For my first piece, I want to tackle something that’s been out for a while but I’ve had a lot of thoughts about. Since DC Comics launched its “New 52” initiative with a company-wide relaunch of continuity, WB Animation has done something similar with its animated comic-based properties. Starting with Justice League: War, they’ve been producing movies inspired by New 52 plotlines and characterization (with occasional breaks with films like Justice League: Gods and Monsters and the upcoming The Killing Joke adaptation. These movies have been serviceable for the most part, though your mileage is probably going to depend heavily on your opinion of the source material if you’re familiar with them.
My history with the teams, like many mainstream fans, goes back to the Teen Titans cartoon that aired on Cartoon Network in the mid-2000s. Through following the show’s online community, I became aware of Geoff Johns’ then-current run of the team in the comics, and I’ve been following the franchise ever since (through its ups and many, many downs).
I will be discussing some plot details, so if you want to go in clean I suggest avoid reading until after you’ve seen it.
Daddy Issues Abound!
Don’t let the title fool you- the Titans and the Justice League have exactly one fight in the film that lasts a few minutes. The conflict of the teenagers protecting their friend Raven while the adults want to take her in for security reasons is pretty much thrown out when Trigon possesses the League and they start punching each other thereon. The next fight has a freed Superman then go on to free Wonder Woman and Flash (Shazam and Green Lantern are absent from this film) and it turns into everyone against the villain like just about every “X versus Y” property ever made.
Is this a bad thing? Not really, but if you were going in expecting a drawn-out ideological or physical battle between the Titans and the League, you’re not getting it in this movie. What we do get is an animated film adaptation of “Terror of Trigon”, one of two storylines comic fans remember from the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans run (the second being “The Judas Contract” and, spoiler alert, that’s going be the sequel). An adaptation of this storyline was done back in the fourth season of the 2000s Teen Titans cartoon.
What’s different this time? Well, it’s also a Damian Wayne story that carries on from the previous Batman animated films Batman and Son, Batman vs Robin and Batman: Bad Blood. If you don’t know who Damian Wayne is, here’s the TL;DR version-
- Bruce Wayne has a 10-year-old son via Talia Al Ghul
- He’s the current Robin in both the movies and comics
- He’s an insufferable, arrogant brat (whose character arc often involves him… well, being the same, but in a more likable way)
We good? Alright, moving on.
Coming off a botched operation with the League, Damian is sent to hang out with the Teen Titans to learn teamwork and friendship and all that good stuff. The team hasn’t been mentioned or shown in the movies prior except for Starfire, who has cameoed in the last two Batman films as Nightwing’s girlfriend/possible booty call/”It’s complicated.” While Damian slowly befriends the team after Blue Beetle semi-accidentally melts off half his face, it’s actually Raven he becomes closest with. The two share issues of legacy concerning evil patriarchs who want to conquer the world; real “boy meets girl” stuff.
Synergy in Motion
Many of the fans who followed this movie’s development are well aware of the story being yet another iteration of the Titans dealing with Raven’s evil demon father Trigon, something that’s been done multiple times in the comics and was done in the aforementioned 2000s cartoon. Something less well-known, contrary to the early claims made by the production crew, is that this isn’t actually the first time Damian has been depicted with the Titans in media.
Back in the tail-end of the 2003-2011 run of the Teen Titans, Dick Grayson (Batman at the time, long story) leaves Damian with the team exactly the same way as in the movie, and he gets along with them just as well (read: not very). Interestingly, the one he ends up seeing eye to eye with is Rose Wilson AKA Ravager (she’s the one on the far right in the above picture), the daughter of Deathstroke and similarly long-time Titans villain/awful father figure. Unlike the film, which has Damian stay with the team, he leaves at the end of the arc and has Tim Drake take his spot.
This film wouldn’t be the last time Damian featured with the team in media, as it turns out. Either as a result of cross-media synergy or just really bizarre timing, Damian will be returning to the team in the fall as part of DC Comics’ Rebirth initiative.
Set to debut in September from the team of Benjamin Percy and Jonboy Meyers, the issue features attempting to make himself the leader of the band of young adults… by kidnapping them one by one.
Not gonna lie, kind of intrigued.
One last note- while the other films in the new DC Animated continuity borrow heavily from storylines in the New 52 (e.g. Grant Morrison’s Batman, Geoff Johns’ Justice League origin story, Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls stuff), Justice League vs Teen Titans more closely adheres to the 2000s cartoon and Wolfman/Perez run and throws out the New 52 run of the team. Probably because the New 52 run of the team is horrible.
Just how bad is it? That’s a story for another time.