This review contains some spoilers for Deathstroke #50.
After escaping Arkham Asylum, defeating an alien invasion, and rising from the dead, only one challenge remains for the Terminator: himself. Deathstroke has always been his own worst enemy. However, no one expected that this would culminate in a literal battle of fisticuffs between the assassin and a reality displaced doppelganger. With the fate of loved ones hanging in the balance, will Deathstroke be able to put an end to Old Man Slade’s reign of terror? Or will our Slade fall to the darkness?
“What might have been.”
Deathstroke #50 is an excellent finale to the series. Priest imbues this issue with excellent character exploration and relevant themes. Although it may feel too safe at times, Priest’s final remarks on the character provide a satisfying conclusion to the series. Additionally, Pagulayan and Pasarin’s pencils are seamless, providing cinematic visuals when the two assassins do finally come to blows.
One of my favorite things about Priest’s work is how he plays with your expectations. For instance, the solicitation for this book makes it sound like a forty-page, knockdown, drag-out brawl between Slade and his more sinister doppelganger. As our Slade stares the other down, you get a sense that their duel is inevitable. What I think is an interesting choice here is that our Slade seeks to understand his doppelganger. Although this is not the most action-packed way to end the series, this conversation allows the character to have a moment of introspection.
Through his attempts to prevent their battle, Priest highlights the differences between our Slade and his more murderous copy. Deathstroke fixates on Old Man Slade murdering Hosun. This is something that our Slade proclaims he would never do because he described Hosun as innocent. Killing the innocent violates his code, something that Old Man Slade lost following his Wintergreen’s Death.
The theme surrounding how our family influences our code harkens back not only to Joey’s debate on “nature versus nurture” but also to the “Deathstroke: Arkham” storyline. During that arc, Two-Face attempts to fix Slade the only way he knows how: by killing his children. Two-Face views Deathstroke’s family as his greatest weakness. This is something that Rose scoffs at due to Slade’s inability to show his love for her. However, we get confirmation of how the loss of family would change Slade via the juxtaposition of these two characters. Without Wintergreen as his moral compass, Slade would become more violent and eventually abandon the code that he believes separates himself from a villain. It is in these moments that we get a clear sense that Priest sides with nurture in Joey’s debate.
However, what I find the most interesting is the outcome of the battle between the two Slades. Priest uses this battle to personify Slade’s inner conflict. As the two assassins strike at each other, we are witnessing Slade’s sense of ethics battle his darkness. This conflict is something that the series has been building towards for quite some time. The most enjoyable part of this battle is that Priest does not give Slade a happy ending. Old Man Slade shoves Rose’s sword through Deathstroke’s Ikon suit, before collapsing lifeless to the ground. Sure, our noble Slade survived, but his inner darkness technically won the battle. This victory, if you can call it that, foreshadows this issue’s end and Slade’s inevitable fall to the darkness.
“You’re just a fool who destroyed himself.”
One of my only complaints with this issue is that in some cases, it feels like Priest may have been playing it too safe. I am not saying this to dampen the impact of the many deaths throughout this storyline. However, many of these deaths feel as though Priest is trying to hit the reset buttons with the characters. By basically returning them to their status quo, Priest can return these toys to their boxes relatively unscathed for the next writer. It’s unfortunate that we are not privy to more of the fallout of this issue because this would have given the deaths more impact.
I would be remiss not to mention that the entire art team kills it. Pagulayan and Pasarin’s pencils are cinematic. They do an excellent job of illustrating the quieter conversations between the two assassins as well as the final action sequences of the issue. Paz, Albert, Rapmund, and Miki’s work on inks with Cox’s work on colors provides each story beat with the appropriate tone. The entire team’s work on the final battle between the two Slade is excellent. The level of detail is impressive, and the energy between each of the panels makes me feel like I’m watching it on the big screen.
With great character exploration, relevant themes, and explosive action, Deathstroke #50 is an excellent conclusion to the series. One thing is for sure; I’m going to miss this series. Priest’s use of themes and clever writing helped elevate this series above many of its peers. His work on this title provided a new lens with which we could view the character. Through exploring his code and sense of ethics, Priest allowed us to have a greater understanding of the character.