Three years ago, Robert and David thought they had left the DCU behind. But, with the advent of REBIRTH, they’ve returned, to see whether or not the promise of the NEW OLD (or perhaps, the OLD NEW) DC, can make them feel at home once more. They’re sharing those thoughts with you. In their first, subsequent and future installments, they’ll be looking at developments in wider trends of the DCU as they come to hand. This is Crossing Back.

Deathstroke is in right now. He is the apparent villain of the next Bat-movie. He has been in Arrow, and the Arkham and Injustice games, and he has a solo title again. By any measure, he has been on a hot streak. The villain that ushered DC into the modern age of comics, he is seemingly an evergreen go-to for the perfect adversary, the ultimate enemy for any hero.

But we’re going to go out on a limb – while Deathstroke is a singularly important character in the DCU, he has been for decades on end misused based on a simple misapprehension: Slade Wilson is not a supervillain (or at least, not a very good one). He is instead DC’s best anti-hero.

In our last one of these (has it really been two months?) we discussed Jason Todd and his trials and tribulations as he subtly slid from anti-hero to hero. This time, we’re focusing in on Deathstroke the Terminator, and the need for Slade to move from villain to anti-hero.

The Anti-Hero Equation

deathstroke-rebirth-1-peter-steigerwald-variant-coverWhat even is an anti-hero?

It’s simple to say “a protagonist who lacks heroic qualities”, but ultimately that simple definition is too simple. Any exclusionary definition is fraught with difficulty: if you can only define something by what it lacks, then it opens up a needlessly wide field. For perhaps this very reason, the term “anti-hero” has acquired a series of externally derived, if not academically rigorous, meanings. More importantly, it has, like “Mary Sue” or “metafiction” acquired a series of half-meanings, as semantic satiation born of casual usage only ever escalates and criticism has become part of the pop culture (thanks, TV Tropes!).

Northrop Frye, one of the most influential voices in 20th Century literary criticism, explores this idea in the form of a fictional “centre of gravity”, through which the positioning of protagonists reflects dominant cultural norms about the moral praxis of the universe. Where society is, for example, highly mystical or religious epic narratives starring epic heroes are commonly accepted because society believes that a higher order of being is dictating the world. Fated heroes make sense because there is fate, a higher power – God or the Fates or karma. Ending the narrative by punishing the wicked and rewarding the innocent is accepted because there is a generalised belief that this is a thing that higher powers do. Insofar as there are anti-heroes in this mode (itself a divisive proposition) they are cautionary tales, the boy who cried wolf or Milton’s Lucifer, demonstrating through their tragedy the proper order of things and why there, but for the grace of God, go thee.

As the balance of power in society shifted, the mythic epic gave way to what Frye calls the “ironic mode”, where in the absence of a broader moral order “realism” was taken to be exemplified by struggling, frustrated characters, who possessed not just tragic flaws (ala the classical heroes of yore) but no more significant power of action than their readers. Narrative moved away from figures who could (by way of purely hypothetical example, I don’t know..) leap tall buildings in a single bound, change the course of mighty rivers and otherwise directly impact the world around them in a meaningful way, to those who were stuck (despite whatever protagonising power they possessed in their narratives) with the world as it was. For whatever they could accomplish in their individual stories, the world itself held certain inexorable (and as often than not, cynical) truths that could not be gainsaid.

The Anti-Super-Hero

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Four-colour superhero comics represent a callback to – or perhaps a holdout of, depending on how you see the pacing of the transition to modernity – the earlier mode of storytelling identified by Frye. The reasons for this are numerous. Perhaps none is more telling than the fact that they were originally intended for children. Children are presumed to function much more readily in the epic/mythic mode of storytelling than adults do, largely because adults desire children be taught by their parents that the world does have a moral order: usually the moral order of obedience to parents. It’s not hard to draw a line from an interventionist deity to an interventionist parent, and from there to an idea in a higher order of beings that possess powers beyond even parents, who can come along and reshuffle the much larger adult toybox as they see fit.

