This review contains potential spoilers for Deathstroke #39.
The commercial refrigeration unit in Mr. Freeze’s cell accentuates the already frigid nature of Arkham’s padded cells. Deathstroke’s grip slips against the frozen floor as Two-Face, Zsasz, and Hugo Strange encircle with predatory fervor. The disoriented mercenary suddenly retches, expelling the remaining inhibitor drugs from his system. Strange leans in, offering a peculiar vindication for his actions.
“… I’ve now finally found someone worthy of my genius. Dear Colonel–I intend to fix you.”
Between outstanding art, entertaining humor, and engaging themes, there is a lot to love about Priest, Pagulayan and Pasarin’s Deathstroke #39. One of the things that I enjoyed most about this issue is the continued exploration of themes introduced throughout the story arc. In the previous issue, Priest expounded upon the notion that Arkham’s inmates accept Deathstroke as a peer because of his attempt to kill Batman. The inmates chant, “One of us,” as they carry the mercenary to Strange. This issue reveals that this act is a posthypnotic suggestion implanted by Hugo Strange via Dr. Destiny.
Priest goes a long way into explaining Hugo Strange’s control over the asylum as well as his reasoning for wanting to “help” Deathstroke. Although it is somewhat simplistic, Hugo Strange’s interest in Slade is the direct result of his battle with Batman in the previous story arc. The fact the Deathstroke is able to nearly kill the Dark Knight on the caped crusader’s home turf is probably enough to draw the attention of many unsavory individuals. Knowing that all of these villains crave Batman’s demise, it is no small leap to assume that they would want to make Slade “better.” Strange, in all of his hubris, knows that he is the man to “cure” Slade. Unfortunately, this means that the demented doctor wants to strip Deathstroke of his humanity and make him, “One of us.” Ultimately, this justification, although simple, remains true to Hugo’s character.
Narratively speaking, Priest makes an interesting choice by having Slade fall victim to Strange’s complex machinations. It would have been way too easy for Priest to have Slade defeat Strange and regain his freedom. The choice to have Deathstroke fail is infinitely more interesting because of the potential fallout we will see in upcoming issues.
“Seventy-three million tickets sold, Manganiello. Bite me.”
Priest’s use of humor through Devon provides much needed levity to the issue. Opening the issue with Devon’s retelling of their battle with the Pulorians is an engaging way to draw the readers in while also adding some credence to the notion that Deathstroke and Death Masque did not hallucinate the entire ordeal. Additionally, Priest uses Devon to provide the necessary exposition regarding how the two traveled using Zeta Beams as well as why no one, except Devon, can remember the battle. Using Devon’s humor, Priest makes this narrative necessity entertaining.
Carlos Pagulayan and Fernando Parasin’s pencils with Jason Paz, Jordi Tarragona and Wade von Grawbadger’s inks and Jeromy Cox’s colors do an outstanding job telling the story. The opening pages which depict the battle with the Pulorians stand out among the rest because the art wonderfully conveys the epic blockbuster action. Additionally, I think it should be noted that with so many artists involved in the creation of this issue, that it there would be some inconsistency with different story sequences. It is to the artists’ credit that the issue possessed a consistent visual tone that never takes you out of the moment.
As this issue largely serves to set up the final installment of “Deathstroke: Arkham,” there are a lot of moving pieces that leaves little room for some of the social commentary that was present in prior issues. This is not necessarily a problem. However, when you are accustomed to the inclusion of this commentary throughout the rest of the story, you do notice when it is missing.
Ultimately, Deathstroke #39 does an excellent job of answering some questions while also retaining some mystery that will draw readers to pick up the final issue. This is accomplished wonderfully through outstanding art, the use of humor and interesting narrative choices. I’m excited to see if Slade will truly lose all that tethers him to his humanity or if he will come out of the ordeal relatively unscathed