This month marks the 15th anniversary of the original Teen Titans, created by Glen Murakami for Cartoon Network. Based on the popular DC Comics characters of the same name, the show was a huge hit that lasted for five seasons before spawning a spin-off, Teen Titans Go! With this weekend's release of Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, SYFY WIRE caught up with the voice of Raven, Tara Strong, to discuss the making of the original show, transitioning to a more light-hearted version while keeping the cast and the legacy of the characters. We also talked about the chance of bringing the original show back.
Back in the '70s, Marvel had become the dominant company in the comic book landscape, and DC was desperate to get back on top. When the '80s came, the new DC president, Janette Kahn, shook things up and hired some of Marvel’s promising young talents, giving them leeway to choose any characters they wanted to write at DC. Marv Wolfman and George Pérez chose the Teen Titans, an old comic about the sidekicks of the DC Universe that was never very popular... until they changed the title and the line-up. New Teen Titans was a huge success that turned its castoff characters into staples of the DC Universe, like Dick Grayson/Nightwing.
In 2003, Warner Bros. Animation decided to revise the series in the form of an anime-inspired cartoon based on New Teen Titans stories. One of the standout characters in the show was Raven, a stoic girl with psionic abilities and a demonic father. Strong, known for voicing most of your childhood, was already playing three other characters at the time. “I didn’t know how to make her sound unique,” noted Strong.
Until she had a last-minute thought. “On my way out of the audition I said to Andrea [Romano, casting director], ‘Mind if I do one more thing?’ And this idea popped in my head that whenever she speaks there’s this little roll in her voice," said Strong. "And they really loved that, it was very last-minute.”
The series was a hit for both WB and DC. The animated show helped turn Raven, Starfire, Cyborg, and Beast Boy into household names for millions of kids, without the need to show Batman or Superman. Despite the original show being retold for a much younger demographic than the comic books, it still dealt with serious and dark themes and storylines. The characters are not immune to vices that put them and their friends in danger. Throughout Teen Titans, Robin struggles with his desire to escape his former mentor’s shadow, and begins to obsess with discovering their enemy Slade’s identity. He goes as far as to adopt a villainous identity to get closer to Slade.
One of the things that made Teen Titans stand out among other superhero cartoons is that each season is devoted to a specific member of the team (except for Starfire). In Season 2, the show adapted one of the best-known New Teen Titans storylines, “The Judas Contract,” in which team member Terra is revealed to be working for Slade and involved in a relationship with him. “Part of what made the team and the show so interesting is how the individual stories interact with each other,” said Strong. Season 5 introduced the Doom Patrol, the different Titans teams, and the Brotherhood of Evil, ending in an epic showdown.
In 2012, six years after the end of the original Teen Titans show, Cartoon Network started airing Teen Titans shorts on its DC Nation programming block. This time the characters were drawn in the Japanese “chibi” art style, with large heads relative to their small and chubby bodies. A year later, Teen Titans Go! premiered. “At first I was kind of nervous because the original series ended at a pivotal story arc,” said Strong. “I thought the fans were going to be disappointed and wouldn’t like this new version.”
Teen Titans Go! was a lighter, funnier reboot that is completely unrelated to the original in terms of story and tone, yet it has grown to a 200-episode phenomenon. Strong thinks part of the charm of the new series is that they kept the original cast. “The brilliance of Warner Bros. was keeping these beloved characters with the same actors,” said Strong. “Fans embraced it as a spiritual continuation, if not a direct one. They are vastly different, but they work in what they try to achieve.”
The rebooted show uses the juxtaposition of putting previously dark and serious characters in an over-the-top and whimsical world for comedy, and it works. It is also littered with jokes and references to the entire DC universe, fourth-wall breaks, and cameos from all kinds of DC heroes.
After two shows, and now with a movie about to be released, the cast didn’t change much of their performance from the original, in the sense that they are still the same characters. “Probably the one who changes the least is Raven, because she is annoyed by everything,” said Strong. “Most of my lines are pretty low-key performance-wise, even when the stakes are high. The situations are different, but the stories stayed true to the characters, even if now they are a thousand times bigger and sillier.”
With some 280 episodes between the two shows, the popularity of the Teen Titans characters cannot be underestimated. With Teen Titans Go! to the Movies coming up, Strong thinks there is a chance for the original show to return in some form, after hearing from one of the producers of the movie during a recording session who brought up the subject of the original coming back. “We [the cast] said, ‘Well, we don’t understand how we can do both, they are two different shows, but we would love to do both,’” said Strong. “He said, ‘Well, if the movie does really well then we’ll do both.’ And I asked if I could record and tweet that, and he said yes.”
Understandably, that is not confirmation from any executive, so it isn’t final, but Strong thinks there is a really good chance that it could happen. “I don’t even know how it would work, having the two shows simultaneously, but it would be wonderful.”