To an entire generation of children in Fresno and all over the world, the first two seasons of Teen Titans cemented the series as one f the most popular action/adventure cartoons of the 2000s. And no sooner had the second season ended than fans were already treated to the show’s third season.
Each season of Teen Titans had a continuous story arc that highlighted one particular character against thier ultimate villain. For the third season, the creators decided to put the focus on Cyborg, the team’s half-man, half-robot strongman and technician. Both in the comic books and in the animated series, Cyborg has always struggled with coming to terms with the non-human part of who he was, feeling like it will always cast him as a freak of nature. While he has come to find acceptance and family among the Titans, a part of him has always wanted to return to the normal, athletic teen’s life he had before the terrible accident that turned him into what he is today.
Now, Cyborg might have found just the salvation he has been looking for in the deceptive Brother Blood. Original created for the comic books by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, the original Brother Blood was the leader of an evil cult called the Church of Blood, and who possessed powers of hypnosis, sorcery, longevity, and an immunity to Raven’s soul self. For the animated series, the creators ended up changing the character dramatically to make him appropriate for children’s programming, and make him seem as different as possible from Slade, the main villain of the last two seasons. As quoted by series producer/writer David Slack:
“In the end, we tried to make him the anti-Slade. Where Slade hides in the shadows, Brother Blood loves the spotlight. Slade always has some ulterior motive; Brother Blood will tell you what he’s planning right away. So there’s some contrast there. […]We weren’t even sure we’d get to use that name. I think what was important that we kept was that he was the leader of a cult. We kept that role and drew inspiration from cult leaders we read about. They are very charming seeming people. From that, we gave him this sort of ‘power of temptation’ – this ability to control people’s perceptions…And the power of persuasion. We didn’t get too deep into the character from the comics, because so much of it was so outside of what we’d be able to do. He’s definitely one where we’ve strayed more.”
So, the creators of the show ultimately recreated Brother Blood as the charismatic and sadistic new headmaster of H.I.V.E. Academy (Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Extermination), a school where meta-human children were educated and trained to supervillains. The H.I.V.E. had already been established in the first season by the introduction of the academy’s top three graduates—Gizmo, Jinx and Mammoth—but this was the first time viewers got to see the inner-workings of the academy. Ironically, the significant role the H.I.V.E. played in this season could be considered a make-up for the academy being cut from the adaptation of “The Judas Contract” done in season two, an arc from the comic books in which the H.I.V.E. played a significant role. Since Brother Blood was a cult leader in the comic books, there were clear implications that once he took over the school it became very much like a supervillain cult, especially with the occasional H.I.V.E. agents wearing gothic robes and the way Blood used his mind control to make all the students subservient to him. However, these elements where downplayed for the sake of the target child audience.
Much like how Robin and Slade developed an obsession with each other in the first season, so too would Cyborg and Blood. This rivalryevolved from having the two characters meet in the season premiere. Blood was a character who loved manipulating people and using his powers to maintain control over them, and yet he was not able to control Cyborg because of his cybernetic components. This failure really got under Brother Blood’s skin and he would devote the rest of his supervillain career to discovering why Cyborg was able to resist him and what he could do to correct that.
Of all the story arcs that underplayed each season of Teen Titans, this one was probably the least memorable. The main reason for this was because Brother Blood just wasn’t the best villain on the series’ run, especially in comparison to Slade. Also, throughout the run of the series Cyborg-centric episodes tended to be among the weakest, not because Cyborg was a bad character, but it just somehow came out that way. Nevertheless, there were still plenty of memorable moments in this season that this examiner believes some fans have underrated.
