For anyone who is familiar with Teen Titans, this is a notorious arc. Acting as a sort of climax for Slade get revenge on the Titans for the death of his son Grant (who’s death was caused by trying and failing to mimic the experiment that gave Slade his enhanced abilities), The Judas Contract would go down as an iconic and controversial arc. This is an arc that has been adapted three times (three and three quarters if you want to include Jericho and Slade’s backstory in Titans and Terra having traitorous/evil tendencies in Teen Titans GO!), in Teen Titans (2003), Young Justice, and the 2017 animated movie of the same name.
I want to discuss the Teen Titans adaptation of this story that took place over the course of its second season as well as the 2017 animated movie. Both tell the same story, but one was geared more towards a younger demographic and the other rated more so for adults. However, I would argue that the 2003 adaptation was a much better than the 2017 movie. But before I do, allow me to take a moment to discuss what made The Judas Contract controversial as well as my general thoughts on the story and how these adaptations where different.
Why So Controversial?
The reason that this particular arc has garnered it’s questionable reputation was for the relationship between Terra and Slade “Deathstroke” Wilson. Mostly the fact that a grown man was having a relationship with a teenager. While I cannot speak in depth about the reasons behind it, I know that Wolfman and Pérez (rest in peace) did decide to go with it to shock readers. They did want to go with Terra as the traitor of the group, which I can understand. Some of the choices made with it, like the relationship and her appearance when with him, not so much.
My General Thoughts on The Judas Contract
While I certainly agree that the Terra and Slade relationship was questionable at best, to put it mildly, I don’t think it was a completely terrible story. And while I would consider Deathstroke as one of my favorite DC villains, Ra’s al Ghul being my all time favorite DC villain, I won’t defend the relationship between him and Terra. I don’t think it should be, and I assume Wolfman and Pérez wouldn’t either (even if they have said it was meant to be as shocking as possible). I definitely think it’s one of those arcs that has historical importance in some ways, even if it isn’t a good story.
What I liked about Judas Contract was the fact it was Nightwing’s debut, it expanded on Deathstroke’s backstory and family, and introduced one of my favorite comic book characters in the form of Joey “Jericho” Wilson. I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that Nightwing is iconic and a fan favorite, who needed a proper introduction, even if it was here. And Jericho is an LGBTQ+ character (currently bisexual), so I wouldn’t want to scrap this story and potentially scrap what would become representation later on (the thought about making Jericho gay, but ultimately didn’t due to him potentially coming off as a stereotype). Because of that, I don’t think Judas Contract was a total loss.
Teen Titans vs The Judas Contract: What Were the Differences?
The biggest differences these adaptations had, was the target audience. Teen Titans was created for a much younger audience, as such, a lot of the more mature aspects of Terra and Slade’s relationship had to be censored. Instead of making her a traitor from the get go, she was conned into going to Slade for help controlling her powers and betrayed the Titans because of him manipulated her into becoming his apprentice.
The Judas Contract movie was more so geared towards an older audience, as it had a PG-13 rating. It tried to follow the basic structure of the comic, but in the animated universe where Damian was Robin, Dick was already established as Nightwing, and the Titans consisting of Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, Blue Beetle (Jamie Reyes), Terra, and the aforementioned Nightwing and Robin. It also mixed in the rivalry between Robin and Deathstroke, which had been established in Son of Batman, which is one thing I was never really a fan of, but I’ll get to that later. The only thing it didn’t include from the comics was Grant, Slade’s eldest son who died, and it heavily reduced Jericho’s role.
What I Feel The Judas Contract (2017) Did Wrong
I’ve narrowed down what this movie did wrong to two main reasons: The Deathstroke and Damian rivalry and the reduced role that Jericho played. While I’m wasn’t expecting a frame for frame replication of the comic, and am perfectly okay with taking creative liberties as needed, these are just two reasons that I felt hindered the movie. The latter a bit more so since the movie could have gotten away with telling Jericho’s story in a PG-13 setting when compared to the 2003 animated series.
Starting off with the Deathstroke and Damian rivalry, I was never really a big fan of it. Granted, it only really appeared in Son of Batman and Judas Contract, but it’s something I felt wasn’t needed and put a bit too much focus on Damian. An issue I feel isn’t one that only I had.
