Tuesday, April 12, 2016

I saw the Justice League vs Teen Titans...

The season is upon us when all good heroes turn adversarial toward one another, whether it's "Batman v Superman", "Daredevil: Season 2"  or the upcoming "Captain America: Civil War", where two avenging teams will slug it out for dominance. In DC animation, the trend also prevails, with such tensions apparent in the recent "Batman: Bad Blood" (see Feb '16) and now in director Sam Liu's "Justice League vs Teen Titans".

As in the case of "Bad Blood", Damian Wayne becomes the hub of the proceedings, which wouldn't be so bad, except that Alan Burnett and Bryan Q. Miller's script resumes the lad as a stubborn, little bastard. It's hard to root for this Robin or any of his causes, when he never learns his lessons and puts others in peril. 

He's especially petulant in the wake of JL's victory over the dreaded Legion of Doom, when a slimy, shadow-casting demon named Trigon (voiced by Jon Bernthal, "Daredevil'"s Punisher) appears, possessing the body of the fleeing Weather Wizard. Robin's interference in this strange event leads the demonic Trigon to escape and later seize control of Superman: a confounding complication if ever there was one. 

As punishment for his recklessness, Batman dispatches his son to the Teen Titans, in hopes its members will teach him the value of teamwork. The Titans, in this instance, include the mystical Raven; the otherworldly (and older) Starfire; the shape-shifting Beast Boy; and the scarab-sparked Blue Beetle. Unfortunately, the arrangement only leads to more tensions and a terrible melee between the Boy Wonder and Blue Beetle. Robin is burned in the process, forcing Raven to heal him. One would think this would at least appease Robin's rage, but instead it just further fuels his snobbery toward the group. 

As the Titans try to fine-tune their purpose, Batman and Wonder Woman jaunt forth to halt the mind-warped Superman, while Cyborg, Flash and Nightwing delve deeper into the action. It's the JL, however, that tackles Kal-El's rescue (with Batman ultimately resolving the situation, with a neat, Bane tie-in). This leaves the youngsters to devour time with a corny, carnival trip, culminated by an excruciatingly long dance number. Soon thereafter, our original champions are transformed into possessed, four-eyed demons (a plot turn that's almost as troubling as Marvel's sadistic heroes-as-flesh-eating-zombie phase). Too bad JL doesn't receive the essential, early assistance the youths could otherwise provide. 

As circumstances darken, the wary kids wind up battling the satanically altered JL, but why? One gets the impression that the conflict could have been averted if the kids had only suppressed their selfish lament and focused on the horrors flanking them. Also, Damian has the chance to redeem himself during the confusion, and what a glorious turning point that would have been, but we just get more of the same quarrelsome turmoil, not only from Robin, but Raven, who's second only to the Boy Wonder in screen time. Yes, the animation is slick and the action sequences epic, but what good are these if the young leads remain muddied and misguided.  

The opposition finally gets squashed, but to get there feels forced and mean, making the recent, live-action, testy team-ups (including the advance "Civil War" footage) seem breezy (and a lot more logical) in comparison. 

I would have preferred another standard JL movie over this crossover, or even a solo Teen Titan story, with Robin and/or Raven leading a succinct charge against a few young baddies, or even some of our older standards, like Braniac, Riddler and Gorilla Grodd. I mean, if something ain't broke, why fix it?

Perhaps we must wait for a more direct "Bad Blood" sequel to see a sensible, streamlined Robin adventure, but even then, it's hard to conjure the faith that such will hit the mark. To remedy the awkwardness, it's either a matter of changing Damian's attitude or purging him from animated sequels all together, but neither seems likely any time soon. 

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