The episodes in season three were generally average or slightly above average in terms of overall quality, but most of them were still very fun episodes to watch. The first episode “Detention” had Cyborg go in disguise as an ordinary looking teenager named Stone to spy on the H.I.V.E. Academy. But as Cyborg grows more comfortable among his new peers, the academy’s new headmaster, Brother Blood, discovers his secret and offers Cyborg the chance to finally get back his humanity, in exchange for his allegiance. This episode is probably the best Cyborg episode so far, not only because it gives him a nemesis, but more importantly because it takes its time to get into the character’s head and make the audience understand how much he resents his robotic parts and how he just wants to be normal again. It is also interesting seeing Cyborg interact with the H.I.V.E. kids, who we have only seen as bratty villains until this point, but here we get that they really are just a trio of kids that have been taught to think that way (this also opens up possibilities for what will happen to one of them in season five). This examiner also loved the honeycomb-inspired design of the H.I.V.E. Academy interior. The running gag of Beast Boy toying around with Cyborg’s fully robotic replacement is hilarious. Brother Blood appears often enough in this one and he makes his point, but it is up to the viewer to decide whether or not he is a worthy follow-up to Slade.
The next episode is simply titled “X”; in this one the team is en pursuit of a mysterious thief, only to discover that it is Red X, the criminal identity that Robin assumed to get close to Slade in the first season. Somehow, somebody else has managed to steal the suit and now Robin has to track down this new Red X and discover who he is before the mistakes of Robin’s past end up doing harm to the rest of the city. It was so exciting to see Red X come back, this time as his own character, and to see how Robin deals with it, not to mention how the rest of the Titans are suspicious of him. Red X is a complicated character, pretty much representing what Robin would be like if he was a rebel only interested in looking out for himself, yet at the same time proves willing to help out Robin if he decides it’s necessary (very similar to the relationship between Speed and Racer X from Speed Racer). The dynamic between these two are great, from their first meting to their final standoff at the end. The episode highlights how serious Robin can be and how alike he is to Batman by showing how much Robin blames himself for what Red X is doing. There is a cartoony plot device in this episode called Zenotheum, working much like the arc reactor from the Iron Man films, but it is a plot device that is convincing despite never being fully explained. They also introduce a sniveling new character named Professor Chang and it is clear form the moment you meet him, and the way Robin treats him, this guy is going to be trouble.
“Betrothed” opens with Starfire telling her friends that she is going back to her home planet of Tamaran to get married; even more alarming to the Titans (particularly Robin) is that she has no idea who her groom is going to be, as the marriage was arranged by the Grand Ruler of the planet. Once the team arrives on Tamaran, they are shocked to learn that Starfire’s evil sister, Blackfire, has escaped from prison and conquered the planet by force, and now she is forcing her sister to marry a disgusting green blob creature. As princess of Tamaran, Starfire must accept this union, or else the creature’s armada will wipe out the entire planet. But is any of this really what is seems, and even if it isn’t, will Starfire still risk the safety of her people just for her own happiness. This is not the best episode the creators have made with several lapses in logic that can be pointed out and a totally cliché Magoffin, but even so this examiner has always had a soft spot for it. It was great to see Blackfire come back for what, sadly, would be her final appearance in the series, but fortunately she was sent out on a high note. The final battle between the two sisters is far better than what we saw the first time around, getting much more brutal and with much higher stakes. It was also nice to see the Titans get to visit her home world, which had a very unique design, despite a few really disgusting moments, particularly the food the Tamaraneans eat and that thing she was going to marry. We also get introduced to Galfor, a strong-hearted Tamaranean warrior and Starfire’s childhood nanny; with the curious absence of Starfire and Blackfire’s parents, his inclusion give the episode a necessary maternal element and a father figure for Starfire to go to for support in this very serious time in her life. But lets face, the thing that really makes this episode is the emphasis on Robin and Starfire’s budding romance; he is so brokenhearted that he could loose her as a teammate and will do anything to make sure that she is not being tricked into making the biggest mistake of her life. There is one Romeo & Juliet inspired scene where Robin is trying to talk her out of the wedding, at it is sad to see her have to tell him off if he cannot be happy for her. As this examiner said, this is not the best episode, but for any Robin & Starfire fan, this one is required viewing.
