Teen Titans: Reinventing the Teenage Archetypes
The super-hero genre is inescapable, with characters like Superman and Batman popping up everywhere in our culture. All those adult super-heroes are great to watch and read about, but what about the teenage super-heroes, or what some people call “sidekicks”? Ever since Robin was first introduced fighting beside the dark knight himself, sidekicks and teenage super-heroes in general have grown in popularity even to this day. However, the problem often said about sidekicks is that they always seem to be in the shadow of their more popular crime-fighting partners. With teenage super-heroes especially, they can often come off a little gimmicky, as they are obvious ways for publishers to anchor in younger readers. These two problems seen with teenage super-heroes/sidekicks do not apply to the 2003 Cartoon Network show, Teen Titans.
Based on the Marv Wolfman’s The New Teen Titans comic book run from (1980-1996), the show is about five unique teenage super-heroes as they battle a wide range of different villains from destroying their city. The show is not just well known for its way of blending wacky humor and dark story storylines, but as well as having a remarkable group of characters to invest in. The reason why the characters work off each other so well is because they all are completely different from each other. We have Robin, the crime fighter with no superpowers, Starfire the alien princess, Beast Boy, the standard super-hero, Cyborg the walking computer, and Raven the intergalactic space demon. Instead of their differences making them unlike each other, they form a strong bond with each other and become the kind of friends that everyone wishes they had. Each of the characters fit into a different archetype seen in high school and in teenage youths in general. Think of it like The Breakfast Club, but with superpowers. Because each character is so diverse from each other, it would be best to talk about each of the characters individually.
Robin is the cool kid of the group, like the Fonzie from Happy Days. The cool kid character is usually seen in culture as having a tough attitude, being very laid back, and having a love for rebelling against authority figures. Robin may keep a cool attitude most of the time, but he does not let his ego get the best of him when it comes to his team. He does not see himself as being better than his other teammates, but instead as their equals; even though some occasions show that he knows how to take each of them down. Robin is in a way the most grounded of the group, which is fitting since he’s the only one in the team who has no super powers. It is a good thing he is the leader of the group because he knows how to use clever strategies and tactics as well as brute force. The only problem that comes with being the leader is the huge amount of responsibility that comes with it.
Robin can keep his composure when fighting other bad guys, except when it comes to the Teen Titans archenemy Slade. Something about Slade just irks Robin unlike any other villains and it is for two reasons. The first is Slade is the adult authority figure that constantly gets in the way with the Teen Titans and since Robin is a teenager, he hates being put in his place by an adult. The second reason is Robin and Slade are very alike, both being obsessed to take down the other and both having striven to win in the end. In the season 3 episode Haunted, Robin has a hallucination of Slade even though he was defeated in season 2. Without Slade, Robin feels empty because he knows he will never find a greater enemy.
Besides his unnatural obsession with Slade being his Achilles’ heel, Robin makes up for this with insurmountable amount of loyalty. Robin does anything he can do to save the day and he would also take a bullet for any of his teammates. He is a risk taker, but because of that do or die attitude, he is what motivates the team to keep on going, even in the bleakest of times. Robin does not just motivate the team while on the job, but as well as when they are all hanging in Titan’s Tower. When a teammate like Starfire is not so sure of themselves, Robin knows just the right thing to say to give them comfort. So Robin may have the cool kid archetype, but as soon seen with the other Titans, he steps out of this mold and becomes his own character.
Starfire is the foreign exchange student character, not just because she is from a different planet, but because she feels out of place most of the time in earth culture. She has a hard time trying to speak English and trying to comprehend pop culture and human culture in general. Starfire is also the most emotional character in the group, mainly because her powers are linked to her emotions. When she feels joyful she has the ability to fly, and when she is angry she can shoot star bolts from her hands. Because of this, Starfire never hesitates to show her true emotions. If she is mad at someone she will just shut them out. If she is joyful to see someone, she will them a big hug. Starfire is the heart of the group, because she in a way is what keeps the team from splitting apart. In the season 2 episode How long is Forever, the team fights a time traveling thief and in the process, Starfire gets warped into the future. But because of that, she has been gone for 20 years. Without her being the glue that held the Teen Titans together, they all gradually fall apart and all live a sad and lonely lifestyles. She is more important to the team than she even realizes.
Starfire does not just fit into the foreign exchange student archetype, but also the teenage girl archetype in general. Because she is positive role model, many female viewers gravitate towards this character . Her emotions are not presented in a negative way; instead, they are an example of how human emotions should be welcomed. This is a more positive message to teenage audiences as opposed to saying to practically bottle up their emotions entirely. Starfire does not just hit close to home with female viewer, but male viewers as well. This is because Starfire is daunted with many trials commonly forced upon teenagers.
