Teen Titans was a continuing of the incredibly popular (and consistently solid) DCAU, standing for DC Animated Universe. The DCAU had already introduced such series as: Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond (which also led to a spinoff movie in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker), The New Batman/Superman Adventures, and Justice League Unlimited.
While the other shows greatly depended on the art deco style of Bruce Timm, the Teen Titans animated series stood out for several different reasons. First were the creators, Glen Murakami and David Slack. Glen Murakami had started working as a character designer and storyboard artist under Bruce Timm from 1991-1993 before taking over the reigns as Art Director on Superman: The Animated Series and The New Batman/Superman Adventures. David Slack was equally accomplished, coming to the series after being a writer for The Jackie Chan Adventures from 2000-2003. He also worked as an art coordinator on the animated Men In Black: The Series in 1997.
Together they developed an anime influenced television show with dramatically altered characters, arguably changed for the better or worse depending upon whom you talk to. In a great interview, Murakami discusses several of the alterations he did from the characters from their comic book inspired counterparts. One of the biggest changes is Robin, who has transformed himself into a cooler character who is not only the notable leader of the group but also different from his own mentor, Batman. It helps separate the Robin character from the historical failures and lackey depictions he had mostly been saddled with both in the film adaptations and cartoon renditions. Equally interesting is the form of strength and power that exudes from Cyborg’s new look, partly thanks to the broader shoulders/chest sculpture, as well as the sleek designs of Starfire and Raven that manage to not be constrictive when in fluid animation. Also Beast Boy greatly resembles the “youngster” of the group whilst being able to also display a wide range of abilities again thanks to the animated format.
The Teen Titans show also had its own signature touches aside from the anime influence including the main theme song, performed by Puffy AmiYumi in both English and Japanese whilst alternating on nearly any episode watched. The show would also later produce a TV Movie called Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo.
With all that said, the series was successful primarily due to the storytelling talents of Murakami and Slack but more importantly the work of the voice actors: Greg Cipes (Beast Boy), Tara Strong (Raven), Scott Menville (Robin), Khary Payton (Cyborg), Hynden Walch (Starfire), Ron Perlman (Slade), and so many others I could list this all day. Unfortunately, I can’t because this is a countdown, folks. A countdown of the Top 15 Teen Titans Episodes (out of a robust 65 not including the movie). Why 15? It was hard enough cutting it down to this many episodes so just accept that you get more words for the glee of reading.
Also, if you don’t know, check out Teen Titans Go!, a 15 Minute Short series that is a spin-off of the show and airs on Cartoon Network on Tuesdays at 7:30/7:45 PM ET.
First, take a look at Senior Editor David Akeroyd’s List. Now onto the countdown or as Robin would say, “Titans Go!”
The Countdown (Spoilers Ahead)
#15: 3×07 Revolution – Aired October 16th, 2004
On the strength of voice acting from Malcolm McDowell, the villain Mad Mod, is a great mainstay if not underused. He has a right proper English accent and just brings a classic, zany sense of fun to the series that marries Britain with both the American structure but also the Anime influence from Japan. What really makes this work is the references to Britain in general and the sheer craziness that the animators have in going balls to the wall in terms of trying to cram as many influences as possible. A particular highlight is the black and white style of the city, bearing a vague influence of the other DCAU shows while being distinctly painting canvas styled. Partly due to the over the top nature of Mad Mod as a villain, the writers don’t have to lean on too much plot, which allows for the artwork to go overtime in playing around on the cartoonish themes of the series including chase scenes, parodies of films like Patton, and parodies of American monuments being turned British.
They just realized the value of the American Dollar
#14: 3×02 X – Aired September 4th, 2004
Primarily on the strength of the character, Red X, initially featured in an earlier Season 1 episode does this one work. The villain of the piece, Professor Chang, is pretty forgettable but the team up between Robin and Red X is a fun one. What also helps is not only call back to the first episode in regards to the Titans distrust towards Robin but a lot of fun artwork as well including the silhouetting in the opening scene beneath the voice-over. The character design is really neat and stands out from the actual Titans costumes along with solid voice work by Scott Menville, impressively portraying Robin and Red X in such contrast that it surprised me to find out it was the same actor. This episode also makes several fun references through its artwork including Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch.”
