[Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers]
Directed By: Sam Liu
Written By: Ernie Altbacker
Starring: Stuart Allen, Jake T. Austin, Taissa Farming, Sean Maher, Christina Ricci and Miguel Ferrer
Original Release Date: April 18, 2017
During the 1980s, The New Teen Titans as reintroduced by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez reignited the DC Comics brand and ultimately became the top-selling book rivaling sales of the industry’s #1 seller The Uncanny X-Men published by the competitive imprint Marvel Comics. Similarly styled, the success of the Teen Titans banked on not only the superhero dynamic that elevated the one-time sidekicks into the spotlight, but encouraged at its root the very human, emotional depth that made these young heroes resonate with their readership.
Uniquely capitalizing on evocative story arcs that were elaborated upon over the course of several issues, The Judas Contract was revolutionary in that it revealed one of the Titans, Tara Markov, their newest recruit code-named Terra, as a double-agent out to destroy them. Tempered by the villainous gun-for-hire Deathstroke, Terra is playing the Titans from the inside, figuring out what makes them tick, and ultimately working to bring them down! Over the course of several issues the story reinvented the Titans, and even introduced the evolution of Dick Grayson coming into his own. The arc gave the world Nightwing.
The conflict within the young woman becomes extremely visceral especially when she finds herself torn between the two worlds she’s herself in the middle of. Terra is completely corrupted by the influence of Slade Wilson, Deathstroke the Terminator, and as is even suggested in the comic — there’s a dirty little secret between the two that just pushes the PG-13 rating of this animated feature. When push comes to shove, Terra eventually emerges heroic on the other end, but it’s only after a clearly psychotic episode where Terra uses her powers in an ultimate attempt to free herself entirely.
The animated adaptation is quite eloquent in its narrative.
The DC Universe Original Movie Teen Titans: The Judas Contract realizes that classic story with great effectiveness, and delivers one of the most dramatically driven and exciting adventures in the established animated continuity that has been now long-running since the events of Justice League: War. Though this is the second time that the Teen Titans have been featured in this animated form, the first was Justice League vs. Teen Titans, the heroes are formidable as well as likable and it’s easy to jump right into the adventure as soon as the movie begins.
The opening act is a “flashback” to the first time that the Teen Titans rescue the alien princess Koriand’r from Tamaran, aka Starfire, who is fleeing from her slaver lords and is rescued by the “original” iteration of the Titans. The action cuts to the contemporary team, lead by Nightwing on a mission to penetrate a hidden H. I. V. E. base. The entire first act plays very closely to the source material, while incorporating another Titan rogue into the mix. Brother Blood is behind the entire scheme which is all a ploy to assess the Titans strengths and weaknesses. The cult leader has recruited the mercenary Deathstroke as his agent, and he has assimilated the Titan, Terra.
Its animated counterpart, although, takes liberties, especially given the recalibration of the line-up that is slightly less familiar to the dedicated fan, as Blue Beetle is in for Cyborg who is omitted here from the favored group that appeared in the original storyline. It makes great use of establishing the familiarity that is necessary to endear these characters to the audience. This is most relevant when evaluating how the Judas among them, Terra (as expertly voiced by veteran actor Christina Ricci), has only just been introduced into the animated mythology, but feels well developed and very real.
It’s too bad audiences aren’t going to have anymore time to get to know the ill-fated character.
Still one of the best and richly developed stories, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract will appeal to the casual viewer and will no doubt wisp nostalgia for the dedicated fan who was there when the story first stirred the imagination. The gravitas is there! The emotion comes through! The Teen Titans have arrived.
The packaged bonus features serve to give audiences unfamiliar with the original books a further detailed background into The Judas Contract and its cast of characters with a very special profile on the story’s main bad guy, Deathstroke and his complicated origins and motivations. A true gem is the reuniting of the creatives behind the book that inspired the movie! In “Titanic Minds” the partnership between co-creators Marv Wolfman and George Pérez is given its due in a half-hour interview segment dedicated to these two DC Comics greats! So go pick this one up now!