Image Source: Media Comicbook.
(This post is backdated to be part of my 2010 blog series on Terra, written on 4 April 2017): Request from a reader: "Are you going to review the Teen Titans Judas Contract DTV movie? Because it and its ending actually changed/fixed a lot that was wrong with the portrayal of Terra and Slade and their dynamic, so it looks like FINALLY there are people at DC who are willing to look at a revered past story with some scrutiny. Regards."
I had had it with Dan DiDio's DC, and what they did to the Titans so they could de-age their A-listers. They turned the Titans into a Marvel youth brand, a New Mutants lite, rather than thinking through DC's legacies. I settled in for the Long Wait until DiDio retires. IMO, you would need new, radical people, probably in the 2020s, to recover the older Titans characters to their full, edgy potential.
Blackest Night: Titans #1 (October 2009). Image Source: DC Database.
I still feel the older Titans would have done better as adults in a Vertigo series, where there was a lot of leeway to explore the characters and their dark backgrounds, away from the mainstream DCU and endless crossover events. I thought that Raven should have become John Constantine's protégé. I also believe that Gar Logan should have become a much more substantial character. He is the heir of Steve Dayton, one of the wealthiest men in the DCU, and is supposed to end up running Dayton's insane biotech empire. Logan is also an elemental superhero, representing the fauna kingdom. Tara Markov is an elemental earth princess! John Constantine and Swamp Thing should have mentored these younger Titans years ago.
DC started to consider elemental realms in Blackest Night, Brightest Day, and the New 52. I'm not sure what they are doing with elementals in Rebirth. As far as I could see, the big event in Rebirth was a price increase in September 2016. The Watchmen angle of Rebirth is interesting, although blaming Doctor Manhattan Dan DiDio's reign of Fourth Wall suck is not fair. You can see the in-story explanation summarized here.
DC remains a company trying to tell us its very biggest story, while keeping its franchises on simmer and marketing (often at cross purposes) Batman as a public attention grabber. It's not working well. This may be because DiDio can't reconcile the grand and simplistic. In 2016, DiDio admitted that DC had, "lost its way" on many books after receiving harsh criticism. I think DiDio actually means well and wanted to become Jack Kirby 2.0, leaving a great mark on DC with a huge, sweeping epic. This epic was supposed to change how we think about comics. To do this, the whole DC line had to be rebooted, and rebooted, and rebooted again. They tried to bring in talents like Grant Morrison to make the epic work.
But you can't force lightning into a bottle, especially when all you care about are sales figures. The background ideas remain fascinating - time shifts, multiple dimensions, multiverses dying and being reborn. I understand and sympathize, because it is a lot easier to criticize these efforts than to try to create the masterful narrative effect DiDio wants. I have recently been impressed by Avatar Press (Providence is one of the best comics series I have ever read), Image Comics (Aphrodite IX, here; Fatale, here; and Jupiter's Legacy, here), and Dark Horse's Elfquest Final Quest. Graphic India's 18 Days featured some of the best concept comic art ever done by Mukesh Singh, for Morrison's retelling of the Mahabharata. But I still retain a primary loyalty to DC, because at its best, it is the only pulp house that can pull off the ultimate effect. The only one. For example, Jupiter's Legacy works because it is a masterful tribute to what DC was at its best and what it should be now.
DiDio and his team forget that most pulp stories now considered classics were originally seen as offbeat and in danger of cancellation at any minute. Perez and Wolfman pushed the boundaries on their rebooted Titans in 1980 because they did not expect the title to last. The real path to epic immortality, as Alan Moore understood with DC's Watchmen, is not with big superheroes as brands and the superhero universe as an evolving brand, but the anti-brand, the D-listers, the forlorn beings whose extra-human powers arise through trauma and uncertainty. This is what Batman used to be, the A-lister who worked the Underground. The best stories of superhuman achievement happen on the margins, where we are not looking. This is what the Titans used to be: lost children, forsaken by their Justice League mentors, who raised each other. The Doom Patrol was their better model. DiDio tried to force that Doom Patrol/Titans narrative onto DC's A-listers, while downgrading the Titans, and the results were awful.