Starfire’s heart grew 10 sizes that night… and allowed her body to defy gravity
#13: 2×09 Winner Take All – Aired March 6th, 2004
Just a coincidence that we are working backwards through 2004 but this episode is pretty much a fan boy’s wet dream. Take a group of characters, including Robin, Beast Boy, and Cyborg, and throw them in one-on-one fights. It’s a message board staple of who would win in a fight and this episode not only takes it to the television but also introduced several characters including Speedy (voiced by Mike Erwin) and Hotspot (also voiced by Khary Payton). Again, voice work is impressive as Tara Strong voices Gizmo and Wil Wheaton reprises his role of Aqualad. The episode’s plot is pretty simplistic and much of the fun comes from seeing the actual battles themselves unfold. Fun epilogue at the end as well with the females being taken and showing (at the very least) Starfire, Raven, and Terra along with presumably 5 others.
#12: 1×09 Masks – Aired September 20th, 2003
This was the first episode to feature the Red X character, who would be unveiled as Robin, but also really set up the underling relationship of Slade using Robin as his apprentice later on along with the distrust/cracked relationship he has with his teammates as the end of Season 1 draws to a close. I love the sleek villainous design of Slade’s hench-robot things along with the great set design in the opening scene and the contrast with everything else. Yet again, the artwork is really strong throughout, particularly in the fight scenes. Given that this is one of two Season 1 episodes on my list, it really helps develop Robin’s character is a both a leader but also an obsessive leader, which will later get amped up in another episode in Season 3. The best parts are that upon re-watching, one can really see how much of Robin is still in the Red X character, in particular the first encounter with his friends and how he avoids any physicality with any of them.
#11: 2×01 How Long Is Forever? – Aired January 10th, 2004
A really bleak future episode centered around what happens when Starfire ventures into the future after leaping through a portal created by the villain, Warp. This episode really strongly unifies the bond of friendship that the Titans share with one another while also emphasizing the loss of Starfire in particular, and how her upbeat personality effects the group as a whole. I loved seeing the differences in individual reactions with Cyborg trying to fight the good fight but being tethered to technology, Beast Boy taking up as a carnival attraction mostly to protect himself from others who consider him a freak, Robin going off and completely changing his identity to Nightwing while working solo to fight crime, and finally Raven whom basically shuts herself off from anybody and goes nearly insane as a result of shutting herself in a room for years.
Beads are really a boy’s best friend
The eventual reuniting at the end is fairly heartwarming considering the individual steps that every character has to take to get over their own fears and/or issues just to get to where Starfire and Warp are too. It is also insightful into Starfire’s particular character as she has gotten accustomed to Earth but still holds very strong ties onto her own world customs and at times tries to marry the two worlds together.
#10: 1×13 Apprentice Part 2 – Aired October 11th, 2003
A very fun finale of the first arc of the Teen Titans, with Slade forcing Robin to be his apprentice in order to stave off the killing of his friends through a detonator of probes in their bloodstream. This episode really helps kick off from the earlier mentioned, “Masks,” because there is a real battle that happens between Robin and his friends as he tries to steal a high-tech thermal blaster. The fight scene itself is a lot of fun, throwing in a reference to Wayne Enterprises, and shows off what it’d be like to have the Teen Titans having an all out war if one of their own turned towards the bad side. In a lot of ways, this episode parallels the arc of Season 2. Another fun character development occurs in seeing Cyborg take over as the leader considering what happens in the “future” of my 11th pick.
Batman really skimped on the stealth lesson in his curriculum
A lot of standout artwork including the silhouetting of Robin in smoke on the rooftop just prior to the fight with the Titans. The spotlight on Robin is a fun callback to shots such as from “Mad Love,” and the ending fight scene with Slade is all sorts of greatness to finally see come to evolution from the course of the season. Little moments such as the comic influence on Beast Boy’s thoughts about why Robin has turned bad also help spotlight the great artwork and some of the site designs, such as Wayne Enterprises, are good callbacks to “Batman Beyond.” I also love the final shot when Slade gets his mask cracked and shields his face before running off.