In the season 2 episode Transformation, Starfire is going through puberty, but in the way an alien would get it, which includes having a huge gross lump appearing on her forehead. She thinks her friends will ridicule her if they found out, but when they do it does not bother them. A similar occurrence happens in the season 1 episode Sisters, in which Starfire’s cooler sister Blackfire drops by earth. Blackfire is in a sense better than Starfire considering she has completely adapted to earth culture, to the point that the Titans think she should join the team. Starfire feels she has been replaced and almost runs away from the team, but Robin tells her no one can really replace her. Besides, Blackfire turned out to be an intergalactic criminal, which does not bode well for the team. In the season 4 episode Troq, the Teen Titans help an intergalactic space hero named Val-Yor, but he turns out to be racist to Starfire’s race, calling her a Troq. Since the team is unfamiliar with the term Troq, the team suspects nothing and Starfire keeps it to herself. It is not until she tells Cyborg what is going on until the team realizes that Val-Yor is not as great as they thought.
Starting to see a pattern with these episodes? Starfire feels the team does not want her around anymore, only to realize it is a huge misunderstanding. She understands that true friends would not just abandon her so hastily. The episode Troq especially establishes how loyal friends should stick up for their one of their own when they are being bullied. What makes the episode feel so adult is that Val-Yor is not revealed in the end as a mustache twirling villain, but as a real super-hero that just so happens to be racist. Because Robin treats him like a hero most of the episode, it is powerful when Cyborg tells him about what Val-Yor thinks of Starfire; Robin’s respect for Val-Yor is diminished in the drop of a hat. Starfire may have doubt in herself sometimes, but no one could ever call her frail. Even though she needs reassurance from her friends, she fights her own battles time and time again. It is a well-addressed message to kids and young adults that anyone should have help from a friend, but at the same time, should stand up for themselves. Overall, Starfire is a positive female role model for any sort of teenage viewer.
Beast Boy is the class clown archetype as well as the nerd of the group. He is the most immature of the team, usually laughing at juvenile jokes and pulling pranks a lot of the time. He is the shortest of the group which could mean either he is the youngest of the team, or it could be a subtle detail that he is the least mature of the group. He is without a doubt a class clown because he will do anything for a laugh like making cringe worthy jokes. With that said, there is a good reason why the team keeps him around and that’s because of his exuberant personality. Beast Boy is like the little brother of the group. He can be obnoxious at times, but hanging around would not be the same with out him. The reason Beast Boy is so endearing because his nerdy personality. If Starfire knows little about pop culture, Beast Boy is the one that almost knows too much about pop culture. He is the go to guy to when it comes to television, an assortment of different video games, and movies.
Another reason why Beast Boy is well suited for the team is because of his loyalty and morals. Beast boy has a moral code, and he never seems to break it. An example of this is he is a vegetarian because of his shape shifting ability into a wide arrange of different animals. He does this because he has “been most of those animals.” He also puts a lot of trust in people he meets which can make him easily manipulated, but he is still trustworthy nevertheless. This can be plainly seen in with his love interest Terra. Terra is a cute blonde that is able to manipulate the ground beneath her, and even though she still has trouble with controlling her powers, the Teen Titans make her an official member of the team. Beast Boy shows a strong connection with Terra, and he feels he is incomplete without her.
However, the Titans soon discovered that she was working with Slade and her mission was to infiltrate them and to gain their trust only to destroy it. In the season 2 episode Aftershock pt.1,Terra shows no remorse when it comes to taking down the rest of the Titans, as she was just playing with their emotions the whole time. Beast Boy learns one of the hardest lessons to learn in life; some people, even the ones we love the most, are not always trust worthy. Terra shattered his heart, and now he wants to take down Terra more than any of the Titans. Yet, what Beast Boy learns as well is even the worst of people can redeem themselves. This is because Terra no longer wants to be Slade’s puppet and takes him down for good, and in the process saves the rest of the city from an erupting volcano which she caused, but with the cost of her life. Terra redeemed herself in the end, and Beast Boy sees this, and amazingly forgets all of her terrible actions and decides to remember her as the noble friend she was. All in all, Beast Boy is the fun-loving guy that any group should have.
Cyborg is the jock archetype because of his big exterior and his pumped up attitude when going into battle. But in a creative twist, he the tech genius of the group mostly because of his mechanical enhancements. Because of this, Cyborg is not the bully, or the incompetent jerk most jocks are portrayed as in culture. Instead, he uses his knowledge to help out people around him, and uses his brute force when he hast to. If Robin was not the leader of the team, Cyborg most likely would be his worthy replacement. Even in the episode Titan East: Part 1, he ends up being the leader of a different Teen Titans team for a little while.
Cyborg is also the black character of the team, and his diversity works with in the show. Not every black character needs to have their skin color establish who they are as a character, but the show uses the concept of diversity well. Instead of Cyborg being different for the color of his skin, he is symbolically judged for his robotic body. In the episode Troq, it is fitting Starfire comes to Cyborg when she needs to tell someone that she is being discriminated against. Starfire even asks him “you know what it feels like to judged simply because of how you look?” and he reply’s “Course I do, I’m part robot.”
