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How a contentious DC reboot produced the best superhero parody of the decade

Sometimes it takes a children’s show to point out how silly adults can be.

Seven years after the 2006 cancelation of Teen Titans, the characters returned to television with Teen Titans Go! But the new show wasn’t quite what fans expected. Along with cartoonier animation, the show focused more on the Teen Titans getting into wacky shenanigans than on actual crime fighting.

Teen Titans Go! had little appeal to old fans. Unlike the original show’s balance of goofy humor and darker elements, its childish antics and bathroom jokes seemed aimed at a younger age group.

But Teen Titans Go! managed to attract a viewership strong enough to justify a movie. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies performed remarkably well in theaters and received praise as a clever parody of comic book films. In it, the Teen Titans — Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven — aren’t taken seriously by anyone, probably because they spend more time rapping and eating waffles than stopping supervillains.

When Robin longs for his own superhero movie, the Justice League shuts him down. Only real superheroes like Superman and Batman get movies, they say.

The Titans are taken aback when Superman tells them they aren’t real heroes, just “jokes.” Incensed, Robin is determined to prove himself a real hero so he, too, can have a film. The shenanigans that follow make for a fun comedy and one that doesn’t require knowledge of the show. The movie does, however, lean heavily into the criticism the show received — the young Teen Titans are just obnoxious jokes, while the Justice League acts as the mouthpieces of the old show’s disappointed fans. The whole movie is a testament to how superhero fans take their comic book adaptations so seriously that it becomes ridiculous.

If you’re a comic book fan, you can appreciate the movie’s subtle touches. You have Nicolas Cage as the voice of Superman, a nod to Cage’s canceled ‘90s Superman movie. The Challengers of the Unknown, who may not ring a bell even with the most passionate superhero fans, show up in a deep-cut cameo. And Stan Lee gets his usual cameo in an animated form that pokes fun at the practice.

Stan Lee loves a cameo.Warner Brothers Pictures

Producer Will Arnett voices Slade, the Titans’ would-be arch-nemesis, with comedic bombast and a hint of insecurity. The Titans determine they need a true villain if they’re going to be taken seriously enough to warrant a film, and they decide Slade is their best option due to him having a name that’s fun to say in a dramatic voice. The movie also doesn’t hesitate to point out that Marvel superhero Deadpool (originally a parody of Slade) is now more famous than his original counterpart, much to Slade’s fury. You can see why he’s feeling a little unsure of himself these days.

Whether you’re a comic book fan or not, every criticism you’ve ever had about the superhero genre is validated here. Yes, there are butt jokes and bathroom humor, which is funny for elementary school kids and grating for adults. But if you can bear some gimmicks getting dragged out longer than necessary, there are plenty of laughs to be had. No superhero trope — villains with scary names, an inspirational music number, the overuse of special effects — is safe here.

No one recognizes Slade anymore — Deadpool stole his thunder.Warner Brothers Pictures

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies reminds us that as much as we admire our favorite heroes, some good-natured teasing is warranted. There’s something valuable about looking at the culture that spurred the modern superhero movie and enjoying a good laugh at ourselves.

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is streaming now on HBO Max.

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