Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Guest Review - "The Judas Contract", part two

Doug: We hope you enjoyed Mike Wilson's introduction to his reviews of the books that made up "The Judas Contract" storyline. He's back today with the body of that tale, one of the best of the latter Bronze Age.

"The Judas Contract" by M.S. Wilson

Tales of the Teen Titans #42 (May 1984)
"The Eyes of Tara Markov"
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Dick Giordano

This is part 1 of the Judas Contract, where things really start getting wild. I love the title of this issue, which I'm assuming was inspired by "The Eyes of Laura Mars", though I haven't seen that movie. This one starts with Tara still taking photos with her contact lens camera. Only this time, she's taking photos of the Titans in their civilian identities, starting at Donna Troy's photo studio, where Donna is taking some bikini shots of Starfire. They all go to Donna's apartment where we see Terry Long, Donna's fiance and the world's most hated supporting character. They're planning the wedding, and feeling a bit overwhelmed, so Gar says they can hold the wedding at his (well, Steve Dayton's) mansion. Donna asks Dick to give her away, and asks Starfire and Tara to be bridesmaids (apparently Raven has already declined). Tara seems touched by Donna including her; will this change her mind about spying on the Titans? Don't count on it.

They drop by Dick's apartment next, and Tara is still taking pictures. As they leave, Tara speaks for readers everywhere and asks Gar why he acts like such an idiot all the time. Gar says he feels inadequate around the other Titans, since all of them would be successful without their powers, but he's got nothing else going for him. Tara tries to give him some advice, but he doesn't want to listen. They drop by a park and watch Vic (Cyborg) Stone attempting to ice skate ... and failing miserably. Of course, Gar makes fun of him, with a nod to Bambi. They go by Vic's place, which is in a run-down neighbourhood. Vic finds a letter saying his grandparents are coming home and freaks out, though he won't explain why. Later, Gar and Tara get all smocchy-smoochy down at the docks, even as we're reminded that Tara's still spying. At Titan Tower, Tara tries to get Raven to open up, but Raven's empathic abilities mean she can detect some bad vibes coming from Tara. She's not sure if it's Tara herself, or just some residue of Trigon's evil, but she's pretty snotty to Tara. That makes Tara mad and she vows that she'll take care of Raven herself when the time comes.

The next day, the Titans are testing themselves at their HQ. Cyborg lifts a magnetized five ton weight (Pfffft, Spider-Man can lift twice that!) to prove that he can still push himself beyond his limits, like he did when he was fully human. Wonder Girl and Starfire do their best Robin Hood vs. Little John impersonation, fighting each other with quarterstaves. But instead of fighting on a log over a river, they seem to be on an air matress in the swimming pool; either way, the loser gets wet. Starfire wins, extending her unbeaten streak, but they hug it out afterwards. Next up are Changeling and Terra, who mix it up outside. Of course, Changeling is an obnoxious ass and Terra lets her psycho side show when she freaks out and tries to kill him. She apologizes profusely and says it's a delayed reaction from when she was held by the terrorists. Strangely, they all seem to believe her (with the possible exception of Raven, but she isn't really the type to share her feelings anyway). Anyway, this one doesn't end with a hug.

Back at Casa Terminator, Slade Wilson tells Tara she almost blew it by letting her true emotions show. She isn't worried, but Slade says the Titans shouldn't be underestimated. They prepare to attack the Titans, using the knowledge of their civilian identities gleaned by Tara. It seems Slade is completing the contract his son Grant (aka Ravager from issue #2) had with HIVE to kill the Titans. Since Grant died, Slade figured it was his obligation to finish what his son started. They leave to carry out the assignment and we see that Slade is a spyee as well as a spyer; a woman (plus someone with blond hair and a really funky perm) is watching Slade and Terra ... and she seems to know Slade from way back. Who is she? We'll have to wait until next issue to see.

Tales of the Teen Titans #43 (June 1984)
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Dick Giordano/Mike DeCarlo

This one gets crazy right away. We see Dick Grayson working at his desk (on a typewriter... man, I feel old) and Terminator comes busting in the window. I'm assuming this is Dick's apartment, where Gar and Tara saw him last issue, but why does his desk have a name plate on it? Do people use name plates in their own homes? Maybe he's at some kind of office? I have no idea. Anyway, Dick and Terminator fight, and it's obvious Terminator knows his secret identity. He mentions the HIVE contract and says he doesn't want to kill him, since the terms are "dead or alive". Dick starts analyzing the situation (that's what a decade hanging out with Batman will get you) and he gets Terminator to knock him out the window so he can go look for the others. Termy goes after him, but Dick gets away. We see the woman from the end of last issue and the blond dude, whose name is Joseph; he not only has that wild perm, but some pretty crazy mutton-chops too. They're still following Terminator, who's kinda shook up about losing Dick Grayson, and is worried about Terra double-crossing him. He actually sounds pretty paranoid.

