Written by: James Bonny
Art by: Paolo Pantalena
Colors by: Arif Prianto
Deathstroke is an interesting premise as an ongoing stand-alone comic. I guess because DC found some success with Sinestro, it was appropriate to take a similar whack at another fan favorite villain in DC’s menagerie. As I mentioned last month, writer James Bonny has not been given an envious task. Not having Tyler Kirkham on art does not help this month, either.
As we saw at the end of last issue, Red Hood is the guest hero/villain this issue. Deathstroke is one of those comics that is following the guest-of-the-month pattern, or at least nearly so, but that is not a problem. It’s a neat schtick to see new anti-hero Slade Wilson partner up (or fight) a different DC hero or villain each month. It’s typically with someone that you would not expect to come across ‘Stroke’s path short of him being out on a hit to take them down permanently. This month, the roles are reversed and it’s Jason Todd who has been given some scratch to put the hurt on our man in orange and black.
I’ve been slowly becoming a big fan of the Red Hood. I was not down with him when he was pulling his Punisher bit. But since he’s (moderately) reformed, I think the take on his character is pretty awesome. And he keeps showing up in some of the most interesting arcs in books that have been otherwise not so curiosity piquing. Bonny does an excellent job here of crafting a story showing that Todd is Wilson’s near-equal. It’s great to see Jason hold his own against a DC villain that has gone toe-to-toe with the Justice League (minus the trinity) and almost defeated them. While there is a lot of chatter during the fight, it is not overly camp, although Red Hood exudes confidence like a heavyweight champion. Things here are deathly serious as one would think it would be in a book about the greatest mercenary ever known. I was not entirely clear how much Slade was supposed to know about the Hood, and it appears that he does not realize that Todd was trained by Batman. The story moves along at a brisk pace, and we get much of the inner monologue of Wilson voicing his strange version of honor. An interesting writing choice is that Deathstroke’s inner voice, that voice that gives exposition of his thoughts, is the only one that you read in the story. We become intimately familiar with Slade Wilon’s thoughts, but no one else’s. It’s a good device and hopefully we’ll continue to see more.
The artwork this month is where the wheels came off the train. Ever-so-slightly, but it happened nonetheless. First out of the gate, Jason showed up at the end of last issue wearing the Hood mask/helmet that just has the eyes. At the opener of this month’s issue, it’s the mask with the lips. Besides the fact that I just prefer the other one, it’s a jarring bit of discontinuity to go from last issue to this one with the lips. Still, initially I was digging the change in art-style, until I realized that Deathstroke and Red Hood looked a bit too much like Transformers, and then observed that the book had a decidedly eastern feel to it. Character likenesses started to feel a bit too much like Streetfighter. That style and that kind of character modeling are fine; I just did not expect it. Between last month’s issue with Kirkham’s art in the interior and Kirkham still doing this month’s cover, I was looking for something a bit more akin to a Batman book. Pantelena’s art certainly appeals to a certain type of comic book reader; I’m just not one of them. I found the art distracting and tonally out-of-sync with the story.
Still, Deathstroke #16 is a pretty fun roller-coaster ride. And there were several moments that had me holding my breath. Regardless of my feelings on the artwork, Deathstroke vs Red Hood is a fight that I’ll pay to see any day, and this one did not disappoint. The fight was also well-choreographed. There may have been one panel where I was like, “How they hell did they get there from the last panel?”, but just one is no crime. Things are going pretty well for this series. Deathstroke was canceled in a previous ongoing back in 2013, I believe. I have not heard any word of this title being shaken out in the midst of the Rebirth announcements. Let’s hope that remains true.