Best Shots Review: DEATHSTROKE #1 Does Balancing Act Between Villain and Anti-Hero

"Deathstroke #1" preview
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Deathstroke #1
Written by Christopher Priest
Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz and Jeromy Cox
Lettering by Willie Schubert
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

After a scintillating debut, writer Christopher Priest and artist Carlo Pagulayan continue the story of Slade Wilson in Deathstroke #1. As Slade and his newly rescued ally Wintergreen try to take down the Clock King, more of their shared past is revealed, suggesting that their friendship has had its costs. With tight action and some fantastic dialogue, Deathstroke #1 starts at a blistering pace and keeps going.

Credit: DC Comics

Make no mistake: while it may be numbered as a debut, Deathstroke #1 will read much better for those who picked up the previous Deathstroke: Rebirth #1. The subplot involving Matthew Bland makes much more sense with the context provided there. Priest’s plot here cuts back and forth between past and present, giving readers more insight into the character’s background. And while Priest introduces Slade Wilson’s ex-wife Adeline in this issue, it is the relationship between Wilson and Wintergreen that is of concern here.

Having been kidnapped and tortured, Wintergreen is a bit miffed that his former partner didn’t come to rescue him sooner, and the way Priest juxtaposes these scenes with the past, it makes it clear for the reader that Wintergreen was “saving” Slade from his family life every time he came to the assassin with a mission. The brother-in-arms nature of their partnership leads to some great humor, such as when Wilson explains what took him so long to rescue Wintergreen. It’s a nice touch from Priest in that it allows the characters to be more dimensional without making them overly sympathetic. They’re still villains, after all.

Credit: DC Comics

Pagulayan is at the top of his game here; his detailed pencils and rugged characters gives the book a gritty feel that compliments Priest’s writing. This is perhaps most clear in the fight between Adeline and Slade, both of them swinging punches at each other in the bedroom as their children try desperately to ignore it. In the hands of a less skilled artist, the scene could become too dark, alienating the reader from not only the character, but from the book itself, or it could go the other way and become a complete parody of a what is a very serious issue. Pagulayan is able to balance this, both by showing both Slade and Adeline as skilled and brutal, but also durable. There’s a notable absence of blood in the scene, emphasizing the fact that they aren’t really hurting each other. However both Pagulayan’s art and Priest’s script show that their eldest son, Grant, is not handling their behavior well as he takes from trying to lose himself in video games to leaving the house in a heated mood.

Credit: DC Comics

Deathstroke #1 excels at these smaller character beats, but it also delivers on the action. Christopher Priest’s script is fairly dialogue-heavy, keeping the plot moving, and one would think that this would detract from the action beats. However Carlo Pagulayan has a great sense of capturing the important moments in the fights, keeping the action tight and guiding the reader’s imagination. And colorist Jeromy Cox does a wonderful job, subtly working in tonal backdrops to suggest a change in mood or heighten a scene.

Deathstroke #1 builds on the story from Deathstroke: Rebirth #1, building up Slade Wilson both as a man and as a killer. Both in Priest’s script and Pagulayan’s art, Deathstroke #1 performs a great balancing act by ensuring that while the titular assassin’s background is explored and he is humanized, that he isn’t made into an anti-hero. The biggest flaw in the book is that the plot depends a bit on the reader having picked up the Deathstroke: Rebirth #1 issue. And really, considering the quality of the story, readers should do that.

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