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Finally, Rob Liefeld’s… let’s just say, less than desirable run on Deathstroke, has ended. Now another writer, Justin Jordan, has taken over. I was hoping, even with the announcement of Deathstroke’s cancellation via issue 19, that Jordan’s run would end Slade with an epic adventure. But instead, cracks building up since the beginning of the series are starting to show and all of Jordan’s material and the slew of new pencilers and inkers that came with him are mediocre at best with only the fewest of exceptions.
There is an obvious disconnect between this issue and the last. Since it was a crossover finished in Hawkman, this issue of Deathstroke doesn’t feature our feathered friend nor the end of that seemingly pointless detour from the story. I can’t say I’m too disappointed. This issue Slade Wilson, a.k.a. the mercenary Deathstroke, has been asked to do what many in the European country of Sarvenia have deemed impossible: kill the unkillable tyrant Koschei. Deathstroke accepts the request… but has he bitten off more than he can chew?
My first question when reading this was not about Deathstroke’s eating habits but about Sarvenia. Does this place truly exist? Not exactly. There is no “Sarvenia” but there is another European country called Slovenia (could it be anymore blatant?). I know this is a nitpick but seeing as I love those I have to insist – why didn’t Jordan just use Slovenia if he was obviously trying to insinuate that was where Deathstroke was taking place? This might seem like a nitpick but almost the entire issue takes place here so I think readers have a right to know why here and not Gotham? Metropolis? We get some interesting scenery in Sarvenia but hopefully next issue Jordan can show us something that will make us want to stay in this not-so-fictitious European country… other then some nice backdrops.
Moving on from the questionable choice of setting we have the story which is the same basic set-up I have expected from Deathstroke since issue one – he’s hired to kill someone and we get to see him go and succeed – or die trying. It’ll never win an Eisner and unfortunately the scenario goes a step further in familiarity: Deathstroke is supposed to kill someone who is, quote, “deathless.” I feel like we already saw this situation when Liefeld was writing and paired Deathstroke up against Lobo, a galactic bounty hunter who has gone toe-to-toe with Superman. We’re getting the same story that just ended in Deathstroke #12.
But just because it’s the same format doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t enjoyable. Jordan actually does an excellent job setting up the main villain, Koschei. The opening of this comic easily establishes his ruthlessness, the power he has over people, the extent of his invulnerability and his arrogance. It’s impressive Jordan can fit this tirade of characteristics into only a couple of pages. But just because Koschei has depth, that doesn’t mean he’s overwhelmingly enjoyable. For whatever reason, I couldn’t find myself enjoying his character. All I could see was the giant bulls eye on his forehead.
Another quality that may irk some is the use—or should I say overuse—of Koschei’s name. Don’t expect to forget it because this issue mentions his name on every other page. Whether it’s being said by the man himself or the townspeople, Jordan is drilling this man’s name into your head. It could demonstrate how well Koschei controls his country by showing he’s never far from anyone’s minds, but whatever the reasoning is behind it, it gets irritating.
While I may have no love for Koschei, as always I enjoy Slade. He’s the resident tough guy but what I really love about him is the sense of humor Jordan gives him in this issue. Anytime he says anything funny I can imagine him saying it in a deadpan and completely serious voice which makes it all the more priceless. Though nothing had me outright laughing, just grinning here and there. Also, people who weren’t fans of Deathstroke’s journal entries, Liefeld’s idea of Deathstroke’s narration, can enjoy some straight-forward narration.
The rest of the characters leave no real impression on me. “Elena,” Slade’s contact, seems like she could be another disposable and (as always) pointless love interest for Slade. No one else really stuck out.
Deathstroke has been through a couple of artists, but brace yourselves for the multitude of hands that took part in this issue: pencils were done by Edgar Salazar with additional pencils from Amilcar Pinna and inkers were done by Ryan Winn, Scott Hanna, Jack Purcell, Marlo Alquiza and Sean Parsons. Despite the baffling number of people contributing to the artwork, it doesn’t come off as chaotic: just poor with a few sprinkle of creativity here and there. Some of these “sprinkles” include nicely detailed backdrops that were the one positive about Sarvenia. Koschei’s transformations from fried to normal was also interesting to look at. The rest of the artwork, however, was filled with overlined and overshadowed faces, plenty of faraway shots of people given minimal detail and some panels not given the creative backgrounds resort to the dreaded speedlines.
Deathstroke’s suit has been through as much as the titular character. First it looked like a mechanical suit: practical but not pretty. Then it was a more nostalgic take on Deathstroke’s original costume with less practicability. Now? The quality of Slade’s suit seems to mimic both styles with his helmet and shoulder-pads seeming to have a metallic sheen reminiscent to the original suit’s mechanical quality, a less practical looking chest plate and pants that sometimes flip-flop between the two. What also flip-flops is Slade's appearance outside of costume. The angles he is drawn at sometimes make it seem like his head comes in multiple sizes, including cone-shaped during his dinner meeting which leads to a preferable transformation into a more ruggedly handsome Slade walking the streets of Sarvenia.
One thing that does somewhat help the look of the comic are the colors done by Juan Fernandex. Particularly the sky. The grey sky hanging over Sarvenia really adds to the dreary mood that’s engulfing the tone thanks to Koschei. Most of the colors continue the trend by staying dark or dull.
I can’t say I enjoyed this issue. Despite some funny lines on Slade’s part and a decent set-up for a new villain, I can’t help but feel more than just déjà vu… I know this concept. Jordan isn’t giving us anything new and I can’t see this story arc heading anywhere groundbreaking. Even then, the eh artwork isn’t helping matters.
But we can always hope.