Let’s rewind the clock three years, back to the launch of “The New 52”. It was an age of anticipation and delight; there were so many possibilities and it looked like a new age was coming to comics with a rash of new titles of our favorite characters. One of those solicitations was for a book called “Deathstroke”! Yes, our favorite mercenary assassin was getting his own book; a book where he could be the ultimate badass we all knew he could be. Then the book was released and things took a sharp turn down “Gary Stu” street. First of all, the character had traded his nimble katana in for an eight foot tall bastard sword. Also, all his armor looked to be from a Sport Chalet, spray painted blue and orange. Things got worse when the character lost all his personality as he embarked on a quest to be the biggest tool the DC universe would ever see. After some embarrassing missteps, an affair with Rob Liefield, and a Lobo incarnation that was grotesquely wrong, the book was quietly canceled and everyone forgot all about this travesty. So why am I bringing this up now?
When I saw they had relaunched “Deathstroke”, I squealed with delight. I didn’t get an adequate chance to make fun of the horrendous choices from before and here was DC, putting a new “Deathstroke” on a tee ball tee for me to knock out of the park. But here’s the horrible part, the book was actually good. I know, I was frustrated too. Not only did they wash away all the garbage that came before, they brought back all the things that made Slade Wilson one of the most compelling villains in the DC universe. He’s back to being an uncaring assassin, taking out contracts because he’s paid too. Also? He stopped being a flashy douche canoe. Every fight that he engages in the book he fights smart and like a pro. Hit after hit, he takes out the targets, a whole splash page of bloody assassinations that lead up to a bloody interrogation. One thing I can commend Tony Daniel on is Slade Wilson is now a character with actions and repercussions.
One of the things that made the last incarnation of Deathstroke so laughable was that he was untouchable—not just hard to kill, literally not one thing ever hit him. This Deathstroke is markedly different, as the final climactic battle kicks into high gear, Slade Wilson is getting torn apart. The man is hardly keeping it together. This book does a great job of making Slade struggle; he is really in a fight for his life. We all know he has a healing factor but the action is so visceral that for a moment it seems he may actually be in trouble. And even after he wins the fight, he’s not out of the woods. He is still very bloody, the kind of bloody where all of his blood is outside his body. So he’s not in a good way and it looks like trouble. Luckily he has one last Ace. He has a contact, a mysterious man he knows who can do unimaginable things. And then things take a turn.
Before I spoil things I want to reiterate something: this book is good, this book is really really good. But I’m about to drop some spoilers that—well, I’ll explain in a moment. After Deathstroke passes out from the battle, he wakes in a mystic monastery. He’s alive but different. What happened? The last page reveals a full spread, Slade Wilson was healed and what’s more? He’s been brought back to the prime of youth, his eye healed and even better than before. Al right, I’m gonna stop you right there. You know what’s great about Slade Wilson? He’s a grizzled veteran who’s learned some tough lessons, some lessons that left severe scars on him. Now he’s just another boring white guy. Another one with a tough guy body, a stubbly face, and brown hair. He’s indistinguishable from New 52 Deadshot, Steve Trevor, and even Bruce Wayne when he forgets to shave. Slade went from a distinguished, silver fox with the battle scars of a hard lived life to a bland white guy who could be swapped out for Hal Jordan and nobody would see a difference.
The key to getting Slade Wilson right is locking down the proper motivation. Slade only cares about being the top of his field and that means getting paid the most money to kill the most efficiently. He is not a showboat, he is not an evil mastermind grandmaster, he is not a tragic misunderstood victim. The same problem happens with a character in the “Invincible” universe, Brit. In his own series, he’s a cantankerous hero who is no nonsense, get the job done. A solo act who doesn’t waste time with capes, tights, and heroics. But when they needed a team leader for the Guardians, he lost all that uniqueness, becoming the bland stereotype of what a team leader is. It’s important to keep characters true to their root motivation and allow them to grow from there. I said earlier that this is a really good book and it is, but it’s fatal flaw is that everything that comes after this point is going to be bland and unimportant.