When his emergency signal goes unanswered, Dick starts checking on the other Titans. He finds Kory and Donna's place blown up and we get a flashback of Kory opening a "present" supposedly sent by Dick himself. It explodes and knocks her out. Dick checks Donna's studio and realizes she was taken too. We get another flashback of her mixing photo chemicals and the mixture giving off a gas that knocks her out. Dick deduces that Terminator must've switched chemicals so Donna would accidentally create ether. It's obvious Terminator had knowledge of their civilian identities, so Dick takes Donna's car and goes to look for the others. He doesn't seem to notice the woman and Joseph (who we learn is her son) following. He checks Cyborg's place and sees he was taken too, this time with the old "electrically-charged metal bands in the kitchen chair" trick. I'm not sure how Terminator got the bands, the mechanism, and the power source inside that chair... it looks pretty spindly to me. Anyway, Dick heads for Titan Tower next, hoping to find Terra or Raven.

But neither of them are there, though there are signs of a fight, including some of Terra's "earthworks". Dick is worried that Terminator has taken Terra and Raven, but the woman who was following him made it to the Tower ahead of him and tells him Terra was working with Terminator all along and she's the one who pounded Raven. Dick doesn't want to believe Terra betrayed them, so he calls Gar Logan's place. The maid (who's dressed like someone from a 1920s burlesque show) goes to find him. Gar hasn't been jumped... yet. In fact, he's autographing photos of himself and sticking them in envelopes; it seems someone sent him a bunch of photos (and return envelopes) out of the blue begging him to sign and return them... nothing suspicious about that, nosirree. Naturally, the envelope glue is poisoned (maybe that's where Seinfeld got the idea?) and Gar keels over, as Terminator calls him a "vainglorious dolt"; hey, when he's right, he's right.

When Gar can't be found, Dick realizes everyone but him has been taken and it must've been an inside job. He starts to believe the woman (whose name is Adeline), but wonders how she knows so much about Terminator. She then reveals the shocking truth: "He was... my boyfriend!" No wait, that was "Young Frankenstein"; what Adeline actually says is that Slade Wilson used to be her husband. We then see Terminator delivering the Titans to a HIVE base in the Rocky Mountains. And on that dramatic note, the issue ends. I like how Dick was acting kinda like Batman in this issue, putting clues together and going about everything methodically instead of rushing off half-cocked. I guess there's a reason he's the leader.

Tales of the Teen Titans #44 (July 1984)
"There Shall Come a Titan"
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Dick Giordano/Mike DeCarlo

We begin this issue where we left off, with Dick trying to come to grips with the fact his entire team has been captured, and trying to figure out whether to trust Adeline or not. He gets belligerent with Joseph, who hasn't said a word, then learns he's mute. The caption says Dick feels "awe" when he looks at Joseph; I'm not sure why. I get the feeling Jericho (as Joseph will soon be called) is one of Wolfman's favourite characters... or maybe Perez's favourite, since the intro to the trade paperback says Perez came up with the idea to make him mute. Personally, I never saw Jericho's appeal... I always found him annoying rather than awe-inspiring, but he'll be around for a looooong time, so better get used to him.

Adeline starts telling Dick (and us) Terminator's life story. Slade Wilson lied about his age and fought in the Korean War (I think Marv was trying to do things in somewhat "real time" at this point) and he and Adeline met in the early 60s. She was some kind of highly-trained combat expert, and Slade volunteered for an elite military force. This was just before the Vietnam War really got going. I'm not sure if these are meant to be early Green Berets, or something even more "elite". Adeline trained them and Slade impressed her with his skill. Apparently, she impressed him by showing him up on the combat range. Instead of getting pissy about it, he asked her to teach him everything she could. So, they fought together, fell in love, got married, and he was sent to Vietnam. She was pregnant (with Grant, aka Ravager), so she stayed behind.

