It’s early, but we’ve already reached the point in “Deathstroke vs. Batman” where I’m starting to lose interest.  It’s a shame, too, as the debut issue was surprisingly engrossing and had lots of promise.  While I can’t quite put my finger on what caused the story to lose steam so quickly, I do know that this was a bit of a letdown compared to last month.

Not to say it isn’t skillfully written or illustrated, of course.  Christopher Priest has a deft hand at crafting dense, meticulous plots, utilizing flashforwards, flashbacks, and seemingly tangential storylines to construct his narrative.  If you’re a fan of that style, it’s on full display here, slightly quirky and wholly irreverent characterizations included.

Come to think of it, my disconnect likely comes from the latter.  I’ll admit that I do like Slade’s very dry, dismissive attitude at times.  Before this run I’d never really gotten into Deathstroke, so I picked up the series out of curiosity more than anything.  That Priest writes Slade like a macho action movie hero and doesn’t take him too seriously is incredibly refreshing, and it makes him enjoyable to read if not likable as a character.

The problem is that tone seeps into pretty much every corner of this book, oftentimes bordering on a satire of superhero books.  Even when Slade is involved in some heavy family drama, it’s hard to get invested because there’s not a real attachment to any of the characters.  Were this book to exist entirely separate from the larger DC Universe I could definitely buy it, but having it firmly rooted in current continuity makes the tone rather jarring.

Especially with Batman, who just… I don’t know, there’s just something “off” about how Priest writes Bruce.  His characterization is more consistent with what I’d expect from Batman than in previous issues of Deathstroke or the most recent Justice League arcs, so that’s a plus.

Still, I can’t help but feel that some of the things Batman does in this issue are pretty out of character.  Namely, hiring some guy to dress up in costume to try and throw Slade off his scent.  Oh, and to do so, he sends him to a desert halfway across the world.  Maybe I’m being nit-picky, maybe I’m forgetting previous similar incidents, but that just didn’t sit right with me.

That said, there is a running joke in the issue that I greatly appreciated.  More than once, somebody asks Batman how he managed to find them.  He’ll go off on convoluted explanations involving cross-referencing data, collecting soil samples, testing chemicals on marked bills, and so forth.  You know, typical Batmany stuff.  Then, when questioned, he reveals that he used the time-honored tradition of slipping someone a fifty to shake them down.  It’s pretty funny, and it’s nice seeing Bruce Wayne getting in on the action for a change.  It’s been too long since Bruce has felt like a fully fleshed character in most books, so the fact that Priest gives him just as much attention as Batman is more than welcome.

Still, it comes back around to investment in the story, and I just can’t quite get there.  If I believed for a second that Damian was truly Slade’s son then I might buy into it more, but I don’t.  At all.  So while the story is told relatively well, the fact that the central mystery has no chance of sticking kind of takes me out of it.  It also doesn’t help matters that, unless I’m reading it wrong, the whole thing may be some elaborate plot orchestrated by Alfred and Wintergreen.  My head hurts just thinking about the logistics and implications of this, and the fractured structure Priest uses doesn’t make it any easier to reconcile.  Like I said, it could be misinterpretation on my part or a feint of misdirection on Preist’s, but either way it comes across as less “cryptic” and more “confusing.”

The visuals, with Carlo Pagulayan and Roberto Viacara working off Larry Hama’s breakdowns, are solid.  Nothing more, nothing less.  That splash reveal of Batman on the credits page is pretty great, and there’s a nice flow to the action scenes.  Even the dialogue-heavy scenes have an energy and momentum to them, which is good, because there are quite a few.  So it all looks quite nice, particularly with Jeromy Cox’s coloring, but there isn’t anything that really stands out.  That’s perfectly fine, of course; not every issue needs to have pin-up worthy pages and images.  Still, while there were several points in the previous issue where the visuals left me breathless and not many “big visual moments” this month, I still greatly admired the work that was done here.

This early in the game, it’s hard to say how you’re supposed to feel about a story like this.  We’re only a third of the way through at this point, after all, and the pieces are still falling into place.  At this point, even with some misgivings I’m curious as to where the story will go.  That the second chapter is less engaging than the first isn’t at all unexpected, particularly with a six-part story, so let’s hope it can pick up again to deliver an ultimately satisfying narrative.

BONUS: A nice variant cover from Jerome Opeña and Dean White.  I like these minimal text “virgin variants” DC has been doing.

Spoiler

Recommended if:

  • You want to see Bruce Wayne do some investigating.
  • You really like the Deathstroke title.
  • You like more cerebral conflicts.

Overall: After a surprisingly compelling opening chapter, “Deathstroke vs. Batman” returns with a decidedly more muted response.  While by no means bad, the story is starting to take on some of the more difficult traits inherent in Priest’s storytelling: namely, an attitude that is maybe too pithy and irreverent, and a non-linear structure that doesn’t always benefit the plot.  While there are several moments of inspiration, and I’m still glad the story isn’t just a series of fights and flexing machismo, I’m less invested now than I was at the end of the premiere chapter.

SCORE: 6.5/10