“Crash” opens up with Beast Boy downloading an advanced copy of a hit new video game but having trouble playing it; long story short, he tries to play the game on Cyborg’s computer but stupidly inserts it into his system’s recharger instead, which leads to poor Cyborg getting infected with a deadly computer virus. While under the influence of this virus, Cyborg goes on a nonstop eating spree as he keeps talking nonsense and sees everything and everyone around him as delicious food. The Titans are forced to get help from the old enemy Gizmo, who says that he will have to shrink down to microscopic size and delete the virus from inside Cyborg’s body. But that might be easier said than done as the deranged Cyborg breaks loose into the city and spreads chaos everywhere he goes; and as if that wasn’t complicated enough, Beast Boy, the one who started this mess in the first place, has tagged along with Gizmo to help fix the problem he himself had caused. While the last three episodes had a serious plotline compounded with some humorous moments (i.e. the average format of a Teen Titans episode), this one is just plain silly. Any time Cyborg sees something as food or says any line here is like something out of an old Looney Toons episode; he literally sees three of his teammates as the “nasty egg people who stole all my waffles!” Okay, so there is a serous thread of Cyborg being in mortal danger and a clear warning against illegal downloading, but besides that, this one is there mainly for laughs, and it succeeds in that. Gizmo’s foul mouth and bratty attitude are always great and this was easily one of his best appearances, such as in the scene when he at first refuses to help the Titans, until Raven shows him something that, whatever it is, scares the living daylights out of him. As much as Cyborg is the victim in this one, the hero of the story turns out to be Beast Boy as he is plagued with guilt over what his actions have done to his friend. We see that despite his faults and occasional stupidity, Beast Boy is a good kid at heart and how far he will go to fix his mistakes, especially if his friends are at risk.
“Haunted” show us that Robin is still being plagued by memories of Slade and that he is worried the madman may come back. Robin’s fears seem justified as he is approached by Slade himself several times, during which Slade seems to beat the poor boy to a bloody pulp. The problem is that none of the other Titans can see Slade even as Robin is fighting him, which calls their leader’s very sanity into question. Not counting any of the two part finales, this episode is probably the best of the entire series, and it is certainly the tensest. The nature of it is so mysterious that up until the final showdown we as an audience are just as confused as the characters over whether any of this is real or not. Robin is pushed to the very edge of rationality as all his friends insist that Slade isn’t there. The best scene occurs in Slade’s old lair as a beaten and battered Robin is getting grilled by his own team, and Robin gets so delusional that he threatens to kill his own team if it means stopping Slade…which forces Starfire to knock out the man she loves. Scott Menville performance as Robin in this episode has to be seen to be believed, and Ron Pearlman is the scariest he has ever been as Slade. Each of the other characters shines too, with Beast Boy providing much needed comic relief, Cyborg challenging his leader’s rationality, Raven entering Robin’s mind to uncover the truth, and Starfire’s constant concern for his well being. Also, those who are still not convinced that the Robin is this show is meant to be Dick Grayson need only watch the sequence when Raven enters Robin’s mind to get the last bits of undeniable proof. There is really nothing more this examiner can say about “Haunted” with out ruining the entire thing, which he absolutely won’t do; if this examiner were forced to recommend only one stand-alone episode from the entire run of Teen Titans, it would probably be this one.
In “Spellbound”, Raven is distancing herself from her friends because she thinks they don’t understand her, thinking that she is ‘creepy.’ She finds some unexpected support in Malchior, a young wizard who, due to a powerful curse, has been trapped inside one of Raven’s books for hundreds of years. Over the following weeks Malchior takes Raven on as her apprentice and Raven, in tern, falls in love with him, believing she has finally found the one person who can relate to her…But could Raven’s dream guy hiding a dark secret? Raven-centric episodes tend to be strong and have a lot to say about the character, and this one is no exception. After so many episode of her being the outcast Goth girl that has to keep her emotions in check at all times, it isn’t surprising why she would start feeling down after Beast Boy starts calling her creepy for staying in her room all the time. To that end, Malchior’s shared interest in magic and the occult, topped with his overly romantic charm and perfect words of comfort, make him an easy target for Raven’s affections. The bright side to this is that we get to see her character much happier than ever before, symbolized by her costume gradually lightening in color until it turns snow white. But most Titans episodes have some sort of theme or message behind it, and in this case it is a warning to young girls to be careful around manipulative guys (or vise versa); we as an audience can all sense that this guy is a manipulative jerk right from the beginning and, without giving away the ending, it makes you feel really bad for Raven. After two and a half seasons of sarcasm and mockery, it was so sweet to finally have a quiet, sincere moment between Raven and Beast boy as he tries to comfort her in the final scene; Raven rarely shows affection to anybody, but that hug was exactly what the episode needed.
