The Judas Contract

My teenage years got off to a difficult start. I lost my dad to a heart attack when I was thirteen. By the time I reached my senior year of high school in 1984, I was pretty much done with being a teenager. This all goes to explain why it was that although I made regular visits to the comic shop and though some of my friends were loving a title called The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, I was pretty much focused on other longtime favorites. I didn’t really discover how much fun the Teen Titans could be until I stumbled on the anime-styled Teen Titans show which ran on Cartoon Network from 2003 to 2006. Even today, I gravitate more toward titles like Justice League Dark, which is what prompted me to pick up the recent Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, when I saw it in the store. The presentation of the Teen Titans in that movie made me curious about their earlier movie appearances, so I picked up the movie Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, which in turn took me back in time to 1984 to read the original graphic novel.

In The Judas Contract, the Teen Titans have a recent recruit named Terra. Most of them have grown to trust her and depend on her. Beast Boy may even be falling in love with her. However, it soon becomes apparent that Terra is not all that she seems. A hallmark of the graphic novel is that this is the point where Dick Grayson first decides to stop being Robin, the Boy Wonder and adopts the mantle of Nightwing, thus allowing Jason Todd to begin his tenure as Batman’s assistant.

It was interesting to compare the movie and graphic novel versions of the story. The movie foregoes the Nightwing story. In the movie, Dick Grayson is already Nightwing. Jason Todd is already dead and Damian Wayne is now Robin and already working with the Teen Titans. The movie starts with the Teen Titans up against a cult leader named Brother Blood. As the movie progresses, we find that the Titans’ longtime rival Deathstroke is working for the cult. In the graphic novel, the conflict with Brother Blood and the conflict with Deathstroke are two separate stories. I love the graphic novel because we get more of Deathstroke’s backstory and more of his connection to Terra. That said, the movie feels like a more rounded and complete story and it also better explores the romance between Nightwing and Starfire.

The movie also contained two episodes of the 2003-2006 Teen Titans series featuring Terra. Those were interesting enough that I went back and rewatched the whole Terra arc from the series’ second season. The Terra in the TV series proves to be quite different from the version in the graphic novel and the movie, but all three versions make an interesting exploration of the concept of betrayal.

I’ve long been fascinated by the character of Judas in the Bible. At the risk of going down a theological rabbit hole, Judas begs many questions. Was he inherently evil? If so, why did Jesus choose him to be an apostle? Just to betray him? Was Judas really a good man? Did he betray Jesus because of free will? In the three versions of The Judas Contract, we see three different interpretations of Terra, ranging from a good person led astray to a person who always was a psychopath. I won’t spoil the story by telling you which is which in case you haven’t delved into these stories and want to explore on your own.

In the story I’m writing, I’m confronting choices like this. Are the good guys what they seem? Are the antagonists really to blame for the events happening? As I reach a point about two-thirds of the way through the outline, I’m going back through and reading what I’ve written and deciding whether I forge ahead as I drafted the outline or if the characters are going to lead me in a new direction. Seeing a story like The Judas Contract explored well in three different ways does help me think about the possibilities. The important thing to remember, and the reason these stories are good, is that all the pieces were in place to tell you why the characters made the choices they did. The hints were there for those who pay attention. So if I do move in a different direction, I need to make sure I’ve also laid that groundwork.

4 comments on “The Judas Contract

  1. firewater65 says:

    This sounds interesting. We are of a similar age, you and I, but I was already into my decade of non-continuity when this storyline came out. It would take the excesses of the free-for-all ’90s to make me dabble again. I have heard of The Judas Contract, of course. I’m putting it on the TBR list today. Great write.

    • Thank you and I hope you enjoy the graphic novel when you get a chance to read it. The big driver for me was when my kids got old enough to be into comics. Once that happened, I started going back to see what I’d missed!

  2. I remember those issues very well, along with the original Dark Phoenix saga in X-men. I have to say that in both cases, the authors made decisions that ended up killing the most powerful female characters in the teams. X-men’s outcome was especially arbitrary. In both cases, it changed my enjoyment of the books.

    Another thing I observed, in Teen Titans particularly, is that whenever there is a new character, and then they get into one of those mega-crossovers, it is always the newby that gets eliminated. Like Terra, Kole and Jericho were brought in solely to be sacrificed, so that a hero would die or be compromised, but the “real” team would remain intact.

    • You make some good points and I definitely appreciate your issue with X-Men. I actually just read the “Terror of Trigon” arc and what happens to Jean in Dark Phoenix feels a lot like what happens to Raven in Terror of Trigon. And yes, Raven sacrificing herself didn’t sit well, especially since later writers have found much cleverer ways for Raven to deal with her father.

      One thing I learned from the Blu-Ray special features is that Wolfman and Perez created Terra to be a villain from the outset. She’s still a case of a new character dying, but she was always meant to be a character on a dark path, which I found interesting.

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