Review: Deathstroke Vol. 4: Defiance (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)


The Rebirth Deathstroke Vol. 4: Defiance is still as twisted as Christopher Priest's other volumes leading up to this point, though (perhaps appropriately) a little quieter in the wake of the first three books and the Lazarus Contract crossover. Fewer of the main characters try to kill each other here and the story is in large part more set-up than denouement. Where Priest is going with all of this remains, as always, a mystery, with all sorts of random bits sprinkled in that we know by now will become relevant later. Priest also makes strange and provocative use of DC Universe history here, which can't be a coincidence but whose purpose, again, remains clouded.

[Review contains spoilers]

For what is the big outing of Deathstroke-gone-good's super-team Defiance, this book does not actually give Defiance much to do. Of the four "Defiance"-labeled issues in this five-issue collection, almost all involve Defiance engaging (knowingly or not) in Slade Wilson's training missions. My sense is Defiance is soon to be disbanded, and to that extent, I'm surprised to see we never got to see them in action in a legitimate way. There is assuredly precedent for Slade's good deeds dying on the vine -- see, notably, his halted partnership with Power Girl Tanya Spears -- but I hadn't necessarily expected Defiance to be the same (even as we all know, I'm sure, that the Defiance endeavor will end nothing but badly).

"Defiance," the story, has interesting moments (including when Priest gives over the title to Kid Flash Wally "the younger" West and writes him better than anyone has so far), but I thought Priest's real masterpiece in this volume was the single "Society" issue. Here, in the "anniversary" twenty-fifth issue and by virtue of the Secret Society of villains putting Deathstroke on trial, Priest picks apart Slade's journey to villainy. We see Slade as a soldier with strong ethics, slowly driven to covert ops, and then preternaturally enhanced by wife Adeline to become a "super-soldier," a kind of slightly rougher Steve Rogers. It is only apparently when Adeline shoots out Slade's eye after the mutilation of their son Joey, and then the death of son Grant in battle with the Teen Titans, that Slade is declared specifically "evil." It seems (purposefully, I think) simple and silly, the results essentially of one bad day, and to that end Slade's revelatory shift back to good -- and obsessive attempts to reunite his family -- seem not so terribly hard to believe.

In all of this, of course, Priest is juggling far more than he lets on. There's the entire new subplot of a woman who believes herself to be a reincarnated warrior and a war among Asian gangs, for which now Slade is erroneously blamed. The woman is carrying a business card that we thought was hers, but may turn out instead to be the returned Terra's. Rose "Ravager" Wilson is married, which Slade now knows, which means the fallout from that is coming; meanwhile we don't yet know who killed Joey "Jericho" Wilson's fiancee, though my money's on Wintergreen. And Rose accidentally stabs Slade with a sword that turns out to be from the 30th century, of all places, and that then goes missing -- surely we're only looking at the tip of the iceberg here.

Not to mention, not only does Priest bring in Terra, seemingly the original Tara Markov, but also Dr. Light. Terra nods to being the same as who famously betrayed the Teen Titans, but that Terra died -- there has been a New 52 Terra who did not die and did not betray the Titans, but Priest gives us no indication who's who, only that Terra is provocatively present. Dr. Light, too, is a shot across the bow; for need of a random villain, Priest could have chosen anyone, but instead he brings in Arthur Light, who assaulted Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis, and lets that roil under the surface as Slade and Light drink coffee and muse about Light being (supposedly) reformed. Again, having spent now twenty-five issues with Priest, we know neither Terra nor Light are random, and that Priest puts them each on the page and then ignores their implications only adds to all the other understated tension that imbues all of this series' pages.

This book ends with an eight-page flashback story from the DC Universe Holiday Special 2017, which among other things gives us eight pages of Tom Grummett looking as good as ever. It is, as Priest's Deathstroke stories go, a little comical, a little serious, Adeline arguing with Slade that he did not let her abandon her children and take her on a mission with him. The last page is truly telling, with Adeline pulling a gun on Slade in front of Grant and Joey over the slight and, if you check the last panel, Wintergreen is putting away the gun we didn't see him draw when Adeline drew hers. Not even Christmas, thankfully, can disrupt how dysfunctional the characters in Priest's story are; arguably, we see distilled here that Priest's Deathstroke is Slade and Adeline's "love story," turning really on that moment where Adeline finally shot Slade -- not, I come to think, because of what happened to Joey specifically, but because Slade was taking care of Rose, his daughter with another woman, at the time. Everything subsequent, including Slade's "evil," seems to stem from that rift.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Deathstroke Vol. 4: Defiance

The end of Deathstroke Vol. 4: Defiance suggests that Slade will confront his former partner (turned monstrous hulk) Dr. Ikon next time. Therein are more of the book's mysteries -- what did Dr. Villain (it's pronounced WILL-hane) do to Ikon; who wanted Slade to wear the Ikon suit and why; will everyone find out Joey tried to kill Ikon, his lover; and so on. I'm hoping for some higher stakes next time, but Christopher Priest knows what he's doing; assuredly this Rebirth run is an instant classic.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Deathstroke Vol. 4: Defiance
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Yes. I have never been a huge Deathstroke fan, but Priest's Rebirth series has me anxiously awaiting each new volume. This book is so good, and makes me eager to read his Justice League issues.

    1. Just got that Justice League book and I'm excited for it, too. I like that Priest uses the "title cards" there like in Deathstroke.


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