Batman. Spider-Man. Superman. Captain America. The Teen Titans. The X-Men. Whoever your superheroic comic star of choice is, odds are they’ve been around for decades and countless creative teams have come and gone in their stories, creating endless versions of characters that have otherwise lived ongoing lives on the page. There’s a version for every kind of fan — and, silly as it is, the new Teen Titans Go! movie wants you to embrace this.
Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans is, on the surface, a love letter to what is another enduring concept in superhero comics: when one superhero or a superhero team encounters another, before literally anything else can happen, they must fight each other. And, initially, that’s what it is. The Teen Titans Go! team, having just faced off against a bank-robbing gentleman thief (who happens to be a ghost), are abducted by a supposed Master of Games, who reveals to them not just that a multiverse of realities exists, but that in order to escape imprisonment they must do battle with the Titans of another earth...
And yes, it’s the Teen Titans from the old animated show. You know, the ones you love because they’re not the stars of Teen Titans Go! You miss them. They were better than these fart-joke loving members that sing about waffles all day. The kids all somehow like it for reasons unknown, despite the fact that back in your day, with these old Teens Titans, the cartoons were better and more serious and not for babies or whatever.
You know how this works, or rather, you know how you would like this to work: You would very much like your old faves to take these new pretenders and show them what’s what, through the power of arm-cannons, animal forms, demon magics, alien cosmic blasts, and...whatever Robin calls his batarang equivalent again.
Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans is not that movie.
First, check the order in the movie title. This is primarily a Teen Titans Go! product, and — as often incredibly self-deprecating as the show is about how much old Teen Titans fans just can’t let go of hating it — they’re not about to release a movie where they absolutely revel in that fact, to the point where the original animated team comes out as the victor. After all, as Robin raps in the movie’s “We Are Titans” musical interlude:
I’d love to go on hatin’
But there’s no use debatin’
Go! version of the Titans
Gets really good ratings
But also because, really, Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans isn’t actually about that first unwritten rule of the superhero crossover. It’s not even about the idea that there is space for silly and serious versions of superheroes, if only because the show already tackled that idea with Young Justice instead.
It is, like the show itself, so much smarter than that, beneath the dumb fun spectacle. Because once the mandatory team fight of the first act is out of the way, and the true threat of the movie is revealed — the Trigons of both the Go! universe and the Teen Titans universe teaming up to use Go! Raven’s demon half to restore the latter Trigon to life, so he can rule the multiverse with his tinier, funnier counterpart — Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans reveals what it’s actually all about.
It’s about legacy. It’s about embracing that there are many facets to a single whole, whether that’s within yourself as a person, or, in this case, different creative interpretations of a single team of characters. It’s about accepting that there are indeed parts you may not like, or may even fear — and yet despite that, they are still parts of the whole, and accepting them as valid is vital to the livelihood of that whole. It is also, for a small while, about punching up Santa Claus and his wife to get a multiverse-opening doohickey, because Teen Titans Go!.
That silliness aside — and it is truly wonderful silliness, as the older animated Titans find themselves completely out of their depth when tackling the mere concept of a villainous Santa Claus — Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans is an earnest story of acceptance. Be that of yourself, or of different versions of your favourite superhero team. It does so through two intertwined subplots.
While the vast majority of the Go! team and the original animated Titans head off in search of aid from across the multiverse to battle the Trigons, the Ravens of both teams come together for an emotionally earnest arc that sits at the heart of the film.
In the film’s opening battle, the Go! Raven finds the mental barriers she has placed around her half-demon side slowly but surely coming undone, a process that she fears will not just consume her and place her at her father’s demonic side, but hurt her friends and those she cares about in the process.
It’s a story arc the Raven of the original Teen Titans already went through in the truly excellent trilogy “The End,” the climax of the show’s fourth season. But now, she gets to help her smaller, goofier self go through it, and on her own terms, accept that locking up part of herself in her mind will forever lead to conflict.
In order for Raven to be free of her fears, she has to accept that she is both human and demon, and that there is part of her that will always feel alien and different.
Meanwhile, in the incredibly charming and much more literal arc about the message of accepting various versions of yourselves, the rest of both teams go hopping around the multiverse to recruit Titan teams of all ilks. There’s a reality where the Titans are all animals save for Beast Boy, who is, hilariously, just a normal kid. There are steampunk Titans, mermaid Titans, a Fleischer cartoon, Steamboat Mickey-ian Titans. There’s the Tiny Titans, inspired by Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani’s young readers miniseries of the same name where the team were rendered as cutsey little toddlers.
There’s a version of the classic comics team featuring George Pérez and Dick Giordano’s iconic designs, done in the style of the DC Superfriends show. Hell, much to the horror of the original animated Titans, a version of the team even more badass and serious than themselves — a.k.a. the Titans of the DC Animated Movie Universe — make a brief appearance too, most of which revolves around the Starfires making love eyes at Sean Maher’s handsome version of Nightwing.
It’s everything you want of such a goofy metatextual crossover, full of knowing nods and fanservice to people who know and love the Titans across various forms of media (although, in what feels like a missed opportunity, no nod toward DC Universe’s even grittier take on the Titans).
Their arrival scene to fight the combined Trigons in the climax of the movie feels like it was ripped right out of Avengers: Endgame in the best way possible — although obviously it had been in the works, production-wise, far too long beforehand to be able to be a direct commentary on that moment.
But, like Ravens’ arc in the movie, this mashup of different Titans is a reminder: There are versions of this group of superheroes in all sorts of stories and tones and styles, all sorts of different approaches, and they are all valid. They are all Titans, and united, they can save the day.
Because whichever version of the team you love — the waffle-loving goofballs, the anime-inspired action heroes, the grounded versions of the comics or animated movies, or even the latest live-action take — there is a version for any and every kind of Teen Titans fan. And that’s a more powerful message Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans could get across than any asinine debate over which version of the team is truly the best. In the end, they all bring something different to the table, and that’s what matters most.