Panels to Popcorn: Teen Titans, The Judas Contract
It’s Andy Larson, here, resurrecting a blog topic that I haven’t done in a while, namely reviewing a movie adaptation of a comic book story. You might think this would be my bread ‘n butter given I’m not only a comic book fan but also a movie buff, but these types of movies have been more difficult to find than you might think.
You see, although some comic book movies have elements on certain key story lines from certain comics, many of them aren’t true adaptations. For me, a true adaptation has to something that really tries to retell the exact same story with many of the same characters, which again movies like from MCU or even the DCEU don’t really do. They more approximate certain aspects, and take a lot more liberties with how the story progresses than your typical adaptation.
As a result, the biggest place to find many of the “truest” adaptations of comic books are with the DC Universe Animated Movie line. The same was also true of the Marvel Universe Animated Movie line, until they closed that down as it interfered with the MCU too much. But regardless, the DC Universe Movie line is still going strong, pumping out all kinds of these animated versions of the exact same stories that have happened in their comic books proper.
Today’s entry is one I picked up several months ago in hopes of watching it when I finally had some free time. Luckily for all of you, as referenced in other blogs, I’ve been having bouts of intermittent insomnia so one of those nights, I finally threw on Teen Titans: The Judas Contract to see how it stacked up against that most famous of all Teen Titans stories released back in 1984 by the team of Marv Wolfman & George Perez.
This 2017 direct to video film retells the story of how Teen Titans BVF (Best Villain Forever) Slade aka Deathstroke aka The Terminator aka Not Deadpool, manages to implant a mole within the ranks of the superhero team in the former of a very troubled teen with Earth manipulation powers named Terra.
Their goal is to collect intel on the Titans in what is a very long con so that Slade can eventually use it to defeat all of the group members and deliver them to another super villain named Brother Blood who wants to absorb their powers with his fancy pants machine he built. Brother Blood nearly manages to succeed however thanks to the timely intervention of Nightwing who managed to escape Slade’s clutches and mounts a daring rescue mission, the Titans do escape and put a pounding on all the nefarious evil doers involved.
Like in the comics, Terra does perish in the end, but as I’ll go over in a second there’s actually a ton of things that were changed whether major or minor between this movie and the original comic source material, Terra’s demise being one of them.
But before I get to the things that were different, I did want to point out just one thing that was the same, and for me it’s somewhat unfortunate, because it’s probably one of the skeeziest relationships I’ve ever encountered in comics.
Yep, I’m talking about the underage creep-fest of senior citizen Slade and a clearly teenage Terra. I mean it’s so statutory rapey that it probably would make Kevin Spacey uncomfortable. Well…probably.
At least when George Perez originally drew this same sleezeball scene in the comic run, he made Terra at least seem look like she was a little bit older. Not that it excuses it at all, because it’s still nasty as hell, but at least you could trick your brain into not wanting to puke. No chance in this movie as Terra looks like an anorexic meth hooker who also just happens to be underage. Couple that with old Grandpa Deathstroke’s leering glances and you have one scene that I wish they had the common sense to cut for the sake of good taste.
That being said, let’s get to some of the things that were different between the comic book and this movie. And there’s no better place to begin than the most blatantly obvious one: the team’s line up is definitely missing some core members. I mean, sure Nightwing is still there, as is Starfire, so that’s good. They have a somewhat weirdly written romance with a lot of sexual innuendo which is either badly scripted or poorly acted, but whatever they seem to love each other and ground the rest of the team.
We still get Beast Boy who is one of the most well rounded characters in this movie, which is again weird as he’s mostly used for comic relief. But his romantic arc with Terra is somewhat touching and is one of the few examples of this movie doing a better job than the source material.
Raven also makes her appearance being just as goth and emo as you’d expect. However, her character sort of gets lost in the shuffle as I guess they only have so much time and they’d rather show scenes of Nightwing and Starfire moving in together. It’s just sad as she’s a core member of this team and she gets short shrifted throughout. Even her climatic battle with Terra who she’s been trying to help work through her personal demons happens totally off screen.
However, the most glaring hole in the line up has to the absence of Cyborg. Maybe it’s because this is during that new 52 era where they were grooming him as a Justice League member instead of a Teen Titan, but seriously, he is one of the anchors of that squad so his absence throughout the proceedings is greatly felt.
