Shrouded figures clad in lead-lined cloaks gather around Deathstroke’s fiery memorial: an open casket built upon stone and bone. Wishing only to pay their respects, or disrespects, each mourner has agreed to a tenuous truce as Superman watches from above. Elsewhere, the villain’s son, Jericho, maintains constant communication with the big blue Boy Scout in hopes of capturing this cavalcade of villains to give his father’s death meaning. However, the Kryptonian’s words aren’t the only ones reverberating in the space between his ears. A sense of guilt swells as his father’s words to Robin begin to crescendo in his mind.
“Take care of your dad, boy. Whether they admit it or not… fathers need their sons.”
One part set-up for the series’ tie-in to “Year of the Villain,” one part elegy for the titular character, Deathstroke #44‘s true success is in Priest’s exploration of coping with grief, honoring parents and the debate surrounding “nature versus nurture.” Make no mistake, although the issue is titled “Deathstroke R.I.P.,” there are no long-winded eulogies filled with amusing anecdotes about the deceased. The narrative is largely centered upon Jericho and Rose as they cope with the loss of their father. This is not a surprise as the concept of “fathers” has served as a narrative thread tying each story arc together since last year’s “Batman vs. Deathstroke.”
In “Batman vs. Deathstroke,” we were given the opportunity to compare and contrast each of the character’s parenting methods and the effect it had on their children. With “Deathstroke: Arkham” Priest explored the notion that having children makes us weak. This is evident through Two-Face’s unsuccessful, misguided attempts to murder Jericho and Rose as a means of “fixing their father.” In Deathstroke #44, Priest begins the discussions surrounding coping with grief and honoring your father following his death. It is in these raw moments that Priest’s work truly shines.
Each of the children has their own means of coping with the loss of their father. Whereas Jericho’s mission to apprehend all of the villains in attendance of the funeral represses emotion for a sense of purpose, Rose’s tirade on all of the panhandlers impersonating Deathstroke oozes with pain and anger. Priest’s exploration of both characters’ responses works so well because they are grounded in honest emotions. We have all experienced these feelings following the loss of a loved one. As a result, it is easy to identify with each of these characters.
One quote that Priest has often used since the conclusion of that story-arc has been, “… fathers need their sons.” Although it is not used in Deathstroke #44, it is hard not to feel the weight of these words throughout the issue. Jericho’s guilt surrounding the notion that his betrayal brought about his father’s death permeates each scene. As he desperately seeks to give Deathstroke’s death purpose, there is also a sense that this guilt stems from the feeling that Jericho wasn’t there for his father when he needed him most.
It isn’t until the League of Doom encroaches upon the ceremony that this quote begins to take a new meaning. Jericho’s assault on the villainous organization using Kid Flash’s body to disrupt the procession ends with one of the most awesome moments in the issue. All of the repressed emotions that Jericho is dealing with allows him to circumvent all of Sinestro’s defenses and transfer his consciousness into the villain’s body. He then uses the ring’s power to create a blast so large that it knocks out nearly every mourner at the funeral. Unfortunately, the figure of Superman watching over the funeral is only a construct created by Dr. Light to keep away any unwanted guests. As a result of the villain’s charade, Jericho is quickly taken down. It is during these moments that Brainiac states, “We have confirmed that which we’d been told – Deathstroke is dead. He does, however, live on in you. Join us. You have unlimited potential. We can nurture that.” With this statement, Brainiac provides a new perspective on this old quote. Fathers need their sons, or children, in order to live on. This begs us to question whether or not Jericho will follow his father’s path into villainy by allowing the Legion of Doom to nurture his untapped potential. I am excited for the answer as it will definitely be explored in upcoming issues.
“We don’t always get to pick the life we get.”
Brainiac’s statement also provides some insight into Priest’s stance on the debate of “nature vs. nurture.” During Rose’s assault on the panhandlers, she is stopped by Jim Gordon. The police commissioner questions her choice to model herself after a murderer. Rose’s response falls solely into the nature portion as she responds, “We don’t always get to pick the life we get.” Gordon’s response, “Don’t we? From what Wintergreen told me, Slade never wanted this life for you. You want to honor your father – give him what he wanted,” illustrates that the police commissioner falls within the nurture portion of the argument. With this issue, Priest preaches that we always have a choice in which path we want to follow. Additionally, he is stating that we can honor our parents by following their wishes instead of following in their footsteps. Although it remains to be seen what choice Jericho and Rose will ultimately make, we can be sure that the path will not be easy.
Another one of the elements that I have loved so much with Priest’s run this past year has been the parallels the writer has drawn between Batman and Deathstroke. With Deathstroke #44, Priest is drawing connections between “Batman R.I.P.” and “Deathstroke R.I.P.” It is clear that each child feels someone will eventually need to take over the father’s business, similarly to how Dick Grayson and the other Robin’s eventually came to the conclusion that Gotham needs Batman and Robin. Perhaps we will get a “Battle for the Eyepatch” as Jericho and Rose decide who needs to be the next Deathstroke.
This issue would not nearly be as effective without Fernando Pasarin’s pencils, Ryan Winn’s inks and Jeremy Cox’s colors. The art team’s work is cinematic in scope and excels at conveying the character’s emotions as well as the pure, unadulterated awesomeness of Jericho’s assault on the funeral. You are able to get a true sense of the grief the characters are experiencing. As a result, this helps the story resonate with the readers.
“You ass, I feel cheated.”
The only gripe that I have with this issue deals with some logistics. If Jericho gave Superman a device to communicate with, how was Dr. Light able to mimic the device and Superman’s voice? Wouldn’t Jericho have known that this wasn’t truly Superman? I feel that this was a bit of a stretch here, however, I am able to overlook it because of the relevance of the issue’s themes.
Deathstroke #44‘s is a true success due to Priest’s exploration of coping with grief, honoring parents and the debate surrounding “nature versus nurture.” Fernando Pasarin’s pencils with Winn’s inks and Jeremy Cox’s colors give the story a scope rivaled in cinema that excellent conveys the character’s emotions as well as the battles. Despite the loss of the title character, I am excited to see where the series will lead as well as how Jericho and Rose will choose to honor their father.