While Cyborg is welcome to society, he still has trouble with dealing with his robotic enhancements. He has to charge when having a low battery and he can get hacked into easily by cyber criminals. Because of this, Cyborg can also be seen as metaphor for being crippled and how to deal with those results. Cyborg is portrayed in a positive model because instead of feeling like his robotic enhancements are a crutch, he embraces it, knowing it is what makes him distinct. Besides, his team mates and everyone around him are not scared, or predigest towards him and instead enjoy his company.
Raven is the goth archetype seen in teenage culture. A goth character is usually depicted as a teenager that is a know-it-all among their peers, as well as having a dreary outlook on life and having an assortment of dark clothing. What makes Raven different from so many other goth characters; it is the fact that anyone would be the exact same way when put into her shoes. See, the only reason Raven is made is because of her farther Trigon, who is an all powerful space demon that is dead sent on destroying and concerning the galaxy. The reason she was brought to earth is because on day of Armageddon, she will summon Trigon on to earth, killing everyone in the process. It is a common trait to see goth character to have farther issues, but this is token to a whole new level. How could anyone have a optimistic outlook on life when the only reason they exist it to destroy the world they live on. Yet, instead of wallowing in her own self pity, she decides to join the Teen Titans, to give back to the would that she will inevitably doom forever.
What make Raven’s powers different from the rest for the Titans is the fact that she sees them as curse, in some sense. She has the power of telekinesis, which can be utilized well in battle, but the problem is they are directly connected with emotions. The reason she is cold as a stone a lot of the time is because if she can’t keep her emotions intact, she can easily let her demon side take control. In the season 2 episode Fear Itself, the team is watching a scary movie, and Raven keeps insisting that she was not frightened by it. Because of this, her fear manifests into monsters themselves and starts attacking the team, until she finally admits she is scared, and the monsters go away. For this reason, Raven is the complete opposite of Starfire, considering Starfire can’t function without her emotions. This is further demonstrated with the season 1 episode Switched, in which Starfire and Raven’s switch bodies, and they both have trouble trying to get used to their different powers. Remember when discussing Starfire that some of female character seem to bottle up their emotions; Raven is one of those characters. Instead of her bottled up personality making her boring to watch, it is what makes her fascinating character to follow.
It can be relatable to how she wanting to show emotion alongside her friends, but knowing she can not. In the season 1 episode Nevermore, it is show that Raven does have emotions like joy, sadness and bravery tucked into her mind, she just never shows them. She also shows she has a constant internal struggle when it comes to Trigon, always trying to put him in the back of her mind, but he always seems to come back. This is why Raven is so relatable. Everyone in some point in life has a dark secret that they want to tell someone, but they are scared of being hated buy their friends if they found out. when the Titans do find about Trigon, much like Starfire, they do not shun her away from the team, but insead has her back as they try there best to prepare for Trigon’s arivel. This is a positive message for viewers to understand, that true friends will have eachothers backs, no matter what the situation is. Final thoughts, Raven may be a goth character, but unlike other goth characters, she has a completely legitimate reason for being moody.
The reason the team is so engaging is because they act more like real teenager. Unlike the Justice League who monitor the earth form space, the Teen Titans seem to interact along side other citizens. There are plenty of episodes in which the team is eating at a pizza restaurant, or playing in a part along side real people. Not only does this show how the Titans don’t just shelter themselves away from people, but also how citizens are not hesitant to walk up to the Titans. What also makes the Teen Titans work is how grounded their world is. The team does not deal with politics like the Justice League does, but instead seen most of the time in the city, and thats when there priorities for saving fighting criminals remains. They are also never seen out of costume, and their secret identities are never mentioned, or revealed. Even Robin, the one member who has a reason to have a secret identity and yet his identity is never addressed. It’s most likely Dick Grayson because of him being seen as Nightwing in the future, though many fans have speculated that his secret identity could be Jason Todd or Tim Drake.
The final reason the team is dynamic is because they have no adult authority figure in their life. No Justice League member like Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman are never seen interacting with the Teen Titans, and are not mentioned at all in the show. They pretty much don’t exist in this universe, and instead of this being copout for DC fans, it is for the best when regarding the show. If the Justice League showed up in the Teen Titans universe, the show would risk having the Titans being seen as no more than sidekicks, especially when regarding Robin. Because Robin is the most recognizable Titan of the group, If Batman showed up, he would lose some of his credibility as a leader, being once again the sidekick in his the dark knight’s presence.
To sum up, the Teen Titans archetypes do not make them stereotypical, but instead makes them distinctive and easier to relate to. The show is a standard super-hero show with many examples of standard good v.s. evil, yet as presented in this article, it is so much more that. It introduces dark and adult themes, but balances out with its outlandish Anime styled humor, which is why it has a well deserved fan base.
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