A homing beacon hidden deep within Gotham City has been activated and it calls the Pulorian army to Earth. With Devon missing in action, Jericho nursing a gunshot wound to the head, and Rose in the talons of the treacherous Two-Face, there is only one man who can save our planet from this alien invasion: Deathstroke. Unfortunately, he’s trapped within the confines of Gotham’s infamous Arkham Asylum. His only possible hope for salvation is to prove his sanity to the staff and exonerate himself from these accusations. However, the inmates have heard tales of his battles against the Batman and have decided that he is…
“…One of Us…”
Although Priest used the previous issue to cast doubt upon Deathstroke’s sanity, Deathstroke #38 does a great deal to restore the reader’s faith in the titular character’s mental stability. The first, and potentially most important, moment of faith restoration is Priest’s reintroduction of Slade’s best friend forever, Devon. Despite every character’s protest that he does not exist, Devon resurfaces as the new character Death Masque (with a q) at the beginning of the issue to “interrogate” Hosun.
From showing the reader that Devon does exist beyond Slade’s imagination to the newly garnered information that Hosun had been feeding Slade nanite tech, the entire opening sequence serves as affirmation that everyone has been working together to gaslight Deathstroke. Although the complete sanity of the mercenary is a little suspect, it does give the character’s words some credence.
One of the best elements of this sequence is the dialogue Priest has crafted for Devon. Played to great comedic effect, much of the dialogue harkens back to Slade’s narration in Deathstroke #36 while also illustrating Devon’s ineptness at interrogation. He uses the line, “This is my knife,” to punctuate his interrogation as a means of emulating Slade from the arc’s opening pages. Delightfully, this adds to the overall “Groundhog Day” experience that this arc is trying to convey while also showing the lengths that the character will go to be like his “best friend.” Additionally, the structuring of each issue adds to this “Groundhog Day” effect. Opening the main storyline with Deathstroke in his padded cell and the subsequent destruction of the character and his confines between each issue visually illustrates the mental toll this experience has had on the character.
Priest is at his best when providing commentary on the nature of mental health. In previous issues, Priest has commented on Arkham Aslyum’s nature to be a warehouse for supervillains the police cannot contain. Within the pages of this issue, Priest turns the discussion toward our society’s nature to incarcerate those with mental illnesses as opposed to providing proper support.
“Your Father Helped Me Once. I Owe Him.”
The inclusion of Two-Face within this story has been outstanding. Drawing on the duality of these characters shows a thematic connection between the two. Two-Face’s reasoning that he wants to hurt/help Deathstroke by killing his children in order to make him a more efficient killer remains true to his characterization. I also love that he used a coin flip to decide which children should live or die. There are other connections here that are illustrated in the issue that I dare not spoil. Regardless, Two-Face’s decision to help Rose with her “Willow” problem based on the flip of a coin seems entirely appropriate. My only question revolves around how Two-Face can be in two places at once.
“…Your Final Group Therapy Session in about to Begin.”
Deathstoke #38’s final reveal that Hugo Strange has been behind all of this seems a little out of place despite the fact that the character has been sprinkled in throughout the story. Hugo’s advice to Deathstroke also led to some of the potential gaslighting that the reader has witnessed in previous issues. One of my current operating theories at this point in the story is that Deathstroke is somehow trapped in a virtual reality therapy session that the characters have used in previous issues. It would explain how Two-Face could be in two places at the same time and how the blueprints to the Asylum would have changed between days. It would also explain how the villains have changed from doped up patients to coherent threats. Unfortunately, this theory leaves more questions surrounding Devon and the impending alien invasion.
Fernando Pasarin’s art with Jason Paz’s inks and Jeromy Cox’s colors do an great job conveying this issue’s action and dialogue. Devon’s “interrogation” of Hosun remains a highlight of the issue for me. Ultimately, Christopher Priest and Fernando Pasarin have created a great entry in the Deathstroke: Arkham storyline. Deathstroke #38 is an issue that creates just as many questions as it does answers. Unfortunately, Hugo Strange’s involvement seems a little out of place as we don’t entirely understand his motivations.