“Revolution” opens up on the Fourth of July as Mad Mod returns to hypnotize the entire city into believing that the American Revolution never happened and that America is still under British control. The Titans try to stop him, only this time Mod uses his technology to steal Robin’s youth for himself. With their leader now an aged and decrepit captive, the other Titans have to stop Mad Mod by themselves…after they decide what sort of plan they should use. Much like Mad Mod’s first appearance, this episode is there purely for fun. The difference it that this time the creators take the characters love for Britain so far that it becomes the motif of the entire show, and therefore probably offended several British viewers. No joke, nearly every British stereotype you can think of pops up in this episode: the sky looks like a British flag, the animation is reflective of Yellow Submarine and Monty Python, British accents and dialect are used constantly, and of course endless Beatles and Monty Python references. There isn’t a whole lot to say about this one other than there are some great references made and it is a good show for laughs, but British viewers should go in with an open mind and not take the subject matter the wrong way.
“Wavelength” opens with Aqualad enlisting help from the Titans after Brother Blood and the H.I.V.E. build a new base under the ocean that includes a massive sonic resonator that will cause a tidal wave so large it will flood and destroy the entire city; even more distressing, Blood looked at Cyborg’s private blueprints and based his new weapon directly on his own sonic technology. Cyborg make no secret that he wants to take Blood down himself, but Robin insists that because it’s his technology, Cyborg is the only one who can shut down the weapon. The Titans invade Blood’s undersea base while a trap lays waiting, as well as a new ally. This one is easily the weakest of the Brother Blood episodes, but this examiner always had a soft spot for it, mostly because it is a very exciting, straightforward action episode. What drives the story is seeing just how angry Blood makes Cyborg and how that anger is starting to put a rift between him and Robin. It was great to see Aqualad come back is a major role, as well as the first full appearance of a brand new heroine named Bumblebee (no relation to the Transformers character). Her scenes with Cyborg are fun because she is able to get on his nerves without even trying; she comes off as a bossy at times, but never unlikable. However, Brother Blood himself is very one-dimensional and way over the top in this episode, coming off as an old-school Bond villain. In fact, that’s what the whole episode feels like, just a cliché Bond movie with an over-the-top villain with an army of minions inside an elaborate base of operations that are going to go through with a plan of catastrophic consequences unless our hero can stop it. The music in this episode caught my attention because of how consistently big and epic is was, again highlighting that this is purely an action episode.
In “The Beast Within”, the Titans are fighting an overly macho thug in a robotic suit named Adonis and he easily defeats them, until Beast Boy looses his temper and unleashes his full animal fury on Adonis, crashing both of them into a vat of chemical while doing so. The next morning Beast Boy’s demeanor has completely changed, turning him from the mild-mannered funny guy into a testosterone-driven, machismo jerk, namely during a tense standoff between him a Raven. That night Beast Boy’s attitude flares even more and he undergoes a violent transformation into a sort of inhuman Were-Beast, and it appears that he has captured Raven in the middle of the night as the Titans set out the track them both down. Structures much like a horror movie, this is a very dark and scary episode, not just because of all the stuff with Beast Boy as the Were-Beast, but also because it shows us a side of his character we didn’t know existed before. It is always alarming seeing the funny and meek member of any group suddenly turn around and show everybody some attitude, which successfully throws you off before the surprise twist at the end of the episode. This is easily one of Beast Boy’s best episodes with Greg Cipes gives one of his best performances, going from rude, to angry, to fearful and sad all in one story, and totally convincingly. There is also a very mature subtext in this episode involving a near rape of one of the characters, but this is only noticeable on a second viewing and the child audience probably won’t even notice it. Other that one really bad animation mistake at the very beginning, there aren’t too many bad things to say about this one.
