Friday, April 28, 2017

'The New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract' trade paperback/animated movie comparison

The standard belief is that when it comes to the book and the movie, the book is always better.

That's the case with the trade paperback THE NEW TEEN TITANS: THE JUDAS CONTRACT, which compiles the 1983-'84 storyline. But the 2017 animated adaptation also is excellent.

In both versions, the premise is the same. Newly introduced Tara Markov betrays the Teen Titans to Deathstroke, who fulfills a contract (albeit the one in the comic book series is slightly different).

Most of the circumstances remain the same too: Raven remains wary of Tara (known as the earth-mover Terra) and Garfield Logan (Changeling in the Bronze Age of Comics, but currently known as Beast Boy), has romantic feelings for Tara. Each character remains obnoxious, tries to be funny but fails miserably and Garfield and Tara are as hard to endure as ever. Nightwing saves the day, Brother Blood is secondary in some ways to Deathstroke — and certainly far less compelling — and a 33-year-old spoiler alert: Terra dies at the end.

There are four main differences: The Teen Titans' roster, which member is the leader and two elements left out of the animated version: Dick Grayson's transformation into Nightwing and Deathstroke's ex-wife, son and as a result, his origin.

The original team of course consists of: Nightwing, Starfire, Raven, Changeling, Cyborg, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash.

Wonder Girl takes over leadership when Grayson calls it quits as Robin the Teen Wonder (THE NEW TEEN TITANS No. 39). He symbolically takes off the uniform as he informs his teammates it's time to establish himself away from Batman — something with which he'd wrestled for many issues beforehand and in real time, several years.

Wally West's announcement, only a few panels earlier, to quit the team for return to college full-time, is trumped by Grayson's more dramatic one.  Grayson remains with the Teen Titans, albeit in civilian clothes and without a secret identity for several issues.

In the animated movie, the roster varies. Cyborg and Wonder Girl aren't members; Cyborg is part of the Justice League and Wonder Girl has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo in the closing minutes. Kid Flash has an extended cameo in the opening sequence during an early incarnation of the team when they meet Starfire. (And it's love/lust at first sight for Grayson's Robin!)

Blue Beetle and Damian Wayne's Robin are Teen Titans in the animated version. Starfire has been the team leader, yet Nightwing's fairly recent return rocks that dynamic only slightly.

Deathstroke, in both versions, kidnaps the Teen Titans (except Nightwing) from separate places so he can fulfill his contract with Brother Blood, who is much more psychotic in print. Since he's secondary to Deathstroke in the movie, there is no political subplot which explores just how deranged Brother Blood is. His inclusion in the animated version seems to stem more from a plot convenience than anything else.

In the movie, Deathstroke assumes Nightwing is dead after their battle, while in the printed original, Grayson (in his civvies) manages to elude the mercenary after they fight. Yet in both cases Grayson uses his detective skills to figure out how Deathstroke got the drop on his teammates and how they were kidnapped.

Deathstroke/Wade Wilson's wife isn't in the movie, which hardly mentions his family. Tara/Terra regularly worries that Wilson is "going soft on me" since he often is found musing over a family photo in the original story. It's not until the concluding issue that Terra realizes the people in the picture are his wife and son.

Wilson's ex-wife makes a convenient appearance while Grayson looks for the Teen Titans. She's the one who connects the dots and convinces Grayson that Tara secretly has been partnering with Deathstroke and spying on the team ever since the young heroes met her.

Dick Grayson reveals his Nightwing identity in
TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS No. 44
(July 1984).
Since the ex-wife is eliminated from the movie, there is no telling of Wilson's somewhat laborious origin (which takes up most of that issue) and no introducing Jericho, a new character in the comics. Wilson's son helps Nightwing infiltrate Brother Blood's headquarters and save the Teen Titans. But let's be honest: the mute hero is of little use otherwise in future issues and adds little to the team dynamics.

It''s unfortunate that Grayson's big reveal in his new Nightwing identity is in the same two-panel page as Joseph Wilson in his Jericho costume. (Why Teen Titans co-creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez didn't have him in uniform when he and his mother came to Titans Tower originally to speak to Grayson is beyond me.) This time it's Grayson who is upstaged.

Tara/Terra, from her first comic-book appearance, is firmly established as Deathstroke's co-conspirator.

The movie is more subtle revealing that she is Deathstroke's lover — even though she turns 16 shortly before being killed off. Wolfman attempts to make Tara a femme fatale or even a temptress when she is dolled up in makeup and wearing lingerie in various scenes, but the scenario is hard to take, if not ridiculous. The Deathstroke-Tara/Terra relationship is revealed much later in the animated film. (But it's very creepy either way!) The print version of Deathstroke worries much more over Terra's allegiance.

The Teen Titans react to the Deathstroke's revelation that Terra has been
working for him in THE NEW TEEN TITANS ANNUAL (1984).
Terra is equally defiant in both stories.

The original incarnation is much more arrogant, smart-mouthed and bratty — if you can believe it. The animated Terra struggles much more with spying on the Teen Titans, whereas in the comics she's clearly distasteful of the team and only pretends to be their teammate for only as long as Deathstroke's mission takes. Also, Beast Boy's romantic feelings have a bit more weight than the crush it is in printed form, where Tara kissing him comes out of left field.

Terra's rage in the finales brings about her death, yet the animated version feels slightly more heroic. The movie finale also focuses more on her showdown with Deathstroke, which resonates more with the bigger storyline.

In the end, Terra's betrayal hits harder in print and the animated take on her death feels more raw. Both versions are excellent and enjoyable, but I give the edge to the original.

Grades:
• 1983-'84 storyline — Art: A (It's George Perez — helloooo!); Story: A-
2017 animated film: B+

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