I was a pretty big fan of Deathstroke: Rebirth #1, so I was looking forward to reading the proper Deathstroke #1, conveniently released just two weeks later. Once again, this issue is written by Christopher Priest, penciled by Carlo Pagulayan, inked by Jason Paz, colored by Jeremy Cox, and lettered by Willie Schubert. Is it good?
Deathstroke #1 (DC Comics)
Let’s get this out of the way from the start: for all intents and purposes, this is really the second issue of the current Deathstroke series. While some of the Rebirth one-shots have been more like prologues to the main series (see Superman: Rebirth #1 and Batman: Rebirth #1), Deathstroke: Rebirth #1 felt like an essential part of Slade Wilson’s new story, making Deathstroke #1 feel more like a continuation than a beginning. With that in mind, I strongly suggest that anyone that is even remotely interested in this series starts with the one shot before moving on to the issue that I am reviewing here.
Take, for example, the comic’s fifth page:
Essentially, what we have here is The Clock King explaining the plot of the last issue to the captive Matthew, A.K.A Ja-Zaki, A.K.A The Red Lion, minus all of that issue’s flashbacks. I was able to follow that issue quite well, but somehow, by recapping the events, The Clock King (and Priest) makes it seem much more confusing than it actually is. I can’t imagine how confusing it must be to new readers.
That aside, if you forget the fact that there is a “1” on the cover, Deathstroke #1 actually makes for a rather serviceable second issue, even if it isn’t as impressive as its debut.
Speaking of which, I already regret referring to Carlo Pagulayan’s art as “a bit generic” in my review of Deathstroke: Rebirth #1 two weeks ago. I’ve spoken before about DC’s “house style” (and will remind you, once again, that this idea was not coined by me, but Matt D. Wilson of Comics Alliance), and suggested in my last review that Pagulayan’s pencils are comparable to that of Ivan Reis, Jason Fabok, and others with similar styles that DC seems to have a habit of employing (David Finch, Patrick Zircher, and, of course, Jim Lee all come to mind as well). That got me thinking about Marvel’s house style in the 60’s, in which artists were instructed to draw like Jack Kirby. There’s no denying that other Marvel artists at the time, like Sal Buscema, had qualities that appeared similar to The King’s, at least on a superficial level, but there’s also no denying that Buscema had some attributes that were uniquely his own.
After taking a closer look at Pagulayan’s art with this issue, it occurred to me that Pagulayan deserves more credit for his talents than I gave him. Take this sequence, for example, from the second page:
What we have here is the kind of page that I imagine is just as hard, if not harder, for some artists to draw than a big action scene (although I can barely draw a straight line so, you know, grain of salt): two characters sitting around and talking. The conventional wisdom would be to take some cues from Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work and change the perspective in each panel to keep things interesting.
But Pagulayan does something different. The perspective from the “camera” remains the same, allowing Pagulayan to showcase how skillfully he can render slight changes in body language and facial expressions. This would be a boring page even for many talented artists, but Pagulayan makes it work.
This is a slow burn of a comic, even more so than the last issue, and certainly more than a newcomer (like me) would expect from a comic with a title like “Deathstroke,” with a protagonist like Deathstroke. Not much happens, and the cliffhanger on the last page doesn’t come as much of a surprise. There’s nothing wrong with a comic that breaks the typical issue-by-issue structure and pacing a bit—Ta-Nehisi Coates has been doing so with great success on Black Panther—but here it sometimes feels as if the constraints of a 20-page issue are limiting Priest.
Similarly, I still can’t help but wonder how freeing it would be to Priest if this were a Mature Reader’s title. Make no mistake, this is not a book that you want to give to kids. We may not see actual nudity or the physical act of sex, but we do see a flashback of Slade and his wife quite clearly in a post-coital embrace, which comes right after a scene of…well, I guess it’s domestic abuse. And that’s to say nothing of all the death and destruction that has permeated throughout this series so far.
And look, I’m not the type to usually argue that superhero fiction should be more risqué. I think I’m in the minority that believes that the Deadpool film, solid as it turned out to be, would have been perfectly fine with a script that didn’t have quite as much sex and profanity when the comics seem to do just fine without a single F-bomb (though I suppose the violence is necessary for the character). Yet when two different characters refer to Slade as a “jackass,” I can’t help but wonder if the original script had Wintergreen calling him an “a-----e.”
Look, I know it’s nitpicky, but when you’re trying to establish different voices for each character, small details like this matter. Most of the characters in this comic seem like the types to say “f-----g,” not “freaking.”
Is It Good?
Despite my nitpicking, this is a strong follow-up to a great opening issue. I haven’t decided yet if this is a comic that I’m going to be following for the long-haul (not when there are so many other great books coming out right now from DC), but I’ll certainly be picking up the next issue.