Bizarre Stroke of the Fallen – a “Deathstroke #15” Review
Writer: James Bonny
Art: Tyler Kirkham
Colors: Arif Prianto
You never pull the light duty when you’re the guy who is pitched to take the villain for a spin in a stand-alone ongoing. No matter how popular a villain is, it’s always difficult to make fans care about the backstory and single-player campaign of former mass murderers and psycopaths. Still, some interesting things can go on there, even if the shelf-life is always imminently terminable. I’ve been simply amazed that the Deathstroke ongoing has been allowed to persist beyond a 12-month run, yet here. It. Sits. And it is well-deserved. Issue #15 continues the tale of how Deathstroke got his groove back with a choice cameo at the end that is sure to make things interesting.
In issue #15, we find Slade Wilson going after his daughter after receiving intel that she is being held at Lex Corps. While the man himself is nowhere to be seen, Lex has left plenty of opposition for Deathstroke to be appropriately challenged. ‘Stroke squares off against Lex’s personal bodyguard, LexAI-infused robots, and a small army of things Bizarro-like. Here is where the regular drum-beat of Deathstroke both works for the book and against it. It’s because, in order to firmly ground the book in the DCU, despite the fact that most might be inclined to not care about Wilson’s individual story, the setup is for him to take these collaborative trips a la globetrotter where he encounters other DC characters on a regular (every issue?) basis. This makes it feel warm and cozy, but it also feels like much of the New 52 run and the problems associated with it. By that I mean the villain of the month continuity-club where issues were just structured around a framework of when to intro a villain from the legacy continuity closet into the New 52 universe and think people would gasp that some 50-year old character had made their New 52 appearance. Deathstroke’s theme is not quite that trope-ish, but I wonder how far the book can go carried by the legs of this very recognizable setup.
Deathstroke is first and foremost the story of a man who has fallen. It winds through many hills and valleys that characterize that fall as something that is the result of many stumbles versus one that is the result of a deliberate, flying leap. The notion of the latter is depicted excellently in the Kirkham/Morey cover. Kirkham’s interior work with Prianto is equally tonally accurate. One of the things that makes a book like ‘Stroke difficult is the large volume of melee/martial arts combat to be choreographed. It is typical for a drum-beat to be missed and for there to be a WTF moment as combatants wind up in some arrangement that does not make sense in terms of panel-to-panel continuity. I did not catch any of that from Kirkham in this issue. What is on display is some pretty damned solid creature work from Kirkham on the Bizarro’s, wonderfully shadowed and etched in every muscular line by Prianto. The excellent colors overlay Kirkham’s detail work on Deathstroke’s costume, which is quite nearly in every panel, and makes it look easy. I also love Prianto’s choice of rusty-brown on some of ‘Stroke’s shoulder guards and other pads. Kirkham also puts in some great nuanced touches via emoting in Deathstroke’s mask. Panel layouts are pretty pedestrian, though. Overall, this artwork is sharp; about as sharp as you can get without picking a niche and a schtick and making it look like something overly artsy. I’m not certain that would play well with the kind of story Deathstroke is supposed to be.
Speaking of story, the work here is solid. Not Charles Soule-solid (more on that later today), but it’s good. As I mentioned before, it is a very nice touch that we see some emotion rendered through the mask, because we get very little of it in Slade’s voice. His personality is very Wolverine-like in tone. You might catch some passing of emotion in the face, but rarely in the voice. Slade is perpetually angry. But, hey, if this is a vengeance tale then maybe that is ok. I am hoping that we eventually see (hear) a bit more depth in character in Bonny’s script as this run proceeds. As it is it’s fine, just not necessarily grabbing.
Deathstroke #15 is a solid issue, where the art grabs your attention a bit more than the story. But the story is solid. Just don’t expect anything Berlanti-like. And I’ll admit that is a bit unfair with regards to a single issue. Although we write these reviews as the monthly issues incrementally drop, the truth is that it is in the whole arc as a single cohesive tale that a writer’s cred is most weighted. If you are looking to check in on Deathstroke and see if it is something interesting, issue #15 is a fine place. For fans of Wolverine, Lobo, Winter Soldier, Elektra, Black Widow, and similar solo, mercenary/assassin/spy redemption/revenge tales, you’ll likely be interested in sticking around to see if this should become a permanent part of your pulls. For others who are not so genre -engendered, your mileage may vary.