Geoff Johns, who seemed to understand the Titans twenty years ago, goes unforgiven! The same goes for DiDio himself, who churned out some of the worst Judas-Contract-related writing ever and almost destroyed Brion Markov as a character. Marv Wolfman keeps revisiting Raven and I wish he wouldn't (the first version of Raven was the best one, sorry). I think creators like J. T. Krul or Eric Wallace or Scott Lobdell never had enough editorial space and time to work the Titans formula out and take it to the next level.
This is probably because DC's editors now view the Titans as a subsidiary of the Bat franchise; for over a decade, they have pushed Batman as their primary hero. You can't find DC under their mountain of Batbooks. From this perspective, the Titans are 'Robin's team,' but in a skewed way, as though the entire Titans franchise is a Bat spin-off, which it is not. Even then, when you understand that Tara Markov was conceived as the Titans' anti-Robin, and Deathstroke as the anti-Batman, you can see that DC's people do not now dig deeply enough into the lore of their own company to write the stories they could and should write.
So. I follow the 2016-2017 Titans Rebirth series from a distance, which is to say, I read the online reviews once every three months. It took them eight issues to put the team in New York? Come on. Just put them in New York. To be fair to DC, I was glad to see the original team revived, haven't read the Rebirth Titans, and will probably read the TPBs.
Tara and Gar in the New 52 series, Ravagers (2012-2013). They first reappeared together in Superboy Vol. 6 #8 (June 2012) and Teen Titans in the same summer. So close, yet so far: DC shipped the characters but did little with them. Image Source: pinterest.
But no way will I get fooled again by a cover like 2009's Blackest Night or that jaunt with Red Beast Boy in the New 52. I read that New 52 material. I'm not going to review it, because it went N.O.W.H.E.R.E. As usual, DC did not bother to explore the Doom Patrol connection closely enough, even though the Ravagers storyline involved DP characters. The reason those covers and teasers drew in the fans and left them wanting - with no resolution to threads left hanging for decades - was because the Judas Contract story is not done. DC's writers still have not finished it. They only think they have. This is why they keep compulsively retelling the Judas Contract in different ways, every three or four years. No matter how many times you rework the Judas Contract and the Deathstroke-Tara-Gar triad, unless you follow through, the story is not done. They could have done it with Terra 2 and failed in 2007. They could have done it during Flashpoint in 2011, when Terra reappeared with the Amazons. They didn't. They could have done it in the Ravagers in 2013. They even could have dealt with it in other timelines in 2013. Nope. Doppelgangers, Triplegangers, Quadruplegangers. Only the guys who made Tiny Titans seemed to understand these characters, which is a pity.
Image Source: Smash Mexico.
This brings us to today. DC Animated Universe debuted a Direct to Video film, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract on 31 March 2017 at WonderCon, with general release dates, 4 April and 18 April 2017. You can buy it on Amazon here. The film is directed by Sam Liu, with Slade voiced by the late, great Miguel Ferrer, who is sadly missed. It's terrific that Christina Ricci is voicing Tara Markov. At first glance, I think Brother Blood, voiced by Gregg Henry, looks and sounds suitably grotesque, horrifying and creepy. Blood is one of the most dangerous and venomous villains developed at DC in the 1980s. He is under-used - have we really not seen him since just after Flashpoint?
Blood was a major part of the Judas Contract, something I did not consider at length. One of the main reporters in New York who constantly misreported on the Titans was a Blood acolyte. Brother Blood was almost as important as Deathstroke in the lead up to the Judas Contract, although Slade got all of the attention. That is an interesting reminder, especially when you consider how Blood later messed with Raven and tangled with the Wilsons. It is a storyline that could be developed.
Image Source: IMDB.
Image Source: Coming Soon.
