July 28, 2006
One of the more interesting bits of news to come out of the San Diego Comic Con is that Warner Bros. will be creating a series of feature-length animated movies based on their iconic superheroes, to go directly to the DVD market—in effect, they're creating OAVs. Particularly interesting are two facts: first, that these movies will be PG-13; second, that one of those titles is based on one of the high points of the mid-1980s comics scene: the Teen Titans story arc titled The Judas Contract.
There's a lot of potential in this series, which they're calling DC Universe. I've remarked here before that our OAV market pales in comparison to Japan's, but if you ask me, Warner has made the two most successful yet, and they were both Batman movies (Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker)—successful, that is, in holding together as feature films. The PG-13 choice echoes Megazone 23, which wasn't the first OAV in Japan, but the one that lit a spark under the format—partly because it went into more adult territory than TV animation allowed.
This is what makes The Judas Contract such a great choice. The original story arc came out in 1984, when Marvel and DC were regularly producing comics that proved that superhero comics could be as sophisticated in execution as any other medium. Teen Titans was one of the best of those comics, and The Judas Contract was one of the best Teen Titans storylines. It's interesting to note in hindsight that the storyline featured the very same things that attracted many people to Robotech, and consequently anime, the following year: life-or-death stakes, on both grand and personal levels; honourable villains; flawed heroes; artistic excellence; emotionally complicated characters and situations; and a willingness to stick to the action/adventure format and its consequences without flinching.
The Teen Titans WB cartoon reworked The Judas Contract in its second season, but the compromises required to fit it into its new mold blunted its effect. That's not too surprising, considering that the original hinged on a character who was probably comics' first true sociopath; the extended manipulations and the effects they had on the characters would probably go over the heads (or terrify) the TV show's target audience of eleven-year-olds. By going straight to DVD, Warner bypasses broadcast content rules, and by working with the original creators (there will be "contributions" by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, whatever that means), there's the chance that it can retain some of the comics' narrative daring. If they can take those elements and mix that up with the commitment to artistic and narrative cohesion that has characterized most of the animated DC comics oeuvre and WB's considerable marketing clout, then maybe—just maybe—they can finally bust this format wide open. There are a lot of ifs there, but it's something worth rooting for.