When this story began, I was pleasantly surprised. When you read the title “Deathstroke vs. Batman,” you’d be forgiven for thinking that the conflict would be nothing more than a physical contest between the two characters. After all, both men are among the best fighters and tacticians in the DC Universe, and the “who would win” debates putting the two against each other are almost as prevalent as Superman vs. Batman debates. Yet while there was a physical element to the conflict, we were presented with a more cerebral conflict. Even better, it was deeply personal too: Damian Wayne’s paternal ties have been thrown into doubt. Is Robin truly the son of Batman, or is he the product of assassins on both sides? It was an interesting development that seemed unlikely to be true, but it was still more engrossing than the basic “beat ‘em up” that it could have been.
Unfortunately, it’s not amounted to much of anything, with a needlessly convoluted narrative and practically nonexistent emotional stakes. The previous issue left off on a note that at least hinted at some sort of clarity and explanation, as Slade announced he’d realized who was behind the whole ordeal and why. Yet… none of that is here. He shows up at Wayne Manor, but it’s never made explicit why he’s there.
I mean, other than to throw down with Batman. I know I said that when the story began, I was relieved that it looked like it was going to be more than just a physical confrontation. That’s still true: when it began, the idea of a more cerebral chess match between Batman and Deathstroke was incredibly appealing. It’s what happened over the course of the next several issues that made me turn, as the story began giving me fewer and fewer things to care about.
But hey, if all we get out of it is a cool fight between Bats and Deathstroke, then it’s not all for naught. And yeah, the fight here is cool.
From a visual standpoint, it looks great. The choreography is clear, and Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, Trevor Scott, and Jeromy Cox illustrate the mess out of the confrontation. Slade wears his classic suit so Batman can’t exploit weaknesses in the Ikon suit, and Batman uses every inch of the Batcave to try and gain the upper hand. It’s a genuinely exciting fight, and the two splash pages that open it are absolutely stunning. We see the two warriors charging headlong at each other, each desperately trying to gain an advantage over their opponent. Had the nine pages been nothing but the visuals, sound effects, and an occasional grunt or taunt, then this extended scene may have knocked my overall score up a whole number or two.
But that’s not all the fight consists of.
There’s more dialogue in the fight than there are actual blows, and I didn’t find any of it to be interesting. It was all Batman and Deathstroke telling the other what kind of man they are, and there wasn’t any insight from either character that we haven’t heard countless times before. Deathstroke is nothing more than an assassin who took advantage of the gifts he was given? Batman would be the same as Deathstroke if he would just take a life? It’s all played out at this point, and Priest doesn’t propose anything new.
Now, I did not like this comic, but that doesn’t make it a bad comic. As I said, from a visual standpoint it’s actually quite good, and save for a few iffy faces I genuinely loved the visual aesthetic of the book. Carlo Pagulayan is particularly great with splash pages, a skill he’s utilized in previous issues of the series and one that he continues to demonstrate here. Even Priest’s writing, which I’m not a fan of, isn’t bad. He’s very smart, and has a truly unique style that is wholly his own. The disconnect with me at least is that I’m not given much of a reason to care, and when I start to become interested in something it’s either flippantly dismissed or doesn’t bear much weight in the narrative. I’ve talked at length about how frustrating the “is he or isn’t he” story of Damian’s parentage is, but even narratively interesting ideas like Bruce Wayne’s monetary assets being investigated are tenuously woven into the story.
Who knows? This may end up coming together once the story wraps up. As the story moves along, though, I’ve grown increasingly weary of “Deathstroke vs. Batman,” and its penultimate chapter doesn’t do much to turn me around.
- You read this book.
- You want to see an admittedly pretty cool fight scene.
- You want to fill in some gaps before “A Lonely Place of Living,” because apparently this takes place before that story.
Overall: A frustrating exercise, Deathstroke is a dense book that doesn’t have much actual depth. There are a lot of ideas here– some of them genuinely interesting– but they have yet to coalesce into anything that’s very engaging. I like the look of this book quite a bit, as its visuals are really slick and the ending fight is well-composed. It’s the story that keeps losing me, and no amount of great pencils and colors can save that.