Thursday, October 13, 2016

Guest Review - "The Judas Contract", part one

Doug: Hey, look what we found! Man, it's been awhile since we had a guest post. We are happy to welcome back our pal from the Great White North, Mike Wilson, to the reviewer's chair. He has the New Teen Titans on his mind, so strap in for the first part of a 2-part retrospective. Thanks, Mike!

"The Judas Contract" by M.S. Wilson

M.S. Wilson: Not too long ago, Doug did a review of New Teen Titans #2 that drew a lot of praise for that series in general, and for the "Judas Contract" storyline in particular. NTT has always been a favourite of mine and I'd been considering a review of the Judas Contract for a while, so here it is. The story originally ran in Tales of the Teen Titans #s 42-44 and New Teen Titans Annual #3. I just happen to have the trade paperback which also contains New Teen Titans #s 39 and 40, and Tales of the Teen Titans #41, which act as kind of a prelude to the Judas Contract. To keep this review from getting too long, I'll just sum up the three lead-in issues before I get to the main story.

As for backstory, all you really need to know is that Terra is a teenager with the power to control earth, rocks, mud, etc. who first met the Titans when terrorists attacked the Statue of Liberty back in New Teen Titans #26. Terra seemed to be working with the terrorists, but claimed she'd been forced into it.  The Titans, feeling sorry for her, took her into their ranks. Since then, she's been helping them while complaining that they don't trust her because they won't share their secret identities. In hindsight, that seems like a huge red flag, but at the time, it just seemed like a girl with trust issues trying to get closer to her new friends; as it turns out, there was a little more to it...

 New Teen Titans #39 (Feb 1984)
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Romeo Tanghal

This issue starts with the Titans in Alaska, smashing their way into a facility that seems to be guarded by soldiers... American soldiers, as Cyborg points out. The Titans make short work of them and break through a steel door to find ... a trap! Who's surprised? Anyone... anyone... Bueller? They're caught in a high energy cage by the minions of Brother Blood, but they bust out and take down Blood's people. 
In the aftermath, we find out that Terra is a bad guy; how do we know? Because she's drinking and smoking! Oh, and she's hanging out with the Terminator (or Deathstroke, as he's more usually known these days). Terra's been spying on the Titans with a camera implanted in a contact lens. It sounds like Terra's been working with him for a while, gathering intel on the Titans to help him take them down. She and Terminator seem to be more than just friends here; Wolfman later tried to downplay it, but it seems pretty clear that Terra and Terminator are meant to be lovers here, even though she's only sixteen. Terra sees a photo of Terminator's wife and kids and wonders if he's getting soft; he wonders the same about her, so they go outside to spar a bit. Terra seems pretty powerful, and pretty unstable, as she almost kills him. She also says she hates the Titans because they're "sanctimonious do-gooders", which isn't the most compelling motivation, but I guess it's meant to show how screwed up Terra is.

Later, Terra heads to Titan Tower for the monthly meeting. She runs into Kid Flash (in his civilian ID as Wally West) and when they get to the meeting, Wally says he's quitting the Titans. This has been an ongoing thing since the new series started; Wally wasn't all that keen on joining in the first place. Robin also makes an announcement ... he's not going to be Robin anymore. He's not quitting, but has decided he needs a new identity to get him out of Batman's shadow. Terminator is still watching through Terra's eye-camera as the meeting breaks up. Wally leaves with Frances Kane and Dick and Kory watch them go.


New Teen Titans #40 (March 1984)
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Romeo Tanghal

This one starts with Brother Blood being resurrected for the umpteenth time. Back in New York, Gar (Changeling) Logan and Tara (Terra) Markov are being tutored, but Gar keeps acting like an idiot (yeah, I know, what else is new?) and the tutor quits. Gar's guardian, Steve Dayton, gives him hell (apparently that was tutor number six) and says Gar better smarten up or he'll send him to (gasp) public school! The horror... the horror...

On the way to a news conference, Gar calls Tara out on some of her fibs and her attitude. It almost sounds like she might be having second thoughts about her double-crossing ways. The news conference is a Q and A sort of thing between Brother Blood, the Titans, and some politicians. They're debating whether America should send weapons to Zandia (Brother Blood's country) or not. Wolfman gets into a lot of topical stuff here ("If we don't arm them, the communists will"... oh, that old chestnut); Brother Blood says he doesn't want weapons, his government does and he gives a speech that seems to strike a chord with many of the young people watching, despite the Titans' warnings about Blood being evil. That's another topical reference, with Blood appealing to disaffected youth who feel like they don't belong anywhere... shades of the Manson Family, the SLA, Jim Jones, the Moonies, Hare Krishna, and so on.

They realize Blood is a master of propaganda and swaying public opinion, so Dick disguises himself as a reporter and convinces three politicians to go to Zandia on a fact-finding mission. He tags along, but his disguise doesn't hold up to scrutiny and he's captured. When the Titans get an emergency signal, they head over to Zandia (in a cool submarine) and tunnel up through the island, with Terra doing most of the work. They fight Blood's henchmen, but are gassed and captured. Dick seems to be brainwashed and is now working for Blood. That's one of the few complaints I had about the New Titans series... they seem to recycle villains/plots quite a bit: Brother Blood (or his successor) comes back over and over, with Dick "joining" him again in the Baxter series (as well as Raven); Trigon keeps coming back, so do Terminator, Blackfire and the Gordanians, and don't even get me started on how long they drag out the Wildebeest story. Anyway, the rest of them are hung up over Blood's pit full of ... well, blood. He says that by bathing in the blood of his enemies, he gains their strength and he'll soon add the Titans' power to his own. 

