'Teen Titans' Grow Up With 'Judas Contract'14 Apr, 2017 By: John Latchem
The release of Teen Titans: The Judas Contract as an animated movie brings to fruition a plan 10 years in the making.
When the DC Universe line of direct-to-video animated superhero movies launched in 2007, the third film slated was to be an adaptation of the classic 1984 “Teen Titans” comic book storyline The Judas Contract by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez.
But the movie was allegedly scrapped because the title didn’t test well with focus groups.
“This would have been 2006 or something, and the ‘Teen Titans’ TV show, though popular, hadn’t become the legend and the classic it is now. So home video wasn’t confident they could sell it at that time,” said James Tucker, who now serves as supervising producer of the DC Universe animated movies.
Tucker wasn’t involved with the initial efforts to adapt Judas Contract, but in 2014 he spearheaded a new series of “Justice League” and “Batman” animated movies with a shared continuity, setting the stage for character crossovers and ongoing storylines. The success of last year’s Justice League vs. Teen Titans — which put the spotlight on the team of younger sidekicks as they took on their mentors, who were possessed by an evil force — opened the door to reviving Judas Contract.
“It’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, which is to have a solo Teen Titans movie,” Tucker said. “Judas Contract has always been on the short list of adaptations, but no one knew how to do it before because [the studio] always felt they needed the Justice League or Batman to somehow play into the story."
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract is the eighth movie in the shared continuity of the DC Animated Movie Universe, and the first without “Justice League” or “Batman” in the title.
"I said, if I have to do just those two, each one I want to include characters that haven’t been exposed, and hopefully jumpstart solo movies off of that. Justice League vs. Teen Titans kind of got the ball rolling and one of our goals was to open up the line to different franchises.”
Making Judas Contract a sequel eliminated some of the challenges of the earlier attempt.
“We did have continuity to build on so we didn’t have to reintroduce all the characters,” Tucker said. “So just having that load already handled made it a little easier.”
Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, the 28th movie in the overall DC Universe animated line, is available now on Digital HD and on Blu-ray and DVD April 18 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
In it, the Titans and their newest member, Terra, must deal with the threat of the villain Deathstroke, who is hunting them down one by one at the behest of a cult leader.
“It’s a classic story. It’s so massive and really changed the trajectory of DC comics when it came out so there’s a lot of history that we had to honor when we adapted it,” Tucker said during the film’s premiere at WonderCon March 31 in Anaheim, Calif. “It may not have all the different twists and turns that two years of continuing comics do, but I think it stays true to the core of what that story was.”
Wolfman was actually in the crowd during the premiere screening at WonderCon. And what did he think of seeing his story translated to the screen?
“I liked it,” Wolfman said. “It was fun.”
The film features the voices of Christina Ricci as Terra, Sean Maher (“Firefly”) as Nightwing/Dick Grayson, Kari Wahlgren (“Young Justice,” “Phineas & Ferb,” “Ben 10”) as Starfire, Taissa Farmiga (“American Horror Story”) as Raven, Jake T. Austin (“Wizards of Waverly Place”) as Blue Beetle, Brandon Soo Hoo (Tropic Thunder) as Beast Boy, and Stuart Allan (“Transformers: Robots in Disguise") returning as Robin/Damien Wayne. Miguel Ferrer voices Deathstroke, one of his final roles before his death in January of throat cancer at age 61.
Tucker said he liked the different vibe of the Titans as opposed to the Justice League.
“I like the Teen Titans as a group because, unlike Justice League, Teen Titans is about family. They’re superheroes, yeah, but it’s not all about that. It’s really all about them learning how to be functioning adults and being there for each other. It’s definitely more relationship oriented than Justice League tends to be.“ Tucker said.
Character designer Phil Bourassa singled out the opening scene as one of his favorites in the film. It’s a flashback showing Dick Grayson when he was still Robin, before he became Nightwing.
“I love the first five minutes of the movie,” Bourassa said. “[Dick Grayson] was the leader of the Titans, and then Starfire appears, and that five minutes would be like the Teen Titans show that I would want to make.”
Veteran voiceover actress Wahlgren is no stranger to the superhero genre, having voiced comic book characters several times before, including Wonder Woman in 2015’s Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League. She said she appreciated how Judas Contract took on a much more serious tone.
“Any time you do one of the Lego movies … we had a little bit more leeway to be much funnier,” Wahlgren said. “With this movie it’s pretty straight up drama. One of the cool things is they’ve taken these movies in a darker direction, a more adult direction, so they can explore themes with these superheroes that they haven’t done in other versions of it.”
She also expressed a particular appreciation for Starfire, an alien who now leads the Titans.
“I love that with the progression of the movies we’ve just seen an evolution of her character, she’s become so much more of a leader and a stronger character,” Wahlgren said. “I love that they explore the human side of the superheroes in addition to just the fighting and saving the world.”
Soo Hoo likewise enjoyed the film’s dramatic shift.
“I think one of the really cool themes about this film, as opposed to the last one, is it really showed how this trouble that we all share helps us all grow as a team. There’s a real level of maturity to the characters and it’s not just all fun and games. It really shows a darker side to it,” Soo Hoo said.
Added Austin: “Our characters have grown and it’s been a lot of fun to watch how they’ve changed. When things aren’t going your way you just have to be very adaptable and I feel they’ve learned how to work well together and they’ve learned how to use their weaknesses and transform them into their strengths. But it’s really great watching this film because there’s so much intensity, humor — there’s really a little bit of everything,”
Allan, who has voiced Robin in five of the movies, said he enjoyed how joining the Titans made his character more of a team player. This version of Robin is the son of Batman who was raised by assassins and isn’t always inclined to follow the rules.
“He has accepted he has made a transformation to the lighter side and is focusing on justice, not vengeance,” Allan said. “In Justice League vs Teen Titans, he had to come to accept himself in that justice role and learn to be part of a bigger family. Damien is still more of a brat — you can’t exactly take that away from him — but at the same time he has learned to govern himself. He’s definitely much more trusting of others now in this one. At this point he has learned what teamwork can truly do.”
Wahlgren agreed that allowing the characters to play out story arcs over several movies is one of the advantages of the series, especially when it comes to the romance between Nightwing and Starfire.
“A lot of that happens just in the storytelling and the writing of the scripts,” Wahlgren said. “This is my third time being Starfire in the movies and we’ve definitely seen the course of our relationship change, and their relationship is actually a big part of The Judas Contract.”
Maher, who plays Nightwing for the fifth time, said taking on a voiceover role took some getting used to when he started in 2014’s Son of Batman.
“It was my first voice gig ever and I thought I was going to be fired the whole time,” Maher said.
Extras exclusive to the Blu-ray edition include a reunion of Wolfman and Pérez and a discussion of their careers; a featurette about Deathstroke; and two “Teen Titans” episodes about Terra. Both the Blu-ray and DVD include a preview of the next DC Universe animated movie, the out-of-continuity Batman and Harley Quinn (which is the only DVD extra).
As for future movies, Tucker expressed interest in moving the setting to Starfire’s homeworld and exploring her backstory.
“We have other plans to spin out other characters and hopefully do solo movies in conjunction with what the live-action movies are doing as well,” Tucker said, referencing the DC Extended Universe (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, etc.).
On the other hand, Maher and Wahlgren both said they’d love Nightwing and Starfire to headline a future movie focused on their relationship.
“That would be super fun. I’d be on board,” Kari said. “Spread that rumor. Let’s get that going.”