This is the kind of comic I think of as loud and brawling. Neither of which are pejorative terms, just a way of saying that the gist of it is to focus on violence within the context of what feels like a pretty traditional double-cross revenge plot. Because we’re stepping into the story mid-stream, I have written a synopsis to get you caught up to speed:
What You Need to Know
The first three issues of the Deathstroke series have set up some intrigue for our assassin-for-hire. Deathstroke was hired to make a hit in Russia on a creepy dude called Possum. He thinks it’s an easier-than-routine job, but the tables get turned when Possum puts him down with a hypnosis-like mind-screw in which Deathstroke is forced to give up some secret codes. Then Possum proceeds to make hamburger out of him. Deathstroke escapes (in pieces), and finds I-Ching, who sticks him in a Lazarus Pit or a Bacta tank or some other magical hoodoo which not only restores his health, but regresses him to a man in his early prime (complete with a new eyeball and a bad case of amnesia).
Deathstroke checks out his young junk (I’m not making that up; I laughed so hard at this panel), but doesn’t have time to enjoy it before an entire army of killers (wearing eyeball masks) descends on him. He slaughters them all (literally hundreds) and extracts (via a truth serum) some vital information about his father Odysseus, who seems to be behind all this. But the pieces don’t fit, so he takes the truth serum himself in order to remember what happened.
Next follows a flashback in which Deathstroke attempts to rescue his bald naked son Jericho from the experimentation lab of Deathstroke’s father (he’s all hooked up to tubes and whatnot, having his juju juice sucked like the Pod people in The Dark Crystal). Deathstroke succeeds in freeing his son by putting a lot of bullets in Odysseus, but the kid turns out to be a kvetchy ingrate who then ditches out for parts unknown (the kid has freaky mutational powers which is what Odysseus was siphoning).
Meanwhile, F-face (also known as Red Fury) sends Deathstroke’s old pal Tiggs (Bronze Tiger) to find him. When the two encounter, Tiggs doesn’t recognize him (he’s looking for a one-eyed old dude). They have an epic fight, which Red Fury then interrupts just as Bronze Tiger is having his face caved in. Red Fury then tells Deathstroke that Jericho is in Gotham.
Cue Harley Quinn pulverizing some schmuck in an alley and being alerted to Deathstroke’s imminent arrival as the cliffhanger in issue no. 3.
In short: Deathstroke is coming to Gotham to find his estranged (and genetically freakish) son and for some reason Amanda Waller (and therefore Harley) are taking issue with this.
From Issue No. 2 (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist)
Issue no. 4 is called “Moving Targets” and there is indeed a lot of moving, but the pace isn’t quite what you might expect. The first 15 pages are largely exposition surrounding the reveal that Red Fury is a woman, Victor Ruiz (the Spanish Inquisitor) is behind it all (in league with I-Ching), and that they want to recruit Deathstroke to catch Jericho because Odysseus is alive and is going to use his power to become invulnerable (world domination and all that). Grudgingly (and because otherwise we wouldn’t have a story), Slade agrees to help and then we get a few more pages about setting him up and shipping him to Gotham. For a book that up until now was cranking it out at 100 miles a minute, all of this feels like a dead stop in the action. We also see Odysseus plotting to likewise come after Jericho in Gotham, and Jericho being rescued by his sister Rose (a.k.a. Ravager) in Batman Town.
Finally, Deathstroke arrives and we jump to him and Harley surfing a train and negotiating a deal. Deathstroke tries to convince Harley he didn’t double-cross the Suicide Squad in a lengthy bit of additional exposition referencing New Suicide Squad issues 1-4. Harley then takes Deathstroke on a goose chase with a little double-crossing of her own.
Tony S. Daniel does double duty as writer and artist here (with inks by Sandu Florea). This is an impressive enough task and worth a nod. Is this my cup of tea? Admittedly, no. I find the plotting, dialogue, and artwork to be a little old-fashioned (circa the 1990s). But that’s not to say it can’t be entertaining. Let’s focus on the good stuff first.
There was some discussion on the Upcoming Comics page about how disappointing Harley looked in her single splash page reveal at the end of issue no. 3. The great news is that she feels much more tempered in this book: infinitely less sleazy both in her mannerisms and her language. She’s actually kind of fun and feels strangely like a mix between Suicide Squad Harley and solo series Harley, which isn’t a bad compromise. There’s a heavy focus on her childlike zaniness and her love of manipulation and less on the T & A and “knife through your eyeball” psychosis. Color me surprised and delighted.
Train-surfing with the anti-heroes
I will also be looking forward to issue no. 5 with greater keenness and confidence, you can be sure, because the great big double-page reveal at the end is pretty dang thrilling (even if you know what it is beforehand because of the solicits).
In case you didn’t know: it’s Batman.
Daniel’s artwork is very dynamic and he excels in the action sequences. He does a good job or varying and differentiating Harley Quinn’s expressions from the other female characters (Fury, Angelica, Lady Shiva, and Rose, who all otherwise look identical except for their hair–and Angelica’s scars). The men generally have more variety with Odysseus particularly standing out for all his gritty wrinkles and his flowing hair.
An extra nod, too to Tomeu Morey’s colors, which are really nice in this book. Everything looks meaty and raw; heavy reds in the skin tones and environments keep the buckets of gore from being merely torture porn and elevate the carnage to something a bit more artistic.
It’s 15 pages of mostly exposition up front. Some action, some plot development, but I felt it drag. If you’re just picking this up for the Harley bits, you might also find it a bit trying; you’re in it for the last handful of pages and that’s what you get.
Also, after seeing Deathstroke’s daughter, I kind of felt (even more than usual) that this particular tie-in is really just a sales booster and won’t do much to further the plot. Take a look at Rose (the Ravager), and you’ll see she’s already sorta Harley Quinn herself. I’m guessing the idea is that people pick up the title thinking: “ooo, I like Harley Quinn”, and then maybe they like Ravager too and keep reading Deathstroke? I get the logic, but I don’t think I’ve ever in my life personally fallen for it.
Ravager’s big reveal (why even bother with Harley?)
As noted before, this book is violent, so be forewarned of the carnage if you’re squeamish about such things. I was delighted to see the chum behind the “secret” door at the abandoned school, but others may have a less pleasing visceral reaction.
- You like your comics loud and brawly, though this one has a heavy dose of the talkies.
- You’re a big fan of Deathstroke, Harley, or anti-heroes in general.
- They’re in Gotham, so you know what comes next, right?–and you want to be ready for it!
If my score seems low it’s because in spite of really digging the Gotham stuff, it was a long journey to get there full of scenes of somewhat flat conversations and airports and heavy explanations. Especially compared to the pacing of the previous three issues, this one felt weighted down by a lot of information and set-up, but it ends on a high note and I expect it will be back to big brawling fun next go-round!