Compare and Contrast: The Judas Contract and Child Sexual Abuse

TRIGGER WARNING

One of the most famous (and infamous) DC comics storyline is The Judas Contract, originally published in 1984 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez for the New Teen Titans. The arc goes into the backstory of Deathstroke the Terminator (Slade) and the introduction to new characters. The most notable addition includes Terra, a teenage girl with incredible Earth powers who ends up betraying the other Titans…and being in a sexual relationship with Slade. At the time, her being in this relationship cemented her status as being unlikable and a villain.

Since standards have changed significantly since the 1980’s, but Terra’s relationship with Slade is a crucial part of her character, how do you portray it in modern times? Well, there are two ways to do it, as demonstrated in the Teen Titans 2003 animated series and the recent direct to DVD Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.

In the former, the relationship between Slade and Terra is strongly implied, but not shown. It will fly over most kids heads, but adults (and people who have read the original comic) will know that Slade is indeed sexually abusing her in addition to physically and emotionally so. It’s clear that he sees her more than just a tool: he wants her to be his and his alone (and all that implies). But the show explicitly CONDEMNS this relationship. Whenever the two characters are onscreen it is made to be creepy, unnerving, and repulsive.

What makes this work is that Terra herself is a nuanced character. While she’s not exactly my fave character, we know that she’s scared, confused, and lost, and Slade took advantage of her. You see that she genuinely likes the Titans and does want to do the right thing, but Slade led her astray. Ultimately, she’s able to fight back against her abuser and saves the day. Of course this ending is brought into question in the very last episode, but the point is, this version of The Judas Contract expertly and respectfully handles this controversial subject matter.

The new 2017 movie does…not.

What struck me out when I watched this movie was just how…unlikable Terra was. Like she makes it really apparent that she has no respect for the heroes that took her in. It’s only when they throw her a surprise party when she suddenly starts caring for them and having second thoughts. Slade (her abuser) is given more sympathy since he talks about how hard he had it young and had to fight to get where he is now and is shown saving Terra’s life. Even the ending, when she finally fights back against him, portrays him in a tragic light.

But what really horrified me was a particularly lurid scene where Terra gets dolled up and dressed down into lingerie, walks seductively, and cuddles up to him.

The comments are even worse. Some people rightfully point out that this is pedophilic, but then there are people in the comments who are defending this, saying that SHE’S the one who’s trying to initiate the sexual relationship, that she’s a slut, that this is supposed to look like a student/teacher crush, that Slade is not taking advantage of her…like, no???? Why are they literally SEXUALIZING a fucking MINOR in an abusive relationship?

The problem with sexualizing Terra like this is because these types of representations can lead to young girls getting sexually assaulted and raped in real life. Sometimes abusers will use sexualized pictures and art of young girls (such as cartoon characters or even photoshopped pictures of real celebrities) to groom their victims. Where do you think the mentality of “she asked for it/she wanted it” when a young girl gets raped and no one takes her seriously comes from? Maybe this would’ve been fine if Slade specifically said “no, Terra, it’s not going to be like that, now go put your clothes back on”, but even if he doesn’t take advantage of her now, he’s still leading her on. It’s gross and it’s not right.

What makes this so jarring is that the relationship between Dick (Nightwing) and Kory (Starfire), a healthy relationship, is handled naturally, realistically, and beautifully. Yet the writers turn around and make a minor in an abusive relationship unlikable and sexualized?

If you’re going to show a relationship like this, you need to do it with tact and grace, because otherwise you can send the wrong message. And in our current world where young girls are sexualized, women are infantilized, and sexual assault is often blamed on the victim, maybe you’re sending a bad message when your audience thinks the sexualized minor is the one in the wrong here.

Compare and Contrast: DC Animated Sex Scenes

While we’re all fighting over how good or bad the live action DC Extended Universe are, I would like to take a moment to remind people that a DC animated movie series exists.