For some movies, I could understand that, like Son of Batman and the Justice League vs the Teen Titans. Others, not so much. This and Batman vs Robin especially. The latter, I feel like should have been focused on Dick more since it dealt with the Court of Owls, which Dick had familial ties with. There’s also the issue of Jason and Tim not being in these movies at all despite the first and fourth (fifth if you include Stephanie) Robin, but that is a completely different issue.
Basically, all the attention Damian was getting was kind of annoying. I know I thought it was, and I kind of doubt I was the only one given how much some people disliked Damian around this time. And maybe still do.
Circling back to the Judas Contract, the reason I found this rivalry’s return bothersome, was for a couple of reasons. Deathstroke feels better suited to be a Nightwing villain and by extent a Batman and this rivalry with Damian, a child (ten to fourteen year old), feels shameless and/or unnecessarily problematic.
Though Deathstroke did start off as a Teen Titans antagonist, with characters who were in there late teens early twenties, once the New Teen Titans came to an end, readers did get to see him make a gradual change to becoming a Nightwing antagonist. And while I wouldn’t necessarily say antagonizing a group of late teens and young adults is much better, the reason why he didn’t like them wasn’t because he felt like a kid showed him up. It was because he blamed the Titans for his son’s (Grant) death.
Shifting from a Nightwing antagonist to a Batman antagonist I can let go for the most part since becoming a Batman antagonist isn’t unfathomable and makes sense. I just think keeping him as a Nightwing rogue just would have been better for Nightwing with his solo picking up in the nineties and Deathstroke feels like he fits into Dick’s rogues gallery.
My issue is with making him an antagonist for Damian. I can see Deathstroke being at odds with the League of Assassins as well as having brief ties to them. However, if DC wanted to have him at odds with the League, I feel like it’s better for him to antagonize Bruce, Talia, or even Ra’s than Damian.
Ra’s because he is the head of the League, both literally and in name (yes, I know Slade killed him in Son of Batman, but given how often Ra’s comes back, I doubt having him and Slade at odds makes sense). Talia, because she is one of the higher members of the League, despite not being next in line due to Ra’s feeling he has to be succeeded by a man (he respects female fighters like Cass Cain, Shiva, and his daughters, so I wouldn’t say he’s sexist so much as he has a traditional way of succession). And Bruce because he is who Ra’s considers as a worthy successor, even if Bruce doesn’t accept the offer.
All three of these characters are adults. And while I wouldn’t say Damian can’t fight Deathstroke, having Deathstroke as an antagonist feels off when you consider Damian in these movies is a tween to early teen. It feels odd that a grown man would be fighting a character around that age because he felt like this tween showed him up and feels like defeating him would give Slade the honor of leading the League.
I also felt like having the two at odds in Judas Contract takes away from the main story. It’ll be going through the motions and then it gets to a scene where it wants to bring up this antagonistic rivalry because Deathstroke wants to get Damian taken care of first and reveal that Terra’s the traitor here.
With that said, allow me to jump into Jericho. First by saying, while I don’t mind that they took a few liberties with why Deathstroke was working with Brother Blood and H.I.V.E. I don’t think nixing Jericho’s role should have been one of them. After all, this was Jericho’s origin just as much as it was Nightwing’s and is just as important to the story as Terra’s downfall.
If they didn’t want to throw Grant in the mix, or just forgot about Grant (forgetting about him isn’t hard since he was dead after the first arc of New Teen Titans and never really got the resurrection Jason did) that’s fine. Not being able to work in Slade losing his eye from his now ex-wife Adeline because Damian did, that can be altered as necessary. If they had to alter it so that maybe Slade was working for H.I.V.E. to protect Jericho, that is works.
Do you know what they did? Had Jericho make a brief cameo and never brought up again.
Without writing the entire plot of Judas Contract, I want to take a minute to discuss what made Jericho so important. From who he was related to, what happened to him that caused his parents to split, how important he was to Slade despite the separation, and why they could have used him in the movie.
