“You wouldn’t let anything happen to me.”
Candace’s final words echo in Slade’s mind as if each sweet syllable was uttered in a hollow chamber. Their cadence follows the rhythm of his heart. A sinister smile slowly materializes at the edge of the assassin’s periphery, drawing Slade’s gaze from her dangling, lifeless body to the man ultimately responsible for her death: Professor Hugo Strange. Slade’s heartbeat crescendos to deafening decibels, silencing her voice. Taking aim at the villain with his signature handgun, Slade cries out in disbelief, “Tell me where the real Candace is… or die!” The professor’s words are muffled by the orchestral arrangement of “Rage in D minor” pounding through every fiber of Slade’s being, “My dear assassin…”
“…What is real?”
Repeated by Professor Strange throughout each issue, there is not a better line than, “What is real,” to thematically summarize this story arc as well as my thoughts after reading Deathstroke #40. Bursting at the seams with commentary regarding Arkham Asylum and mental healthcare, Priest’s “Deathstroke: Arkham” will leave you blissfully clamoring for one of the asylum’s padded cells in the pursuit of what is real. Thankfully, the straitjacket is optional. Just remember to take the red pill and keep your hands, feet, and any other appendages you value inside the moving vehicle at all times.
Many of the highlights of Deathstroke #40 are the narrative choices that Priest makes to help the reader understand the trauma that Deathstroke has undergone during his stay at the asylum. Although it may have been tempting to set the entire finale in an epic battle of fisticuffs with the Pulorian Army, the choice to focus largely on Slade’s battle with Hugo Strange gives the conflict a sense of intimacy that would have been lost otherwise. The result is a satisfying conclusion that helps the reader gain a deeper understanding, if not an appreciation, for the villain’s mind.
Strange’s inevitable supervillain, moustache-twirling monologue is ultimately satisfying yet heartbreaking. When you think about Batman’s Rogues Gallery, it is easy to forget that many of the members were once esteemed members of society with degrees in higher education. However, as Hugo puts it, Batman has reduced him to a punchline. This loss of dignity is something that I think has always been in the back of my mind, but I’m not sure has ever been explored in story. In an age where all of our mistakes are broadcast instantly to the entire world, it is not hard to find some empathy regarding a fall from grace. Moreover, the fact that Hugo is a supervillain does not lessen the anguish that the loss of everything valued has driven this man to “suicide by Deathstroke.” This allows us to further empathize with the Strange as we all have some experience with similar stories whether it is a first-hand account or something heard in the news.
“You don’t see these extraterrestrial lifeforms!?”
From start to finish, Priest uses “Deathstroke: Arkham” to help understand the effects of Deathstroke’s gaslighting. From the removal of Slade’s artificial intelligence to questioning the battle with the invaders from Pulor, Priest has gone to great lengths to have the reader question the main character’s sanity. A piece of information shown in one issue is completely contradicted in the next issue and, as a result, I constantly found myself asking, “What is real?”
In Deathstroke #40, Priest goes a long way to restore our faith in Deathstroke’s sanity. The reveal of the device disrupting Slade’s connection to his artificial intelligence gives the reader faith that it wasn’t something imagined. Additionally, the exposition surrounding the existence of two Harvey Dents helps illustrate Slade’s sanity as well as the Strange’s scheming genius.
One of my favorite choices that Priest made in previous issues was to make the readers doubt the validity of the Pulorian invasion. By only showing the duo’s battle with the Pulorians through Devon’s questionable perspective, Priest casts doubt on whether the entire thing was a hallucination. With Deathstroke #40, Priest uses the opportunity to further gaslight the readers. Through showing the final Pulorian battle through Deathstroke’s perspective, Priest gives some credence to their memories. However, he immediately uses the A.I. Wintergreen to denounce the appearance of these aliens by claiming that they either possess advanced cloaking technology or are rancid, homeless men. This is a perfect example of gaslighting, as we a shown one thing but told it is something else. Even the end of the issue casts doubt on the Pulorians, and by extension Slade’s sanity, when Robin claims that Deathstroke murdered six homeless men upon escaping from Arkham. In the end, I can’t help but feel that Priest has started to derive some joy using Deathstroke to gaslight readers.
“…There is a man… with a typewriter…”
Although I have mentioned Devon’s humor in previous reviews, I have neglected comparing the character to Deadpool in spite of obvious similarities. Devon is constantly used to break the fourth wall and provide some needed levity. In many cases, such as the “Wakanda Forever” and “Joe Manganiello” comments, Devon makes direct comments toward the reader and other characters about Marvel and actors who have portrayed them in other media. It was an obvious jab that Priest took at Deadpool and Marvel without threatening to derail the entire issue.
All of this is thrown out of the window with Deathstroke #40, as Devon directly quotes Deadpool by mentioning, “…There is a man… with a typewriter…” Priest takes this opportunity to poke fun at the fact Devon is an obvious copy of Deadpool who is an obvious copy of Deathstroke when Devon says, “…It would be freaking ironic if they sued us.” Although these jokes do take you out of the moment when reading the issue, the ultimately work because Priest used every preceding issue to build toward these jokes. Additionally, these fourth-wall breaking moments help to cast doubt on both characters’ sanity as well as if what you’re seeing is real.
“Oh, whatcha, gonna do, Slade, Ketchup me!?”
Fernando Pasarin and Carlo Pagulayan’s pencils with Jeremy Cox’s colors and Trevor Scott, Jordi Tarragona and Jason Paz’s inks do a fantastic job conveying the action sequences as well as the more personal moments between Rose and Harvey. Given the number of creators involved, I love that the entire issue maintains a visual consistency. In particular, I love the pages with Deathstroke dodging Mr. Freeze’s rays while battling the other inmates. These pages convey Deathstroke’s fluid movement in battle beautifully.
Ultimately, Deathstroke #4- is an excellent conclusion to “Deathstroke: Arkham.” Priest, Pasarin, and Pagulayan have crafted an excellent story that overflows with excellent commentary regarding Arkham Asylum, mental healthcare, and epic visuals. “Deathstroke: Arkham” is a storyline you don’t want to miss.