Deathstroke has been something of a wild card in the DC stable the last few months. What was once a story about an unrepentant killer who walked through life killing people for money and destroying his personal relationships in what could be described as a game of Chess by way of Jenga, has become a bizarre tale of redemption after a man without faith finds religion (or the Speed Force, take your pick) and attempts to set things right. Christopher Priest has been more than happy to point out the utter insanity of this story’s premise. Everyone around Slade: friends, family, and now former colleagues have questioned the legitimacy of a man who’s been a killer for most of his adult life wanting to become a hero. Given Slade’s reputation, how could it not be another insane shell game? The premise of this issue is of all things an exploration of just what it means to be evil and Priest runs with that thread in an exciting way.
A couple of arcs back Deathstroke attacked and mutilated a member of the Secret Society of Super Villains to stop him from completing a hit. The Society puts him on trial and of all things wants to test whether Slade has actually become a good guy, or whether he’s still evil. While such an idea would seem binary and reductive, one of the tenets of this run has been about the ambiguity of morality and that turns out to be no different here. Even in a room full of supervillains, Priest makes an effort to distinguish upon the various shades of black that define a group like the Society, and it also serves to highlight what Slade is and isn’t as a person. But as is typical with Slade: even his good intentions aren’t always shaded by the most consistent follow-through. His actions in the name of good haven’t really differed that much from when he was a bad guy, so the question ultimately becomes whether any of this is even real, or if it’s all for naught.
Carlo Pagulayan kicked off this run of Deathstroke so it’s only fitting that he returns for what may very well be the beginning of the end of Slade’s disaster of an attempt at heroism. While most of this issue is in a single room, there’s still plenty of intensity as you would find in a more fight-heavy issue. There’s also a great deal of effort put in at distinguishing the physicality and sheer creepiness of the individual members of the Society on display here. Not to mention the always great coloring by Jeromy Cox here to bring together the various inkers in this issue and the pencils.
As far as jumping on points, this may well be one of the best ones this comic has had in awhile. It’s a dense operatic story that’s reaching its crescendo. Any given issue of Deathstroke is going to be a good one, but this one goes all-out. If you’re looking for one of the closest things comics has to something that can reach towards The Wire or The Sopranos, you’re in good hands here.
4 Trials out of 5