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Deathstroke – Rebirth #1 deserves attention for a lot of reasons, not least that it heralds the return of a writer who has been absent from the comics medium for far too long, namely Christopher Priest (who goes by the singular “Priest”). It’s been a long time since he was on a book for the big two publishers, and it’s therefore easy to forget there was time when his voice was one of mainstream comics’ most exciting. From his work on “Steel” and “Quantum and Woody” to his seminal five year run on “Black Panther”, Priest has been missed. Now, with his return to DC as writer of the new “Deathstroke” series, he uses this one-shot to great effect, creating one of the most satisfying issues under the Rebirth banner.
Unlike other Rebirth one-shots that resolved complicated continuity to baffling effect, or others that relied on previous knowledge to tell their story, Priest crafts a lean, stripped down narrative that works perfectly for new readers. With only a passing reference to the previous New 52 “Deathstroke” series, Priest elects to take Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke, down to the studs. He introduces him as a solitary, incredibly dangerous and capable man who does violently brutal things, though he is not a man without regrets, loyalties and a kind of code. Using flashbacks, he effortlessly illustrates Deathstroke’s twisted and dysfunctional relationship with his sons without getting into the continuity nightmare that is his family history.
The whole issue acts as a prelude to a series that is going to focus pretty clearly on both Slade Wilson’s strengths as a badass and ruthless anti-hero, and his weaknesses in being a man who sees that same ruthlessness as the only only acceptable way to live. And the fact that Priest can communicate that so economically and gracefully, with the confidence in his readers that no copious recitation of back story is needed, speaks to a skill at structure acquired from being a professional writer since the 1980s.
The art by Carlo Pagulayan is also good throughout the issue. He nails the lean, gritty, and realistic approach of the script and delivers artwork that accentuates those qualities. With a character as guarded as Wilson it can be hard to communicate depth, but Pagulayan effectively uses close-up, body language and silent panels to construct the inner life that the script doesn’t overtly convey but layers in. The Deathstroke costume has been scaled back from the over designed nightmare it was during the early New 52 days into something sleeker and far more imposing as well. Pagulayan keeps things dark and indistinct when it’s required, and his skill at depicting the vicious efficiency of Wilson’s fighting style is effective.
Overall, it’s good to have both Deathstroke and Priest back in action, and if Deathstroke – Rebirth #1 is anything to judge the new series by, it looks to be a lethally effective pairing. 8/10.