In June, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Welcome to month three of DC Reborn!
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on this book, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Deathstroke: Rebirth #1
Writer: Christopher Priest
Penciller: Carlo Pagulaya
Inker: Jason Paz
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
Alex Lu: Deathstroke: Rebirth #1 is a lot of things. It’s certainly the most structurally complex DC comic released this week. It’s certainly one of the most interesting as well. This book is many, many things, but the most exciting one to note is that it marks the return of writer Christopher Priest, credited in this book simply as Priest, to DC comics after nearly ten years away from the company. Things have a changed a great deal within the DC universe since his absence began, but I’m happy to say that his homecoming book is a smash success.
Like most of the DC Rebirth one-shots, Deathstroke: Rebirth doesn’t have a ton of plot. However, thanks to its heavy usage of flashbacks for character shading, it garners a ton of momentum. The story begins with a young Slade Wilson on a hunting trip with his children. His interactions with his kids and his mentor, Wintergreen, tell us a great deal about who Slade was when he was young– cold, unforgiving, an absent father, and more likely than not an abuser as well. These echoes of the past dance with voyages to the present where we find a much greyer, more eye-less Deathstroke lumping subterfuge upon subterfuge, twisting alliances and deals until they are nearly unrecognizable.
There are a lot of unanswered questions posed by this prologue which make it a perfect lead into the main series. For one thing, at the end of the issue Deathstroke breaks into an African warlord’s camp and frees his Wintergreen, who is now a hunched over old man. He appears to spend his time watching replays of Slade and Slade’s children playing in the snow for reasons unknown. Slade also decides to spare the life of a man he has been hired to kill, the classic DC villain Clock King, because the King knows about “Kenilworth,” someone Slade loves.
There are a lot of intricacies and subplots to dissect in this book, so I’m glad artist Carlo Pagulayan is along for the ride to make the whole book so easily digestible. His art does not have the same unique flairs of those such as Otto Schmidt or Nicola Scott. His style errs much closer to that of a more classical DC artist like Ivan Reis. There’s a lot of detail and rendering that is emphasized by Jason Paz’s crisp inks. The darker palette of this series rendered by Jeromy Cox echoes the one employed by Laura Martin in “The Lies” arc of Wonder Woman. It all congeals quite wonderfully into a book whose scenes are easily distinguished by their color palettes and whose design sense is stellar. The Clock King’s room is particularly noteworthy for its visual intricacy.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed this book. Deathstroke is clearly interested in exploring the nature of time as all of Slade’s past villains come out to haunt him. Kyle, would you like to take the wheel and dive into that a bit?
Kyle Pinion: I’ll say this much ahead of any other thought, I think we have a new winner for Best Rebirth/prologue issue. Priest’s work is generally pretty unfamiliar to me, though I think his run on Black Panther has been recommended my friends for years and years on end. I might have owned a Triumph issue at some point. All that to say, this is the first Priest comic I can remember reading or making a specific impression on me in my fairly long-lived comic life. Much like I found myself marveling at Greg Rucka’s command of storytelling and scene-shifts in his issues of Wonder Woman thus far, Priest’s mastery on display is apparent from the start. Slade is a character that has been used and abused not just in the New 52, but for years preceding even that. But with one 21 page comic, he’s instantly one of the most captivating characters in the DC line-up. Fancy that!
The two elements of Slade’s character that have typically made him one of the most interesting villains in the DCU (at least in terms of overall potential) are his role as the go-to DC assassin and the drama that surround his children. Both have the potential for arresting storytelling, and Priest doubles down by incorporating both as driving forces right out front, at first as two somewhat tangential threads that in turn collide in the very fashion you mention. I’m not certain that Priest is necessarily saying anything outright profound about the nature of time beyond its stalking nature and its ability to act as a source of regret, delivered in a fashion that I might find a little obvious given the source of that very monologue. But Priest’s deft hand, and his ability to linger on a moment just long enough for dramatic impact without beating you over the head with the point, instead ends up driving home the internal struggle that generally reticent Slade is experiencing. He won’t say it, so somebody else has to.
After reading the issue, I come out of it hoping that these flashbacks will be an ongoing presence in the comic. I was very taken with the cinematic quality on display, creating false chapter breaks as we transition not only from flashback to present, but from scene to scene. In a way, this first outing plays a good deal like a micro-version of the same kind of narrative that Rucka, Liam Sharp, and Nicola Scott are playing with in Wonder Woman, but providing both ends of the chronologically-divided all within the confines of one cover.
I also appreciated how Priest and Pagulayan resisted the temptation to highlight Slade’s abilities in combat until the very end. As a matter of fact, the very first thing we’re faced with is just what a terrible father he was and that he’s a character that is not meant to be celebrated but instead either despised or pitied depending upon your viewpoint. That’s a ballsy way to present the star of your Big Two comic, but that it makes it all the more admirable. Though by the end we do get a well-laid out action scene that does showcase just what Deathstroke is all about, it simply gets us from Point A to B so we can return to the richer character driven material that the team is seemingly much more interested in. This could be a very special comic. I’m 100% on board for the ride, I’m glad we’re on the same page here.
Alex: Absolutely. I feel like we’ve been a little briefer with this review than most, but it’s hard to criticize when there’s so much great stuff going on I’m happy to simply say you should stop reading our ramblings and BUY THIS BOOK. It really is the best of what Rebirth has to offer.
Final Verdict: Buy