As we reach the conclusion of the “Deathstroke vs. Batman” arc, we come to find that this whole story was:
- The result of Tim Drake being bitter after Damian’s initial arrival
- A revenge ploy by Slade’s ex-wife
- Nothing more than a game Talia was playing
- Alfred and Wintergreen putting the men in “time out”
- Something that Slade could have resolved in the first installment had he revealed a crucial piece of information he decided to wait six issues to bring up.
- All of this
- None of this
Really, the correct answer is “it’s over,” with hardly anything to speak for it. This is a prime example of the “idiot plot,” where the conflict could have easily been resolved had the characters just talked to each other. Because Slade thought it best to keep stringing Batman along instead of revealing how he knows without a doubt that Bruce is Damian’s father, we’re left with a story that doesn’t have a satisfactory conclusion, doesn’t reveal anything about any of the characters, and honestly feels a little exploitative and even mean-spirited in its resolution.
But at least we got to see Batman and Deathstroke punch each other a lot, right?
I’ll say this for the arc: this has been a consistently attractive story. Visually, it’s well-paced with some great layout choices, and Pagulayan, Paz, Owens, Cox, and Schubert put in some great work. I may not have been a fan of the story or the way in which it was told, but the art team gave it their all and at least made it all nice to look at. The detailing on the backgrounds alone make the issue feel immersive, and the few action beats are exciting if not brief. Pagulayan has a good eye for perspective and unique angles, too, so there are some pretty interesting shots throughout.
Oh, and I totally wasn’t kidding about Alfred and Wintergreen putting the boys in a time out. That is literally what they say.
Had this story been a bit lighter or had some more tongue-in-cheek self-awareness, this may have been genuinely funny. As it is, it’s just another story element that feels wildly out of place and, as such, isn’t at all satisfying.
Which, yeah, applies to this entire arc too. It’s not satisfying because I’m not entirely sure what the whole point of it was. There were a half dozen different twists and turns thrown in, each one enough to drive that narrative on their own, and yet it all came out to be a half-baked mess. What was the point of those videos of Tim Drake? I mean, I guess we find out that he sent off some of Damian and Bruce’s DNA to see if they’re actually related, but it’s dismissed almost as quickly as it’s brought up.
And Talia, what was her angle? I mean, sure, I buy that she was playing a game with Slade and Bruce, but why? For fun? She tells Slade it was “to open your eyes… to the world we could create together.” That’s pretty flimsy.
And where do Alfred and Wintergreen fit in? And Adeline? How about Nightshade and the Human Dynamo and the Justice Experience?
There is just so much going on here and I don’t know how it all fits. The answers may be right in front of me, I’ll freely admit, so maybe this isn’t the labyrinthine, circuitous narrative that I think it is. It may all be as plain as day, but the problem is I’m not compelled to figure it all out. There’s nothing here that grabs me enough, even (and especially) in retrospect, to try and piece the puzzle together.
There is one line that, taken out of context, I truly loved.
“Fathers need their sons.” As good a theme as any, and certainly a lesson that both Deathstroke and Batman can learn. It may have more of an impact on me since I’m a father myself, but it’s moving just the same.
Having said that, the moment isn’t earned at all. In fact, it goes from there to end the story on a major downer. Bruce, after all that’s happened, decides to find out once and for all if Damian is his. He’s spurred on to this decision after disguising himself as Deathstroke and speaking with Adeline, who had no idea about the supposedly faked paternity tests. Bruce receives the package and, in a stroke of good faith, declares that Damian is his son. No matter what Slade says, no matter the results of the tests, Damian is a Wayne. With that, he throws the envelope in a fireplace without ever opening it.
We, however, are not left in doubt, as we see the results on the final page. Slade also makes it pretty clear that there is no way Damian could possibly be his. As in, it is physically impossible for him to have fathered Damian. It just… it feels wrong, leaving Bruce with even a shred of doubt about his son. Again, maybe it’s because I’m a father too, but writing a hero into thinking that the child he believes to be his son is actually the progeny of someone like Slade Wilson is just kind of icky. Like the “fathers need their sons” line, it’s an ending that isn’t earned.
I mentioned the “idiot plot” earlier, and this fits the bill: Slade had nothing to gain from not telling Bruce the truth. Given the nonchalant contempt that he has for pretty much everything that happens in this story, Slade could have just said a few words and cleared things up with Bruce. Instead, he stubbornly kept it to himself so… well, we wouldn’t have had a six-part story. The two may have come to blows, sure, and that admittedly rad chase scene with a flying car could have still been worked in, but there is no reason for Bruce to not know the truth. With a simple conversation, the two men could have gone about their separate ways. Instead, the story ends on a note of distrust, confusion, and mean-spiritedness. Stories don’t need to have happy, pat endings, but they do need to serve a purpose. “Deathstroke vs. Batman,” for all I can tell, doesn’t have one.
- You really like this book.
- You want to see Batman and Deathstroke punch each other, one last time.
Overall: It looks good, I’ll give it that, and there’s a line that, taken out of context, is pretty moving. Everything else about this issue and, by extension, the arc is a convoluted mess. Plot threads are introduced and dropped without warning, motivations are frustratingly unclear, and the resolution is pretty mean-spirited toward Batman. I don’t know what the point of this story was, and I’m too exhausted by it to care. When the central mystery of a story could easily be solved by way of a simple conversation, it might not be the best foundation for a plot, and that’s the case here. Put another way: this issue has Alfred telling Bruce that he and Wintergreen literally want to put Batman in Deathstroke in a timeout and I still didn’t love it. Or even like it.