Review: Deathstroke Vol. 5: The Fall of Slade trade paperback (DC Comics)


It seems the chickens are always coming home to roost in Christopher Priest's Deathstroke, and again that's the case in Deathstroke Vol. 5: The Fall of Slade; there's so many storylines tiled over storylines here, so many bad deeds, that it seems something nefarious is always coming to light. The next volume collects Priest's "Deathstroke vs. Batman" miniseries-within-a-series, and on the chance that story will focus more on Deathstroke Slade Wilson than his compatriots, this present volume could be read as a conclusion of sorts — or, at least, some of this series' earliest secrets have now been aired, bringing us full circle by this book's conclusion. Priest's Deathstroke remains complicated and complex, an instant classic, surely due for perennial collection formats once it concludes.

[Review contains spoilers]

When, in the middle of the book, Slade finally ends his no-killing streak (begun after a mystic experience in the Titans: The Lazarus Contract crossover), it is with exceptionally little fanfare. It's not a great struggle or moral decision, but rather Slade is attacked and defends himself reflexively. It's been coming for a while, as Slade has hardly been a prince even if he's been nonlethal, and as some have supposed in the book, the effects of Slade's awakening are likely wearing off. It is the beginning of the end for Slade's pseudo-Titans "Defiance" team, symbolically because of Slade's turn but also because, in the same moment, Priest brings in Kid Flash to reveal the apparent suicide of Power Girl Tanya Spears, hearkening the team's actual demise.

At the point Priest convinces the audience that Tanya has killed herself over Deathstroke's bad actions, it means that the audience acknowledges that Deathstroke's actions really are that bad; no longer can the audience root for Deathstroke under the guise that Slade works in shades of gray. And then, of course, Priest pulls back the curtain; the audience has lost faith with Deathstroke, but Tanya apparently hasn't, alive but victim to a technological mishap. Possibly the purest (if self-righteous) among Deathstroke's Defiance team has not left the fold even with a clear understanding of what Slade's done; all is morally lost, though Priest offered the audience redemption before that happened.

In a wonderfully complex series in which characters are often duplicitous and assassinations have multiple purposes not always apparent to the reader, Priest now introduces both time travel and doppelgangers. We knew that Slade's mystic experience involved a brief use of the Flash's Speed Force, but it was never quite clear until now that the sword from the future somehow in daughter Rose Wilson's possession was secretly brought back by Slade in a time jaunt. That opens a world of possibilities, that every trip and fall in this book, backward and forward, might be by Slade's design, making every one of Priest's scenes even more rife for scrutiny than they already are. Additionally, Priest has now revealed that some of the book's most mysterious side characters are actually the main characters in disguise (known to themselves or not), further obfuscating what the audience can and cannot trust in front of us.

Fall of Slade ends with Deathstroke constrained to Arkham Asylum, so much the better for running afoul of Batman. We know, too, that the storyline following "Deathstroke vs. Batman" is called "Deathstroke: Arkham," leading me to wonder if there's not more story in between when Slade's frenemy David Isherwood drops a car on him and we next see Slade in Arkham. Again, we have something of a throughway here in that Slade seemingly went good, but as soon as he goes bad again, he "falls" all the way down — killing, losing his team, and being almost immediately imprisoned not just in Belle Reve or some traditional prison, but in Arkham. The implication is that Slade has gone crazy, seemingly seeing visions of pal Wintergreen who isn't there, though the audience half-suspects someone is scheming against Slade again. As usual, Priest muddies right and proper here; Slade should be in Arkham, likely deserves it, but his probable unjust imprisonment puts the audience in a sticky situation, to argue against the right thing done for the wrong reasons.

Slade's going to sit in Arkham for a while, figuratively, following Deathstroke Vol. 5: The Fall of Slade, because it's three months until DC publishes Batman vs. Deathstroke (switching the name of the title characters from Christopher Priest's original). That Deathstroke volume is getting a hardcover release, a rarity among Rebirth books and especially ones that only collect single issues of an individual series, which to me demonstrates the heights to which Priest has raised Deathstroke after the character's time in the doldrums (a Justice League movie cameo probably didn't hurt insofar as the Justice League movie did or didn't hurt anything).

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Deathstroke Vol. 5: The Fall of Slade

The more I'm enjoying Priest's Deathstroke, the more I'm hungry for collections of Priest's other works. Eighteen issues of Steel (with frequent Deathstroke collaborator Denys Cowan) could probably be squeezed into one volume if DC really tried, and equally DC's 1990s Justice League collections are right at the point where they could start dipping into Priest's twenty-something-issue Justice League Task Force run. DC should go ahead while Priest is currently in such a spotlight.

[Includes original and variant covers, character and cover sketches.]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Deathstroke Vol. 5: The Fall of Slade
Author Rating
4.5 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Priest trusts his audience to be intelligent and pay attention. If only more comic book writers had that high a regard for their readers...!

  2. Priest's Task Force issues were pretty good. I enjoyed his take on Vandal Savage. It would be great to have those stories collected.


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