Unforgiven: DCU Continuity for Terra

Tales of the Teen Titans, Vol. 1 Annual (1984) The Judas Contract, Part 4:
Tales of the Teen Titans, Vol. 1 Annual (1984) The Judas Contract, Part 4: "Finale"

I’m putting together a reading list continuity for Terra to place the famous Judas Contract story in the larger context related to Geo-Force, Markovia, Titans and Outsiders, because recently it seems that many readers look at the four issues of the JC story, and only that, to get their whole take on this character. I’ll post it on my blog.

A straight reading of the continuity of Terra as an infamous and despised character in Titans lore merely requires readers to accept 1984’s Judas Contract, combined with the most recent retcons coming out of 2008’s Terra miniseries.   This account establishes Terra 1 as dead, irretrievably evil and insane; Terra 2 as a good character, also dead, who was a duplicate or clone and a separate, but somewhat misguided and under-developed heroine; and Terra 3 as another separate person, with a different body, origins, and good motives – a brand new, unconnected heroine.   Yet all three share the same DNA, explained through genetic manipulation. 

This straight reading does not explain why DC’s editors and writers feel the need to impose any continuity between the 3 Terras at all (such as same powers and same DNA, the first 2 Terras being physically identical, and all 3 Terras’ recurring links in the eyes of Brion Markov and possibly Gar Logan).   Her loaded back story makes great fodder for new drama – proven by big sales of Blackest Night: Titans #1 driven by a cover which featured Gar and Tara sharing a necrophilia-laden kiss.   And for the new writer who would dare to try retconning the Judas Contract successfully – that’s the comics equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.   It shouldn’t and probably can’t be done, although Brad Meltzer has come awfully close.

Terra’s story – even in the cartoon version which sanitized her betrayal – is surrounded by uncertainties.   At critical plot points several accounts exist of what happened to her, with readers left to decide which perspective is the truth.   Her continuity is constantly broken or undermined by plot devices designed to make the reader doubt Terra and her reality.   Themes that repeat around Terra are: retcons; scientific experimentation; DNA and genetic manipulation; lies, deceit and betrayal; manipulation; insanity; multiple identities; drugging; recurrent deaths and reappearances; time travel; and sexual deviance.   Meanwhile, characters around Terra – even by comics standards – are often similarly drugged, insane, traumatized, have contradictory or hidden motives, or are simply dishonest.   Finally, several events and actors affecting her behind the scenes have never been explained, but are discernible in plot patterns that have arisen over time.   One theme over the past 5 years inside the DCU is the deaths and murders of almost the entire Markovian royal family, along with constant attempts to destabilize their country.   A second theme is the rise of geo-elementals and their significance for the DCU, in contrast to DC’s comparatively already highly-developed mythos around water elementals in the Aqua-family.

Another theme that recurs is creative teams’ and readers’ speculation over Terra’s morality – she is invariably presented as ‘all’ good, or ‘all’ evil, and judged accordingly.  In fact, the real constant is her moral duality.   In the face of overwhelming negatives against her, she retains positive and compelling characteristics, particularly as she has twice proved herself as a strangely bland heroine.  Even in her most evil, original form, her irritation that the Titans are, as someone on one board said, “perfect people complaining that they are only near-perfect,” ironically carries a scathing honesty and inspires some sympathy.   Her candour and irreverence contrast with the high bar classically set by DC’s heroes and their high, often humourless tone: her banter with Gar Logan and annoyance at the Titans’ rigid morality places her in the same ballpark as DC’s villains or some of Marvel’s ambivalent protagonists and anti-heroes.   Yet despite the original Terra’s inherently bad attitude and horrifying villainous acts, her brother and Gar Logan seem consistently to love her, even more than they do her ‘good’ incarnations.   Her different versions show a splitting of her body, mind, soul and powers. With Terra 1, 2, or 3, the character’s interactions with others relate to some of these aspects – but never all of them.   The current version, Terra 3, has the powers, but where’s the huge personality that goes with them?   To date, the character has never had all 4 aspects unambiguously united and fully functioning in one incarnation.

Terra was originally conceived of by her creators (Wolfman and Perez) as a repository of inexplicable evil – an inverted Kitty Pryde character, who successfully overturned comics conventions in an Eisner-award-winning arc – which is indisputably one of the best superhero (or supervillain?) stories ever told.   Yet even here, there were ambiguities: while depicted as clearly insane, Terra was held to be rationally responsible.   With this decision, her first writer, Wolfman, broke the fourth wall.  He gave her no alternative but to do evil and made her a character set to fail, no matter how she evolved at the time in the eyes of the fans: although the Judas Contract closed by condemning her for not doing good, the truth is she never could have done good.   She was made to break.   This ‘made to fail and die’ decision has rendered her, for some, an underdog.  Her persistent appeal as both villain and heroine for some creative teams and fans sparks heated arguments over whether such a conflicted, embattled, oblique – and for some, downright disgusting – personality, especially for a female character, can match her powers with a will that can be used toward anything good within the DCU. Can Terra be seen in a ‘bigger picture,’ which might make the turmoil make sense, without forgiving, changing or retconning what she did?   

This is a long piece, so the continuity is posted in sections on my blog (click on links - WARNING SPOILERS):

Terra in the 1980s - Part 1, Background to the Judas Contract 
Terra in the 1980s - Part 2, Judas Contract 
Terra in the 1980s - Part 3, Aftermath of the Judas Contract  
Terra in the 1990s - Part 1, Karma for Deathstroke and Tara's Double 
Terra in the 1990s - Part 2, Terra as an Elemental up to Zero Hour 
Terra in the 1990s - Part 3, Terra and Raven
Terra in the 2000s - Part 1, The Reboot  
Terra in the 2000s - Part 2, Death of Terra 2

Terra in the 2000s - Part 3, Team Traitors 
Terra in the 2000s - Part 4, Atlee, Blackest Night, Elseworlds versions, Conclusion

Main URL (click to see the whole thing)