With a body count approaching homicidal maniac status following his escape from Arkham Asylum and his identity plastered over every building, billboard, street sign, Deathstroke find himself on the run from all of Gotham City. His only remaining choice to elude capture is to hide in plain sight. With Damien Wayne’s newest Teen Titans on his trail, how long will Slade remain hidden before the walls completely close in?
“Awright, kids, party’s over, move it along.”
Priest’s Deathstroke #41 is an excellent overture for his next opera, “The Terminus Agenda.” Serving the quintessential opening credits for this upcoming crossover with the Teen Titans, this issue cleverly introduces each of the players and their backgrounds. It also does an excellent job of setting the stage so that every reader would be caught up with the story thus far.
Priest’s work here is dense. As a result, Deathstroke #41 demands multiple readings. As with previous issues, a lot of the heavy lifting is done by the titles Priest gives to each sequence in his book. With this issue, Priest dedicates a majority of these titles and their narrative parallels to Claudio Monteverdi’s opera, L’Orfeo. Upon my initial reading of the book, I recognized a lot of the names but entirely missed their significance. It was only after doing a little research on my own that I was able to understand the full picture. There is a lot to unpack here, so strap in, get out your number two pencils and notebooks, and try to follow along.
“Too many bodies.”
The first title that Priest uses is “Orfeo.” Referring to the late renaissance/ early baroque favola in opera, it is with this title that he alludes to his use of operatic elements. Orfeo, Italian for “Orpheus,” refers to the main character of the opera. This character is a legendary musician, poet, and prophet as he is able to charm all living things and even stones with his music. Through the use of this title, Priest is comparing Deathstroke to Orpheus. In essence, he is calling Deathstroke an artist with his instruments, even though they are implements of destruction. With his signature promethium sword and handguns he is able to paint the walls in a lovely shade of red. This is ironic because Slade takes life away with his weapons while Orpheus tries to bring the dead back with his. Additionally, Deathstroke is able to charm others and elude prosecution much in the same way that Orfeo can charm all living things with his music.
“Caronte” and “Eurydice” are the next titles that Priest uses to introduce characters. Caronte, Italian for “Charon,” is the boatman of the River Styx who transports the dead to the underworld. The part of Caronte is played by Jim Gordon in this issue as the police commissioner wishes to put the assassin back in Gotham’s underworld, Arkham Asylum. In the opera, Eurydice is Orpheus’ wife, whom the title character wishers to bring back from the dead. In Priest’s version, Candace, the psychiatrist Deathstroke was tricked into murdering, plays the part of Eurydice. With this title, Priest is expressing Deathstroke’s regret for his part in murdering Candace and that he wishes he could bring her back. There is also some irony in this comparison in that Deathstroke’s instruments took Candace’s life while Orpheus is attempting to bring Eurydice back with his own.
Priest’s next title, “Rosa del ciel” is the title of a song in Monteverde’s opera. Translating from Italian to “rose of the sky,” this title is used to introduce his daughter, Rose Wilson. Some of the lines from the song are, “rose of heaven, light of the world, and worthy offspring of him who holds the universe in thrall.” There is nothing else deeper here beyond the connection to Rose being his daughter, or rather, his worthy offspring.
The title, “Possente Spirto e Formidabil nume” is used to introduce Wintergreen. This is the title of the act where Orfeo goes to bring back Eurydice by charming Charon with his music. In this part of the story, Wintergreen is charming Jim Gordon, Priest’s version of Charon, by trying to explain Deathstroke’s motives and help his friend. In essence, Wintergreen is trying to charm Gordon by helping him to understand their point of view. In this section, Wintergreen argues that Deathstroke is not very different from Gotham’s vigilante, Batman. The only difference is that Deathstroke puts the bad guys in the ground so that they can’t get back up, whereas Batman places them in Arkham Asylum.
Priest adequately uses the titles “Praeter intentionem” and “Ritornello” to describe the issue’s overarching conflict with The Electrocutioner. Legally, the term “Praeter intentionem,” is used to describe the notion of unintentional homicide with a bit of mistaken identity thrown into the mix. Upon executing a hit on a tour bus, The Electrocutioner mistakenly assumes that a contract has been put on his head and Deathstroke is there to collect. As he is defending himself, Deathstroke states repeatedly that he is willing kill the villain for the unprovoked attack. The title “Ritornello,” defined as a recurring passage in a piece of music, is used to foreshadow the villain’s return after Deathstroke allowed him to live the first time.
“Guess we both just have to live with the bodies…”
Fernando Pasarin’s pencils are electric. Beautifully conveying the carnage of each battle with The Electrocutioner, Pasarin’s pencils with Cox and Strachan’s colors are a huge selling point for picking up this book. Additionally, the scenes involving extended conversations are beautifully illustrated.
Deathstroke #41 is a dense work by Priest that demands multiple readings. The connections that he draws between his narrative and Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo help to elevate this issue. Priest’s work here serves as an excellent overture for his upcoming comic opera, and cross over with the Teen Titans, “The Terminus Agenda.” My only complaint here is that this issue does little to set up the Teen Titan’s involvement in the story.