Tales of the Teen Titans #41 (April 1984)
"Baptism of Blood"
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Romeo Tanghal

The Titans manage to bust loose and are attacked by some weird-looking monsters. During the fight, Cyborg saves Terra and she's kind of shaken that he'd do that for her; another sign she might be feeling guilty? We also see Terra's bloodthirsty side come out, when she suggests just wasting everybody in Blood's temple ... though, to be fair, Starfire seems to agree with her.They make short work of them and Blood says he'll take them on by himself. 
Elsewhere, the politicians who came with Dick see the ugly side of the Zandian government. The president declares war on Brother Blood and government troops head for Blood's temple. Inside, Blood defeats the Titans by faking them out and tells Dick to kill them, but of course he overcomes his brainwashing and refuses. The government forces blast the temple, freeing the Titans, and Blood falls to his death (supposedly). Strangely, his head lackey doesn't seem too worked up about it. We see the kidnapped politicians condemning the Zandian government, and countries all over the world preparing to accept Brother Blood's followers as refugees. It seems his "death" has caused his Church to proliferate ... which Dick concludes was probably the plan all along.

Doug: Mike will be back on Tuesday to finish this thing he's started. Can't wait -- I also have a trade paperback of this storyline, and my appetite's whetted for a re-read. How about you?



Edo Bosnar said...

To answer Doug's closing question: yes, yes indeed. I stopped reading NTT somewhere just before this whole Tara/Terra thing started really heating up - somewhere in the mid-30s I think. So regretfully, I missed this one, which is considered one of the major story arcs of the entire series.

Thanks for the review and rundown, Mike. Great selection of images as well - they just further whet my appetite.
Also got a laugh out of your 'smoking and drinking' comment. Yep, that used to be the surefire signal that any female character was bad, esp. in comics. Also, I tend to agree about her apparent affair with Deathstroke, who is old enough to be her grandfather, I think. Very skeevy.
Anyway, I think I'm going to start looking around to see if I can't land a reasonably priced copy of the tpb...

david_b said...

This was indeed a major turning point for the Titans title. It was a fun and engaging read up until now; with the advent of more Blood-related subplotting, the early excitement seemed to dissipate and perhaps it overpowered NTT a bit.

Later when it came to the Baxter series (after Perez left..), I personally felt it weighed down the series to a crawl. I recall several reader's letters agreeing to that. It was indeed hard to watch Dick's brainwashing (with Raven's support), and to me the title lost some charm by this point, especially in the after issue 8 or 9 of the Baxter edition, going on for the next dozen or so issues when I departed all together.

Redartz said...

Terrific review, Mike. I read the first parts of this arc when they came out, but missed the ending as I was dropping comics at the time left and right. This title was one that got dropped, so it will be nice to see the ending after all these years. Like Edo, I'm going to be looking for that tpb.

It never fails to amaze me, looking over the art you provide, how much detail Perez fits into a panel. Incredible; makes you wonder how his eyesight is holding up. Great stuff.

Oh, and the Terra / Deathstroke thing; pretty creepy indeed...

Doug said...

I'll echo everyone's repulsion at the implied Deathstroke/Terra tryst. It stood out to me the most when I read this the first time, and to be honest it remains the main thing I recall of the story.

I don't know how old Terry Long was supposed to be, but I always had a similar vibe from him. I know I'm "judging a book by its cover", but I never ever saw he and Donna together.


Garett said...

Great review Mike! I prefer the earlier Brother Blood story in NTT #21-22, but certainly Terra is an interesting character and this story arc is highly regarded. Yes very sharp detail in the art as Redartz says, especially when Perez inks himself as in issue 39. Looking forward to the rest!

Doug, in NTT #12 it says Terry Long's age is 29.

William said...

Awesome job dude!! Love me some classic NTT. I have the entire series up through "The Judas Contract" reprinted in TPBs, and I plan to start reading them all shortly (probably this weekend). Should be a fun trip.

Anonymous said...

@Doug: Well, at least Donna's legal! Terry always came off as older than 29 or 30, at least to me. I'm not bothered quite as much by he and Donna being together as some people are; we'll see Terry in the second half of my review, on Tuesday.

Thanks for the comments, everybody. I've always loved this storyline and it's great to relive all that cool Perez art and Wolfman angst.

Mike Wilson

Anonymous said...

"Also got a laugh out of your 'smoking and drinking' comment. Yep, that used to be the surefire signal that any female character was bad, esp. in comics. Also, I tend to agree about her apparent affair with Deathstroke, who is old enough to be her grandfather, I think. Very skeevy."
There's a panel in the old X-Men series where Jean Grey is at the beach and there are clearly cigs on her beach towel. THAT is how you knew she was going to go Dark Phoenix!
I never understood why Deathstroke (note the name!) was held to some kind of a high standard. He was clearly dead set on massacring a group of kids, but having underage sex was a bridge too far?
Overall, though, this was an interesting arc. Wolfman and Perez had spent the first 25 or so issues (and mini-series) fleshing out the team and the solidifying their alliance, and then followed that, almost like a marriage after a return from the honeymoon, with all sorts of outside strains and influences upon the group, setting the stage for how an infiltrator such as Terra could take them down. The Titans were largely distracted, especially Raven, who, under ordinary circumstances would have perceived the threat and dealt with it, but was too busy fighting her father's influence.

spencer said...

This was the exact comic (#39) that got me back into comics. During my sophomore year, after giving them up in high school (I think I bought into that old trope of "putting away childish things," big mistake). My buddies and I wandered into a 7-11 and there was this striking cover. The funny thing was, I was never a DC fan. But anyway, thousands of dollars later and a lot of enjoyment, here I am.

Martinex1 said...

Great review Mike. Sorry I am late to the party. Just wanted to say that the artwork you shared in the post is really great; it never gets old. That double page splash is a classic. I always wonder how long it takes to work on something like that. It is just packed with detail.

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