DeathStroke #30 Review
Deathstroke #30, written by Christopher Priest and penciled by Carlo Pagulayan, is the first part of the Burning Wall arc, which pits Batman against the title character in an exciting battle that is just as much about wits as it is about fists. Be warned, though: this story can be a little confusing at first, because it’s set before the events of the previous Deathstroke story and they don’t tell you that until the twelfth page of the book.
Priest is on his A-game here, throwing these two alpha males at each other, via an obviously-false paternity test, and letting the sparks fly. Batman and Deathstroke are both smart enough to know they’re being played by someone, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to work well together in solving the mystery. Right from the get-go, these two are portrayed as equally matched, one-upping each other every step of the way. From Batman interrupting Deathstroke’s mission to both setting decoys for each other to Deathstroke hacking Batman’s drone mid-fight, neither can seem to get too far ahead of the other without being brought back into check. Even when the fists stop flying, they get caught up in a verbal joust that leaves both men in a compromised position. By the end of the book, the two seem to be at a draw, leaving the readers wondering if they’ll end up working together or destroying each other’s lives.
Priest also manages to make this as much a Batman story as it is a Deathstroke story, despite it technically being Slade’s book. In fact, Wilson doesn’t even appear until about halfway through the issue, but he is not missed at all, considering how much fun Priest is having with Batman. The mysterious envelope left for Batman at the scene of a bank robbery leads him to an action-packed confrontation with the thieves, and a trip to China before the book’s lead shows up and those sequences will have you wishing Priest was writing a Batman book regularly. The story also starts off with a bit of a history lesson, showing that Alfred Pennyworth and Wintergreen, Wilson’s oldest confidant and associate, have known each other for years and even compare notes on each other’s employers. This is a nice touch, since they’re both old, British intelligence officers that would have been working in that field around the same time.
There are also two interesting sequences in black and white. One is a flashback of Dick Grayson in his original Robin costume, talking about Batman. The other is a more recent scene with Jericho, Slade’s son, talking about Deathstroke. Both are done in an interview style, with the characters addressing the audience, and both provide a little insight into each character’s father figure. In Robin’s scene, he doesn’t have too many nice things to say about Batman, basically calling him single-minded and unforgiving if he is crossed. Jericho does the opposite, almost excusing his father’s ruthlessness. With the “hero” being bad-mouthed by his protege and the “villain” being excused of his actions by his son, Priest seems to be saying that neither is one hundred percent the person they appear to be and, therefore, might have more in common than you think.
Pagulayan’s art is spot-on in this issue, with cinematic action scenes that drive the book and an atmospheric style that even lends itself well to the scenes where the characters are just standing around talking. The inks of Jason Paz and colors of Jeromy Cox also do plenty to heighten the atmosphere of the story, especially on the first half, as they play up the darker tones and shadows, reminding you that this is a detective story first and foremost.
Overall, despite being a little confusing as to when this story is happening exactly, this is a fantastic start to a much-anticipated showdown/team-up. Priest seems to perfectly understand both of these characters and their motivations, so, as long as he can keep up the good work, the rest of the arc could prove to be an instant classic.