Review: Deathstroke #1 by Kyle Higgins and Joe Bennett


Deathstroke #1
Written by Kyle Higgins
Art by Joe Bennett, Art Thibert, & Jason Wright

Deathstroke the Terminator – The scariest badass on the planet. He inspired Deadpool. He’s thwarted the Teen Titans time and again. He took out The Atom with a laser pointer and stabbed The Flash, the fasted man alive; hell, he simply broke a Green Lantern’s willpower by existing. An anti-Batman of sorts, this mercenary has pushed himself past the prime of physical conditioning and gotten out of more scrapes with less gadgets.

It’s almost too badass for his own title, without tempting the lethal kiss of overexposure that’s brought down so many badasses in his wake. You know them, Wolverine, Deadpool, Punisher, Batman…they’ve all buckled at some point. Never Deathstroke. With Deathstroke, DC has always understood that less is more. But here he is with his own title. It might not work.

It works perfectly. Here, Deathstroke is a hired gun, but the sad truth is he’s just a glorified bodyguard. His clients don’t have faith in him, other mercenaries don’t respect him, and even his targets mock him. They’re run through with a sword or tossed out of an airplane or blown up, but it’s the principal of the thing.

This issue introduces us to the new status quo, with Slade being offered a job working with a new crew of mercenaries, the Harmory (Harm Armory). They are fresh faced punks not unlike the Nightstalkers in Blade III or any number of cool young people forced to foil the badass action hero. The score is simple, infiltrate a plane mid-flight and perform the mission. Slade shows the Harmory how this is done. With style.

After dealing with some unexpected complications, Slade discovers someone just wanted to send him a message. He doesn’t like it.

Regrouping with the Harm Armory and his agent, Christoph, Slade decides that the world thinks he’s gone soft, and he needs to remind them who he is.

Deathstroke #1 is one of the stronger launch titles in the New 52 lineup. Unlike Green Arrow or Batwoman, Deathstroke doesn’t make the misfire of being just overlapping the other myriad characters in the New 52. He isn’t just a grizzled Batman.

DC has scored some major points with Deathstroke: first, for all his badassery, this is very much an underdog book, setting up his roaring rampage of revenge against the establishment, and that’s a huge appeal. Slade Wilson is also, for all the badassery, in a pretty grounded portrayal of the world of soldiers for hire and private military corporations. Yes, it’s the DCU, but there’s no spitshine of it, it’s an ugly alleyway of the DCU most characters don’t tread. And finally, they didn’t mess with Slade’s personality. He may be in a different place than we’re used to, but at the end of the issue, he’s still Deathstroke the Terminator. And that makes it all the more frightening, and charges the story with potential.

The reader doesn’t get into Deathstroke’s head much save for his actions, and in this case, actions do speak much louder than words. The dialogue gets the job done, and Higgins’ script is well paced. And of course my greatest praise that I factor into all the #1s I’ve read: it doesn’t insult the old readers or play dumb to catch up new readers. Deathstroke is how you serve up a first issue.

Deathstroke’s redesign is stylish and functional. Joe Bennett and Art Thibert bring a nice, coldly mechanical style to the book, fitting with Slade’s attitude and the world being filtered. That’s not to say the linework is mechanical, but there’s something methodical and calculating in every detail. Jason Wright has fun with the colors, often playing with the orange and blue palette Deathstroke is known for and playing on variations of it. He also avoids the obvious move, and keeps the art bright and clean instead of dark and dingy. It’s a nice reminder that while Deathstroke is a killer, he also battles superheroes. Some of the coolest pages and action sequences in New 52 yet.

Deathstroke #1 opens up on all cylinders, which a legendary DC icon, clever character redesign (visually and in the story), and punchy dialogue and action sequences. Definitely one to keep an…eye on.

Okay, sorry.

Matt Graham is a freelance contributor when he's not writing and illustrating for himself and others. A screenwriter and illustrator with experience in nearly every role of comic and film production, he spends most of his time rationalizing why it's not that weird to have a crush on the female teenaged clone of the hairiest, barrel chested man in comics.