Deathstroke Vol.1: The Professional
Written by Christopher Priest
Art by Joe Bennett & Carlo Pagulayan
Some call him a mercenary. Some call him an antihero. But as his partner Wintergreen states in this collection, Slade Wilson is always going to be a villain. And he is a villain with a complicated history. He was once married with two sons, Grant and Joseph. His life as the assassin Deathstroke led to an enemies list that stretches for miles and one of these enemies targeted his family. Around the same time, he learned of a daughter he had with a Hmong sex worker and headed off to Southeast Asia to find her. In the present day, Slade reels from losing one son, having one son near murdered, the collapse of his marriage, and the fractured relationship with his estranged daughter Rose. Rose is a pretty tough character in her own right, a clairvoyant killer called Ravager. Slade decides he wants to bond with his kid and what better way than to investigate who put a hit out on her?
Deathstroke is written by comics legend, Christopher Priest. Priest got his start at Marvel in the late 1970s and became the first African-American editor in mainstream comics. Using a pen name he wrote on Power Man & Iron Fist, Green Lantern, The Ray, and Conan the Barbarian. His most acclaimed work came with a definitive run on Black Panther and the creation of Valiant Comics’ Quantum and Woody. Priest left comics after feeling like he had gone from being a comics writer to being a “Black comics writer” when seen by editorial. He talks more about that in an interview with Comic Book Resources.
And for me, Priest has a tough job ahead of him because I have never found Deathstroke to be a compelling character either as a villain in Teen Titans or as a solo character. He has always reeked of that uber-tough character cliche like The Punisher or any handful of Image characters. I was very familiar with Deathstroke’s personal history as it is a pretty significant core of the Teen Titans mythos and is part of a lot of storylines. The Rebirth issue which kicks off the collection threw me for a loop with its non-linear storytelling and basis on the assumption that we know who Deathstroke already is, much like the Aquaman collection. I wouldn’t call this a great jumping on point until we get about halfway through the book.
The point where the story kicks in for me is when Deathstroke and Ravager begin a father-daughter road trip to Gotham City, where the price on her head was issued. The interaction between these two, and Wintergreen via comms is delightful. Wintergreen does an excellent job of explaining Deathstroke not just to his daughter but to us the readers. We understand why the villain speaks in such a short way and is always undermining his daughter’s personal life while claiming he wants a relationship with her.
The best part of the book comes when Deathstroke and Ravager run into Batman and Robin (the Damian Wayne version). The interaction between the main character of this title and the Boy Wonder literally made me laugh out loud, something no comic has accomplished in some years. It is so good I would love to see Priest working on a Robin solo title or taking over the Super-Sons title that features Damian and Superboy. He has such a strong understanding of what a little shit Damian is, how he has zero respect for anyone.
The entry into this title is pretty rough. A reader can’t just sort of casually work their way through the first chapter, or you will feel very lost. Lots of ideas and history are presented, and the artists use Deathstroke’s presence and absence of an eye to demarcate where in the timeline each scene is happening. Once you get past that overwhelming opening chapter and find your rhythm with the book, it becomes an incredibly entertaining character study of Deathstroke. Of the Rebirth volumes, I’ve reviewed here this is the one I would urge you to rush out and grab.