Ron Perlman also really stands out voice wise in this episode and really makes Slade shine as the true villain that he is. Perlman’s voicing ability helps Slade rise up to memorable villain status on the same plane as many of the BTAS rogue gallery.
#9: 1×06 Nevermore – Aired August 30th, 2003
A surprisingly sterling early season episode that really helped expand Raven’s character into somebody who was multi-dimensional as opposed to a single tone character. Beast Boy ends up having to apologize to Raven and inadvertently, along with Cyborg, enters her mind through a mirror portal. A lot of solid little moments throughout make this a memorable episode from the reference to author Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven to the ‘creepy’ out of character (to Robin and Starfire) reaction by Raven later on to Cyborg’s knocking down Raven’s door when he tries to knock.
I’m an admittedly big fan of Raven’s character and it was interesting, especially this early in the series run, to see a dark twist take place when Raven morphs in the opening scene to drag Dr. Light to someplace so terrifying that he’s curled in a fetal position whimpering. A lot of the highlights of the episode come through in Raven’s mind where Beast Boy and Cyborg are. We again see the influence of cartoon chase scenes along with getting different interpretations of Raven through her different personalities, complete with colored costumes and solid vocal inflections by Tara Strong to make each unique.
Her therapist must be making thousands on each personality
The best addition is of course Raven’s father, Trigon, and her, “father issues,” which are much more pronounced in the comics and much darker as well. Teen Titans through the creators and writers manage to distill great comic book storylines into workable fare that maintains the vibe or feel without requiring the darker aspects. Raven’s relationship with Trigon undergoes that metamorphosis as well, but we also see the bond of friendship that becomes a key aspect of most of the arcs in the series (and even individual episodes).
#8: 4×12 The End Part 2 – Aired July 9th, 2005
A really solid episode that would serve as essentially the Part A to “The End, Part 3’s” Part B. Ron Perlman delivers another fine performance and his being forced to work with Robin albeit for their own goals in the end is an eery recall to their time together in the “Apprentice” two-parter of Season 1. Even though Raven is believed to have been taken out of the picture, it is nice to see Starfire, Beast Boy, and Cyborg get their own moments to shine when taking on their evil Doppelgängers as Trigon watches in his own throne. The artwork is done well and the evil clones have a weird off kilter vibe to them that helps the viewer accept that Starfire, Beast Boy, and Cyborg could legit struggle whilst fighting themselves. Another nice piece of plot is the intelligence and understanding when they do come up with a solution without needing Robin. It furthers their own independent growth as characters as well.
Starfire has practice in lifting up older men with one hand
One of the highlights of the entire episode is when Slade and Robin are fighting together as they go in pursuit of their own goals with Robin wanting to find Raven and Slade wanting revenge for Trigon’s reneging on his pact. The moment when Slade loses his mask and we ‘finally’ see what he looks like is one of the most memorable moments in the entire series, in part due to the artwork and how creepy he looks.
#7: 2×10 Betrayal – Aired July 31st, 2004
The Terra storyline was also lifted from the comic books and is much, much darker so it is understandable why it was altered to such degrees. Terra (voiced by Ashley Johnson) initially appears to save herself and the Teen Titans when she is under attack and steadily improves to the point that she is made an honorary Titan. This after she runs into Slade. Terra confides in Beast Boy about her struggles with her power to control the earth and blames him when Robin, on his own, tells Terra he knows. Terra runs off but returns in a later episode, “Titan Rising,” to try and rejoin the team. Raven has her misgivings about Terra but they eventually bond at the end of the episode.
Such a great setup episode that not only builds off the previous but further cements the cute Terra/Beast Boy relationship that had been teased since Terra’s very first appearance in the series. It is nice to see Beast Boy acting in a way that many teenage boys can relate to in regards to asking out a girl and we also get a nice montage of datey stuff that the series doesn’t touch upon much outside of Robin/Starfire and their relationship later in the series run.
