Review: Deathstroke Inc. Vol. 2: Year One hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

I assuredly understand the appeal to DC Comics to have a book on the stands called “Deathstroke: Year One.” At the moment this book is called Deathstroke Inc. Vol. 2: Year One, but inevitably when Slade Wilson makes his next big multimedia appearance, that title will be simplified.

Indeed this book is more “Deathstroke” than “Deathstroke, Inc.”; it has nothing to do with the events of Deathstroke Inc. Vol. 1 nor Shadow War nor Dark Crisis. Which does perhaps beg some question of what this story is doing here. The best I can come up with is that DC saw an opportunity and took it while they had a title with “Deathstroke” in the name on the stands, whether this was newly commissioned or a story waiting in the drawer.

There’s nothing wrong with Year One, but it’s no great shakes, either. If your knowledge of Slade was limited, this is a serviceable introduction that requires no foreknowledge. But for those who read, for instance, the entirety of Christopher Priest’s Deathstroke run, there’s little here you didn’t already know. Where writer Ed Brisson’s story is particularly interesting, I think that’s more due to the inherent pull of the Deathstroke character than any new insights on the writer’s part.

To Deathstroke: Year One’s credit, it does take place entirely during a time period for Slade that I don’t think we’ve seen much of previously. Besides that, DC has their Deathstroke: Year One now, but I’m skeptical this tale has much staying power.

[Review contains spoilers]

If there’s a headline for Deathstroke: Year One, it’s that it takes place entirely while Slade still sports his full orange mask; that is, before his son Joseph (later Jericho) is kidnapped and before Slade’s wife Adeline shoots him out of anger over Joey’s injuries, blinding Slade in one eye. It’s an unusual Chekhov’s gun, in that the uniqueness of Slade wearing the full orange mask (not to mention that he sports his traditional two-tone mask on all the covers) leads us to expect some related twist or reference to the events to come, even as Joseph is not even born at the time of this story.

When that doesn’t happen, Year One is both better and worse for it. On one hand, this is kind of a miraculous Deathstroke story, in that it takes place wholly and forthrightly in that period where Slade was “just” an assassin, before estrangement from his family became such a part of his character, a Deathstroke that I don’t think we’ve spent much time with. On the other hand, I’m not sure is a story worthy of the “Year One” moniker, so far away as it is from what is ultimately the essence of the character, like if Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One was a story about Bruce Wayne before his parents were killed.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

So, Deathstroke: Year One is the story of new super-soldier Slade Wilson, hired to kill one of the scientists who created him, who goes and does that thing. There are action movie reversals, a James Bond-ian double-cross at the end, but mostly the story is straightforward — Slade and trusty sidekick Wintergreen are hired to kill someone and that’s what they do. This is pretty well a story where Slade is outright murderous villain and not anti-hero; I’m both stymied and take some unbecoming delight in that that’s the Slade story that DC sees fit to add to the pantheon of their “Year One” library.

Brisson, if I’m not mistaken, takes the opportunity to inject a bit of Slade’s later mythos into the story — for one thing, the early presence of David Isherwood, a figure from Slade’s past introduced during the Priest run. Brisson also pits Slade against Green Arrow here, even going so far as to suggest the arrows pose a particular threat to Deathstroke, like a Green Lantern’s weakness against the color yellow. Green Arrow and Deathstroke’s arch-rivalry is, near as I can tell, mostly a creation of Identity Crisis and the Arrow TV show, and I’d as soon have seen Deathstroke trip over a young Dick Grayson than have the Green Arrow feud set in such stone.

Surely Brisson has all the characters' pathologies down pat — Slade who takes up killing mainly because he can’t get the same adrenaline rush being a father to his son; Adeline, who does better here than Slade suppressing her own killer nature but who will later crack because of it; and Wintergreen, Slade’s enabler, whose warnings to Slade against the assassin’s path always ring hollow when Wintergreen is just as ready to take the shot himself. Dysfunction is often why we love Deathstroke — and this is even before Jericho and multiple Ravagers come on the scene — and it’s present here as always.

The story is occasionally sloppy — there’s a handful of times where someone knows the name “Deathstroke” or “Slade” or “Green Arrow” where I didn’t the knowledge was actually conveyed in the story. And Brisson pits a team of rival assassins against Deathstroke, as drawn by Dexter Soy, with big armor and big gun costumes and names like Muzzle and Bolster that seem straight out of 1990s excess. Soy’s sketchy lines are tonally right for the book, though here again I wondered if this was an artist with quite enough mainstream pizazz for a book called “Year One.”

Sometimes, too, DC does small tryout stories for new-to-them writers, backups or etc. on the way to a main series. That could be what the officially-named Deathstroke Inc. Vol. 2: Year One was for Ed Brisson, though I maintain combining “Deathstroke” and “Year One” is an awfully big undertaking for anyone. The writer handles Slade well enough, in-character if again there are few surprises here, and I’m optimistic that Brisson’s Batman, Inc., writing the present instead of the established past, might continue an upward trajectory.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Rating 2.25


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