I’m talking to Bryce Smith, who used to be a hardcore Deathstroke fan. He used to buy every comic with Deathstroke in it and rabidly followed his character developments until 1988. In 1988, The New Teen Titans comic arc known as The Judas Contract debuted and Bryce, as a result, stopped following DC comics altogether. Although most new DC fan boys as well as general fans of the Cartoon Network know of the Teen Titans from its 2003-2007 animated series run (this animated show carries a huge fan base that have given it a 97% approval rating on Google) the primary and everlasting complaints from older fans remain that the series was both far too cheesy and not nearly as serious as The New Teen Titans comics.
As I start to go on about the animated Teen Titans from 2003, Bryce stops me. He asks me to redirect my focus to the comics. As I do, I try to think of why the Judas Contract was such an important comic event for DC. I begin with how it was the first time Dick Grayson donned the Nightwing suit and persona, never to be Robin again. I try to recall the name of the newest Titan member that was introduced but my memory of the comic arc from 29 years ago is too foggy. Bryce clearly remembers that Joey Wilson adopted the code name Jericho, and this raises my eyebrows in respect of his useless knowledge.
Then I ask it and it nearly kills the conversation: What about when Deathstroke was fucking the 16 year-old New Titan, Terra?.
I start to laugh as a defense mechanism since this question has obviously upset Bryce. He quickly points out that it was this controversial what-the-fuck situation that turned him off DC comics forever. He goes on to explain that Deathstroke was an intelligent, intriguing villain that excited him and other fans. Deathstroke could take on entire teams, The New Teen Titans or the Justice League, by himself. But with DC’s insistence to make everything darker came this unforgivable moment of pedophilia in the Judas Contract arc.
This steers our conversation towards the success of The Dark Knight Returns comic arc, which recently retro-fitted that take on Batman for the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice film. The reason it comes up is because it was so pivotal yet misunderstood by DC comics as a whole. It was pivotal in its success in 1986 and the adoration by most for such a dark take on an elderly Batman made DC comics think that darker-is-best is exactly what the public wanted. This attitude eventually seeped its way into The New Teen Titans two years later when readers discovered that 16 year-old Terra was betraying the Titans because she was sleeping with and in an abusive relationship with a middle-aged Deathstroke. Darker doesn’t mean that a bearded assassin needs to hook up with a high school Junior, but DC did it. And it lost fans like Bryce.
To further recover the discussion, I quickly bring up that the second season of Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans also used the Judas Contract plot as a central story line. Terra was introduced and as the season went on she developed a crush on Beast Boy. However, Deathstroke is controlling Terra by holding a secret over her. Terra cannot control her powers and if she doesn’t do what Deathstroke says, he will tell everyone. Yes, it seems juvenile, but these animated Titans were sculpted after 12 year-old personas, perhaps 6th graders to be fair, and attitudes in addition to the tone and manner in which the plot twist was delivered made sense for the show. In short, it covered up and erased Deathstroke’s pedophilia but it retained the central aspect of the plot in that Terra would betray the Titans. And these cheesy animated Titans eventually hunted down and took revenge on both Terra and Deathstroke. It was glorious in its surprisingly brutal-for-this-show season 2 finale and the DCAU continued, at the time, its streak of superiority to the DC line of comics and live-action films.
But now, in 2017, 29 years after the comic arc and 13 years after Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans, DC and WB have released a new animated feature film and brought back the questionable pedophilia issue with Deathstroke and Terra.
The scene I’m referring to in the new animated film shows Terra walking out in pink lingerie with way too much makeup on. She tells Deathstroke that he could “get into this” and for the rest of the scene Deathstroke kind of brushes her off. This is in stark contrast to the Cartoon Network’s 2004 cover-up and it also immediately resurrects the 1988 controversy.
What’s more surprising is that critics and fans and bloggers of all ages have largely applauded the scene. They argue that since the film doesn’t show Terra and Deathstroke having sex that it can be concluded that there is no pedophilia. Their common argument seems to be that if something is implied and not referred to again, then there is no basis for what happened in the comics to happen in the film. This weird statement and argument is usually followed by fans noting how happy they are that the Titans are more mature than their Cartoon Network counterparts.
Yes, the Titans in the new Judas Contract animated film do deal with more mature issues. Starfire comments at one point in the film that Nightwing is surprisingly proficient when they have sex, and the couple moving into their own apartment together is a major plot point used as the film’s attempt at comic relief. The film also alters Brother Blood’s goals and attitude to reflect the misconstrued values of the Alt-Right political parties. And there is something enjoyable to be found in watching the hero Titans take down the vile Blood. However, as these altered story elements are a sign of the current times, the sexual relationship between Deathstroke and Terra doesn’t fit into the film in any useful or relevant way.
The film makes the mistake of showing a flashback sequence where Deathstroke both saves and then discovers Terra’s powerful abilities. Since he saves her prior to the Titans even knowing of her, the film establishes that Deathstroke is her savior. Similar to the Cartoon Network’s take on their relationship, the latest Judas Contract verifies that this secret relationship is enough to force Terra to infiltrate and betray the Titans. Where the film slips up comes in the fact that this relationship is abandoned and not developed. Terra’s proposed “Savior Complex” and thankfulness at finding acceptance alongside Deathstroke is suddenly, by showing Terra in Lingerie seducing Deathstroke, switched into a bizarre issue of her betraying the Titans simply because she likes the sex. In the end, seeing Terra in pink lingerie and make-up and presenting herself to Deathstroke is not only surprising, but it also gives the impression that Terra and Deathstroke have done this before.
By applying any amount of empathy to the situation, viewers can imagine her or his own response if they were to walk in on a 16 year-old girl in lingerie and alone in a room with an older man. This situation is what creates controversy when it is exposed because it is in no way correct or legal. The average, decent human who had insight and knowledge to this situation would stop it or at least report it. It would be obvious that there was an issue of pedophilia occurring. But for some reason, the DC fan base at large doesn’t really see Deathstroke as having a problem with pedophilia. Reviews of the film largely note that Slade is creepy around kids and always has been. But if DC were to either show or add more content addressing the pedophilia, then the film would receive a harsher rating and not hit the target demographic it is aiming for. Therefore, that’s all the film does for Terra and Deathstroke’s relationship, there’s nothing more and nothing less. There is no resolution or insight into how Terra deals with it and then the film kills her off.
In DC and Warner Bros killing Terra off arises the fact that the lingerie scene and the issue of Deathstroke’s possible problem with pedophilia is nothing but an absolute waste. Again, the film offers no resolution whatsoever for what has occurred between them, and DC and Warner Bros foolishly rush the film along as though the editors had forgotten to remove the scene. More specifically, Terra is disappointingly nothing more than fan service. She’s cheap smut. And as evil and conniving as Deathstroke is, it doesn’t mean that his fan base needs to pointlessly ponder if he’s fucking a minor.
Sadly, this insistence by DC to be darker for no reason ruins stories and plots in its haphazard introduction and refusal by DC to think and write-through how it affects every character involved. It’s like a kid bringing rape to show and tell, and then putting it away quickly before it can be addressed properly. When the class who saw what was shown asks for more information, the teacher just shrugs and moves on. As Terra, so Sue Dibny; meaningless.
Editor’s Note: If Deathstroke became sexually active with Terra when she was 13 or younger, he is considered a pedophile. If she was older than 13 when they became sexually active, he would technically be called a statutory rapist. Since DC and Warner Bros. does not note Terra’s age when she and Deathstroke became sexually active, we are comfortable labeling him as a pedophile in the article.