There’s a lot of critical discussion that we won’t repeat here about how in times of uncertainty (like, say, now), there is a reawakening of (some might less charitably call it a retreat into) the mythic/heroic narrative by adults, as they seek to re-establish a sense of moral order that their day to day lives might fail to provide. Parallels between, say, the light musical comedies of the 1930s (in which star-crossed lovers find each other in the final reel, misunderstandings are charmingly resolved and mean miserly uncles are humiliated) and the travails of the depression are, for example, mirrored in the surge of popularity in the Marvel movies during the financial crisis, international strife and mounting terrorism in the early part of the 2010s. It’s been done, its compelling even if it is a just-so story, and we don’t plan to cover that ground again…

but by and large, the audience for superhero comics (and movies, and television) isn’t children anymore, and has not been for some time. There is another oft-prosecuted case that the Bronze Age of comics was a hardening to, and the Iron or Dark Age (or whatever you want to call it) a full-blown reaction against, the implicit simplicity of a moral order that no longer reflected the appetites of the constituency.

Without delving into Comics History 101 – and to greatly simplify – with the addition of “real” problems with the rise of Marvel comics in the early 1960s, superheroes opened themselves to struggling with the perils of everyday life, and as the general social tone in America shifted from the Camelot fantasies of the early-1960s, to the Summer of Love and then through the frustration of that movement’s decline, failure in Vietnam, through to the economic deflation, social upheaval and acknowledgement of social evils, the comic book age shifted from the children of the 1940s to the ever more important demographic, the teen-ager (and finally teenager) of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Teenagers got cynical, and comics reflected that cynicism, culminating in direct contrasts to the 1980s pitch of “Morning in America”. Stories referencing urban violence, gang warfare, Iran and Iran-Contra, the rise of materialism and the loss of faith in public institutions all became part of the comics norm. The Bronze Age in the DCU brought to the forefront Qurac and terrorism, Checkmate, Suicide Squad, Project Atom and Project Cadmus, the CIA ordering assassinations and the Joker becoming ambassador for Iran.

Characters like Superman came under fire, with charges of being ‘boring’. In the shift to an ironic mode such paragons were considered sufficiently morally good and sufficiently powerful so as not to be challenged by the world around them. If they don’t struggle internally, and due to the nature of their narratives they ultimately win externally, what conflict exists within their stories that is worth reading about? (Sidenote: We don’t accept Superman doesn’t struggle internally, far from it. There’s clearly a way to write him where he is needing to grapple with complicated challenges, without making him, say, a moping chiaroscuro Zod-murdering misanthrope. But that’s another day.) The villains in turn shifted from capers to crime, from humour to horror, and a stylistic seachange was well on its way.

Enter Deathstroke, the Terminator.

Deathstroke came to comics as one of the villains that brought in DC’s transition into modernity. With the Judas Contract, Slade Wilson changed the Titans’ world. Like Marvel’s Cable would soon after, Deathstroke aggressively spat style and violent, militarised competence. With a brutal panoply of non-gimmick weapons, he placed the Titans team in rare peril. With method and deliberation, he pursued his revenge (revenge for his son, the first Ravager, who had died failing to take out the Titans) by tearing apart the Titans idyllic poolside existence. Mixing terrifyingly pragmatic schemes (poisons, mailbombs, etc) and a heady cocktail of sex, treachery and psychological warfare, Slade oozed menace and brutality.

The Subtle Alchemy of Killdeath the Murder Machine

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Deathstroke’s paradigm can be layered, but isn’t particularly nuanced. He’s not subtle or complex as a narrative element. Quite the opposite. Exhibit A: his name is “SLADE WILSON, AKA DEATHSTROKE THE TERMINATOR”. If ever there was a lack of nuance, there it lies. He fights with big swords and big guns, he has a plan and he kills casually. Everyone is terrified of him, and nobody is out of his league. He keeps a list and checks it twice, and he never forgives, so you don’t want to be on his bad side.

Even so, with the transition to his eponymous solo title, Slade gained a lot more light and shade. Along with his Shakespearean legacy of family tragedy – one dead son, and one mute; an ex-wife responsible for his iconic lost eye – he was presented as a man with a code and a sense of duty. Even by the end of Judas Contract, Slade had made peace with the Titans, retiring to Africa after a heart-to-heart with Changeling, and from there, comes to their aid in Titans Plague and Titans Hunt.

Slade’s backstory as a blackbag Captain America raises the spectre of whether his supersoldier serum drove him into darkness, and whether America carries the moral burden of his sins: the State must live with the monster it creates. This becomes entwined with a complex ethical code, becoming picky in his contracts. Slade’s solo adventures drew heavily from spy thrillers, with the mercenary usually making the world a better place (bringing peace to war-torn Latin America, taking out mobsters, arms dealers and terrorists and protecting old contacts from vengeful shades) while adamantly denying he has a better angel.