DCU Movies.jpg

These are direct-to-video, hand drawn animated films, usually based on popular comic storylines, and they tend to vary in quality. Some of them are really great, others…not so much. And I think right now two animated movies are very relevant: Batman: The Killing Joke (the newest offering) and Batman: Assault on Arkham (which is basically the ORIGINAL Suicide Squad movie).

Batman: Assault on Arkham is amazing. It’s just as good–if not better–than most Hollywood blockbusters out right now. It’s genuinely exciting and compelling, with a plot that’s layered but not too complicated, characters you actually like and feel sorry for, and it’s graphic without being overly gratuitous. Batman: The Killing Joke is…pretty bad. The main reason for this is because it chooses to have a long prologue dedicated to Barbara Gordon, which makes her out to be an insecure, sexually frustrated young woman who loses more than she wins, and does make her own choice to retire…only to get shot, paralyzed, and assaulted later.

But I think the main thing that illustrates what makes Arkham great and Killing Joke not is how they deal with the sex scenes regarding the main female characters, Barbara and Harley Quinn.

This is the sex scene between Batgirl and…Batman. You know, the man who is much older than her and is supposed to be a father figure. And who she’s never had a real romantic or sexual relationship with in the comics (she had one with the first Robin). Throughout the scene, she is extremely angry at him, and he makes it clear that he doesn’t see her as an equal. She fights him and pins him down in anger…and awkwardly kisses him. They embrace, and she takes her clothes off and we get an offscreen sex scene. On a public rooftop. Where someone could see them. Oh yeah. *Insert erotic music here*

(Image via Time.com)

It doesn’t look like either character is truly enjoying it. It also feels like it comes out of nowhere. Why are these two having sex? Why don’t they look like they’re into it? Apparently it’s to make us feel more sorry for Barbara when she gets shot, but it just makes the situation infinitely worse, especially since their relationship only gets more awkward from there.

See, The Killing Joke is an INTENSELY misogynistic story (to the point where Alan Moore, the original writer, disowned it). Not only is the Joker’s main reason for going insane the (offscreen) death of his wife and unborn child (yay for fridging women!), but the treatment of Barbara is disgusting. She only appears two times: once, when she’s at home and shot (and there’s even a pause between when she sees Joker and when she gets shot, she doesn’t even fight back) and again when she’s in the hospital, frightened and paralyzed. And we never see her again. The movie tries to remedy this by giving her an extended role, but rather than humanizing Barbara by expanding on her relationship with her father (which would’ve made her paralyzing actually tragic), the movie focuses almost entirely on her sexuality, having her lust after characters and characters lusting after her (which causes her to nearly go over the edge and kill someone, after which she decides to retire), thus making what happens to her all the more insulting. It reinforces Barbara as a body, not a person, and as a plot device, not a character. Course, that might have to to with the fact that the writers and producers are literally ALL MEN, but hey, the glass ceiling is thick.

Honestly? If the movie wanted to be respectful to Barbara, they should’ve written her out entirely. You don’t have to add any of this. Just have Joker kidnap Commission Gordon and try to drive him insane with all the horrors of the world. Focus more on the dynamics of Batman and the Joker. You don’t need to bring Barbara into this mess.

By contrast, here’s a sex scene between Harley Quinn and Deadshot in Arkham:

Look how into it they both are. Harley has found someone to move on from the Joker, and Deadshot has found a companion. It’s also very quick and contained. Both partners are willing and enthusiastic. And later, you see them have a steady relationship, where they both look out for one another and work together. And Harley Quinn isn’t objectified one bit; here, she owns her sexuality, and has her own character, and is important throughout the movie (and we don’t need to have her defiled)! She even helps save the day in the end! And it’s important to note that there are also two other women (Killer Frost and Amanda Waller) who have their own character development and role in the story (unlike Barbara, who was the only woman in her movie and had a lot to bear).

In short, how a female character expresses herself sexually can tell a great deal of what her character is like and how the narrative treats her. And considering how a lot of superhero movies are struggling with how they represent their female characters, these two movies can be used as lessons on what to do and what NOT to do in handling them.