we haven’t seen before. This is about seeing our favorite heroes translated for live-action on the small screen. We don’t want to see something so radically different from what we know that what we see is something unrecognizable to the point that it could have been a new IP. And we don’t want to see a beloved character acting out of character. It’s why Superman fans took “Bendis is coming” as a warning.
I’m not saying you can’t have your own take, and again I don’t know what take the show went with beyond what I saw in the trailers. This is more of a general complaint on my part for how Hollywood treats any property that isn’t adapting a book. It goes for anime, video games (especially video games) and all the not-stalgia productions out there. You can treat the source material with respect. Marvel Studios does this, and that’s one of the reasons the MCU succeeds and the DCEU failed. The Arrowverse and other DC TV shows kind of skirts the line at times. It seems whenever a superhero comic is turned live-action outside of the MCU they fail to translate the comic to the other medium, but animation does it very well. Look at the non-going Teen Titans, Young Justice, or even Justice League Action.
There’s a sentence by Geoff Johns about this being fun, but given his comic stories I question his idea of “fun” as it is. They may be good but I don’t think “fun” is the right word. Then comes this from Minka Kelly.
“I feel so honored to be welcomed in to this world,” Kelly said. “I am such a huge fan of it. I am excited we get to do this in a different way. We get to go deeper and darker and be more grown up. It is different than any other show you have seen in this genre. It goes in to the backstory of why the characters are who they are. It is a story of lost souls trying to find themselves.”
Except that’s not what the Titans were about, even in the cartoon. Yeah, in the cartoon they were former sidekicks and people escaping less-than-welcome circumstances trying to find their place in the world. Starfire was trying to not be destroyed, Robin was trying to escape Batman’s shadow, Raven was looking to escape what Trigon wanted from her, Beast Boy wanted to get out of the thumb of the Doom Patrol and prove himself. You can probably make the case that Cyborg was a bit lost since he was trying to deal with the fact that he was part machine now and not feeling normal until he met people who changed his concept of “normal”, and maybe Raven was lost but I don’t remember seeing that. But even then it was two out of five. Everyone was just trying to find their way or prove themselves, but that doesn’t mean they were “lost souls”.
And the same goes for the comics. They weren’t necessarily lost, just trying to find a place they could belong. Their mentors got together as the Justice League but they were a bunch of teenagers, some of the sidekicks and trainees of the elder heroes, and just wanted to find people like them. Some of them were probably lost souls but most knew who they were and what they wanted, and just wanted to find someone like them just as the older heroes had. As for darker, DC tried that and the fans pushed back because the DC Universe isn’t about being darker. Even Batman was getting TOO dark, and when Batman is too dark something is off. Again, it may make for good storytelling to you guys who aren’t as enamored with the DC Universe and what it used to be, but those that do are not going to like seeing yet another dark deconstruction of tropes that no longer are used except to deconstruct them. How about a little reconstruction, about what it means to be a superhero and finding people you can befriend?
But the biggest disconnect between actors doing a job they happen to love and characters they would like to portray versus the fans who grew up with a franchise and love it for what it is would be Anna Diop. And she’s probably gotten the most flack. It’s not her fault though. She didn’t design the costume or forgot Starfire is supposed to have orange skin. She might not have grown up with the comic or the cartoon. She’s just playing a role that intrigues her and hopefully looks good on a resume. But I think she gets her version of the character more than the comic and cartoon versions who have very strong fans, especially the little girls who idolized the cartoon version of Starfire.
For Diop, the getting to play “someone that represents so much hope and so much encouragement to so many people” has been a highlight of the experience and her career. She took time to put all naysayers to rest about the series, especially over her casting.
I’ve never seen her in anything so I don’t know how good a decision the casting was. Of course, I never understood why Robert Downey Jr. or even Michael Keaton were considered bad for the part. Downey especially I thought was one of the best casting choices in years. It was more the look than anything else, And while Diop did have some positive responses, I’m betting they don’t know the character either, or just follow the “concept over character” school of thought. Or maybe it was the toxic reaction of some fans, but what about those fans who had a legit criticism?
“Starfire is so much about justice and inclusion. So, the fact that someone would respond that way to a character who they claim they love was a bit ironic — and also a bit sad,”
Um, no, it makes perfect sense in light of how the movie and TV industry has treated characters we love in the past. I mentioned that upcoming Fantasy Island movie this morning, and I have long since given up hope that any adaptation of classic TV, comics, video games, or anything not previously live-action because only Japan understands the power of animation outside of Pixar will be at all faithful to the source material. It brings the question of why they even bothered to adapt something if they’re just going to take a concept and do their own thing. Call it something else and we’re good. Starfire is a character they love and that’s why they respond the way they do. They want to see the character done right, to see justice done to the character they enjoy so much.
Can that go too far? Yes. We’ve seen it with Star Wars and attacks on the actors playing the characters as far back as the prequels, and even the creator. This caused a man to give up something he put his life into, an actor who saw himself in the part to deal with having played the most hated character in the franchise and a young boy who loved said franchise to immediately hate it with a rage that the actual Vader would freak out seeing because everyone treated him like garbage because of it. Star Wars fans are often TOO passionate in the wrong ways, and make the good fans look bad. Maybe that’s why Star Wars.com started that web series about the fans, to showcase those with positive passion. For example, no death threats. The rage shouldn’t be on Diop and I don’t think Starfire, were she a real being, would approve of that. But calling the creators to task for failing to properly portray her is perfectly alright. Again, without death threats.
The new show doesn’t debut on DC Universe until October 12, 2018, and maybe it turns out to be good. Maybe the actors really enjoyed playing those roles (and still playing them if they’re not done shooting the season) and making the show. That’s fine. I do understand that. But they–or more importantly the writers, showrunners, directors, and costume designers need to understand that people grew up with these characters. They’re not just concepts and if they had no attachment it would mean the writers of those comics failed. But if there was no attachment why did these characters last for decades? Why would the fans be so passionate about the source material. And then, why would there be a show supposedly based on that adaptation. If this isn’t the characters they love, if they don’t see Starfire in the footage they’ve been shown, if they aren’t happy about seeing the brighter universe go dark, they have every right to say “this isn’t what we wanted, and now that this exists it will be longer, if at all depending how people who aren’t invested in these characters react, before we get to see the characters we love being the characters we love” and to want better the next time, if not somehow fixing things this time. If you adapt something people are passionate about, don’t be surprised when they’re passionate about it. Isn’t that why you made this in the first place?