At ten years and 29 movies, the animated DC comics universe predates both the Marvel and DC live-action ones that get so much press, for good and for ill. It’s an impressive body of work but, for casual fans like myself, it’s also an exceedingly daunting one. Sam Liu’s Teen Titans: The Judas Contract makes no attempt to ease that burden, often assuming an advanced level of familiarity with the subject matter and history on the part of its audience. Nevertheless, The Judas Contract is, like many of its predecessors, largely an enjoyable and action-packed experience.
As exciting as those action scenes are (and they’re top notch), The Judas Contract (based on Marv Wolfman’s graphic novel) is perhaps more plot and character focused than most of the DC animated output. The story concerns a long term plot by the mercenary Deathstroke (voiced by the late Miguel Ferrer) to dismantle the Teen Titans on behalf of a dark messianic figure named Brother Blood (Gregg Henry), who hopes to absorb the superheroes’ powers in an effort to become a god.
In the meantime, Brother Blood, living up to his names, keeps himself young by bathing in the blood of those he’s slain. Even this far into the DC animated universe, it can still be a bit disconcerting how hard these films steer into their PG-13 rating. Maybe it’s the face that the animation style, while fluid and dynamic, is not dissimilar to cartoon series aimed at younger audiences. In any case, it’s jarring when Nightwing (Sean Maher) taunts Deathstroke, saying, “Bring it, asshole.”
Other hallmarks of the aged-up target demographic, such as the sexual innuendo, are thankfully more funny than forced. When Starfire (Kari Wahlgren) tells her boyfriend, Nightwing, at the end of a training session, “You lasted longer this time,” the joke lands. And when Blue Beetle (Jake T. Austin) attempts to hide his superpower from a crush, the framing suggests he’s instead been caught masturbating, cleverly echoing the familiar trope of teen superheroism as an analogy for puberty. On the other hand, attempts to be current like Beast Boy’s (Brandon Soo Hoo) preoccupation with social media fall flat. Where Liu and screenwriter Ernie Altbecker really shine, though, is in their examination of the group’s power dynamics. Nightwing is the returned former leader whose very presence inadvertently undermines the authority of current leader Starfire. Meanwhile, Robin (Stuart Allen) remains a stubborn host unto himself and Terra (Christina Ricci) never quite feels like part of the team to begin with, for reasons that will be made clear.
There’s a lot going on in The Judas Contract and a regrettable amount of it is overstufffed with clunky, quippy dialogue. But much of it rises above the material thanks to the efforts of the experienced voice cast. With the contributions of so many major talents (especially Ferrer) as well as lesser known actors who have been portraying these characters for years, it’s a solid and enjoyable entry in an ongoing and often rewarding saga.