The team line-up is different; I'll comment on that in my review once I've seen the film (see below). And Gar Logan, well, Gar can't get a break from DC. This storyline was one of the biggest developments for this character. After the Judas Contract in the mid-1980s, DC could have made the Changeling (or Beast Boy) as big as Spider-Man, who was developed in the same time period at Marvel. When you consider that, you realize how DC dropped the ball.
No, no, no. Image Source: The Outhousers.
The Judas Contract story was about Garfield trying to grow up into a romantic hero, maybe following in Nightwing's shoes, but with a huge, open heart, and tragically failing. This was not Nightwing's and Kory's story, and DC have brought in material from much earlier in the NTT series to ship those characters here, rather than Gar and Tara. Instead, we have Gar de-aged, in pointed ear elf mode, texting about eating pizza in the opening of the film. This is gross, if you know what that means. Dear DC: why can't Garfield Logan get any respect? He's the Doom Patrol legacy character!
Teen Titans The Judas Contract Trailer #2 2017 Animated Movie HD. Video Source: DC via Youtube.
Exclusive Sneak Peek: Teen Titans: The Judas Contract | Syfy Wire. Video Source: DC via Youtube.
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract Producers on Miguel Ferrer (Wondercon 2017) | Syfy Wire (1 April 2017). Video Source: Youtube.
Review of Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016)
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (6 April 2017)
The 2017 Judas Contract film was skillfully done, entertaining, and fairly well animated, in line with DC's other animated output. It should be watched on its own terms, separate from the 1980s' comic book arc. DC's animators are trying to bring in fans of the animated Teen Titans television series from 2003 to 2006, and from 2013 to the present. The fans from the 1980s and 1990s - not so much. As other reviewers have said, the film stands up if you look at it as entertainment made to appeal to younger fans who only know a few beats from the original story and are more familiar with the softer, animated TV version of the Judas Contract from the early 2000s. I'll also refer to the previous Liu-helmed film, Justice League vs. Teen Titans (with Jon Bernthal voicing Trigon! Ooh.) as it affects this sequel.
The Judas Contract has a lot of action, beautifully coloured and reasonably well-drawn sequences. The most effective parts of the film are the character development between Kory and Dick and the Brother Blood subplot. I wish that they had just done a Brother Blood animated Titans film instead and left the whole Judas Contract out of it. That is the best material here, and it would have made much more sense.
I wanted to see more of the animated portrayal of Blood and Mother Mayhem, their diabolical church, and the church's crazed followers. Brother Blood's sacrifice of a reporter who asks the wrong questions - and the bath the evil high priest later takes in the reporter's blood - is fantastically disgusting. Scantily clad serving girls dousing him with water after the blood bath! Dark circles under his eyes! Those hollow cheeks! Tip-toeing around a graveyard and murmuring to Deathstroke that every corpse always has a shred of life in it left to exploit! The only thing missing here was Blood getting Mayhem pregnant. If you have seen recent horror films like The Neon Demon (2016), or followed the music videos and conspiracy theories on the Internet, you know that Marc Wolfman's 1970s' cult and occult background for Brother Blood could come back to life - just the way Blood does - and deliver now in a big way to a new audience.
What they should have done was looked at the final version of Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, expanded the Brother Blood story, and edited out the Judas Contract material and saved it for a separate film, because the Judas Contract is really hard to do properly. Of course, DC can't do that these days because of the way they market their products. Blood has a long continuity in the Titans' books. The Titans couple which mirrored Blood and Mayhem was Raven and Nightwing. They could have brought together all the Titans' Brother Blood arcs in one film, along with the Starfire-Nightwing-Raven triangle.