Jericho was introduced in the Judas Contract after all of the Titans but Dick were captured by H.I.V.E. (Deathstroke assumed Dick wasn’t worth perusing and potentially dead after attacking him while Dick was in retirement). Adeline had managed to get into Titans Tower with her son with the intent of revealing what Deathstroke did, revealing Terra as the traitor, and allowing her son to help rescue the Titans with a now Nightwing Dick Grayson.
During this exchange, readers are introduced to Joseph “Joey” Wilson, Slade’s second son, also known as Jericho. He could not speak, after an accident involving his father (He does use ASL). It’s revealed that Joey was abducted by the target Slade’s client wanted killed. And rather than giving his captor the name of his client due to honoring the integrity of the contract, Slade decides that he can save his son. He does, but because his reaction time was a second slow, Joey’s throat was cut. And while the hospital was able to save his life, it would render him permanently mute (He does get it back when he is possesed by the souls of Azarath and when he is revived in the Geoff Johns Teen Titans run, but it has been permanent with every relaunch). Because of this, and the anger she had towards Slade, Adeline tries to kill him, only being able to shoot his eye out because his reflexes caught on in time.
As I previously mentioned, that could have been altered given Damian was the reason for it. The same thing happened in Arrow with Oliver shooting Slade’s eye out, but I wasn’t not a fan of how they approached Jericho in Arrow for other reasons. In Judas Contract, they could have said that Adeline tried to shoot him, but missed completely or left it at Adeline and Slade divorcing before Jericho left the hospital and Adeline, Joey, and Grant were briefly put into witness protection while they moved.
Jump to the present and Adeline states that she and Joey wish to help. Adeline gives Dick the information he needs while Joey joins Dick as Jericho to help rescue the Titans. It’s also here that readers get a taste for Joey’s powers, which involve him being able to possess and take control of others, as he possess Nightwing to prove it.
They go off to save the Titans, but do end up captured. When they are brought before Slade, Terra, and Brother Blood, Slade is disturbed. This is the first time in years that he had seen his son, who he still loved, and is troubled by the fact that his son as been put into a nostalgic situation. Terra starts to realize that Jericho is Slade’s son, having seen photos of Slade’s family previously.
Jericho, upon regaining consciousness, possesses his father to help free himself and Nightwing as well as working on freeing the Titans. It around this point that Terra, in a deteriorating mental state, starts falling apart and attacks Slade and the Titans. She would ultimately die with Slade surviving and the Titans getting a new member. There is also a brief moment where Jericho feels guilty for hurting his father, who he still very much loved, despite knowing that it had to be done.
Because of this Jericho was crucial to the story. And while Teen Titans 2003 didn’t include Jericho in their Judas Contract arc, it mostly has to do with it being a show geared towards children and wouldn’t have covered half of what the comic did in this arc. Jericho also appeared later in the show and, had they continued, maybe viewers would have gotten something about Jericho and Slade’s relationship.
The Judas Contract movie doesn’t have the same excuse. It was a PG-13 movie and considering that they slipped in the comic version of Slade and Terra’s relationship, they could have easily gone over Jericho’s story. Even if they had to bump it up to an R rating because of the violent nature of Jericho’s accident, it would still be possible.
Keeping Jericho’s appearance to a minimum in the movie undercuts important elements of the comic. I remember seeing a discussion mentioning how both Terra and Jericho were a Judas in the arc. Terra is the Judas of the Titans while Jericho was a Judas against his father. Note: If I happen to find the post I will link it. And again, with Judas Contract being Jericho’s debut, he should have had a bigger role in the movie.
Because of that, I don’t think Judas Contract should have limited Jericho. I feel like including him could have worked if they had to cut some of the Damian and Deathstroke scenes and/or had a longer run time. If run time was an issue than that’s fine, but if that were the case, I do feel like they could have reworked or tweaked the movie a little bit to make it work out.
The character of Joey “Jericho” Wilson shouldn’t have been cut due to how important the character was to the source material it was adapting. It also had the rating to tell Jericho’s story. So I don’t know why they wouldn’t have included it.
With all of that said, allow me to jump into the Teen Titans version of the Judas Contract and what it did better.