“Can I Keep Him” is actually a sequel to the episode “Date with Destiny” from season two. In it, the Titans discover that something has literally been eating away at their house from the inside out; in private Beast Boy confides in Starfire that he knows what’s responsible. After the team defeated Killer Moth in the previous episode, Beast Boy secretly kept one of the maggot-moth creatures as a pet he named Silkie. Beast Boy gives Silkie to Starfire to be taken care of, and she immediately falls in love with it like a mother to her newborn child. While Starfire is takes care of Silkie she tries feeding some of the berries from her alien home world, which inadvertently causes Silkie to grow to gigantic size. Even though there is definitely a lot of heart in this one, this is still one of this examiner’s least favorite episodes. The main reason is because of how gross it is; every time I see Silkie drooling some of that purple berry juice it looks nasty, even in comparison to other moments in this show. And that’s not even going into the ending—dear lord that was disgusting! Then again it was nice to see this nurturing side to Starfire and her attachment to Silkie was sweet, as well as the sad scene when she is being forced to give Silkie up. Both Killer Moth and Johnny Rancid return in this episode but neither of them is at the top of their game; Johnny is just there to cause havoc and get eaten (literally), and Killer Moth is there to be the necessary main villain and show again how bad he is as being a parent. The only nice aspect that came out of this episode was the gag of seeing Silkie randomly popping up in later episode as a sort of mascot for the team. Mothers and pet owner might identify with it, but otherwise this is just a really dumb and gross episode.
Next up is ‘“Bunny Raven” or “How to Make a Titananimal Disappear”’ (no seriously, there were two different titles to this one, like in a Rocky and Bullwinkle episode). In this one Mumbo returns and this time he sucks the Titans into the nonsensical universe inside his hat, during which Raven is turned into a fluffy white rabbit. The Titans try to free her but they are also turned into animals: Robins becomes a monkey, Starfire a cat, Cyborg a bear wearing a tutu, and Beast Boy…a lamp. The Titananimals need to find a way to escape as Mumbo gets ready to put them in his next show, which he promises will end with them disappearing forever. This is another dumb, silly episode, but this one is actually a lot of fun. Seeing the Titans turned into animals is funny enough, but Beast Boy being turned into a lamp (because he already can turn into animals) was brilliant, and even better is seeing him morph into other inanimate object and coming up with different ways just to speak to the Titans. Very little is this one has any logic, but that’s all part of putting your characters in a crazy fantasy universe. Mumbo is great this time around and, because of his naturally wackiness, he gets away with something that no other villain in this show ever could have…his own musical number! The gags are clever, there are tons of literary references (and plenty of Muppet Show references too), and the animation looks nice and fluid too. The one problem that might need addressing is a quick, cheap ending that, while funny, deliberately doesn’t explain itself for the sake of a punch line.