One of Geoff Johns's most skillful retcons in the early 2000s was that he dedicated the Brother Blood church to the worship of Raven's father, Trigon. You can see how if director Sam Liu had expanded this theme into a Teen Titans: Brother Blood film, it would have followed on his Justice League vs. Teen Titans film and worked really well. As it was, they tried to pack a lot in and the connection between Blood and the H.I.V.E. was not explained. Deathstroke's and Jericho's involvement, connection, and motives are feeble here. You don't know why Deathstroke has even bothered with Blood's project, other than the cash and some murky rambling dialogue between Deathstroke and Damian. Slade's offer to Terra that he wants to set up his own league of assassins with the contract money, and her at his side, proves unclear later when he double-crosses her. His double-cross of Terra is logical plotwise, but we don't get an emotional barometer of Slade. We don't see anything of his soldier's code, such as it is.
As for Teen Titans: The Judas Contract honouring the history of the actual Judas Contract story line, this film does not do that at all. As usual, DC will not give Garfield Logan a break. The moment in the film when he kisses Tara and should talk about his past, his dialogue is cut. The shipping subplot focuses on Dick and Kory, which, in a film called the Judas Contract, is not the point.
I don't know why DC won't seriously develop Beast Boy; new fans take forever to find out his complex, fascinating history with the Doom Patrol. The last time anyone tried to build up Gar was in Johns's first Beast Boy mini, a long time ago in 2000. Not even Johns's second story arc from 2004 helped much. Above all, the Judas Contract is about Gar and the Doom Patrol legacy, while Terra brings in the covert Batman legacy.
The Titans, as Gar says at the end of the film, are about family. But what he describes here is the shallow group hug version of Titans family that the DiDio-era has worked so hard to push and undermine. It is a superficial formula, disconnected from the Titans' biggest stories about family struggles. The film definitely toyed with the idea, with Jaime alienated from his parents and volunteering at a local soup kitchen. But considering that the central story about Tara and Gar was missing so much, this did not help. The Kory-Dick arc in the film was well done, and this is why I think it would have been better to use that arc with the Brother Blood material to make a separate, non-Judas Contract movie. As for the team shake-up, Jaime was an OK stand-in for Victor. But without Donna, Wally and Roy, there's an emptiness to these characters. The film lacks their closeness and their heart.
Every family has its failures, curses and secrets. The Titans titles were at their best when writers understood that members of this team were the wards of the A-list Justice League. After the first half of the first series, the Titans were never supposed to be a mini or junior Justice League. They were an anti-Justice League, not because they were rebellious, but because they were like the latchkey superhero kids who worked out the Justice League's dirty laundry behind closed doors. This is what legacies and family are about in the DCU, and that should resonate in today's narcissistic and materialistic world. Imagine the shiny A-listers, hogging the limelight, oblivious to the messes they left behind. The Titans were forgotten wards, who dealt with the emotional fallout of superheroism, which the League did not even know it had generated.
For example, if it was ever creepy that Batman liked to adopt orphaned wards and turn them into his little super-soldiers, Marv Wolfman explored that with Deathstroke and Terra, because he could not say it outright about Batman and Robin. Given today's rumours about élites compromised by child and sex trafficking, the film could have dealt with that and struck a chord with the Internet generation. The film at least make Deathstroke creepier than Wolfman did. But Liu stopped short of having Tara sleep with Deathstroke. If you are going to deal with just how frightening and heart-breaking this story is, you have to include that. Just to have a sense of how misguided and misogynistic the initial conception was, Wolfman later regretted the sex between Tara and Deathsroke because it made Deathstroke look bad. If I recall correctly, Deathstroke seduces Tara when he is in his 40s and she is 15 years old, and then he blames her for it. And the narrator (aka the writer, Wolfman) in the original comic books asks you to accept Deathstroke at his word, making him Tara's victim, not the other way around.