Either the quietest robot henchmen ever or Cyborg needs new hearing aids
One of the real strengths of the episode is the dichotomy of the chaos and carnage happening at Titans Tower as Robin, Starfire, Raven, and Cyborg try to fend off an army of Slade’s robot minions while Beast Boy and Terra celebrate their own date. I especially love that the date gradually changes to mirror the attack when Slade shows up, attacking Beast Boy causing Beast Boy and Terra to retreat in a Hall of Mirrors. In particular, I really really like the fight scene between Slade and Beast Boy and think, in some ways, it is a lot more effectively done than some of the Robin/Slade scenes. Beast Boy learns from Slade the deceit as Terra is revealed to be Slade’s new apprentice. In some ways, the betrayal works on multiple levels as Terra betrays Beast Boy’s love for her and the rest of the Titans in her role in the group while Beast Boy betrays to Terra his gesture of real friendship.
The artwork is another great highlight of the episode, as is usual with many of these episodes. In particular, a lot of the reflective shots of Terra in Beast Boy’s self-created heart shaped box work really well. Another fantastic shot is when Cyborg is in the kitchen and, with the fridge open, realizes he’s surrounded by a dozen of Slade’s robots. One of my favorite shots in particular is in the Hall of Mirrors when Slade is shown on multiple panes while Terra stands head bowed in a single spot.
#6: 4×11 The End Part 1 – Aired July 2nd, 2005
The episode that helped set up Raven’s overall end of the arc and the end of Season 4. It is a nice culmination of the previous episodes and allows the art team to really show Raven as the portal that she is meant to be in bringing back Trigon. Tara Strong really stands out here and it is really neat to see Raven try and make everybody’s last day a happy one as it plays on the, “if you had one day left what would you do?” question that everybody in life has asked themselves or somebody else. Little moments such as making pancakes or having planned the whole day out for activities is a nice departure from her character’s normal traits albeit done for plot specific reasons.
A lot of the strength of the episode lies in the artwork and the collaboration with the character development within the story as well. Raven’s waking up and despondent resignation that today is ‘the end of the world’ while staring at the sunset and the marks on her body offers up a nice contrast between a peaceful event and a horrifying one. I also love the brief shot of Raven getting hit in the park as the motions used make it look otherworldly, like she’s half gliding. I’m a sucker for silhouette shots and the fight scene outside Titans Tower does several nice ones including a rare one of Starfire’s body while her hands and eyes glow green.
Starfire has been working on her shadowy silhouette skills
A lot of of the comedy also lies in the fact that Raven is acting out of character (such as her painfully forced smile) or the Titan’s reaction to her “pancakes.” Another nice little touch is Beast Boy asking Slade, “Oh, yeah, you and what army?” only to have fire demons appear and him scream. It’s a reminder that at its core, the show is as much a comedy as anything else.
One of the cooler aspects is the realization that the Titans have planned ahead of what is to come and built a full Quarantine room, going so far as to use symbols directly from her books. It’s another nice call back to the fact that not only are they a team but their friendship supersedes nearly everything else. The Titans desire to protect Raven from Trigon and Slade may be a bit overboard but also shows how seriously Robin and the gang are taking it too, almost as much as Raven. To end it, Raven not only realizes that she’s right about Trigon by telling Slade he’s no longer necessary, but also sacrifices herself to Trigon while entrapping her friends so they can’t stop her in a nice contrast to the earlier quarantine room.
#5: 4×07 The Prophecy – Aired June 4th, 2005
A really good episode that centers on Raven’s backstory and basically serves as the expository episode of the arc. While the episode is mostly exposition, there is a lot of fun, unique moments throughout that help this standout in comparison to most of the episodes in the series. A lot of great character moments and callbacks to prior episodes including Robin’s obsession that Slade is involved and his central focus towards him. We get a good contrast when Raven remarks, “Slade doesn’t concern me,” directly to Robin. We also get a scene between Raven and her mother, Arella, which helps add to how dark the storyline is when she reveals that Trigon has already wiped out Azarath.
Some of my favorite shots in the series occur in this episode including the ring of fire around Raven during her trance. I also love the over top shot from above Starfire on the Mark of Scath. What I really love about this episode is the mixture of ‘Scooby Doo Trapped in a Horror Movie’ feel when they initially enter and go through the library to the plethora of fight scenes first with Slade and then in the library later on. Very rarely does an episode get littered with so much fighting while balancing the plot and storyline well. I’m also a sucker for a beat down and Raven’s assault on Slade is really neat.
