A few years back (around 2006) when it announced Warner Brothers Animation would adapting well-known comic book stories to animated films, one of the stories bandied about was “The Judas Contract.” The storyline originally ran in Tales of the Teen Titans #42-44, culminating in New Teen Titans Annual #3 (1984).
This was the New Teen Titans in their heyday, when co-creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez managed to capture lightning in a bottle.
The animated film? Not so much.
It took about a decade for the film to see the light of day, because (according to one insider) it was a tough nut to crack, for many reasons. The Teen Titans Go! cartoon series was very kid friendly, and presumably fans of that show – as well as Warner Bros. executives – may not have been ready for the mature subject matter of the Judas Contract.
In the story, a geo-path named Tara Markov joins the Teen Titans, but after several issues it is revealed she is in league with Deathstroke, who has been trying to take down the team since New Teen Titans #2 (December 1980). It is a dark story, full of character nuances, as well as plenty of action and intrigue.
So, what went wrong translating the story to film? Well, in my opinion, lots of things.
It opens with a sequence in which the original Teen Titans – Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, and Bumblebee – come to the aid of an alien princess under attack. Defeating her would be captors, the princess joins the Titans as Starfire.
However, other than Beast Boy, these members of the Teen Titans are then tossed aside. Voiced by the actors of Young Justice, it’s as if their whole purpose was create a “continuity of casting,” in the hope tying the two projects more closely together. But such effort is completely negated by not featuring them in overall story. If the character does not advance the storyline, why feature them in the first place? Just to give the actor some work?
And what purpose did the opening scene serve? None, other than to introduce Starfire, which seems unnecessary. Do we need to know more than Starfire is Nightwing’s alien girlfriend and teammate? It is Terra who needs a suitable introduction. After all, she has pivotal role in the story as the girl who betrays the Titans.
While it’s made clear it’s not an arbitrary act, her backstory remains fuzzy. It is fed to the audience in brief flashbacks which do little to help define her motivations. A victim of severe abuse, she is rescued by Deathstroke. I can only presume he inserted her into the Titans, playing the long game as her emotional scars made her ripe for his manipulation
Five years later, Starfire is now leading a new group of Titans, comprised of Raven, Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, and Robin IV (Damian Wayne). Former-Robin-now-Nightwing has returned to help the team take down the Hive, led by Brother Blood. As the film progresses, Robin discovers Terra’s betrayal, even as Beast Boy and Terra seem to grow closer. But it can generally be assumed it’s part of her strategy to catch everyone off guard.
I can’t decide if the story was to be a character study, in which case I feel the voice direction was lacking in some way. Call it pathos, or emotion, or whatever, it just seems to fall short of previous animated projects.
In which case the action should fill in the gaps, but it doesn’t. It tries, but perhaps all the ingredients that help make for good action sequences (editing, music, dialogue,sound effects, special effects, etc.) just fail to mix properly, like a soufflé that fails.
My impression is that the DC Animated Universe we have known has had its day. Films such as The Judas Contract and the controversial Killing Joke have failed to maintain momentum. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s simply the nature of the business. Rather than generate a “special project,” I would prefer Warner Animation to concentrate on creating a sustainable, well-written series, as it did with Batman, Superman, and Justice League, but separate from those. A new foundation may be what the audience needs.