*This review may contain mild spoilers for Deathstroke #36*
In the last issue of Deathstroke (well, technically Deathstroke #29 if you go by the story), we left with Slade flattened like a cartoon coyote by a truck in Chinatown, finally defeated by the machinations of his ex-wife, Adeline, and best friend, Wintergreen. Declared criminally insane and locked within a wing of Arkham Asylum, it isn’t long before Slade begins to question his own sanity. With Deathstroke #36, Christopher Priest, Ed Benes, and Fernando Pasarin lure you into “Arkham’s” doors with a jaw-dropping bloodbath and compel you to stay for the social commentary on justice.
“Held Indefinitely, like Nuclear Waste or Plastic Grocery Bags… Things a Polite Society Doesn’t Know What to Do With.”
One of the best things about comic books is the versatility of the medium. Comics can be purely written to fulfill our joy or serve as a mirror to our world and provide social commentary. Deathstroke #36 is a comic that requires multiple readings because it can be interpreted on different levels.
On the surface, Deathstroke #36 is simply a tale about Slade’s mental health treatment at Arkham Asylum and his confrontation with the voice in his head. Although the opening brawl between Deathstroke and the other asylum inmates provides a majority of the excitement, the tension eases as the rest of the issue remains quiet until the final pages. As a result, a surface level exploration of the issue may feel enjoyable but uneven as much of the action happens within the opening pages.
Priest’s excellent dialogue between Deathstroke and the other inmates during the virtual therapy sessions is one of the highlights of the issue. It is during these sessions, that he begins to layer social commentary within the narrative. At a deeper level, Priest begins to explore the effectiveness of the infamous Arkham Asylum. I think one of the questions that readers always ask is, “Why do they always lock the villains in Arkham Asylum where they can just break out instead of taking them to jail?” Priest begins to carefully lace an answer to this question in the beginning of the issue when the narrator says, “Evil has a lawyer. But crazy? Crazy is something we can actually do something about.”
Deathstroke has even said in previous issues that his lawyers would be able to get him out of any legal trouble. However, through proving his insanity, they can lock Slade up under the pretenses that he will be provided with mental health care. Much of the issue questions the moral implications of this type of incarceration. Priest wisely leaves the reader to answer the question, “Is this justice?” for themselves.
I feel that Priest’s commentary on justice is where the issue truly begins to shine. Throughout Deathstroke #36, some of the characters make statements regarding this concept. At one point during the climax of the opening brawl Zsasz comments, “Plato made a Socratic defense concerning justice… the order and character of the state versus the just man.” This line of dialogue stood out to me throughout the rest of the issue, as it seemed so out of place when juxtaposed against combat. I was so intrigued by this line that after finishing the issue, I began reading about Plato’s Socratic defense of justice.
Normally, I wouldn’t say that any person is a huge fan of homework. However, I do love it when a comic can inspire me to learn something new through research. While doing this extra assignment, I learned that Plato believed whatever evil fell upon the just man would eventually be interpreted as something positive because the righteous man would never be neglected by the gods. Also, to semi-quote a Christmas song, “You better be good for goodness sake.” I am certain this will continue to play a role throughout the “Arkham” storyline as Slade will encounter new evils.
I also learned that Plato’s work and this issue share a title: “The Republic.” The level of planning that it takes to weave all these references into a story that seemed so simple at the surface level has earned my respect. However, without a decent amount of research, I’m not sure that I would have ever caught these clues.
“This is Why You’ll Never Get a Movie.”
One of the aspects of this issue that I am the most undecided about is the inclusion of the fourth-wall-breaking Devon. Although the character does provide some levity to an otherwise serious discussion, it’s hard not to be taken out of the moment by some of his commentary. Additionally, the end of the issue felt slightly little out of place given the rest of the issue. However, I am interested to see what path the story takes.
Ultimately, Deathstroke #36 is a great issue that benefits from multiple readings and a little research if you’re unfamiliar with some of the concepts. Christopher Priest’s commentary about Arkham Asylum and justice help to elevate this issue beyond your standard fare. Additionally, Ed Benes and Fernando Pasarin’s art does an excellent job of telling the story. Unfortunately, some of Devon’s commentary may take you out of the moment.