Ah, dang it.
I’ll cut right to the chase: I wasn’t a fan of this issue. It’s disappointing, because every other issue of this anthology series has been solid so far; I’ve had my complaints, sure, but the concept of the series has been fun and the delivery has ranged from good to great. In this issue – written by Mat Groom and Kyle Higgins, and illustrated by Tom Raney – I don’t feel the same, and it’s a damn shame that this series of “What If?” stories is coming to an end here.
The premise of the story is very simple: what if Terra was the primary antagonist of The Judas Contract, rather than one of the many various players in the story? I honestly don’t believe you need to read The Judas Contract to understand this, as it’s a fairly simple story; but to understand why this book disappoints me, it’s important I explain my feelings on the source material.
I first read New Teen Titans: The Judas Contract earlier this year, and I liked it well enough. It was an interesting story (despite having aged very poorly in some respects), and a good origin for the character of Deathstroke. It’s easy to see why the story has been retold time and time again, like the Teen Titans television show I grew up on as a kid, or the Judas Contract movie – both with rather positive reception.
The thing about those stories, though, is that they did something that the comic books seem incapable of doing: they made Terra a real person.
There were lots of things that gave me pause in The Judas Contract when I first read it (Beast Boy sexually harassed and assaulted his tutors and perved on his friends and it was played for laughs?), but the biggest offender was, in my opinion, Marv Wolfman’s treatment of Terra. Here you have an underage girl who is being used by an old man, having sex with her to get what he wants… and the character portrayed as truly “evil” is the underage girl. This isn’t a hot take either! Let me show you her death scene in the original story, where Wolfman literally spells it out:
I read about Wolfman finding this concept interesting: a character that the protagonists assume can be redeemed or saved in some way, but is revealed to be beyond their reach. It’s not a terrible idea on paper, but I really don’t think it translates well on the page. In writing a character like Terra, Wolfman not only teases the reader with a character that could be multi-faceted, but then revels in the fact that she’s not. If you write someone who is simply evil for evil’s sake, and they don’t have the charisma to make it fun, then you’re just writing a flat, underwhelming character. This book does feel like a real successor to The Judas Contract, in that Terra is treated exactly the same.
The story is more of what you saw at the end of the original: Terra is evil, she’s a bad person for no reason, and there’s nothing the characters can do about it. There are scenes where, once again, the heroes try to reason with her, and once again, Terra rejects them; except this time it’s through the violent, gory lens of the Dark Multiverse. While other stories portrayed characters who started with good intentions and let their actions spiral out of control, this story is just about Terra continuing to be a bad person. As such, the blood and death feels gratuitous, where it might have seemed shocking in previous Dark Multiverse stories. This is especially evident in the treatment of every other Teen Titans character: almost all of them are rather unceremoniously killed off within a couple of pages. Dick Grayson and Wally West are the major exceptions, and while they’re written decently, their roles are all too brief as well, and certainly nothing to make the story a standout. What this means is the only character with any major attention in this issue is Terra; so making her such a flat, generic evildoer does nothing but bring the entire story down with her. I have never met a person who prefers the Terra in the comics to her in her adaptations, and this issue is the perfect example why: you’re not writing an interesting character by making a teenage girl an evil monster for no reason.
Tom Raney’s artwork, meanwhile, works well for the story! I wasn’t completely floored by it, but I always like to take a moment to credit the artists in every issue I review; you don’t get to draw comics by not putting in time and effort. Every artist in the Dark Multiverse series has been good at the typical brutal violence these stories are known for, but I’d like to praise the seamless references to the original Judas Contract that Raney sprinkled in – I’m sure this was intentional on the part of Mat Groom and Kyle Higgins, but after looking back at the original comic and seeing how perfectly Raney recreated Dick’s outfit and coreography, I had to take a moment to smile.
I also enjoy Terra’s new design that she dons upon taking the moniker of Gaia – it seems like a natural evolution of her original costume. The artwork didn’t blow me away, but I liked these touches that made the story a little more tolerable. My only critique would be how Raney draws Dick in his Robin outfit, but it turns out that’s a reference to the original as well: no matter how hot Dick Grayson is, he can no longer make this look work in any universe.
The ending to this story is the same as every other Dark Multiverse ending: the main character looming over a doomed world with the celestial observer, Tempus Fuginaut, shaking his head sadly. The final words in this comic spell “The End?”, but I can’t see how these stories will be relevant, save for perhaps a brief crossover in an upcoming event. These stories are treated like cautionary tales, but now that the series is over, I kind of wish that they weren’t: Tempus Fuginaut’s narration will likely become grating when reading every issue together in a collected trade, and the entire series exists, so far, for no larger purpose. As such, his presence brings down a series of mostly solid “What If?” stories by connecting them to an event that doesn’t even exist yet. Still, most of these books managed to be enjoyable despite that: it’s a shame that they’re ending, and it’s even more of a shame that it’s ending with this as the final instalment.
- You, for some reason, enjoy seeing Terra as an irredeemable scumbag.
- The Judas Contract is a story you love and want to see revisited from a different lens.
- You’ve been enjoying the spectacle that the Dark Multiverse has been consistently providing – that’s still the case here.
This isn’t really a bad book; the dialogue is fine, the action is good and the artwork was enjoyable. What bothers me about it is that it’s just not what it could have been; it doesn’t live up to the standards of the other books in this series, and doesn’t push beyond the limitations of its source material. I hope they make more Dark Multiverse stories – but I also hope they take these criticisms to heart if they do. It’s sad to see the “What If?” tales I was so excited about finish with this story.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.