And last but not least is the two-part finale “Titans East.” In this episode Brother Blood has moved his H.I.V.E. Academy to Steel City, where several of the Titans young allies are gathering to form their own east coast branch of Titans called, appropriately, the Titans East. Cyborg is going to visit the new team to help them finish construction of their new tower, and he quickly forms a bond with the team consisting of Bumblebee, Aqualad, Speedy, and Spanish-speaking speedster twins named Más y Menos. In fact, he grows close enough to them that the Titans East invites Cyborg to stay with them as their new leader. But before Cyborg can make his decision, the tower comes under attack by Brother Blood and his army of H.I.V.E. robots that look exactly like Cyborg. Blood reveals that he has become obsessed with learning how Cyborg is able to keep resisting his mental powers, and after a heated battle Cyborg ejects his enemy from the tower. The next morning Cyborg goes to Robin with his decision to accept the Titans East offer to become their new leader, not realizing that Brother Blood already has all of them under his control. This episode provides a satisfying ending to the Cyborg and Brother Blood story, and we even get a brand new team of heroes out of it too, but in comparison to the show’s other season finale’s this was arguably the weakest. Blood feels a bit one-dimension and the Titans East are in their early stage coming off as just a rip off of the main team. There are also two huge contradictions to what had already been established in the previous two episodes. The first is when Bumblebee falls under Blood’s control, despite herself claiming she can resist it in “Wavelength”; sure they show that she can resist it before falling back into his control, but I still wish it was clearer. The second and much more important contradiction is with How Cyborg defeats Blood at the end, claiming that it’s his human spirit that allows him to resist Blood’s control, even though in “Deception” they clearly said that it was his machine part that resisted him. If that was meant to imply that Cyborg was wrong before, then it doesn’t come across well enough. The creators also sneak a vulgar profanity into a children’s cartoon by having Más y Menos say it in Spanish (never mind that Spanish kids might be watching the show too); to learn more about this profanity, please visit the episode’s page on TV.com. But those are the biggest problems that bring it down, besides that it is a very enjoyable two-parter. Cyborg really does grow up in this one and realizes that he doesn’t need to prove to himself or to anyone else that he is a man. Khary Payton clearly puts in his best effort in this one, especially at the start of part two when he and Robin are having a very heated argument. The reveal of how much Cyborg has gotten under Brother Blood’s skin and the horrific length he is prepared to go to get back at him is alarming. Even thought the Titans East are still in the shadow of the main cast, they do have potential as heroes. Bumblebee, Aqualad and Speedy have already warmed up to us by this point, and the introduction of Más y Menos (where were created for the show to fill in for the then unavailable Kid Flash) is delightful; seriously, twins would can go fast only when they are touch, and who only speak Spanish…brilliant! The fights are pretty good too, from the invasion of the H.I.V.E.’s Cyborg clones, to the battle between the Teen Titans and the mind-controlled Titans East, to the inevitable (and surprisingly brutal) final showdown between Cyborg and Blood. Again, it’s not their best two-part finale, but it was still a good way to wrap up this season.
Once again, the voice cast is what drives this season of the show. Scott Menville continues to do great work as Robin, as do Tara Strong as Raven, Greg Cipes as Beast Boy, Hynden Walch as Starfire, and particularly Khary Payton as Cyborg. John DiMaggio joins the cast as the voice of Brother Blood and while he plays is pretty emotional and over-the-top in comparison to the other arch-villains in the show, he still make the character very menacing and psychotic in his own right. Wil Wheaton returns as Aqualad, as does Mike Erwin as Speedy, and join them are the introduction of T’Keyah, Crystal Keymáh as Bumblebee and Freddie Rodriguez as Más y Menos. Other prominent villain voices this season include Lauren Tom as Gizmo and Jinx, Kevin Michael Richardson as Mammoth, Scott Menville as Red X, James Hong as Professor Chang, Alan Shearman as Galfor, Hynden Walch as Blackfire, Ron Pearlman as Slade, Greg Ellis as Malchior, Malcolm McDowell as Mad Mod, Greg Cipes as Adonis, Henry Rollins as Johnny Rancid, Dee Bradley Baker as Silkie, Thomas Haden Church as Killer Moth, and Tom Kenny as Mumbo.
After a disappointing job servicing the special features on the season two set, the season three set does much better by include a seven-part featurette called “Teen Titans: Know Your Foes”, in which show producers and writers Glen Murakami, David Slack, Amy Wolfram and Rob Hoegee, along with casting and voice director Andrea Romano, discuss seven of the shows most memorable villains, those being Slade, Brother Blood, Rex X, Blackfire, Mumbo, Mad Mod, and the H.I.V.E. trio of Jinx, Mammoth and Gizmo.
Overall, Teen Titans: The Complete Third Season is not the best collection of episode the show has to offer, but there is still plenty of great stuff here and this examiner would recommend that any fan that hasn’t seen these episodes go check them out.
And remember, podcast reviews of all the episodes found in this collection, as well as from all cartoons set in the DC Animated Universe, can be found at World’s Finest Podcast, hosted by Michael David Sims and James Deaux of Earth-2.net.