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After a stunningly successful Rebirth one-shot, writer Christopher Priest hits the ground running with Deathstroke #1, a complicated and ruthless thriller that provides strong proof for how compelling and uncompromising his take on Slade Wilson is going to be.
If there’s a flaw to the issue, it’s in how already Priest is structuring this series as an edgy and dark political thriller with a villain as the protagonist and the resulting complexity of the plot. This isn’t an issue that you can lean back, turn off your brain and let wash over you. It’s an issue with a somewhat complex structure that involves layered flashbacks and relies upon crosses and double-crosses that aren’t explicitly laid out. It’s possible to see this as a flaw I suppose. I had to actually tell myself to slow down and read a bit more carefully than I usually do for mainstream super-hero comics. I’m not bashing these kinds of comics, it’s just that Priest is actually going for a level of intrigue and ambiguity that you don’t often see in books published by DC or Marvel. Once I gave the book that level of attention, I found it hugely rewarding.
The narrative of the issue follows on the Rebirth one-shot, with Slade rescuing his old ally Wintergreen and trying to resolve his conflict with both an African dictator and the Clock King in his favor. And that’s what this series is really about; moves within moves. While Deathstroke may be, as Priest has put it, “a total bastard,” he’s our total bastard, and Priest knows how to allow the reader to enjoy seeing him come out on top through his skills and cunning. But Deathstroke is still a selfish man, an evil man, a man who only does what he wants, and Priest uses very black comedy to show us Slade’s utter indifference to almost everything and everyone who he doesn’t have a use for. If you like stories about people like this, then you’ll love Deathstroke #1 and what it promises for the series as a whole.
Carlo Pagulayan delivers on the art front, especially given how much the non-linear storytelling requires him to jump around. He nails the balls-to-the-wall action, giving it a cold and lean economy that tells new readers that this book is going to be mean. He also manages to capture some really brilliant character moments, such as the moment where Slade holds his infant son, but is transfixed at scenes of a war on the evening news. That kind of visual storytelling, which reveals character so well, is what comics are all about.
I loved both the cool action and political thriller aspects of Deathstroke #1, and I appreciated the complexity of the intrigue. I’ll admit that maybe some people might not like the fact that you have to take second here and there and puzzle out who’s screwing over who, but that’s kind of a hallmark of this kind of story. For me, the issue is an exciting and satisfying 8.5/10.