Review: Deathstroke: RIP trade paperback (DC Comics)

October 21, 2020

Deathstroke RIP

With its 50th issue, Christopher Priest’s Deathstroke comes to a close, a book often the best of DC’s Rebirth line. In Deathstroke: RIP, the seventh volume of the series, Priest reiterates what he’s been saying all along: if you think Deathstroke’s a villain, you should see the other guy. There have been “other guys” throughout the series, but in this last book, Deathstroke fights himself, and he’s left to consider seeking redemption when faced with a glimpse of how bad things can get.

Priest is a writer who’d been out of the comics scene for a while, and his stellar work on Deathstroke immediately showed we’d been lesser for his absence. I don’t see Priest’s name on anything else coming up from DC with Deathstroke’s conclusion, not even a “Future State” special, which is all the more a shame. As complicated and as mature as Priest’s Deathstroke was, I can only hope for a DC Black Label reprise — surely someone should be writing a Black Label Deathstroke mini, if not Priest (it can’t all be Joker specials).

[Review contains spoilers]

RIP is ultimately the tale of “our” Deathstroke Slade Wilson, recently murdered and resurrected, versus what turns out to be a dark(er) Multiversal Slade. That’s fine, though as the alt-Slade stumbled around fussing about what Raven had done to him, I momentarily hoped this would be Rebirth Slade versus some sort of pre-Flashpoint Slade, crazed in the midst of fighting Geoff Johns' Titans or something.

Failing that, once we got the first intimations that alt-Slade was from the Dark Multiverse (of post-Dark Nights: Metal and Tales of the Dark Multiverse fame), I rather hoped Priest would lean into the (hardly used) Dark Multiverse concept, again making this alt-Slade a direct offshoot of a different choice made during Judas Contract or etc. This didn’t particularly hurt my enjoyment of the story, I just wish the alt-Slade hadn’t been so random, from an anonymous dark world where Damian Wayne and Wonder Woman are in Slade’s thrall. I did enjoy that alt-Slate’s world is indeed populated by a pseudo classic New Teen Titans, though they’re barely important to the story as a whole.

The actual point of RIP’s matchup is that our bad Slade, considering hanging up his sword, meets an even worse Slade — stares into the abyss, as it were. This is not the first time in this series Slade’s considered “going good”; indeed, one of the central tensions of Priest’s Deathstroke’s life is the work of his best friend Wintergreen to try to get him on a noble path even as Slade continually does bad (of sorts, because Priest’s Deathstroke’s assassinations often have a hint of benevolence to them). Trying to clean up his act is rather this Slade’s addiction, the thing he tries to do (with his short-lived Defiance team, for instance) before he eventually falls back into his old, bad ways.

This plays out in the book’s kicker, which in addition to being a rousing “here we go again” punchline is also wildly true to form for this book. Slade finally has what he’s sought this whole time — his family reunited over Thanksgiving dinner, his son present and his ex-wife and illegitimate daughter no longer trying to kill one another (momentarily). He has just even seen the flip side of this, an alt-Slade who rejected all of these family ties and basked in his darkness. And yet, and yet, no sooner does Slade sit himself down with all this normalness than he hears the call of the assassin’s life again and he’s out the door. Deathstroke may very well try to go good again, but writer Priest, at least, knows who Slade Wilson really is.

In terms of Priest’s Deathstroke, the series has been stranger, more impactful, and more out-and-out violently absurd than RIP. It’s enjoyable at any rate, and certainly shocking — supporting characters, for whom Priest has won our affection, do not fare well this time around, and I felt badly for both Hosun and Barry. But by virtue of the fact that our Slade is “dead” for most of this and that daughter Rose (Ravager) and son Joey (Jericho) both fight the alt-Slade alone, there are not so much of the “hugging one minute, punching the next” dynamics of the previous books.

Almost assuredly, as well, Priest does not tie up every remaining loose end, where Power Girl Tanya Spears disappeared to (hopefully Priest can return to the character someday), why it was Rose was possessed by a Hmong spirit, the upshot of the experiments by Dr. Arthur Villain (it’s pronounced “Will-hane”) and on. Even if that’s expecting too much, RIP is startlingly self-contained for this title (not a bad thing necessarily when the previous volumes came out a year ago with a year delay prior to that, too). Though good throughout, largely Priest’s Rebirth Deathstroke hummed along as one story for the first five volumes, with the last two “numbered” ones, plus Priest’s Batman/Deathstroke, being more one-offs (perhaps reflecting the omission of the volume numbers in the names for the Deathstroke series more than most).

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Deathstroke: RIP

4.0

Rating

Still and all, it is no exaggeration to call Christopher Priest’s Deathstroke among the best of the Rebirth series, and as I’ve said before it most certainly deserves an all-in-one omnibus edition. Even more importantly, Priest’s Deathstroke is the best, most down-to-earth Deathstroke series we’ve seen from DC in a while, after a couple of significant missteps, and hopefully it’ll be the model DC follows whenever they try a Deathstroke series again. It’s sad to say good-bye to Christopher Priest with Deathstroke: RIP, but hopefully his absence won’t be as long this time.

[Includes original and variant cover, pencilled pages by Fernando Pasarin]

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