It’s easy to dismiss Teen Titans Go! as a goofy, kid-oriented animated series with little to offer older viewers. That’s what a lot of DC fans have done, especially those who (unfairly) hold the series responsible for the premature cancellation of Young Justice. But those who give the series a shot have found a surprisingly clever spin on the classic superhero team. If anything, this outwardly silly series ventures in some pretty dark places at times.
With the series making the jump to the big screen with Why Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, we figured now would be a great time to look at the dark undertones of this all-ages superhero saga.
The Source Material
There’s a certain amount of darkness to Teen Titans Go! by sheer virtue of the fact that it’s an offshoot of the 2003 Teen Titans cartoon. That series took a very straightforward, dramatic approach to the team, dealing with ongoing character conflicts like Robin’s struggle to succeed outside of Batman’s shadow and Raven’s battle with her demonic side.
Granted, Teen Titans Go! is far zanier than its parent series. Nor is it it really connected to Teen Titans in terms of continuity or story. Apart from the fact that the two series revolve around the same cast of characters and feature the same lineup of voice actors, they don’t have all that much in common. But even so, some of the darker elements of the original series ooze through the happy-go-lucky facade of Teen Titans Go! Our heroes still deal with the same core struggles, just not quite as often or with as much success.
More than any other character, Robin is the one who seems to have retained the most of his angst and pathos from the previous series. This is not a well-adjusted teen hero by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, he’s not patrolling the streets of Jump City, stomping on the necks of criminals and shouting “F*** Batman!”, but he’s got some issues.
So many of the episodes in Teen Titans Go! revolve in some way around Robin’s personality flaws. Sometimes he’s an overachieving micro-manager who winds up forming a new, all-Robin team when the Titans don’t live up to his expectations. Sometimes he’s psychologically crushed by a deep-seated inferiority complex. Other times he pines after Starfire in what tends to be a completely one-sided romance.
In short, Robin is a deeply troubled character who seems to cling to the superhero lifestyle to avoid dealing with the severe psychological trauma he endured working as Batman’s sidekick. Maybe he’s not so different from the live-action Robin of Titans after all.
Terrible Role Models
Watch enough episodes of Teen Titans Go! and one thing becomes abundantly clear. These characters aren’t particularly nice people. They don’t behave much like superheroes most of the time. The Titans as they’re portrayed in this series are generally narcissistic and more wrapped up in whatever flight of fancy they happen to be embracing in a particular episode than saving the day. Heck, even the movie is predicated on the idea that the Titans are jealous that they aren’t getting the same amount of Hollywood love as Batman and the Justice League.
Teen Titans Go! almost plays like a more all-ages friendly version of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. These characters are every bit as self-absorbed. Half the time they wind up making their enemies look better by comparison. And even though many episodes feature kid-friendly morals, sometimes those morals wind up being questionable, like “Reading is bad and you shouldn’t do it.”
The series is also quick to remind viewers that the main characters are hormonal teenagers. We’ve lost count of the number of episodes that feature one Titan ogling another, whether it’s Beast Boy admiring Raven’s legs or Blackfire becoming entranced by Robin’s well-toned backside. Strangely, Teen Titans Go! has more sexual humor than its predecessor ever did.
The Hidden Jokes
Teen Titans Go! is one of those series that’s ostensibly geared towards children while also doing its best to appeal to adults who may be reluctantly watching alongside them. Naturally, the show includes a lot of humor that’s meant to fly right over the heads of younger viewers. Some of that involves making hidden references to DC Comics lore. The series has parodied pretty much every DC movie, TV series and comic there is by now.
The episode “Let’s Get Serious” even directly targeted the DC fans who blame Teen Titans Go! for the demise of Young Justice. After a run-in with Aqualad, Superboy and Miss Martian, Robin and the gang decide they need to get serious about superheroi-ing, morphing into hyper-muscular, gravely serious caricatures of themselves. To call the show self-aware is putting it mildly.
Some of this hidden humor can be surprisingly adult-oriented. For example, the episode “Sidekick” sends the team to the Batcave when Robin is called upon to house-sit while Batman is away. One of the many trophies displayed in the background is an urn labeled “Robin II.” It’s morbid enough in the comics that Batman keeps Jason Todd’s Robin costume on display. The idea that he’d place Jason’s cremated remains right next to the bloody crowbar Joker used to beat him to death is just… dark.