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The arc of Marv Wolfman’s superlative solo run (vying against Suicide Squad as our favourite examples of the era and genre) is the struggle for the soul of Slade Wilson. Perhaps critical to keeping this balance around was the presence of Wintergreen, Slade’s comrade in arms and general factotum, and the default narrator of Slade’s adventures. In as much as Deathstroke borrows elements from Captain America and reuses them in a new context, Wintergreen functions as a similar tool from Batman’s arsenal. He’s Alfred Pennyworth – not just because he’s an English servant, but because his rational, patrician attitude lends sanity and nuance to Slade’s idiosyncrasies and obsessions. Wintergreen can interrogate Slade’s premises, but as long as he has faith in Slade, a demonstration is made to the audience that Slade is worth having faith in. Slade is constantly shedding friends from the “old days” and family members keep dying and coming back, but having someone believe in him, someone who is faithful but not naive, creates the fundamental tension of the comic.

Narratively, this tension is escalated with the stories (within and without the solo series) circling around the Slade’s family dramas. The one thing that will always prompt Slade to action is a family connection, despite his clear record of being the worst patriarch since Abraham. Adeline, despite being Slade’s training officer in his human days, was driven mad by gaining a fraction of Slade’s powers, is kidnapped on numerous occasions and generally grieves for children she cannot guide or protect. The bad son, Grant, tries to surpass what Slade cannot help but be, and falls short time and again. Joey is injured over and over, from being muted, to possessed and corrupted, to killed, and can never escape his family legacy. And Rose, last to the party and intermittently illegitimate, walks her father’s path. In a thematic sense, she is the only child to be Slade’s sole creation (down to taking responsibility for her training and performance in a way he never did with his sons), destined to be never truly good or bad, but forever in the balance. These family appearances nearly always lead to the same climax – Slade’s family being drawn into horror, madness and violence through exposure to his world and his nature, until ultimately, they confront him and beg or dare him to kill them lest they kill him and go on to become or remain monsters (seriously, this has happened about a dozen times now).

This dichotomy of dark and light, protagonist today and antagonist tomorrow, raises some interesting questions around anti-heroics. With no disrespect to Frye’s elegant approach set out above, his framework can sit awkwardly with the sophisticated and shifting modes of peak content and shared universe storytelling. To consider, the anti-hero fully in that context, you need to not only delve into collective perceptions of moral qualities and diverse perceptions – with the death of the author, what even is the good? – but also find some landing on what qualifies as a protagonist within and especially across stories. Since Snape is not the protagonist, can he still be an anti-hero? Is Klaus a villain in The Vampire Diaries and an anti-hero in The Originals? If in Game of Thrones, the perspective changes on who is right and wrong changes, who then is the anti-hero? What if, like with Wolverine, the character has a modular morality that comes and goes even within contemporaneous titles?

Comics villains present an interesting edge case in this discourse. In mythic stories, villains usually present a moral and practical challenge to the hero. Villains are challenges to be conquered, rarely to be sympathised with or understood. The mythic epic is concerned with conquest and achievement, be it winning contests, climbing mountains or slaying monsters. The categories of challenge aesthetically differ, but one only needs to look at Siegfried or Beowulf to know that these are not men preoccupied with the morality of their actions. Sometimes, monsters gotta get beaten. This paradigm is important to the four-colour simplicity of early comics.

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On a long enough timeline, however, these simple challenges are prone to revisionism, particularly as social certainty about good and evil diminishes. Every villain usually appears in a form that meets the criteria for antihero set out above. Magneto in the first Secret Wars and Doom in the second are classic examples, as too Lex in Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. DC ran a whole month of the things with the relatively recent Forever Evil. While as a rule these stories add nuance and depth to the villain, taken from a more holistic perspective, they play into a broader narrative of the heroes’ point-of-view, a dissonant counter-note adding structural dichotomy to the broader Manichean order of the epic.

It seems reasonable, then, to split out those characters that are anti-heroes in the moment and those which have more broadly and frequently privileged perspectives. When we discussed the Punisher in our piece on Poison Ivy, we suggested the following:

“Within his own comic, Frank’s war has been read differently by different writers – as immoral, as heroic or as understandable but misguided – but they all serve as presenting Frank in a complex light, distant from but not detached from the super-heroic world he was spawned out of. A fragile social contract has survived the decades of Punisher stories, and its basic clauses read like this. The Punisher’s war is never-ending, and his accomplishments are left ambiguous, for the reader to ultimately evaluate. Where Frank interacts with superheroes, he serves as a critique of the dominant narrative. He never proves the superheroic narrative wrong, nor is he himself dissuaded from his purpose.