I’m pretty sure Johnny Cash wasn’t picturing this when he wrote “Ring of Fire”
#4: 3×05 Haunted – Aired October 2nd, 2004
Probably one of the darkest episodes of the series both visually and in tone. Robin’s obsession and anxiety over Slade’s returning really culminates here and helps show a key part of a superhero’s psyche. The artwork is really great throughout and the atmosphere is one of the strongest in the entire series, making the viewer just as unsure as Robin is from scene to scene. The lightning flashes throwing the background into black and white is brilliant and comes off beautifully on screen.
A lot of what makes this work is the voice acting of Scott Menville and Ron Perlman, who play off each other really well in nearly any episode featuring the two of them. The artwork and especially the sound crew help give the episode a quasi-thriller vibe as they sync up thunderstorm claps with Slade’s disappearing out of Robin’s reach in the trees. One of the best parts is that there is no sound when Slade lands on his feet, a credit to the sound crew and writers to add the other human touch to a character already considered somewhat otherworldly.
I also really enjoy seeing Robin getting more aggressive with the Titans as the Titans themselves, starting with Cyborg, seem somewhat unsure that Robin really saw Slade given his obsession over him previously being established. Another aspect that is really brilliant is, due to the eventual reveal of what is causing the situation, Robin’s paranoia and rational reasoning behind even the unreasonable makes some sense to the viewer despite the fact that only Robin can see Slade.
Robin’s insanity transported him to Frank Miller’s Sin City
This episode really plays on the psychological thriller genre perfectly. The second half kind of fizzles but offers up another interesting aspect as Raven enters Robin’s mind only to find out that Robin mentally believes Slade is real, even if he isn’t physically real. A couple nice callbacks to Robin’s history occur here including an oath to Batman (presumably) and a shot of his parents falling similar to the depictions from Batman: The Animated Series. Robin’s own realization of what is going on with Slade is also smartly done, effectively being realized without diminishing Robin’s character at all mentally. In some ways, it’s a nice carryover of what makes Batman work as a detective.
#3: 4×03 Birthmark – Aired February 5th, 2005
The episode kicks off with a bang by referencing “Nevermore” in a pretty funny bit with Dr. Light surrendering as soon as Raven pretends to re-enact what she did in that episode, “I’d like to go to jail now, please.”
The small comedy bits are nicely done and again do a nice job of reference the character development that the series has worked hard on, such as Cyborg’s big eating with an 8 layer cake and the creation of a Pinata shaped like Beast Boy. Robin also nicely calls back to the bond mentally he has with Raven from “Haunted.”
The return of Slade and the ensuing fight scene can only be described as epic. Slade busts out all sorts of new abilities along with some great, memorable lines that really help set this episode up as a true classic in the series. Ron Perlman is absolutely on point here, maybe my favorite episode of his voice wise. He seems to really take glee in this as seen with his line, “Ever have one of those days where you just feel happy to be alive?” This episode, in my opinion, really cemented Slade as the big bad similar to how The Joker, Magneto, and Lex Luthor have become iconic villains against their respective protagonists. One of my favorite lines in the entire run of the series occurs in this episode as well after Slade melts a swung piston by Cyborg as it passes through him, “Whoa. That’s it? No clever comment? I was looking forward to that.”
The chase scene between Slade and Raven is a lot of fun, ending with Robin making the save but the episode is mostly remembered for the very, very creepy moment on the tower in which Slade undresses Raven and makes it come off as instantaneous puberty. The end of the episode is a nice callback to the beginning, with Raven requesting ice cream and is a trend in other Teen Titan episodes as well such as, “How Long Is Forever?”
#2: 3×11 Bunny Raven… or How to Make a Titananimal Disappear
A near perfect comedy episode that makes Mumbo into a clever villain, riffs on nearly everything it possibly can much like “Revolution,” and is one of the funniest episodes in the entire series. Very rarely does an animated show pull off such a comedic feat but this episode totally deserves the praise. The concept behind the plot, much like the Mad Mod episodes, is mainly a vehicle to serve the zaniness and fun within. Raven is unimpressed with Mumbo’s magic so he pulls them all into his hat, where she gets separated, to teach her a lesson and eventually kill off the Titans in a ‘grand finale’ type show. The instant Raven as a bunny appears, pretty much all drama and logic is kind of thrown out which is what makes this such a fun romp. As if to really further clarify that, there is a cute moment where Cyborg tries to bring logic in and his brain splits while Beast Boy remarks that his brain hurts.
