Saturday, March 10, 2007

REVIEW: "Terra"ific Second Season DVD!

[Article for Toon Zone News - 29.01.07]

It’s no shock that Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans was hugely popular. True, its premiere was preceded by the usual fan freakouts, but once it aired, most of the skeptics got down off their soapboxes to watch a rather enjoyable new show. They were joined by a wealth of new fans who were enraptured by the new series’ bright colors, quick wit, and fast action.

The Warner Bros. Animation production was inspired by the long-running DC characters of the same name. The comic book version of the team has evolved over the years, but the cartoon went back to the basics. Teen Titans presented the original lineup of Robin (headstrong hero), Starfire (culture-shocked alien), Beast Boy (metamorph and comedy relief), Cyborg (hip heavy man) and Raven (goth in a cloak). Viewers were spellbound by their turbulent teen dynamics, as well as by the anime-infused visuals and oodles of comedy. It was a different and worthwhile take on the DC material.

Now we’ve been presented with Teen Titans: The Complete Second Season on DVD. No shocks here, either: it has all the episodes from that second season.

And you better get used to the lack of surprises, for there’s little here except those episodes: only a load of WHV adverts and a “Story So Far” montage of clips from previous episodes (and half of those are on the DVD itself). It even lacks chapter stops. This is not WHV's finest offering.

But it’s also no surprise that the episodes on this set are actually rather good. Season two was far stronger than season one, as it had a far tighter season arc featuring a potential sixth Titan: Terra.

It’s a serious story, full of tension, drama and creepiness. Head villain and quasi-stalker, Slade, plans to take Terra on as his new apprentice (he failed with Robin in the first season) and then turn her on the Titans—Terra's new friends. It's quite a dark story, and it’s definitely made more discomforting by the predatory strength shown by Slade himself. He has the stuff that nightmares are made of: he’s unstoppable and unrelenting. His role as a predatory adult male clearly mirrors some of the real-life male relationships kids and teens can suffer. I don’t know if it’s a comfort to those who suffer such parallels in real life to see such a controlling and powerful adult character in a teen drama, but there is something very real about Slade, and that makes the drama all the more powerful. Within that arc, "Betrayal" is a strong character episode, but "Aftershock" is the most riveting.

The stand-alone episodes are functional, though they sometimes seem to strain to find new dilemmas for the group. DC fans will note that “How Long is Forever?” has a guest appearance by Nightwing, and that the humorous “Date with Destiny” has Killer Moth and a guest appearance by Batman Beyond’s Will Friedle. And the Slade-less “Fear Itself” has some genuinely suspenseful moments.

Overall, this is a good, though spartan, DVD. Though this release is a disappointment, the season it showcases is not. Fortunately, season three's set looks like it will be a little more bonus heavy than this one. It would be a shock if it were less.