Titans and the Beautiful Terror of Divine Community

By Danny Anderson

The DC Universe series Titans is set to drop its second season on September 6th. The show, a very adult rendition of DC’s popular Teen Titans combo, conspicuously drops the “Teen” from its title. This dark move has been the main focus of the conversation about the show, with many viewers making the claim that the series sacrifices too much for the violent grit of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. One reviewer refers to the series as a “catastrophe” and adds to the critique of the series’ violence an accusation of disjointedness. And yes, the characters feel at times as if they are in different shows altogether.

However, I want to argue that this is exactly the aspect of the series that the Christian viewer might find worth considering.

To be sure, the show fragments this team that we’ve all grown to love, not only from the comics but also from cartoons like Teen Titans Go! andTeen Titans. However, the drama of the show consists of each isolated member of the team seeking to overcome that isolation and enter into true community. Titans presents a group of damaged individuals who have been wounded by the world. But these lost souls are drawn together by a series of coincidences that add up to something almost mystical. Though the journey through this series is sometimes littered with rocky terrain (and the last episode is an abject disaster), from a distance, it can be seen as an allegory for how human beings are meant to live in community, just as the Acts of the Apostles prescribes.

This edition of the Teen Titans features Dick Grayson (Robin), Raven, Corrie Anders (Starfire) and Beast Boy (Cyborg is saved for DC Universe’s other ensemble, Doom Patrol). Each character emerges from traumas that we can classify into two general kinds.

First, we have the characters who have no context. They come from seemingly nowhere and have no idea where they belong as their origins are lost to them.

Raven is one of these characters. Born as the child of a dark force that seeks to use her to access our reality (Trigon), she represents a kind of antichrist figure. Hidden away from her purpose by a group of nuns and raised by a woman who wasn’t her mother, Raven’s past and purpose is a mystery to her. Her only knowledge of self is that she possesses a dark half that is capable of terrible evil, and this leads to a self-loathing that keeps her from bonding with anyone.

Even more alone than Raven is Starfire, who enters the story literally thrown into being. The powerful alien wears the body of a human woman, but has almost no idea who she is or what her purpose is. In this way, her part of the story resembles the drama of another Christopher Nolan film, Memento, and she spends a great deal of the story alone piecing together clues about her place in the story.

The other category of traumatic isolation comes in the form of characters who had been part of communities, but toxic ones that they left to be on their own.

Robin is the most obvious example of this. After his parents were murdered, young Dick Grayson was taken in by billionaire Bruce Wayne and trained to be Batman’s violent sidekick. Grayson experiences an existential wound from the family he was adopted into. The nihilistic violence of Batman’s work caused a psychic break in the young hero, who, when wearing the Robin uniform developed the power and desire to be horrifyingly violent. The Dick Grayson half of his personality is, like his own young charge, Raven, left guild-ridden over the evil he carries within him. As Titans begins, Dick has left his partnership with Bruce and has become a lone-wolf detective in Detroit, choosing isolation over the poison of his community.

Finally, Beast Boy emerges from another community that is destructive to him to join the emerging community of the Titans. The shape-shifting teen encounters Raven and Starfire and offers them shelter in the home he shares with the Doom Patrol. His hospitality is not appreciated by the isolated family, however, and he chooses to leave its controlling structure for a new life with Raven, Starfire, and Grayson.

The coming together of this new group of heroes is not easy, however, and the fragmented plot of the series works to subvert their efforts to come together right until the end, when they encounter Trigon in a cliff-hanging season finale.

The easiest lesson to take from this is that living in community is trying, nasty stuff. Yet it is something we are all inexorably called to.

For the Christian, the most obvious example of how important and difficult community is can be found in Acts. The first book collected after the Gospels in the Christian Bible is an account of the formation of the first Christian community. It begins with Christianity’s first hero, Paul, hunting down and murdering the religion’s neophytes, just as Starfire discovers that her mission is to murder Raven. Like Paul, Starfire eventually makes a different choice that changes the course of history.

Many of the new Christians were converts to this development of Judaism, with no context for the rites and rituals that had been internalized for millennia by the Jewish converts. This was a source of conflict between Peter and Paul, with Peter insisting on adult circumcision, while Paul argued that this drastic step was unnecessary. Eventually Paul’s argument held sway.

To make matters worse, the religion of Christ demanded the rejection of self, all the way to the point of prohibiting private property among believers. Possessions were to be sold and the proceeds given to anyone who had need. The seriousness with which this was taken can be seen in how God killed Ananias and Sapphira for holding out. In short, the community-formation of the first Christians was no less difficult than what our heroes experienced in season one of Titans. Living with people is hard.

But it is also divine. When Dick races to save Raven in the climax of the season, we see that his selflessness is driven by something powerful and his actions are fueled by love. The same can be said of Starfire when she denies her entire reason for being and chooses not to kill Raven. These characters have entered into a covenant with one another and it resembles something of the hard task the Christian faces in giving up the self to live life with people.

Here’s hoping season two rewards their dedication a bit more than season one did.

Dr. Daniel Anderson teaches English at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA. He received his Ph.D. in English from Case Western Reserve University. He teaches a range of Rhetoric, Literature, and Film classes at the Mount, including classes on the Jewish American Novel, Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, Franz Kafka, the Literature of Pittsburgh, and the Classic Horror Film. He also produces and hosts the Sectarian Review Podcast, which investigates art, pop culture, politics, and religion.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s