For this reason, I was grateful when the people at TV Tropes summarized my continuity for Terra on their site in relation to the Judas Contract:
At least in Liu's 2017 Judas Contract, Deathstroke comes across as a ruthless creep, which I found refreshing. The director evidently didn't want to get into that too deeply, and so Tara's madness and suicide at the end don't really line up with her earlier snotty defensiveness. One minute she's snarky, the next minute she's dead. Nor is Deathstroke's familial mess explained, although Jericho appears. In general, the film does not explore Tara's personality smoothly, even though Liu tried to remain faithful to the main beats of the original story and he gave Tara flashbacks and nightmares, which are consistent with shock, trauma, and abuse."Unfortunate Implications: During her time with the Titans, it's revealed Terra's having a sexual affair with Slade, and the story's creators have confirmed that the purpose of this was to shock the readers at what a slut she is, never mind that nothing indicates she's ever slept with anybody else, she actually seems to think Slade loves her, and Slade might be committing statutory rape. When the time comes to betray the Titans, they try to reason with her and fail, and she dies while trying to kill them, destroyed by her own powers. The story becomes quite Anvilicious at how evil she is. She's explicitly called evil, the Narrator informs us that she's both completely insane and completely responsible for her actions (a contradiction in terms), even Slade later says her evil scared even him. Her death is essentially a teen suicide (in a series that was about, and originally intended for, teens) where everything is being blamed on the teen. And as for Slade, her boss and lover, the man who's decades older than her, a multiple murderer, who created the Evil Plan she was following, whose own stated intentions with that plan was to murder all the Titans, he is (comparatively speaking) Easily Forgiven by the Titans afterwards, and is treated by DC Comics as an Anti-Hero for the next several years. He's even treated as a father figure by several of the Titans he was trying to kill! This storyline exonerated the adult in this murderous partnership while trying to blame everything on the 16 year-old girl. The blogger tamaranorbust has a thorough, multi-part study on Terra, covering her appearances, her background, how she's referred to, the characters she affected, the histories of her two later namesakes and the implications of her story."
The film did hint at, but not consider deeply enough, why Tara and Gar are drawn to each other, beyond the villains' larger plots. If there was one team in the 1980s which should have been honoured above all others in the DC Universe, even above the League, it was the misfit Doom Patrol. They were the only DC team that died in the Silver Age, in Doom Patrol #121 (September-October 1968), to defend good against evil. When you think of the Judas Contract, don't imagine a young hero like Dick Grayson. Grayson's A-list mentor, Batman, has a giant personality which overshadows everyone and everything around him. By contrast, all of Gar's family and mentors from the Doom Patrol were dead, missing, or crazy.
Just as Gar Logan (invented in November, 1965) should have been DC's answer to Spider-Man (developed in August, 1962), it is important to see other parallels with Marvel's more successful character. Readers found Gwen Stacy's death in Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (June-July 1973) so shocking that these issues actually ended the Silver Age in comics. The only character at DC who had endured a similar scarring was Peter Parker's contemporary, Garfield Logan. Therefore, it was only fitting that Gar Logan should have a girlfriend he loved who would die in some horrific way. Wolfman and Perez obviously could not repeat the Gwen Stacy shocker. But they took elements of that, incorporated bits of the Kitty-Piotr romance in the X-Men, and then added DC's legacy mess.
To connect the Doom Patrol background properly to Tara would have taken a lot more consideration and time in producing this film. It was great that Liu included a few flashbacks of Markovia, but they removed Tara's royal past, which diminished her characterization.
Best-selling author Brad Meltzer famously described how the Judas Contract devastated him when it was first published. I am his Generation X contemporary, and I have to say, having experienced the story in a similar way, to date, Meltzer is the only writer to revisit the Judas Contract and do it any justice. And I think I know why.
I remember reading that Meltzer said he once talked about this story with Marv Wolfman. When the latter explained his deeper intentions, Meltzer finally accepted the Judas Contract's conclusions. I don't know what they discussed, and to my knowledge, Meltzer never publicly elaborated. Given the Nazi sympathies of the Markov royal family in the Outsiders books (later retconned and reversed), I always wondered if the Judas Contract was a warning parable about the Holocaust in Eastern Europe. I know from reading the history of that region that one of the most devastating pre-Holocaust trends was the way non-Jewish people hatefully turned on the Jews, who had previously been their neighbours, co-workers, friends, and lovers. It was that widespread and real, historic, senseless, murderous betrayal, well before the actual genocide, which I believe Wolfman may have wanted to reveal to a 1980s' generation. That was the reason I also accepted the conclusion of the Judas Contract and have tried so hard on my blog to come to terms with Wolfman's and Perez's story about Tara Markov.
