The state of DC’s live action strategy is basically a confused shrug at this point, with Warner Bros. axing its finished Batgirl film and most every other live action TV series already sunsetted due to The CW’s recent sale.
It’s in this chaos we find the fourth (and possibly final?) season of HBO Max’s Titans, which was mercifully already ordered and well into production before the studio started retooling its superhero strategy to focus more on theatrical tentpoles like Black Adam and the upcoming Flash film.
For a show just entering its fourth year, Titans has an absolutely wild pedigree already, having started life on the now-defunct DC Universe streaming service for its first two seasons before migrating to HBO Max for its next two. The show hails from Arrowverse architect Greg Berlanti, and follows much of the same formula—just with more blood, violence and F-bombs (this is a streaming series, after all).
As the name suggests, the show focuses on the Teen Titans, a younger group of heroes that most recently features Nightwing (Brenton Thwaites), Starfire (Anna Diop), Raven (Teagan Croft), Beast Boy (Ryan Potter), Superboy (Joshua Orpin), and aspiring Robin (Jay Lycurgo). Across its first three seasons, the show ran the gamut when it comes to DC Comics inspiration, mining stories of supernatural horror, deadly assassins, science fiction, and psychological thrillers, all while bouncing between comic book mainstays like Gotham City and Bludhaven.
Season 4 brings the action to Metropolis, home of Superman, Lex Luthor, and the Daily Planet, kicking off the action with an invitation to STAR Labs (though not the version of the famous DC R&D lab run by Barry Allen in The CW’s Arrowverse universe) by none other than Superman himself. No spoilers here, but always remember, the action of Titans is about the Titans, not the bigger-name heroes they often share the skies and streets with.
It’s been well-teased that Titus Welliver’s Lex Luthor and Joseph Morgan’s Sebastian Blood will be two of the main antagonists for the new season, but Titans has often been a show that subverts expectations (see the deaths of Hawk and Wonder Girl in prior years as ample proof they have no issue with throwing in surprises), and Season 4 is no different.
Though Titans has dabbled in horror concepts and aesthetics in the past, this latest arc leans the hardest into the genre with a story (and plenty of scenes and visuals) that would be right at home in a straight-up horror movie. That could be a stretch for some shows, but Titans has proven to be tonally diverse enough to handle it. Plus, if you’re looking for a few more scares coming out of Halloween, this should more than do the trick.
So is it any good? If you’re a fan of the Arrowverse shows, or the past seasons of Titans of course, you’ll find plenty to like in the new season. This has always been an interesting, compelling corner of the DC universe, introducing everything from an emotionally-damaged Bruce Wayne (played by Game of Thrones favorite Iain Glen), to Krypto the Superdog into this gritty universe that channels the gloom of Zack Snyder but still maintains some of the fun camp of Tim Burton—all wrapped in the mid-20s drama and angst of the Arrowverse.
The story driving Season 4 is dark, compelling, and surprising. Yes, it’s loaded with the effects-heavy superpower blasts fans have come to expect from a show like this, but the characters and their relationships remain the driving force of this series—and that element is as strong as ever. Unlike prior seasons, we’re no longer following a team of young heroes still finding their way and learning how to harness their powers. These Titans are as battle-tested as ever, and there’s something truly fun about seeing them shrug and roll their eyes along with us when something truly bonkers pops up on screen. Sure, it can take itself a bit too seriously at times, but they’ve finally mastered how to wink at the audience to keep it balanced.
If nothing else, Titans exists as a testament to the types of smaller-scale stories that can be told in the DC universe if the studio decides to keep telling them. The kind of show that would have felt right at home on the HBO Max homepage beside something like a mid-budget Batgirl film. But if this does turn out to be Titans’ swan song amidst the wider studio reshuffling, it certainly looks to go out on top with one of its wildest and most ambitious seasons to date.
Titans returns Thursday, November 3rd on HBO Max.
Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, and freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.
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