Review: Deathstroke Vol. 1: The Professional (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Sunday, February 04, 2018

After four volumes of the DC You-era Deathstroke title I felt some Deathstroke fatigue, and I wasn't sure if even Christopher Priest's lauded Rebirth Deathstroke series was going to be enough to solve that. It was, fortunately, a sure sign of which is that even though I found Deathstroke Vol. 1: The Professional far from flawless, clearly enough thought has gone into it that I'm enthused to keep reading more. Certainly Priest's down-to-earth Deathstroke plot is a big improvement over the meandering "fight of the month" we've been living with for almost the entirety of the last go-round.

[Review contains spoilers]

Though all under the auspices of "The Professional," Priest's first Deathstroke collection is actually two stories, one in which Deathstroke Slade Wilson rescues longtime confidant Wintergreen from frenemy and international despot Red Lion, and the other in which Slade investigates a contract on his daughter, Ravager Rose Wilson. Aside from the fact that the entire present action is a vehicle for Priest to spin vignettes about Slade's past, the two stories are only thinly, almost artificially, connected -- Slade and Wintergreen are in the process of figuring out who set up Wintergreen to be kidnapped when Wintergreen happens to get a text about a contract out on Rose.

Of these two stories, I liked the "Red Lion" one better. As someone who can remember Deathstroke before Rose Wilson was even a plot point, let alone before she became the Ravager, this incessant need for almost every Deathstroke story to revolve around Deathstroke's desperate pursuit of Rose's affection (through the last two series and into this one, at least) has long since begun to grate. If writers want to be writing a Rose series, they should be writing a Rose series, but having everything Slade does these days revolve around Rose borders at this point on obsession. The first three chapters of this book instead see Slade playing politics in an African country and pursuing a traitor from his past like something out of a gangster movie, and then Priest convolutes past, present, and future through the machinations of the Clock King. All of that moves me far more than Slade taking Rose on what turns out to be a fabricated road trip just to spend time with her.

Priest has a curious conception of Slade, admittedly not what I was expecting. At the outset, it does appear we have master assassin Deathstroke -- at least as far as his partnerships and double-crosses with Red Lion -- but when Priest gets Slade away from his friends and confidants and pits him instead against a more objective audience -- Batman -- Priest's depiction changes. Though this is surely at least a partial act, Batman betrays no immediate concern when Deathstroke kidnaps Robin Damian Wayne, and in talking to Rose, Batman suggests no lack of contempt for Slade, that he plays emotional games seemingly to juvenile effect. Though I rather like this kind of anti-hero -- brutally effective but blind to his own flaws, and who's number everyone else has already got -- I'm again surprised to see Priest take the wind out of Deathstroke's sails so quickly.

As is proper for Rebirth, Priest restores much of these characters' past histories. Though we don't have confirmation of Joey "Jericho" Wilson as the curly-haired body shifter that used to hang with the Titans yet, the earlier dark fates that befell both Joey and Grant Wilson seem to be back in play. Rose has at least some of her origins restored, too, and perhaps best, her long-lost precognitive powers (remembering Rose from the beginning, her being precognitive was considerably more interesting than when she became just another "merc with a mouth").

Priest sets up an interesting dichotomy that wasn't there before, suggesting that Joey had his throat slit while Slade was out looking for Rose (for the first time), rather than these events happening years (and continuities) apart; I will be curious to see how Priest plays that out into the current sibling relationship. Back too is Nightwing having trained Rose, which comes out of the Infinite Crisis era, I think, but it's been so long and that's so tough to place now in continuity that I hope Priest gives us some more context for it.

Art here is done well by Carlo Pagulayan, among others, who gives Deathstroke the grittiness it needs without making the violence absurd or outlandish. It's a particular thrill to have Joe Bennett on board; much as I might chide DC for keeping going back to the same well with Deathstroke, Bennett has drawn both Slade and Rose extensively such that his presence gives the whole thing an added sense of authenticity.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Deathstroke Vol. 1: The Professional

Deathstroke Vol. 1: The Professional ends on something of a soft cliffhanger. It's wildly confusing (or at least needlessly complicated) why Deathstroke took out a hit on his daughter anyway, except perhaps to flush out people who would take "the paper." I can't say I'm much interested in the fact that it turns out to be Rose's boyfriend (oh, the angst), except if this all ends up tying back to Red Lion (or whomever's conspiring to put Deathstroke in an experimental suit). But I do very much like how complicated Christopher Priest has made Slade Wilson -- perhaps even overcomplicated -- and with the Titans on the horizon and etc., certainly Priest has a good start here.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Deathstroke Vol. 1: The Professional
Author Rating
4 (out of 5)
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