By: J. David Weter
Growing up comes down to the firsts: First day of school, first date, first heartbreak. For the Teen Titans, the latter is the most important, and “The Judas Contract” is that first real heartbreak. The New Teen Titans was a book that had captured the fan community. Written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Perez, this was THE book of the early to mid-eighties. By the time this storyline, which ran through Tales of the Teen Titans issues 42-44 and Annual number 3, came about, the book was constantly at the top of the sales charts.
When the story opens The Titans, which include Wonder Girl, along with Cyborg, Changeling, Starfire, Raven, and new recruit and Titan-in-training Terra, are facing a time of change. Wally West, Also known as Kid-Flash, and Dick Grayson, Robin, are retiring from active service. Dick wants to get out from under the legacy of Batman, and Wally is simply ready to move on. Little does the team know (although we, the reader, are painfully aware) that Terra is a spy, sent to gather information about the Titans for The Terminator (He wouldn’t be called Deathstroke until further down the road, to distinguish him from the James Cameron movie). Deathstroke, in turn, is working a contract for an organization that is trying to make a name for itself by killing costumed heroes H.I.V.E. Terra quickly learns the Titans real identities, which Deathstroke uses to orchestrate systematic attacks on the individual members, and bring them into H.I.V.E. custody. The stinging part of the attacks, is that Deathstroke puts a personal spin to them, using the Titans’ relationships with one another to catch them all unaware. Only Dick Grayson is able to overcome his trap, and sets about finding his teammates. Along the way, he meets The Terminator’s wife and son, Joseph, who has abilities of his own.
While the issues bear the Teen Titans title, this is Dick Grayson’s story. We watch as the sidekick we’ve known since 1940 grows up, evolving into Nightwing for the first time, taking his name from stories that Superman once told him. This is the major turning point for a character that would become a very strong, very intrinsic part of the DC Universe. Nightwing uses his investigative skills to work his way to H.I.V.E. where the battle to save the Teen Titans begins. It’s an emotional battle, as Joseph uses his ability to possess other people’s bodies to turn his father into a weapon against the machinations The Terminator put in place. The heartbreak comes in the form of Terra’s final fate. Consumed by pure hatred for the Teen Titans, she kills herself. Some of the most poignant moments come in the Titan’s unwillingness to accept the betrayal.
Cyborg is the only Titan to realize how much sense it makes that Terra has stabbed them in the back, and even he struggles to accept it. Changeling simply does not understand. A romance had been blossoming, albeit a one-sided one, between the two of them. Gar’s unrelenting, innocent view that Terra is still one of the Titans, makes you feel for him. Especially when Terra buries herself as a result of her power over dirt and rocks, and Changeling desperately digs for her body, never losing hope that she should be redeemed. Even though the Titans manage to defeat H.I.V.E. there is still a quiet, somber moment at the end, when Wonder Girl says that they found Terra’s body when the world of the Titans feels far away from the innocent days of fighting The Mad Mod.
There is a reason that “The Judas Contract” has been collected several times over, and is revered amongst Teen Titans fans, it is a pure, raw punch to the gut. The reader watches, knowing that Terra is working for The Terminator, knowing that she is a mole. Panel by panel, her treachery grows more personal as she digs her way to the heroes’ cores. The Titans, even by this point, were more than a team. They were family, brothers and sisters bonded together, growing together, working in the shadows of their mentors. To welcome somebody into their fold wasn’t a clinical decision. It wasn’t filling out a team based on power sets. Joining the Titans was being made a part of a home. Terra was a part of that family, and her betrayal hits harder because of that. Another fascinating element of this story, is that Wolfman and Perez had planted the seeds for “The Judas Contract” as far back as issue number 2 of The New Teen Titans.
The only major weakness to the story is the fact that Dick Grayson is the main focus of the issues. It’s less of a Teen Titans story, and more of a Dick Grayson evolution with the Teen Titans in a supporting role. A second,more minor weakness was that we don’t get a lot of time to really see the aftermath within the storyline proper. The Titans only have a page to let the entire gravity of what just happened settle in. However, that is minor because the run that followed reflected the damage done in the wake of Terra. Jericho joins the team, the stories get a little more somber, and even though Terra is dead, her ghost will haunt Titan’s Tower for many, many years to come.
The characters were really fleshed out in the hands of Wolfman and Perez. The lived, they breathed, they were real. Of course, Perez is a living legend, an artist in the upper echelon, because of stories like this. The designs were unique, his line work is sharp, and the detail in the panels is unsurpassed. It’s art on a level that has been reached by only a handful of others.
Growing up is a hard thing to do, and the Teen Titans learn that the hard way. It’s hard to believe that in only four issues, the entire paradigm of the Titans was turned upside down, and (even though it’s a cliché) nothing would be the same. It’s an event, before pre-planned, mega-hyped events were the norm. The echoes of this story are still felt today, and even in a re-read, the emotion is pure, and easily overcomes the weaknesses of the story.
Overall Grade: 9/10