One of the more surprising announcements of DC’s Rebirth initiative was that Priest was going to be writing Deathstroke.  The collected edition, Deathstroke Vol. 1: The Professional is out and ready for you to continue the double takes involved with the original announcement.

Double take #1 was that Priest was even writing comics.  He’s been mostly out of that loop for a few years and sorely missed.

Double take #2 was that Priest was working the Deathstroke, of all properties.  Priest has gotten a reputation over the years for having a healthy dose of humor in his comics and Deathstroke is not exactly the jokiest of characters.

Indeed, this is not a jokey comic.  It is not necessarily devoid of humor, but that’s mostly banter.  And in this case, the banter isn’t exactly funny because there’s so much venom behind it.  Oh sure, at a certain point in the book you have Damien Wayne lipping off, but it’s not really cute.  Here, the poor attitude isn’t sugar coated.  This is a serious book about a contract killer.

Making this a bit more jarring, if you’re coming in and expecting classic Priest, is that he’s using his classic structure: shift the scene and perspective and have a title placard on the page that shifts scene, go for a few pages and repeat the shift.  Keep the shifts rapid and the story moving.  It’s just this time around, every thing is dead serious and you don’t have Everett K. Ross or Woody bumbling around to lighten the mood.

The plot concerns conspiracies.  Someone’s manipulating Deathstroke while he’s on a contract and then when he gets back from said contract, someone’s also taken out a contract on his daughter.  The quest to get to the bottom of his daughter’s problem takes him to Gotham for a game of one-upsmanship with Batman.  Along the way we get to see his decidedly twisted sense of family and how he deals with clients that annoy him.  You could almost call it an introspective look at a character who is not an introspective character.

It’s a cold, hard tale.  It’s also one of the better superhero comics on the market today, even if it’s really a super villain comic.  If I were to place this in the Priest pantheon, I’d probably have to go all the way back to his practically forgotten run on Captain America & The Falcon, which dealt with a military conspiracy to exploit the super soldier serum.

I’ve been talking about this primarily as a Priest book for two reasons.  First off, it’s really well written and the man’s toying with his own tropes to a certain extent.  The second reason is that the artist lineup is a game of musical chairs.  Mark Morales, Joe Bennett, Jason Paz, Carlo Pagulayan, Larry Hama and Belardino Brabo.  Yes, that Larry Hama.  (He acts, too.)  This is one of the issues with the twice a month publishing schedule – a title can go through a lot of artists.  When you’ve got that big a list the thing is about maintaining a consistent look when it comes time for the issues to be collected and there’s nothing jarring as the artists rotate through.  You might like one chapter a bit more than an other as a function of individual taste, but it’s nothing like art switches on Black Panther  in the early days of Priest’s run.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants an adventure comic with something going on underneath the surface.

And a warning – this really isn’t a comic for kids.  It’s about a genuinely bad man and it’s in a very dark place emotionally.

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