If you read the Doom Patrol arc in New Teen Titans #13-#15 (1981-1982), which was a prologue for the Judas Contract, you'll notice that Wolfman gives the German and French villains a lot of dialogue about Nazism and racial supremacy, while Robotman and Changeling (Beast Boy), the remaining Doom Patrollers, are still combating these ideas. In the final pages of the Judas Contract (1984), Tara is spouting similar racist rhetoric about superhumans being superior to ordinary humans. The reason she disdains Garfield is not because of some teen angst dating thing, or even Slade running romantic interference (as in the 2017 film). It's because Gar doesn't see himself as superior to normal human beings, even though he has super powers. One glance at the spread of neo-Nazism on the Internet confirms that this aspect of the Judas Contract is even more relevant today and DC should consider and continue this story much more carefully.
I keep thinking about the live action 2000s' X-Men film adaptations and wondering why they were so much more successful and faithful to the mood of the 1980s' stories. Maybe it's because they stayed true to the characters and did not try to update them or change the team. When it came to heavy subtexts, like Nazism, you will notice the X-Men films squarely faced them. DC is gun-shy about heavy themes like Nazism, or incest between Trigon and Raven in Justice League vs. Teen Titans. DC skirts the sub-themes, while Marvel faces them head-on, and Marvel has better results. DC also updates their classic teams and characters beyond recognition, rather than keeping the characters in place who made the original stories work.
A related element in the Judas Contract which was ignored in the 2017 film is also important today, after the recession, when we see a growing gap between the super-rich and the precariat. In the 1980s, DC's comics contained covert class messages, which I'm sure DiDio's DC are eager to play down. While Marvel's Peter Parker had trouble paying his rent, DC's Garfield Logan lived in a palace in the Hamptons. In watching the film, I found myself missing the 1980s' context of the original Judas Contract and its themes of 1980s' wealth, conspicuous consumption, and worship of royals and celebrities. Kory was a supermodel and princess. Donna was princess. Dick had been adopted by a billionaire. Raven's father ruled several planets. No wonder Wally West, the team's lone conservative from the Midwest, was traumatized about being plain old middle class. Many of DC's Gold and Silver Age superheroes were royals or extremely wealthy, back when it wasn't a badge of shame. This was part of what made Gar Logan who he was - a teen Hollywood star, adopted by a glamorous Hollywood movie star step-mother and a billionaire step-father. Tara Markov was a disowned princess. If you don't know about the attitudes from this time period, and don't understand this part of the Judas Contract, the message about Terra's heart of stone and her powers over the material world will go right past you.
When I think of the Judas Contract, I always think of the French ballad from 1978, Le Monde est Stone. Cyndi Lauper did a 1992 cover, The World is Stone. The song is very sad. It's about people becoming hard-hearted, tough, disconnected from themselves and defined by materialism and money. They lose their ways, lose their souls. They learn not to care in order to protect themselves, to survive at any cost and get ahead. This is why, at that time, Garfield Logan's attempt to help Tara Markov in this story was so important. The whole Judas Contract was about his effort - against the advice of his best friends - to overcome the harshness of the world with friendship and love, to become a true blue romantic hero. In Wolfman's telling of the story, Tara, the hero's love interest, is so cold-hearted that she scares even the villain. Thankfully, in Liu's 2017 film version, at least Tara has a heart in the end.
GO BACK TO CONTINUITY PART 3.4 TERRA IN THE 2000s.
SEE TERRA'S WHOLE CONTINUITY.
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