In this corner: Deathstroke, suffering from a traumatic brain injury at the hands of Batman! In the other corner: Batman, with Deathstroke’s knife in his gut! All of this with the feds invading Wayne Manor!
Like one of the best episodes of the Maury Show, Deathstroke #35 contains all of the necessary elements for thrilling entertainment: paternity tests, psychoanalysis, reconciliation and, most importantly, fist fights ending with concussions. Honestly, I mean all of this in the best way possible. All that we’re really missing here is someone breaking the fourth wall to scream, “You don’t know me” to the reader. Thankfully, we’re spared from this and given a conclusion that mostly satisfies. Following their epic battle in the previous issue, Deathstroke #35 finds the titular character and Batman battered and trapped within the catacombs beneath Wayne Manor. The two characters must put aside their differences and work together in order to escape.
“I knew the answer the moment the door opened…”
When the Deathstroke vs. Batman story arc was first introduced, I must admit that was a little bit apprehensive. Initially, raising doubt to Bruce’s paternity of Damien as a means of pitting these two characters in a battle of fisticuffs felt untimely and unnecessary. This conflict may have felt a little more organic if it occurred closer to the character’s introduction. It was hard to imagine that the story could remain relevant because drudging up past sins feels like a cash grab tactic used by the money hungry participants of trash television.
In its defense, revisiting this concept has allowed Priest to create drama through making the conflict personal for the characters while also threatening to upset the status quo. Additionally, this conflict has allowed Christopher Priest the opportunity to analyze Deathstroke and Batman as, and I’m using this term loosely, heroes and father figures. The drama is never truly revolving around the question of Damien’s paternity. We all know that Bruce is Damien’s father. It remains solely fixed on the comparison of these father figures, their questionable tactics as heroes, with a dash of “Who faked the paternity results?
“Screw You, Dr. Phil.”
Although Batman’s characterization may have felt off, and perhaps too similar to Frank Miller’s insane All Star Batman, within the earlier issues of the series — Deathstroke #35 does help to rectify this earlier misstep within the final pages. Regardless of the paternity test, Bruce will always acknowledge Damien as his son. This feels more in line with the Batman we all know more so than a Batman who only uses his children as instruments of war.
Additionally, Bruce’s analysis that Slade is afraid that Damien is his son because of prior loss provides some insight into Deathstroke as well. Although Slade displaces this emotion on Batman, it is clear that there is some truth to what has been said. Additionally, Slade’s final words to Robin, “Fathers need their sons,” also supports the deep impact the loss of Slade’s son.
There are so many moving parts that Deathstroke #35 must wrap up, it is easy to become lost in how convoluted the story can become. Pagulayan’s art remains a highlight of the issue as he expertly bounces between action sequences and conversation without confusion. The art is clear and beautiful.
Although a great deal of the story hinged on exploring these two characters as father figures, it also relied heavily on discovering who faked the paternity results. Unfortunately, the answer to this question as well as the reasoning behind such a manipulation severely underwhelming. For as much character examination Deathstroke have provided for each other over the past several issues, the answer to this question felt too easy and superficial.
Ultimately, Deathstroke #35 provides a mostly satisfying conclusion to the Deathstroke vs. Batman story. The examination of each character helps to elevate the story above its simple plot. Additionally Pagulayan’s pencils make the action sequences and conversations look amazing. Unfortunately, the answer to the overall mystery regarding who faked the paternity test falls flat.