The Growth of an Artform: Loss and Death in The Judas Contract

*Images were scanned from George Perez’s Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (Hardcover Edition), Published by DC Comics in New York.

Popular comic books in North America gained a new maturity when they began to explore the various concepts of death and loss in the superhero genre. Of course, death has always been an issue and a concern in superhero comics. Heroes do exist to prevent death and to provide salvation to the population of the cities they serve to guard and protect. But it was not until the 1970’s when they explored death in the personal lives of their own costumed heroes. The first one that addressed and explored this issue was Spider-Man, in the now legendary arc, “The Death of Gwen Stacy,” where Gwen, Peter Parker’s then girlfriend, was killed by Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin. The arc heralds the arrival of a more frightening pantheon of villains and rogues in comic books and a more adult feel in a young art form that was once considered to be for children and adolescents. Quite suddenly, the heroes who every little boy dreamed of becoming faced the harsh realities of human existence. Loved ones are put into the middle of the battle. Being a hero became unexciting and frightening. A few years after, the same issue, albeit in a graver manner, was addressed in DC’s bestselling series, The Legion of Superheroes. Penned by Paul Levitz, the team from DC’s 31st century suffered the deaths of Lightning Lad and Ferro Lad. But it wasn’t until in 1984’s New Teen Titans: Judas Contract storyline where loss and death was given a whole new meaning in the overlooked art form.

In The Judas Contract, the newly reformed Teen Titans faces their greatest threat as teammate Terra is revealed to be the lover and servant of Slade Wilson, a hired assassin working for the villainous H.I.V.E society to destroy the Titans. With Robin and Kid-Flash gone, the team composed of Wonder Girl (Donna Troy), Cyborg (Victor Stone), Starfire (Koriand’r), Raven and Beast Boy (Garfield Logan) is required to come to grips with the real Terra while trying to find a way to survive the treacherous ordeal. Eventually captured, their hope remains in the hands of Dick Grayson, the former Robin, and a mysterious mute who has ties to the deadly Slade. Spanning several issues, the storyline presents to us four losses and deaths which redefines how comic book readers are suddenly given light to what their favorite heroes go through:

1.)    The Death of a Dream- Kid Flash finally realizes that his powers are slowly killing him. With his uncle, Barry Allen, also known as The Flash, gone from the present, he faces the prospect of abandoning his aspiration of saving people’s lives. Faced with the thought of dying, he retires his yellow tights and red boots, chooses to be an average man, a normal bystander in the war between good and evil. He effectively kills his own desire and dream so he could live. It is a selfish act, one no one blames him for, a message that not all heroes are willing to put their lives on the line for good.

2.)    The Death of Innocence-After years spent fighting alongside Gothan City’s Caped Crusader as side-kick, Dick Grayson, Robin, the ‘boy wonder’ himself, finally calls it quits. Realizing that he will never become an effective leader and a true hero living under the shadow of the Dark Knight, he abandons the geeky costume and the god-awful green underwear. But what does this resignation mean? It means he no longer fights to simply assist a mentor. It means that he no longer fights crime to put his horrible past, the death of his family, behind him. It means that he no longer approves of Batman’s vigilante ways, of his continuous attempts to alienate everyone around him, and his very crass and banal approach when it comes to crime-fighting. This “death” not only becomes pivotal to Grayson’s life, but to the DC Universe as well. Not only this will lead him to take the role of Nightwing, Titans leader and guardian of Bludhaven City, its repercussions will carry on until Infinite Crisis and Bruce Wayne’s future death at the hands of Darkseid.

3.)    A Son’s Loss- In his first appearance in comic book and the DC Universe history, Jericho goes head-to-head with Deathstroke, Wilson Slade, his own father. Although the father versus son storyline has been used been before in comic continuity, via Jack Kirby’s Third World Tales, with Darkseid and his belligerent but good son Orion, never has it been this pivotal. Unlike Darkseid and Orion, these are not Gods. They were not born with Hubris and were not meant to pursue battles that will last till the end of eternity. These are creatures fueled by the decisions they made. Slade is a mere assassin hired to murder the Titans for money and to pay Ravager’s dent. Jericho’s choice to join the Titans and attack his father is brought about by the need to stop the evil that is his father while ignoring the loyalties brought about by blood. Regardless of how Jericho will turn out in a few years, at that moment, he ceased becoming a son. He severed his ties from his family for the greater good and that what makes him one of the greatest Titans ever.

4.)    Hope’s death- The biggest shock in The Judas Contract is Terra’s betrayal and her revealed sexual congress with Wilson Slade. Of all the Titans, Garfield Logan, also known as Changeling/Beast Boy, is hit the hardest. Why is that? Garfield was always an outsider. With his green skin, he doesn’t have the luxury to blend himself in society. As direct kin of some of the members of the Doom Patrol, he has carried the burden of heroics and death at his shoulders. As the youngest and most inexperienced members of the Titans, he seldom feels that he belongs in the very young team. When Terra joined the Titans, everything Garfield felt changed. Terra and Beat Boy quickly created a bond. Like any friendship, they argued, competed, bantered and supported each other. Garfield eventually, like any adolescent who finds a connection during puberty, begins to fall in love with Terra. Of all the Titans, he takes Terraa’s betrayal the hardest. He even denies it and chooses that she was simply fooled by Slade himself. In the end, at the urging of his teammates, he chooses to fight Terra to the death, following the hero code which they all subscribed to.

Terra does realize the error of her ways and assists the Titans in the very end. But during the battle, she buries herself in Earth with Slade, realizing that this is the only way to defeat their enemy and save the Titans. It is a victory for the Titans, one of their biggest, but to Beast Boy, it became a revelation.

Garfield will never get over Terra’s death, unfortunately. Twenty publishing years later, during Blackest Night, the same memory will haunt him literally, the same anger, the same fear, the same pessimistic outlook on heroism and life. It is part of his past that he will never get over. Terra’s betrayal and death stripped Garfield of any heroism he possessed. He became a machine who fights for good without a true cause.