Overall, it has been hard for any DC character to exist continuously outside the established order. And yet, this may be something on the precipice of change.”

 

This can be more broadly extrapolated as the defining feature of an antihero in superhero comics: a fragile authorial contract to present the character’s moral flaws and failures not primarily as obstacles to the heroes in pursuing their principles, but as independent qualities worthy of exploration rather than prima facie dismissal. This nuanced presentation, while rare, is nothing new to the DCU – Waller and her Squad have had it in place since Ostrander, and the umbrella shelters the Secret Six, Harley Quinn and now Constantine as needs must to name but a few.

Slade, for the duration of his solo title, operated under the auspices of just such a détente. While available for hire, and often used for villainy, there were lines around what he could be associated with and still operate. Dick Grayson advised Batman to show restraint and empathy for the mercenary, and Batman’s refusal to show flexibility earned him an epic beatdown. In turn, while Slade may have beaten down Batman, he fled from the JLA. At one point, Superman assisted Deathstroke in a cunning ruse and in another, he worked alongside Arsenal to prevent a nuclear threat. In Panic in the Sky, Superman trusted him with the leadership of a group of defenders facing off a Brainiac-Warworld alliance (and seeing Slade nobly take command of Captain Marvel and Mister Miracle really sets the scene, doesn’t it?).

As if we were villains on necessity

teentitans7_p1-copyIf Wintergreen was the scorekeeper in the weighing of Slade’s sins, then the fight was over when Wintergreen was killed: Deathstroke in effect lost his soul.

Not, notably, in the pages of the solo Deathstroke the Terminator title itself. That title had been cancelled by the time the unfortunate killing took place. Instead, Geoff Johns came aboard the Teen Titans title and set about restoring it to essentials (a process for which he became famed from JSA onwards, and which gave rise to the eventual Rebirth titles and the very initiative which now shares their name). One of those essentials was re-positioning Deathstroke as a Titans villain. And as he put it “Deathstroke hunts alone!”

Before this sounds like too much of a broadside, it’s worth noting that the jarring decision of Deathstroke to kill Wintergreen (and make a bunch of other out of character decisions) is part of a tradition well-established of Slade crossing lines and going mad, usually because of something something supersoldier, but here because Slade has literally been possessed by someone else. Slade is not in possession of his faculties, and when they are restored, he is conscious of what he has lost.

But it was too late. The anti-hero détente had been broken. Not necessarily by design, this decision nevertheless ushered in an era of Deathstroke as work-for-hire killer of supreme competence and raging contempt. Since, at the very least, Identity Crisis, all the elements of Deathstroke’s singularity were sacrificed for a streamlined formulation. From his “JLA  takedown” in that book, to being jobbed to build cheap heat for Ollie in the latter days of Winick’s Green Arrow run, to joining the villainous “Secret Society”. Directing the deaths of a hundred thousand people in Bludhaven, drugging Batgirl to make her into a loquacious murderer, murdering the Atom, torturing Damian Wayne with electroshock…

…okay, wow, this list just goes on way too long

… his appearances have been primed to coast on “surface” excitement.  Villainous muscle for hire, we saw Deathstroke appearing on contract for Ra’s al’Ghul or planning to kill some hero in a duel with massive swords, generally engaging in “badass one-upmanship”. He became an easy code, a credible threat that could be dropped into any story to serve a function but then depart. The virtue of the gun for hire is that he needs no deeper reason to throw down with anyone. The cheque has cleared. He can be arresting, but not dynamic. Without the contrasts, this guy is doomed to barely moving the interest needle as “evil Captain Batmerica”.

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These dime-a-dozen Deathstroke stories focus the spotlight on Slade’s facility for ultraviolence, his iconic look, his obsession with his reputation and revenge. All the ’90s badass hooks that ensure he makes for a neat collectible figurine. But these are not really character traits, they are affectations. In a hyperviolent story, everyone has the capacity for maiming and acrobatic brutality. Twinned professionalism and obsession justifies Slade turning up anywhere, but it doesn’t justify telling stories about him. He is inert.