Dick doesn't believe her story, because Terminator is almost superhuman. Adeline explains that he volunteered for some experiment (to resist truth serum) and it heightened all his abilities, but it screwed him up a bit too, making him manic at times, then almost comatose at other times. He was discharged from the Army and became depressed, although not too depressed to knock up his wife again. She gave birth to Joseph and they moved to Africa where Slade became a Great White Hunter. Later he became something of a bon vivant, hosting lavish parties and rubbing elbows with the fancy people. He taught his kids to fight; Grant took to weapons readily, but Joseph was more sensitive, learning to play piano and sing beautifully. (See where this is going?)

But their cozy world was shattered one night when some guys showed up to kidnap Joseph. Adeline wasted a couple, but they gassed her and took the kid. That's when she found out her husband was actually Deathstroke the Terminator. They go to get Joseph back from a terrorist called the Jackal; I'm not sure if he's supposed to represent a real person or not. He doesn't look much like the real-world Carlos the Jackal and he looks nothing like Edward Fox, so maybe he's not meant to parallel anyone from real life. Jackal wants the name of whoever hired Terminator to kill a friend of his, but Terminator refuses to tell him, saying he gave his word and his word is his bond. Terminator takes out Jackal and all his men, but one of them started to cut Joseph's throat. He survives, but his vocal cords were severed, rendering him mute. Apparently, Slade never came to the hospital to see Joseph, which pissed Adeline off so much she tried to kill him. His superhuman reflexes saved him, but he lost his right eye. Adeline then filed for divorce. (If you can't kill 'em, divorce 'em)

She tells Dick she's been tracking Terminator, but couldn't get too close while Terra was around, otherwise she might've gotten buried under a ton of rock. She says she knows where the Titans are being held, and Dick gives her hell for wasting time with the A&E Biography of Slade Wilson. But she reminds him he's only one man, and he isn't even Robin anymore, so what can he do? Dick goes upstairs and puts on a new costume while reflecting on his life. He comes back down and says his new name is Nightwing. Adeline announces that her son is a mutant (man, they're everywhere!), has powers (and got a costume from somewhere, apparently), and is now called Jericho. She says Joseph's powers were kept secret from Slade. Dick is hesitant to work with him, but Adeline tells Joseph to demonstrate his powers. He does some kind of "eye contact" thing and disappears into Nightwing, taking over his body, although Dick is still aware of what's going on and can still talk. Jericho then demonstrates the control he has over Dick by doing the classic "stop hitting yourself" move. He pops back out of Nightwing and Adeline points out that Jericho could've just taken Dick over and forced him to do what they wanted. 

So Dick decides to trust them and he and Jericho jet off to find the Titans. I'm not sure why Adeline stays behind, if she's such a hotshot combat expert. As they're flying away, Nightwing says the team already has aliens, witches, shape-changers, and cyborgs, so why not a mutant? He adds, " 'sides, I hear you guys aren't half bad." which I'm sure is meant as an X-Men reference, since NTT was being endlessly compared to the X-Men. Some people thought they were a rip-off of the Marvel mutants, but to me, the styles are quite different. I'd say X-Men has much more in common with the Legion than with the NTT. Anyway, next issue is a biggie (figuratively and literally).

Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3 (1984)
Marv Wolfman-George Perez/Dick Giordano/Mike DeCarlo

This one opens in the HIVE complex where we see the Titans held powerless in the enervator, a gigantic Kirbyesque machine that drains (or dampens) their powers. Terminator gloats (and kinda makes a skeevy pass at Starfire) while the HIVE minions gather. Terminator tells them about finishing Ravager's contract and introduces his helper, Terra. They can't believe she betrayed them, especially Changeling, who assumes she's been brainwashed and urges her to fight it. Outside, Nightwing and Jericho find the base and start sneaking in.

Terminator tells the HIVE leader that he's fulfilled his son's contract, but the HIVE dude reminds him they don't have Kid Flash or Robin. Termy says Kid Flash quit and says his associate, Wintergreen, is tracking down Robin as they speak. But when he contacts Wintergreen, he says he hasn't found Robin yet, but he's getting close. We see Adeline holding a gun on Wintergreen--I guess that's why she stayed behind. We then get some more backstory, about how Wintergreen saved Slade Wilson's life in Korea and Slade returned the favour in Vietnam. Wintergren says he's been worried all along about Slade taking the HIVE contract, and worried about Terra's instability.

At the HIVE base, Nightwing and Jericho conk out a couple of guards and disguise themselves; well, Nightwing disguises himself, but Jericho takes over the guard's unconscious body. We learn that if the person he takes over is unconscious, Jericho can animate their body and even speak, although only in the other person's voice. They infiltrate the main chamber where the Titans are being held, but the guy Jericho took over starts regaining consciousness, which means he'll be able to use his own voice and warn the other HIVE members. So Nightwing and Jericho come out punching. Jericho hops from person to person, adding to the confusion. Nightwing tosses some gas grenades and they beat the hell out of some more HIVE goons. But they run into Terra and she buries them ... literally.