A lot of the gags are really funny and clever. Little moments such as the ‘coin behind the ear’ trick gets twisted into Mumbo pulling a coin directly out of the teller’s ear instead. The game 52 Card Pick Up gets used as an attack on Starfire in the opening scene. The sped up feet of Raven’s bunny as she tries to escape the hand calls back to classic Warner Brothers/Hanna Barberra cartoons.
The gags largely work because of the suspension of disbelief once the hat is entered both by the Titans and by the viewer. The writers and artists are clearly having a ton of fun working in gags on phrases such as, “If only there were a sign,” to cliche moments such as Starfire finding bunny Raven cute all the way to cameo homages of characters such as Statler and Waldorf who were hecklers on The Muppet Show by legendary creator Jim Henson. As if all that wasn’t great, there is even a classical musical number!
Stealing his top hat and telling him, “A magician never reveals her secrets,” is a long winded FU
#1: 2×12 Aftershock Part 1 – Aired August 14th, 2004
The second part is solid but this really is a perfect episode that nearly rivals anything in the classic DCAU canon. Terra not only single handedly, with Slade’s help, wipes out the entire group of Teen Titans on her own but does so thoroughly dominating them in a way that it is really unsettling in some ways. The initial rock smashing into the car scene is perfectly situated given the light music and easy going conversation in the T-Car.
From the very get go we have callbacks such as Terra remarking to Beast Boy, “I don’t have any friends, remember?” quoting him from the episode, “Betrayal.” It really helps drive home to the viewer that this Terra isn’t merely just a pawn for Slade but that some, if not most, of her vengeance is rooted as much in her anger over being betrayed as much as Beast Boy’s pain was from her betrayal. A lot of the fun in the initial battle is, much like when they fought Robin in “Apprentice Part 1,” seeing how the Titans initially react tentatively before having to put their foot down against a ‘team member’ who has turned bad when they fight. Robin as much calls back to that sentiment in this episode. Cyborg comments, “I should’ve blasted her when I had the chance,” and Raven goes so far as to remark, “I should have hit her with everything I got,” showing how deeply hurt the Titans are over this event. The use of the 3 common monsters also helps to serve in the plot as a means to split the Titans up.
I really like that this episode helps showcase Beast Boy as the one to try and speak common sense in getting Terra back, even convincing Robin by playing his role under Slade back in Season 1. What I really love is that Terra is able to go up against each Titan nearly individually and preys on what has happened in the past episodes to help not only explain her reasoning (or why she is able to win as shown against Raven) but also develops yet more sympathy towards the Titans and the effect Terra’s betrayal has had on all of them, not just Beast Boy. Raven’s trust, given “How Long Is Forever?” is key to Terra’s being able to anger her and make her out of control, a common tactic used in fighting where anger is used as a method to make opponents sloppy. Terra completely ignores Robin’s talking it out tactic, instead growing angrier. We also get a sense of Terra’s own internal struggles as she remarks, “I’m just never gonna be good enough you, am I?” to Robin whom she had to prove to initially to get in with the Titans and the person who initially called her out on her lack of control. Ashley Johnson kills it throughout this episode as you can sense the smoldering rage when she comments, “I’m not some sad little girl waiting to be rescued,” as she fights Robin.
The artwork is really great throughout including the subtle shifting from mirroring Terra/Slade in half panels to Slade contrasting the white screen to Terra mirroring Slade physically in front of a purple streaked background from 6:48 to 6:53, a span of just 6 seconds that is nice. A lot of little touches throughout that work, especially the body language of Terra’s character, and overall the artwork really holds up as seen during her fights with Raven and Robin.
Slade and Terra decided they could join up and give Two-Face a run for his money
So there we are. The Top 15 Episodes of the Teen Titans!
Reply with your thoughts & comments below.
Credit to Johane Matte for the main image