Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is one of my three favorite DC stories. It’s only rivaled by Crisis on Infinite Earths or The Reign of the Supermen. And with those two not being likely candidates for animated movie features, I had unrealistically high expectations that this would deliver.
While it’s not an exact page by page adaptation, The Judas Contract film captures the twists, tragedy and heart of this classic tale. Repeated viewings will determine the exact slotting, but this is undoubtedly one of the finest efforts from Warner Bros. Animation. If nothing else, Judas Contract reinforces the notion that WBA can make great films without Batman in a feature role.
Writer Ernie Altbacker does a commendable job streamlining the four issue saga into an 84-minute film while retaining a classic Teen Titans vibe.
Since Justice League vs. The Teen Titans, the teen superhero squad has gained some new members – the returning Nightwing (Sean Maher) and the geokinetic Terra (Christina Ricci). A fun flashback scene showcases the original Teen Titans helping Starfire (Kari Wahlgren) stave off an alien invasion. That sequence doesn’t play a huge role in the film, but it was a blast watching Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash, Bumblebee and Beast Boy in action.
Nightwing is back to help the team take down H.I.V.E. and its cult leader Brother Blood (Gregg Henry, 24 Season 2). Brother Blood represents one of the first truly complex villains in the WBA films. He’s evil and sadistic yet charismatic enough to rally hundreds of devoted followers to his cause.
The Titans meanwhile are learning to further bond as a team. Altbacker makes the smart move of not revolving the story around Damian Wayne (Stuart Allen). Damian has been overused and Judas Contract gives other Titans a chance to shine. Nightwing and Starfire have some great moments that feel the most true to the comic.
Blue Beetle (Jake T. Austin) has a really nice subplot about his inability to control his Bug around people, which makes him a danger to everyone, especially his parents. Beast Boy (Brandon Soo Hoo) is nurses a major crush on Terra, but is having a tough time winning her over. Terra is distressed with flashbacks of her pre-Titans childhood and her need to fit in.
Little do the Titans know that the feared assassin Deathstroke (the late Miguel Ferrer) is targeting them with the help of a sleeper agent. Yeah, the spoiler moratorium could be lifted, but I’ll assume this is new to somebody. After his shoddy treatment in Son of Batman, I was worried Deathstroke would once again be treated like a chump. Thankfully, that’s not the case and he gets the A-level villain treatment he deserves. It doesn’t hurt that Ferrer has a perfectly aloof delivery that really captures Deathstroke’s bada$$ demeanor.
What takes The Judas Contract to a higher level is the amount of patience in character building. Altbacker doesn’t have the benefit of being able to slowly unfold this story over multiple films yet establishes the character dynamics so well that the reactions feel genuine. And with two formidable villains and an unstable wildcard, the threat level is high for the Titans.
My lone complaint is the lack of the Deathstroke origin so masterfully told in Teen Titans #44. That’s considered the apex of the Judas Contract arc for its unique storytelling approach. Given the setup of this movie, that issue’s absence is understandable, but it’s the one thing holding it back from a perfect updated translation of the comic. There’s a nod to that issue in what seems like a trolling scene, but it is intentional and plays in to the stinger scene.
Director Sam Liu (Batman The Killing Joke) delivers a slew of stunning action sequences. The battles have a nice cohesive flow and showcase the Titans’ powers well. Beast Boy has never looked this impressive in a fight. At times, the animation isn’t quite smooth and the characters’ faces and movements look stiff, but that’s not the norm.
Warner Bros. Animation has been frustratingly inconsistent lately, but The Judas Contract provides an immediate course correct. This is high quality work and one DC fans will need to add to their collection.
Rating: 9.8 out of 10
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Animation