In his quarters, Terminator seems to be having some sort of mid-life crisis. He's called to the main chamber and learns Terra captured Nightwing (or Robin as they all keep calling him). Terra says he can thank her later "if you got the stamina"; yeah, they were definitely getting it on. Jericho is brought in and strapped to the enervator with the Titans. Terminator recognizes him right away and demands he be released, but HIVE says that since he was helping the Titans, he'll die with them. Terra recognizes Jericho from the photos Terminator was looking at and announces that Jericho is his son. HIVE realizes how valuable Jericho is and tries to make a deal with Terminator. As he goes to look at his son, they make eye contact and Jericho takes him over.

Terminator is aware of what's happening, but can't stop himself from decking Terra and freeing the Titans, who quickly take advantage and attack HIVE. Not knowing that Terminator is being controlled, Terra thinks he turned on her and really loses it. She goes nuts and tries to kill him. Even after everything, some of the Titans (notably Starfire and Changeling) still can't accept Terra as an enemy. The Titans cut a swath through the HIVE goons and start destroying the complex. Terra is still trying to kill Terminator and drops him into a chasm. Nightwing realizes how crazy she is and bops her with a stun disc. Before he can reach her, Terminator sucker punches him and tries to reason with Terra. But she's too far gone and is ready to kill him.

Changeling takes that as a sign that she's still on their side, but she quickly gives him the facts: she never cared about the Titans, has always been filled with hate, and all her friendliness (including the smooching with Gar) was fake. She admits the Statue of Liberty terrorists were working for Terminator and the whole attack was just a way of getting them to trust her. She covers Changeling and Nightwing in mud, almost smothering them. Raven tries to use her empathic abilities to reason with her, while Cyborg pins Terminator and tries to get him to call Terra off, but Termy says she's too crazy ... then he cuts Vic's hands off. He threatens to cut Vic's head off next, but Jericho zaps him before he can. Terra freaks out and decks Raven, then goes nuts and pulls lava from underground to destroy the complex. Changeling flies into her eye and she goes completely off the deep end, bringing half the complex down on top of herself, though none of the Titans are hurt.

Gar and Wonder Girl search through the rubble, and Gar is still convinced (or trying to convince himself) that Terminator somehow turned Terra evil. Jericho and Terminator (who's tied up) are both upset at the circumstances of their "reunion" and both end up crying. Speaking of which, Gar finds Terra's body and is devastated. Later we see Terra's funeral, with all the Titans and the Outsiders, including Batman. Terra's brother, Geo-Force, gives a speech about nobility and sacrifice and all that. Watching from nearby, Adeline and Joseph realize the Titans didn't tell Terra's brother (or anyone else) that she was a raving, hate-filled lunatic. Adeline says the Titans are very noble and Joseph will fit in well with them, but his mind is elsewhere.

And that's the Judas Contract. In the intro to the trade paperback, Wolfman and Perez admit that they created Terra with this story in mind; they always knew she was a spy working for Terminator, and they always knew she was going to die. Talk about playing the long game. So I guess all the little moments where it looked like Terra might be having second thoughts were just red herrings. In fact, during the final fight, just before her death, Wolfman's captions say that Terra was too full of hate, too far off the deep end to ever be rehabilitated. Maybe that was his way of silencing all the fans who were going to say "Did she have to die? Wasn't there some way she could've been saved?", questions the Titans will be asking themselves too. Apparently she couldn't be saved. But I think that makes the story better, because it makes the wound deeper, and it affects the way the Titans look at the world. It could make them less open, more suspicious, but overall i don't think it does.

The art is spectacular, of course, and Wolfman's writing is great too. He shows subtlety, humour, and a real grasp of the characters. I know a lot of people find Changeling annoying (and he is!), but I can't help feeling bad for him here. Terra's betrayal hurt him more than anyone, and he keeps blaming Terminator for it. I think this arc is where Gar grows up a bit, and even though he doesn't lose his sense of humour (such as it is), Wofman writes him as more mature from here on out. If I remember right, when the Titans break up, it's Gar and Victor that rally to get them back together. And there's the follow-up to this story, where Gar gets the chance to exact revenge on Terminator for Terra's death, but chooses not to. It's also great to see Dick finally getting out of Batman's long shadow and becoming his own man. At this point, Jason Todd is already acting as Robin, so there's no need for two of them. But we also see Batman's continuing influence when Dick uses his deductive ability to figure out what's going on. That becomes something of a trademark (like when he investigates Donna's past).
So, I'd say the Judas Contract deserves its "classic storyline" appellation. NTT was definitely on a roll back then!


