There’s no shortage of taciturn men who weaponize their trauma in comics, just like there’s no shortage of mercenaries. These characters are often reduced to their tropes, turning characters that have the potential for emotional heft and vulnerability into walls of clenched jaws and scowling.
Since DC’s Rebirth kicked off in 2016, Christopher Priest has done a remarkable job keeping Deathstroke walking the razor’s edge between trope and real character. Deathstroke isn’t necessarily a likable character, but he is one that readers can find something to sympathize with now and then.
It’s a difficult line to walk. Fans will be forgiven for confusing Deathstroke and Deadshot, and when you throw in characters with similar personalities and job descriptions but a slightly more diverse group of code names it becomes even more difficult to keep everyone straight. But Priest and the rest of the creative team root Deathstroke not only in his own personality but in the years of continuity behind him. Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, and Jeremy Cox craft a very traditional comic book visually, on pencils, inks, and colors respectively. It keeps the book feeling like it’s been planted firmly in the past, which was part of the overall strategy for Rebirth. Allowing creative teams to refer to and rely on decades of canon gives fans so many more opportunities for emotional connection and gives every character a depth that’s difficult to achieve otherwise.
And this newest issue leans hard into continuity. It’s not necessary to have read the previous issues to dive in to Deathstroke #30 (DC Comics), which is a good thing, since it’s kicking off a six issue miniseries within a series starring the titular main character and one of his most famous adversaries. “Deathstroke Vs. Batman” is poised to offer major changes both to Slade Wilson and his family, but also to Batman and his. Fatherhood and identity have always played majors role in both characters’ stories, and Priest is pushing those themes to new lengths. Not only are Batman and Deathstroke set opposite one another, but their sons are, too. There’s some not-so-serious meta-commentary about the difference between the two men, and why it is that they end up at loggerheads so frequently. Batman is often at his best when he pushed against a mirror image of himself, someone that Bruce Wayne could have perhaps turned into if his path took him a different direction, and this first issue of the arc is setting that up perfectly. Both Deathstroke and Batman are men who have codes they stick to almost obsessively, and those codes can be in direct conflict with each other.
The entirety of the current run of Deathstroke has been strong, which is no surprise to anyone who’s a fan of Priest’s, but this new six issue arc is the start of something very special. It’s a smart move from a business perspective, giving readers a new place to jump in 30 issues into the current story, and a connection to one of the publisher’s tentpole characters. Even more importantly, it gives new fans who may have seen or heard about Joe Manganiello’s role in the DC movies an easy place to come in. What the creative team has done here is make a book that’s accessible but packed with history. Since it’s Deathstroke, it would be impossible to describe it as having any heart, but it’s got a lot of soul packed in.