This review contains minor spoilers.
When the news first broke that The Batman might feature the Dark Knight versus Deathstroke for the first time in a live-action film, fans went wild. These two have duked it out for years in the comic books and video games, but we’ve yet to see it on the big screen. With Matt Reeves rewriting Ben Affleck and Geoff Johns’ script from scratch, it seems like Slade Wilson might not make the cut anymore. And so, for now, our Death-Bat fix will have to come in the shape of Deathstroke #30, the start of the “Deathstroke vs. Batman” storyline.
While most first issues of six-part series are slow and steady, this one kicks off with a flurry. It’s an action-packed spectacle as Batman receives DNA test results suggesting that he isn’t Damian’s biological father – but Slade is. Rattled by the news, he intercepts Deathstroke on a mission, and they embark on an epic battle matching both their brains and brawn.
When the dust finally settles, the Dark Knight asks Slade about the test results. The assassin denies the results being accurate, despite admitting he’d been with Talia al Ghul as well, and suggests that someone is setting them up. The Caped Crusader, being the pigheaded guy he is, tells Deathstroke that his hired-gun business is now closed until he’s satisfied with what’s going on, i.e. his hostility does exactly what the person who set them up wants.
As expected, Christopher Priest delivers his sharp, unique narrative in droves. He has a way of making every story distinctively his, and doesn’t shy away from wry humor and stepping outside of the box, either. In this issue, the conversation between Alfred Pennyworth and Billy Wintergreen turns into a full-fledged discussion about Manchester United and Liverpool’s legendary rivalry. Maybe it shouldn’t be unexpected, considering both are Englishmen, but it did make for refreshing reading.
What Priest also succeeds in doing is establishing Deathstroke as Batman’s equal. Yes, he draws on the parallels of their help, as well as their children, but his writing of their tit for tat is simply terrific. He shows how both fighters are equally matched and try to outthink the other’s next move. It’s riveting to see it play out – and this is only the first issue, mind you.
The art team, led by Carlo Pagulayan’s pencils, pulls out all the stops to bring Priest’s daunting vision to life. It’s obvious that Pagulayan and Priest are now in sync, having worked on Deathstroke many times before, and it reaps rewards here. If you’re one of those people calling for more smart action in comic books, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what this book offers.
As far as first parts go, Deathstroke #30 produces a scintillating start to the “Deathstroke vs. Batman” storyline. In 20 pages, it sets the stakes, unleashes a fierce battle between the two men, and leaves unresolved questions and mysteries for the forthcoming issues. We might not see Slade in Reeves’ The Batman, but DC Comics is making sure we receive something far better in return.
We might not be seeing Slade Wilson versus the Dark Knight in Matt Reeves' The Batman anymore, but Priest and his team make sure we're getting the ultimate battle of brains and brawn in "Deathstroke vs. Batman."