Every superhero or super team in the DCU has a story or two that define who or what they are at their core—their very own DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, if you will—and for the Teen Titans, that story is THE JUDAS CONTRACT.

Arguably one of the most famous Teen Titans stories ever told, The Judas Contract was published in a time of general upheaval in the DC Universe. It beat out the reality-shattering CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS by about a year, but the overall mood of change on the horizon is pretty difficult to miss. If you think of the Crisis like a storm, The Judas Contract would be the weight in the air just before it.

But of course, there’s more to the story than just metaphors, and with its very own animated film in stores today, as well as the pointedly named Deathstroke and Teen Titans crossover event “The Lazarus Contract” coming in hot to the comics world next month, now is a perfect time to take a look at not only how, but why The Judas Contract helped shape the future of the Teen Titans for good.

A brief word of warning: If you're coming to The Judas Contract for the first time ever, this article does not contain spoilers. Do yourself a favor and avoid searching for them before you watch or read—for all its historical importance, The Judas Contract also features plenty of surprise reveals.

Powder for the Keg

Written by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, drawn by Perez and originally published in 1984, The Judas Contract was a (admittedly pretty modest, by today’s standards at least) four-part story that stretched across TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS #42-44 and TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS ANNUAL #3. However, despite its rather late position in the ongoing comic’s run, it pulled from several years’ worth of buildup involving not just the Titans themselves, but Slade Wilson and the super-villainous organization H.I.V.E.

Now, if you’re at all familiar with Slade and his history, you’ll know that he’s had bad blood with the Teen Titans for some time. In fact, that’s where he got his start. Slade’s first appearance was in NEW TEEN TITANS #2 back in 1980, where he was pitted against the team to get revenge and complete a mercenary contract for his dead son, Grant. Since that point, the idea of Slade being under contract (Get it? “Contract” like in the title of the story?) with H.I.V.E had been an on-again-off-again element of his plot, boiling slowly but steadily in the background. The Judas Contract featured that pay off—the ultimate and inevitable climax of Slade’s working with H.I.V.E against the Titans and the next step in Slade’s feud with everything they represented as a team.

The arc also came in at a critical moment for Dick Grayson, who had just abandoned his identity as Robin and was officially on a bit of a super heroic hiatus as he did some soul searching. Wally West was also officially retired at the time. (That also wouldn’t last, but it would be nearly a year before Barry Allen’s tragic demise would force Wally to pick up a new title of his own.) Essentially, if The Judas Contract hadn’t occurred when it did, it’s quite possible the Nightwing we know and love today would look much, much different. Even with the intervention of Crisis on Infinite Earths and the subsequent redesigning of Dick’s Nightwing identity, the role the Wilson family and their manipulations played in that transition were undeniably important.

To up the stakes just a bit further, Slade and his long-term grudges weren’t the only time bomb ticking to zero. Tara Markov, aka Terra, was introduced two years prior in THE NEW TEEN TITANS #26 and though she wasn’t a full-fledged member of the team in the official sense, unofficially she’d become as good as family—or maybe more than that, depending on who you asked. (Beast Boy in particular had really taken a shine to her.) Her powers allowed her to telepathically manipulate the earth using “geo-kinesis,” so she was a heavy hitter in a fight, on par with the likes of someone like Starfire as far as overall utility was concerned.

For all intents and purposes, Terra was a superstar in the making. But like so many in the world of super heroes, she also had her secrets…and in The Judas Contract, those secrets became fuel for a fire in a room full of dynamite.

New Faces

The reveal of Dick’s new Nightwing identity (complete with the disco-fabulous original light blue, deep v-neck, high-collar costume) was just one of the introductions made in The Judas Contract. Slade Wilson’s family also got the honor of appearing on the page for the first time.

It had been known from the start that Slade had a son, Grant, who had been killed, but the specifics of his family were vague at best. In fact, most, if not all, of Slade’s origin was shrouded in mystery. The Judas Contract crashed through those walls in spectacular fashion, bringing not only his ex-wife, Adeline Kane, but his second son, Joey Wilson, into the picture.

Over the course of the story, more and more of the mystery of Slade’s past was dragged into the light in a cascading string of betrayals that would, strangely enough, eventually result in Joey himself adopting a code name, “Jericho,” and costume all his own. But whether or not his new lot in life would find him on the path of heroics or villainy is another matter entirely. Either way, we can say one thing for certain—his future relationship with the Titans would give his own father's a run for its money on the complexity scale.

Adeline, too, would continue on to be a driving force in the development of Slade as a person, for better or for worse, both in and out of costume. In fact, she’s one of the biggest factors to spark the Terminator’s eventual turn from persistent cameo villain to infamous, wildly popular solo antihero, who, by the way, is currently holding down his own ongoing series. Rebirth’s DEATHSTROKE VOL. 1: THE PROFESSIONAL is in stores now, and actually greatly rewards readers familiar with Slade Wilson’s family and backstory.

Now that you’re armed with some info about its history and impact, be sure to pick up The Judas Contract animated movie and keep an eye on the next step of the story’s comic book legacy in “The Lazarus Contract,” unspooling in the pages of TITANS, TEEN TITANS  and DEATHSTROKE this May.