Like dark chocolate, Final Fantasy XIII, and Team White/Gold vs. Team Blue/Black, there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground about Teen Titans Go! Ever since the announcement that the show was going to air an episode with heroes from Young Justice chiding them about being more serious, I knew this debate would rekindle. And the conversation only got hotter when TTG executive producer Michael Jelenic talked to CBR about how (intentionally) stupid his show is:
So this episode isn’t about winning them over. They hate the show, and they’re always going to hate the show. This is not what the older comic fan wants to see being done with these characters. It’s a kids show, and we embrace it in this episode. I always say that the show is super stupid, and in this one, we push the stupidity and the randomness.
What is this debate all about? How did it start? And is the show really that bad? Let’s try and answer those questions, starting with the beginning.
Teen Titans (2003-2006)
The first full animated series for the Teen Titans featured the classic team composed of Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, and Beast Boy. Heavily influenced by anime and aimed at children, there was some initial negative reaction about the “childish” look of the series. At the time, the other major DC cartoon was Justice League/Justice League: Unlimited, which fans hold in extremely high regard.
Over time, however, older teens and adults alike started to enjoy the show. This was helped by the fact that Teen Titans progressed its storylines to hit many of the classic arcs (Deathstroke, Terra, Trigon) within the comic continuity, evolving it into a more serious show, but without reaching the darker maturity of Batman: The Animated Series. While never officially part of the DC Animated Universe, fans more-or-less consider it part of the canon and recommend watching it along with the rest of the DCAU.
Rumors conflict on whether Teen Titans had planned for a sixth season before being cancelled, and the show ended in 2006 with the animated film Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo. In 2011, the team had a mini-revival with a series of DC Nation Shorts featuring chibi versions of the team in quick minute-length vignettes that lead the way to Teen Titans Go!, but in between, there was another series that struck a strong chord with viewers.
Young Justice (2010-2013)
The premise for this new series featured a team of sidekicks being trained by various Justice League members to handle operations the league couldn’t address. It wasn’t an explicit sequel to Teen Titans, but the new team of Robin, Aqualad, Superboy, Miss Martian, Artemis, and Speedy have (almost) all been Titans in their histories.
While Teen Titans had a number of comic arcs to draw from, Young Justice was pretty original. Sure, it took inspiration from team events in the comics, but the show hit a great sweet spot of putting established characters into new situations. Some of the most common praise is laid on the show’s maturity and continuity. It had a complex overarching storyline that not only spanned across the two seasons, but also linked the 5-year gap that happened in the series’ universe in between.
It really seemed like WB/DC/Cartoon Network had evolved Teen Titans into Young Justice, and while the former was fun and entertaining, the latter had some pretty big, “Oh [email protected]*%!” moments. For me in particular, it was pretty brilliant how they handled Miss Martian’s maturation. Her “Hel-LO Megan!” catchphrase was grating and detracted from the beginning of the series a lot, but in the Season 1 episode “Image,” we see its origins and how M’Gann’s personality thus far was a voluntary psychosis to keep her true self a secret. It was some really deep introspection and an admirable approach versus a hand-wavey cop-out.
A common viewer complaint was the sporadic airing of the series: six episodes here, another 3 episodes after a months-long hiatus, rushing through the remaining season in only a handful of weekends… It was pretty infuriating and led to speculation on whether Cartoon Network really wanted to keep the show. Unfortunately, Young Justice lasted only 2 seasons, coinciding with the network’s dramatically reduced DC block. Along with the cancellation of Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Marvel’s Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, it seemed like superhero cartoons just couldn’t stay on the air.