Slade in this mode cannot become more badass – to become less detached (as with Green Arrow) makes him less intimidating, and to become more detached makes his connection to story tenuous. You don’t become more capable than “as fast as the Flash” or “more skilled than Batman”. These descriptors at best serve as story signposts, and indeed, the heights of Slade’s appearances over the last two decades have been creators (cunning creatures that they are) using Slade’s surface features to say something about other characters. If Deathstroke is obsessed with proving himself better than Green Arrow, this says Green Arrow is now to be taken seriously. If the Outsiders cannot distinguish between the guidance Batman would give and what Deathstroke gives in his stead, then they have lost their moral compass. Rose and Cassandra Cain have some powerful stories in the shadow of the Terminator, but they are their stories, not his. 

What these things don’t do is tell us anything whatsoever about Slade’s inner life, or even how he should react in a given scene. And while this is challenging for a writer using Deathstroke as an interesting villain, it is insurmountable for a writer trying to build a story around him.

This was especially evident in the New 52, where moves towards a uniform house style overlapped with strong pushes to restore Deathstroke as a leading character. Slade got a new origin with Team 7, leading to a series of outings which likely sounded good on paper but didn’t take you anywhere. Seriously, sit down some time and count the number of New 52 arcs in the first 12 issues of each title where a mysterious threat from the protagonist’s past is hunting them for nefarious purposes that dovetail into flashbacks to their history. Go on. We’ll wait.

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The New 52 provided for Slade as a cynical veteran, aiming to give guidance (or scorn) to a series of younger mercs and alternative players, but these still served as props to demonstrate how much more capable he was than the world around him. Either through lack of time, or more likely through a different authorial intention, there was little work done to suggest the eroding effect that proximity to Slade could have on the soul.

Long is the way and hard, that out of paradise leads down to hell…

The DCU didn’t begin as a complex universe, like ours, into which pure morality could be aspired to as contrast. It began as a world of pure morality, into which ambiguity and complexity were subsequently inserted. Plus, because core characters don’t die and can’t be made to drift too far from certain moral essentials, it was a world which was not just moral, but statically moral. The genius of Captain America has been (since his early ’60s revival, at least) to take a “man out of time”, perfect in his values and abilities, and introduce him into a more complicated world. Captain America forces us to take a look at ourselves through the lens of his existence, and decide where we do or don’t measure up.

One of the principal methods of making characters like Superman and Captain America work from a narrative perspective is by keeping their core ethos effectively unchanged, and inserting them into a world where that ethos is not shared. It forces other characters to bounce off them. This is the philosophy that underpins things like 52 doing a year where Superman isn’t there to Captain America: The Winter Soldier dropping an idealist into a world of espionage and (admittedly fantastical) realpolitik. Say what you want about the Snyder superhero universe, at its core it plays off this same idea: what happens to the rest of us if you drop someone as absolute as Superman into a world like ours? (Sidenote #2: Not to fight old wars here, but this is also exactly what was done in 1978’s Superman, where the amazingly right-on Superman is dropped into the cynical, fast-paced 1970s – except there people ultimately ended up believing in him, rather than destroying him with entwined paranoia and dependence, which says a lot about the respective philosophies of the creators involved. But we digress.)

The genius of Wolfman’s Deathstroke solo run is that it takes a cynical, cold mercenary and drops him into a vastly more simple world, forcing that world to reshape around him. He complicates the DCU simply by being there. It’s the same process as Cap, operating from another direction. A formula takes a man and enhances his essential, immutable nature. For Cap it makes a hero. For Slade, it makes another kind of character all together.

Slade works best (we argue) when he combines his badass affectations with an internal weariness. Slade spent the ’90s perpetually acting like just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. Slade’s best appearances all revolve around his heart not being in his work, where he is tired of being the badass and thus reluctant to take every step along his path. He is not committed to killing teenagers or covering up America’s dirty deeds, his formal objective is often a retirement where he can be left alone. He can be found defeating an enemy he would rather not engage or meeting the letter of a contract while despising its spirit. He is not made happy by impressing supervillains or making a fortune. He doesn’t need the money. His work does not fill the hole in his soul as does Batman’s mission. Rather, nothing does, and that is Slade’s tragedy.  