Garett said...

Thanks for the review Mike! I like Changeling, and I don't mind Terry Long, but Jericho I find a bit dull. I can see that he's an artistic challenge for Perez, to express the character with just facial expressions and body language. Perez said in an intro that he wouldn't have been up to the task at the beginning of the series, but had developed enough as an artist by this point to take on a character like Jericho.

Terra's an interesting character to throw in the mix, and I'm glad they planned out her story from the start. Great series! I'm now rereading Terra's intro and the Brotherhood of Evil arc in issues 28-31.

Doug said...

Kudos to Mike for pulling these two posts together. What a monumental task. He was up to the challenge, however -- when he asked if we'd be interested in running his thoughts, we had the material within only a few days. That's passion for this story arc!


Edo Bosnar said...

Great job, Mike - not just for today's post but the entire series. Your rundown now makes me *really* regret that I dropped NTT just before this story really began to develop. I am definitely going to have to land a copy of the trade or something one of these days.
As Garett noted above, introducing Terra as a 'mole' right from the start was an outstanding idea, and based on your review it looks the pay-off was quite good. I also find it interesting the Wolfman and Perez decided to depict as a sociopath through and through, and opted against leaving the way open for any subsequent redemption stories.(Otherwise, since you confirmed in this review that the relationship between Terra and Deathstroke was indeed, erm, physical, it just confirms the skeeviness of the whole thing.)

Anonymous said...

@Doug: Well, it's just lucky for you I have no life :) Actually, I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator, so I find it best to get things done quickly ... otherwise they might not get done at all!

Garrett, I agree about Jericho being boring, but I think he must've been a favourite of Wolfman, considering the way he kept shoving him into the forefront of the comic (especially in the later Baxter series).

Mike Wilson

Anonymous said...

Great job!!! Enjoyed the two parter! I could really feel your love/enjoyment for the story. On my end, I would quibble with the "Title". Yes, Judas is the ultimate betrayer. BUT, he was one of them from the beginning. It wasn't until his falling away that he turned from the group. Tara was a plant from the start, a Trojan Horse, if you will.

After the first part, I went back to my Amazing Adventures reprints of the X-Men and in issue 5, the Blob story, we are introduced to Professor X's musing on his love for Jean!?! I know! Right?

Not only is she a teenager, she's his student. He's acting as a teacher as well as de facto parent!!! (Did I really throw out de facto!?!) (it's a cry for help)

It's The Prowler!!! When I use my desktop, it freezes when the review gets to the part covering about the intro in the trade collection.

(No music, just an open plea to any and everyone who may know Bob Dylan, he may have won a valuable award!!! Please have him contact the Nobel people!!!)

Redartz said...

Fantastic review, Mike! A mammoth storyline; you've sold me. Gotta get that tpb.

Anonymous said...

I think Nightwing's big reveal deserved better than to have Jericho step all over it one panel later.


Terry in Virginia said...

Nice review of one of the better story arcs of DC's best title for the first half of the 1980s.

Here's where complain about Overstreet. About 2 or 3 years ago, I was selling my collection at regional comicons, basing my pricing on Overstreet;s Price Guide. Among the items sold: New Teen Titans #44 (Nightwing's debut). Like most anything from that decade, they said it was worth $3.00. I probably sold it for that or less.

Now that I've decided that I don't really want to part with all those comics I'd sold over a 2-year span, I discover that NTT #44 is being sold for a minimum of $40.

Arrggh. I've learned my lesson. Hope to replace that issue soon and then re-read this whole Judas Contract arc. That would leave only NTT #2 out of reach (I don't think I'll ever be willing to pay upwards of $200 for Deathstroke's debut.

At least I've successfully replaced almost all my Silver Age comics... and added tons of other cool stuff along the way.

Terry in Virginia

Anonymous said...

Something I never noticed before: Nightwing's logo has a TM beside it, meaning it's an unregistered trademark; Jericho's has an R in a circle, meaning it's a registered trademark. Registered trademarks apparently have greater legal protection than unregistered ones. Were people thinking, "Yeah, Nightwing, whatever, but we all know JERICHO is going to be the next big thing!"?


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