What I Feel Teen Titans (2003) Did Right
When it comes to the Teen Titans animated series there a a few things to remember. That is was geared to a younger audience and as such, certain aspects had to be changed. Of course it did have mature moments, like the entirety of the episode Haunted, but there were certain things that they had to censor for the targeted demographic. Some that sound kind of silly in hindsight, like going with Slade instead of Deathstroke (because Deathstroke wasn’t kid friendly), and some censoring that made sense, like the whole relationship between Terra and Slade. That said, Teen Titans 2003 has gone down as a classic Cartoon Network program. As well as one of my favorites. That doesn’t effect why I felt it did the Judas Contract better, as there are episodes and such I can critique like Things Change and Every Dog Has His Day, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t one of my favorite CN shows then and now.
What I felt season two, the season that focused on Terra and the Judas Contract, did right comes down to three factors: How they approached the Terra and Slade dynamic, Terra’s arc being a refreshing take on the character, and how it approached loss and betrayal.
The Slade and Terra Dynamic
One thing I think I can say most people appreciated is how the dynamic between Slade and Terra was changed. Granted, I never knew about the creepy romantic side of it until I was in my teens, years after the show had ended. That said, knowing that now, I think it was for the better. Not only because it wasn’t appropriate for a younger audience, but because they could still approach Terra joining Slade without it.
Despite it being a “kid’s show”, it was able to approach this dynamic well. It went with the apprentice route from season 1, but with Slade conning Terra into believing he could help her control her powers. And while that might have helped, he also talked her into joining him without much trouble, unlike Robin, who he had to threaten to destroy his friends if he didn’t do as he said.
Slade basically gave her what she wanted while manipulating her into thinking the Titans were her enemies. And even though she agreed, Slade did have a contingency plan if she decided to defect. That being his ability to control her through her suit.
It wouldn’t last as she did regain control and sacrificed herself in order to save the Titans and kill Slade. Slade may have learned from season one, but he still failed to get an apprentice in season two.
Terra’s Character Arc
This is probably one of if not the only time Terra wasn’t pure evil. Unlike in New Teen Titans, the Judas Contract movie, Teen Titans GO!, and the comics (the Young Justice animated series also had a Judas Contract arc, but I haven’t caught up), Terra wasn’t inherently evil. She just wanted to find a home and family while also learning to control her powers.
Whether or not viewers liked Terra will depend on the viewer, and whether or not they like to ship them another issue entirely (shipping when someone pairs two characters romantically). However, this version of Terra is different than most, if not all of her other versions/adaptations. She wasn’t always a villain, looking for help wherever she could, and was redeemable.
What made this Terra unique, and possibly enjoyed more, was the fact that she could be redeemed. She wasn’t too far gone to realize she she messed up, even if it did take a while to realize that. She also wasn’t always evil. Of course, her actions while she was working with Slade aren’t excusable. However, she at least recognized that she was in the wrong and tried to make up for it however she could.
This came in the form of Terra sacrificed herself. It wasn’t because she had a vendetta, but because she wanted to protect the people who truly mattered (the Titans and Beast Boy especially) and reverse the damage she had caused.
Though she can still be critiqued for her decisions, I do thing that this version of Terra is one of the better ones. She was a character that wasn’t looking for chaos, but help, and unfortunately found it in the wrong place while in a state of naïveté. I’m sure that if they wanted to go with the ‘always evil’ route, they would have figured out a way to do it. I don’t think they would have wanted to for the sake of the show’s demographic and the fact she was a member of the Teen Titans, unlike Slade who was always the villain, but they could have. However, I think that by not doing it, Terra’s story was pretty effective.
Betrayal and Loss
It also addressed betrayal and loss in a fairly reasonable way. It almost feels like the five stages of grief with everyone approached her betrayal differently. Denial could be seen with how Beast Boy refuses to see that she is completely lost. Bargaining could be seen when Robin fights Terra, using his own time as Slade’s apprentice to try and reason with her. Anger was a common sentiment. This is seen the most when Raven fights Terra. Depression can be seen with Beast Boy after she defects in Betrayal. And acceptance can be seen after she thinks she destroys all of the Titans and it seems that even Beast Boy believes she isn’t realizing her situation and accepts that she has to be stopped.