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Slade isn’t a conflicting morass of good and evil impulses, struggling with the better and worse angels of his nature. He is, when utilised best, a bastard through and through. He may be on the precipice of madness, and his code may often accord with the right thing, but he is ultimately passive. Like Constantine, another DCU anti-hero that needs careful integration, he moves, but the narrative gravity of comics lets him run in place. What makes him interesting from a narrative perspective is how his complex and imperfect nature impacts on people and the world around him.

Why does Slade need an ex-wife, multiple children and a best friend in his best incarnations? Why does he build deep, complex relationships with heroes who respect him, but cannot accept him? Because these are the people who are affected by him. As a fixed point, they can learn to bend around him or dash themselves to pieces on him. Marv Wolfman, who both created the character for the Teen Titans, and shepherded him through his solo title in the mid-90s (which is great by the way) understood this well, giving Deathstroke a set of core principles and then winding him up and watching him go.

His relationship with his family is not one where he desires affection or closeness – in almost every scene of the original sixty-issue run, their presence is a burden, and his only objective is to assuage his guilt or resile himself to their emotions sufficiently to be left alone without it keeping him awake at night. We know what he wants from them. What changes is what they want from him.

The New Adventures of Old Wilson

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With the return of no less a talent than Priest to mainstream comic books, aided by Carlo Pagulayan and Joe Bennett, Deathstroke Rebirth finally takes the necessary steps in returning Slade to himself, and in so doing makes him interesting again. Priest has explicitly stated that there are two driving forces: what makes Slade the way he is, and how Slade impacts on the people around him. Explaining how Slade becomes what Slade is (and maintains it) isn’t the same as altering what he is, it – like great Superman stories – instead seeks to interrogate and establish how an absolute can come to be. By contrast, an analysis of how it impacts others evaluates how absolutes force those with less certain points in the universe to redefine themselves.

At this early stage, as Slade works his way through his old mercenary teams and spends time raising his children in flashback, both tasks are deftly served. Slade is himself, at all times and in all incarnations, but we as outside observers see how traumatic and life-altering Slade’s attitude must have been to his children. We watch Wintergreen rage and suffer whilst Slade muses idly about his golf game. Three issues in, and we have already seen a series of lives twisted in his shadow.

Given our earlier point about the removal of Wintergreen being the beginning of the end, the reintroduction of the character (easily papered over by the New 52/Rebirth combo) serves to restore the sense that Slade has an impact on the world around him that can be measured by a consistent presence. Although all the Deathstroke solo titles with the advent of the New 52 sought to position him with allies to be contrasted against, as discussed above they largely functioned as props for Deathstroke to demonstrate his practical superiority. They were not long form emotional attachments to be challenged by a man attempting to distance or abstract himself from those attachments. Wintergreen’s very introduction is to call Slade to account for his failings, and then fall back into patters of assistance with Slade because he ultimately has (or may have) faith in the Terminator.

Further, although Deathstroke remains his superhuman self, the new run of Deathstroke doesn’t overemphasise Deathstroke’s superior capability or “badassery”. There has been less posing as a higher-level threat, and more focus on a day-to-day attitudinal Slade. Sitting on a jeep talking a job, raising his children, trading dry barbs in low budget gunfights. These don’t detract from Deathstroke’s essentials. Instead, they encourage you to ponder the psychological makeup of the man in question rather than simply watch him commit one incredible feat of assassination after the other.

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The presence of white on black intertitles conjures up the spectre of independent filmmaking, likewise referencing character study over spectacle. The sensation that we are observing intercut portions of Slade’s life (flashbacks to his children, flashbacks to his military career, activities engaged in “the present”) linked by theme as much as by plot, serves to suggest we are meant to learn things about him, not just the adventures he happens to presently be engaged in.

It’s also worth noting that the toppling of dictators and the careful selection of contracts is something of a return to form, for the once notoriously picky Slade. A long period in his solo title of choosing his jobs very carefully came to an abrupt end when he was regularly grabbed for guest spots. How might his response to Wintergreen have looked if he said “went mad, beat up the JLA, sponsored a superteam, was on the Suicide Squad, went into space, worked for Luthor, poisoned my daughter” rather than simply “mostly golfing”? The repositioning of Slade aiming for the unremarkable and the detached is a return to form, and if it conjures the idea that the past decade of stories was all something of a mid-life crisis? Well, so be it.

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Deathstroke is back. As Rebirth promised to do, it takes him back to his core essentials and uses those essentials as the foundation of a story by which DC’s iconography can be watched for its impact on those on whom it acts. The characters in Deathstroke’s world…and us.

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