Review: DEATHSTROKE #5

deathstroke5

DEATHSTROKE #5
Written by Christopher Priest
Art by Joe Bennett, Mark Morales, and Jeromy Cox
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: October 26, 2016

Rose Wilson has a price on her head — or so Deathstroke says — and the path to her hitman lands the father and daughter in Gotham City. The only trick is, getting the Batman’s attention. What better way than to kidnap Robin? Except this Batman and Robin aren’t much more a team than Deathstroke and Ravager…

Who would have thought on his fifth go-around as a solo title, Deathstroke would finally be a book like this? I mean that to reflect the most sincere challenge Priest and creative company were up against in taking on this sort of unlovable anti-hero — and to admire just how difficult that project was on the face.

And yet, somehow, it seems so effortless in its execution.

Why now? In all seriousness, why does Slade Wilson click so effectively now when at least a dozen creative teams couldn’t quite make the title stick for me?

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Priest at the helm, a modern master of dialogue and political drama, who has positioned Slade in this intriguing place between strict businessman and world-hopping James Bond gone bad.

And it’s all slyly amusing too. I mean, let’s be frank: Deathstroke captures Robin and places him in a deathtrap worthy of King Tut or some other 1966 television villain. It’s funny and deadly serious all at once. And to me, that’s part of what makes classic Priest comics like Black Panther so distinguishable: the dry situational humor that’s only kind of funny, but will make you crack a little smile thinking about it anyway.

In terms of character, I don’t know that much about Priest’s Slade is all that revolutionary, though, except for the larger environment he’s moving through. The richness of the story itself, the set-up, the chess piece moves — that’s far more compelling than any one thing about the emotionally crippled man we’ve seen interacting with his family, one by one.

But truly, I think that’s the key. One of the reasons this particular issue shines even more than the ones before it is we get so much Rose — and Rose Wilson’s vision of her father, her understanding of him or lack thereof IS what makes Deathstroke so interesting. It is only through her eyes that he comes to life as a character, and we get to see that and her banter with the Batman all for the same price.

There’s foils upon foils in this issue — from Robin and Deathstroke to Ravager and Batman — and it’s all managed effectively in the pencils and inks of Bennett and Morales. The pair of artists deliver a smart, fairly straight-forward action tome, but there are some clever moments sprinkled throughout that punctuate the narrative. The way that Batman rises from the Batmobile to invite Rose along, or the way Ravager dances across the page, are just super clever transitions that keep me engaged and focused, particularly on those two characters.

Cox’s color palette feels appropriately Gotham, giving Rose’s bright orange and baby blue armor a chance to stand out amid the dark corners and street lamp lit scenes. The colorist seemingly gets how critical Rose’s presence is to the overarching story — how much of the narrative is really about her — and makes sure she is the shining star of the issue. Nothing to complain about there, as far as I’m concerned.

A fantastic single issue within a larger story that really functions on its own surprisingly well, Deathstroke #5 has got me convinced more than ever that Priest and Bennett especially are kings of comics narrative we’ve never properly given their due. And in the process, they’ve brought Deathstroke along for their ascension into recognized greatness. How unpredictable is that?

The Verdict: 9.5/10

 

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