Deathstroke #31 // Review
Deathstroke #31, written by Christopher Priest and drawn by a bevy of artists, is part two in the insane Deathstroke vs Batman arc, and to say “the plot thickens” would be an understatement. Two of the most dangerous men in the DC universe have been played against each other with a simple DNA test that claims Damian Wayne, aka Robin and son of Batman, is actually the son of Slade Wilson. Neither Batman nor Wilson believe this test to be true, but they still have to get to the bottom of the mystery of who is driving them into a confrontation. Unfortunately, neither is known for playing well with others, so the readers are treated to two master strategists trying to outmaneuver each other on a grand scale.
Christopher Priest deserves the lion’s share of the praise this issue, just for the fact that he really seems to know Batman and Deathstroke inside and out. From Slade’s strange moral code that says he won’t kill someone unless he’s being paid, to Bruce Wayne’s precise and quick detective work after a top secret Wayne Microchip is stolen, there isn’t a false note in this issue, character-wise, at all. This is, ultimately, a story about the flaws of both men, and Priest puts that on full display, as confessionals from Slade’s son Jericho, and Robin dissect their father figures in not-too-flattering ways. If Priest doesn’t get his own Batman book after this story arc, it would be downright criminal.
Unfortunately, for all the great character work in this issue, Priest seems to lose the plot a little. Undoubtedly, there is a master plan to this arc, but there is so much going on in this issue that it’s starting to get a little hard to follow. The action begins when Batman has Wilson’s plane shot out of the sky, only for Slade to be greeted upon crashing by...a guy pretending to be Batman? The purpose of this ruse isn’t clear, but the the surprise ending makes this whole setup even more confusing. Batman’s involvement in the plane being shot down is confirmed by Alfred at one point, but then it becomes obvious that other parties are involved, as well, by the end. Bruce Wayne’s side of the story is no less convoluted, as he has to track down a microchip that has been stolen from his company, only to come into contact with people who want to work with him against Wilson. It’s likely that Priest will reveal all in the next issue or two, but this particular chapter of the story will more than likely leave readers scratching their heads.
The art this issue also deserves high praise, and as mentioned earlier, there are plenty of artists to dole that praise out to. Carlo Pagulayan and Roberto Viacara are on pencils, with the legendary Larry Hama on breakdowns, while Jason Paz provides inks. Together, this team delivers some of the best action scenes in comics today. The opening scene of the plane crash, followed by Slade’s pursuit of his sword across a desert is quickly paced, and dynamic, while demonstrating crisp and clean storytelling. Jeromy Cox’s colors are also fantastic, as he delivers a diverse palette that enhances the art, whether it’s the bright, sunny desert, the dark offices of Wayne Enterprises, or the black and white confessional panels (yes, his coloring even makes black and white look great) he makes already spectacular pencils look even better.
Overall, despite some less-than-clear plotting, this is still one of the best single issues of a comic DC will put out this month. Priest is an A-list writer, and he is proving it with his recent comeback. If the first two chapters of this arc are any indication, this will become a legendary Batman/Deathstroke story before all is said and done.