For a kids' show, Teen Titans was pretty brilliant. It holds up, too. The series ended in 2007 so it's been almost ten years, but the quality storytelling and character development that sustained the show are still owth examining. Especially when the entertainment industry is saturated with superhero stories, creators will need to start being more competitive if they're going to keep up the momentum for this trend.
Character - building
One if the problems with the MCU is the lack of even character building. Tony Stark has been fleshed out thoroughly, since his appearances in the Iron Man trilogy eere focused so much on his character development audiences feel familiar with him when he appears in The Avengers. They know eniugh about himm sk his character arcs don't need to be as complex. The same can't be said for Clint Barton, who has bad barely any screen time, who has not made cameos in any solo movies (like Natasha Romanoff did in Winter Soldier),. So when the audience learns more abiut Clint in Age of Ultron, it feels like a first introduction, even thiugn we've technically know the character for years.
Teen Titans was always an ensemble show, but even in episodes that focused on one character or another, everyone still had a development arc. There were conflicts that they resolved, and enough information to establish their identities as individuals. Even though season 1 was mostly about Robin, there was plenty of information about the other members of the team.
It's not a boys' club
The infamous Bechdel Test is a pretty low bar for female representation in media. Teen Titans features two female members on their team of five. Because the girls aren't alone, they dont have to uphold alk the expectstions placed on female characters all on their own. Starfire can be bubbly and girly without it being a statement about what women are like or expected to be, because on the other side of thr spectrum Raven is bookish and introverted. And because they both get as much character development as the guys they're allowed to be complex, with the same kind of depth that real women have.
Because Black Widow has been the only female Avenger for such a long time, she's held to a standard that no woman can live up to, real or imaginary. As Nicki Minaj said in her brilliant takedown of sexism in the entertainment industry: " When you’re a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy and you have to be this, you have to be that, and you have to be nice,” she says. “It’s like, ’I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being'."
Villains that are actually scary
Because Marvel is owned by Disney, the films arent really allowed to show the kind of mass violence and death that say, DC's Dark Knight got to have. But Teen Titans was even more restricted by their television daytime slot and their firm position as bejng part of the kids' television genre. They still managed to create terrifying villains that represented a believable threat. Raven's arch-nemisis was a god that was able to completely destory the world. Robin is haunted by Slade (above), a crimimal mastermind that was able to manipulate him into betraying his friends.
Which is not to say Marvel's villains arent interesting or dangerous. Only that after a while, they start to feel a bit like the villain of the week. With the exception of Loki and the battle of New York, it doesn't seem like Marvel's villains have done a lot of lasting damage. S.H.I.E.L.D. fell in Winter Soldier, and one film later Nick Fury swoops in on a helicarrier and helps save the day. The Vice President is part of a plot to assasinate the Preisdent in Iron Man 3, and we never hear about the consequences. It makes you wonder how serious these threats really are.
Speaking if real threats, the Titans don't always come out unscathed. The showrunners understood that there eventually had to be real risks at stake for viewers to still be engaged with the show. Which is why they introduced Terra.
(Warning for SPOILERS in both Teen Titans and Age of Ultron).
Terra is anither superpowered teen that is invited to join the Titans. However, she has trouble controlling her powers, and leaves because she's embarassed. At first, it seemed like the character began and ended there. However, she returned as an apprentice to the villain Slade, and becomes an antagonist for the Titans. She ends uo sacrificing herself to defeat Slade and save her friends. While the episode is a victory, it feels like a loss because viewees were invested in Terra's character.
Marvel tried to do the same with Pietro Maximoff in Age of Ultron. However, the character had barely been established before he died. The audience knew nothing about him or his motivations (all of that information came from Wanda), so losing him was not as meaningful. And the moment where it's revealed that Clint's child will be named after Pietro did not feel poignant- if anything it felt forced.
Most episodes can stand alone
The biggest achievement of Teen Titans that Marvel should seek to imitate is the show's ability to keep long term continuity while at the same time allowing each episode to be self-contained. With the exception of the season finales, which were often two episodes long, every episode of the show can be watched individually, and the audience will not feel like they're missing any information. The writers efficiently established what long-term viewers already knew so that newcomers could hop in, while their main audience would not be bored.
Lately it seems like the MCU is a package deal. You have to have seen The First Avenger and Agent Carter for Steve's dream sequence in Age of Ultron to feel significant. If you go from Iron Man 2 to Iron Man 3 but skip the first Avengers movie, you'll have missed significant character development tht ends up driving the entire film. The skilled writers working on Teen Titans knew that this kind of tactic would not incentivise people to watch the show- that in fact it would alienate people who might not know much about the characters coming in.