As for loss, while viewers don’t get to see how the Titans are effected much. However, they do get to see how the Titans honor and grieve over her sacrifice. And when she returns in Things Change, Beast Boy tries to bring back Terra’s memories in the hope of having her become a Titans again, which unfortunately does not come to pass (which may or may not have been explored more in a sixth season if the show got one).
Those are three ways that I feel that Teen Titans 2003 did Judas Contract better.
What About Jericho?
For those of you who might be wondering why I’m not critiquing Teen Titans for including Jericho, the answer is pretty simple. Target audience and missed opportunities. Because of the target audience, Teen Titans did have to censor some aspects of what the show was based on. Sure, episodes like Haunted and the entirety of season 4’s Trigon arc were dark, but there were some things that were avoided.
Including the odd reason behind the whole Slade instead of Deathstroke name change, Teen Titans didn’t cover Grant’s death, which was a big reason why Slade was so dead set on destroying the Titans, and the sensitive nature of Starfire’s slavery and Blackfire’s role in it. It certainly wasn’t 4Kids levels of censorship, but I can understand why they would censor those aspects. With that in mind, I don’t see Teen Titans covering the nature of Jericho’s injury. At least to the same gravity as the comics did.
As far as missed opportunities, Jericho does show up towards the end of season 5. Why that late, I can only really speculate. I believe that was either because, it might have felt odd to throw a new character in at the same time as Terra, Slade’s son at that, or with the final showdown with the Brotherhood of Evil, he wasn’t the only new face to be with the Titans, and fit in with the Titans expanded team.
In the case of the former, I feel it is more excusable for Teen Titans as opposed to the Judas Contract movie since it was adapting the story over the course of a season and had to take some liberates due to what they had to cut out. Judas Contract 2017, on the other hand, was a straight forward adaptation with tweaks needed to fit into the DC Animated Movie Universe. Much like Hush and how Justice League War being an adaptation of the first few issues of New 52’s Justice League. So Judas Contract 2017 had the ability to stay closer to the original story as possible, unlike Teen Titans, which had to censor quite a few things in order for it to get to it’s target audience.
Plus, Teen Titans had a habit of having seasons focus on a specific character. There would be episodes that would focus on the team, but, the season would focus on a specific character for the season’s overarching story. Season one focused on Robin and his obsession with Slade, concluding with the Apprentice two parter. Season two focused on Terra. Three dealt a lot with Cyborg, H.I.V.E., and Brother Blood. Trigon was the center of season four’s conflict, which put Raven at the center stage. And five focused a lot on Beast Boy, his Doom Patrol roots, and the Brotherhood of Evil.
Which brings me to my next point. The nonexistent sixth season. While Teen Titans was ultimately cancelled after five seasons and given a movie to give it a proper conclusion, a number viewers would have liked a sixth season. This sixth season could have addressed how Terra came back to life and the creature they were fighting in the finale. I also like to think that season six could have addressed Jericho being Slade’s son.
Cancelling it did leave some questions and plot points unanswered. And while it briefly lived on in tie in comics titled Teen Titans Go! (not to be confused with the comedic reboot), but to my knowledge, they never addressed it there. Rose, Jericho’s sister, however, did show up in it, which might explain why she appears in the Teen Titans Go! series.
Teen Titans’ second season and The 2017 animated adaptation of The Judas Contract both told the same story. One had to be a bit more censored to fit a young demographic, while the other had the rating to explore elements that the other didn’t. Even so, how Teen Titans approached it was better. Because, while the 2017 Judas Contract was able to cover ground that Teen Titans couldn’t, focusing time on the Deathstroke and Damian rivalry and not including Jericho hindered it. More so than Teen Titans, which didn’t bring up the character until later for whatever reason the showrunners had. Teen Titans, though censored, was able to tell the Judas Contract story in a way that felt compelling and it was a refreshing take on Terra.
I know turn it over to you. What are your thoughts on the Judas Contract story? Did you like the 2017 adaptation? Why or why not? What were your thoughts on Teen Titans adaptation in season two? What are your thoughts on Terra, in general and/or in either adaptation?