Instead, we are given somewhat of a Cyborg substitute in the guise of the new Blue Beetle character, Jaime Reyes . Y’know the non “Ted Kord” Blue Beetle. The one with the goofy alien symbiote type powers. Honestly, I don’t know why I dislike this guy but I really do. Maybe because he has the same power set as Cyborg, so it makes me scream about why they just didn’t use Cyborg to begin with. But I think it’s mainly because Ted Kord to me is Blue Beetle. He’s one half of one of the greatest comic buddy duos in the business in terms of Beetle and Booster Gold, and as a result has instant credibility and personality for days. This Blue Beetle, although they try to give him depth by having him work at a soup kitchen, he’s as interesting as watching paint dry.
The second hole is in the absence of Donna Troy aka the original Wonder Girl. She ends up being replaced by the Damien Wayne version of Robin, which is a very odd choice given Nightwing is still on the team. Did the Titans really need two Robins? Isn’t that a little Batman Family overkill??
Sure, they attempt to justify this by including more of the backstory between Damien and Slade as former members of the League of Assassins, but even that seems a bit shoehorned in. I mean this is supposed to be a story about Terra, not Slade. As I mentioned with the comic book review of this same storyline, Slade is just a catalyst for the real story of Terra’s betrayal. He’s not really super important other than he puts things in motion. So, why they spend time fleshing out any of his backstory in this tale instead of focusing on Terra is beyond me.
Anyways, back to Wonder Girl and her absence, I know she makes a small appearance at the very tail end of the movie as the new member that replaced the decreased Terra. However, she’s a founding member of the Titans! Again, like Raven that’s pretty much taking a big crap on the character and all that history. Even in the opening flashback that relates the story of the Titans meeting Starfire, you see Robin, Speedy, and Kid Flash all there: 3 out of the 4 original Titans. And for some reason instead of Wonder Girl we get Bumble Bee, which sure is a neat cameo by a character that doesn’t get a lot of exposure but boy, did that stick in my craw a bit. And that was my favorite sequence in the movie! The rest is somewhat garbage compared to that opening Starfire scene. Just a waste!
Finally, there are changes to Terra herself, although of all of the changes I’ve talked about, at least this one I agreed with. In the original comic book, in the end, she’s just portrayed as a bad guy, a somewhat sociopathic individual, that just laughs maniacally at the Titans during the final epic battle. Here, she’s truly just a messed up teenager, struggling with a really terrible childhood. She really is only with Slade because he seems to be the only person that gave a shit about her prior to the Titans, and her feelings for Beast Boy are actually genuine, despite eventually turning on him. That’s why when the Titans ask what Slade has done to her when she betrays them, it doesn’t ring as hollow as it does in the books.
Here, she actually has conflict and you can see that in some ways Slade as kept her as almost a pet, completely psychologically dependent on him, not really allowing her to work through her issues like the Titans were attempting to do, so again she comes across more as broken than psychotic. Thus, when Slade turns on her and sell hers to Brother Blood, her righteous anger is all the justification you need to accept that she would help the Titans in the final epic battle. Plus, her death actually is pretty heartbreaking, all that wasted promise. As a Dad, that’s why you should be good to your kids, folks. They are capable of tremendous good or evil, it all depends on which direction they are pointed in.
Although I thought with the Terra stuff and the role of Brother Blood in this movie helped streamline the overall plot and make it more cohesive, at the end of the day, Marv Wolfman is just a much better writer than the guy that did the movie treatment for this, so the original comic is 1000% more enjoyable.
The dialogue was hackneyed and awkward and there were too many subplots that didn’t really need to be there, like pointless training scenes or Starfire fussing about her leadership role and how everyone listens to Nightwing (which in end seems to be justified given he rescues all of them). Plus there’s this totally unnecessary plug for Kevin Smith’s podcast in the movie, which makes me feel like he either is friends with the production group, or threw them some money to get this financed.
As a result, it’s just terribly uneven. If this was a TV show, I could see the inclusion of all these random bits, but it’s not.
It’s a movie. It should be more to the point, focusing mostly on Terra’s story as that’s the driving point throughout.
Yes, I agree that the original source material jumped around a lot too, but it’s a monthly comic book, multiple story lines is part of that medium. They had a chance to cut out some of that and like what they started to do with Terra’s backstory, really focus on the core themes of why Judas Contract was such an epic story. But they definitely stopped short of that and it shows.
That’s why I can’t rank this movie as something at all Titanic. It’s just more of a wasted opportunity.
Andy’s Movie Grade: C-