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With only one more issue left after this, Deathstroke keeps kicking up the action. After switching from Rob Liefeld to Justin Jordan via issue 15, I wasn't too impressed with the first story arc Jordan gave us. But it wasn't bad, and this one certainly isn't either. However, it is flawed, and it makes me ask a question: are ninjas really "cool?"
Slade Wilson, better known as professional mercenary Deathstroke, is on his way to Japan. Unfortunately, it's not for pleasure: the Sukesada Clan, a group of skilled ninjas, wants him dead. Why? Will they succeed? I can't spoil that, but I can answer the most important question of them all: will we care?
The opening of this issue takes full advantage of the unique locale. While on a speeding train, Deathstroke takes on dozens of ninjas, and the fighting is made all the more fun with the different environment. Swords go through seats, things get blown up, and Slade's amusingly smug attitude is in full effect. All of this adds up to an enjoyable opening fight scene.
The only problem in this opening fight scene is a recurring device Jordan uses throughout the rest of this issue which has both its merits and its faults: Slade's narration. At some points during the opening it feels disjointed and I sometimes had to flip back a panel or two in order to keep track of where this inner diatribe was heading. But, in some moments – specifically more so after the fight on the train - Deathstroke talks about his strategy and it is a quite fascinating read that brings in some intelligence to this normally strictly action-based series. For example, Deathstroke mentions tracking a ninja using a type of drug. However, this intellectual narration doesn't always mix well with the action scene and can sometimes become tedious. It's a difficult balance to keep steady and despite the tilts Jordan actually did a pretty good job keeping the fights entertaining and the narration tolerable.
The other problem with the opening is, it answers the question of "why" they're trying to kill Slade almost instantly and the reason will not make any sense unless you've read the other issues of Deathstroke – and even if you have, you may have forgotten what it means and have to look it up like I did.
But now, to the controversial question of this issue: are ninjas really "cool?" Honestly, I've never fallen for the "ninjas are cool because they're ninjas" shtick. Whenever the scenario "Are pirates better than ninjas?" came up I was always the minority who picked pirates. Really, the only ninjas I've loved are the TMNT - and the ninjas in Deathstroke are certainly not the TMNT (though their gear does remind me of the foot clan a little bit). They have the usual "honor" mantra and, to throw in another cliché plot point, there is a father and son feud over whether or not the clan should change. It really didn't matter to me what they chose, I just wanted to see them go back to fighting Slade in an entertaining style. And while the end fight wasn't as entertaining and the ending isn't going to be the "shocker of the century" for most readers, there are still some fun fighting moves with good (and tedious) narrative captions to keep a reader somewhat engaged.
This engagement, however, is easily broken by Deathstroke #17's biggest, most glaring flaw: the poor artwork. The penciler is the same as last issue, Edgar Salzar. He is joined by two inkers this time: Scott Hanna, who also did the inks for the last issue, and Derek Fridolfs. Their combined artwork is worse than anything in the last two issues of Salzar's run on Deathstroke. There are no pretty backgrounds in this issue to mask the poorly drawn individuals. At least their proportions are right. But sometimes the characters are drawn in awkward poses and their faces are often marred by ugly lines. These ugly lines also corrupt the background, which often have more weirdly positioned and oddly colored backgrounds that – *gasp* – almost seem to rip off Rob Liefeld!
The only two instances where I enjoyed the artwork where the double paged spread with the story arc's title on it and an explosive scene with Slade. In the two page spread it's fun to see how many people Salzar has Slade in contact with. It just shows how skilled a fighter Slade is. Plus, the increased room also makes the numbers Deathstroke is fighting seem all the larger. The explosive scene was well colored and the overshadowing on Slade served to make the panel look all the more badass. Also, even though it's poorly drawn like a lot of expressions on the characters' faces, the little salute Slade gives in a miniscule panel on the next page kind of makes me laugh.
Overall, Jordan has made a story some people could gravitate towards but it isn't a game changer for Deathstroke nor is it worth the money for the majority. It doesn't make me wish Deathstroke wasn't at death's (or should I say DC's) door. The artwork is the major factor keeping this issue back, but the tedious moments of narration and the tired concept of ninjas are other big turn offs that dull my enthusiasm to read the next issue.
...yeah, I still plan on reading and reviewing the next issue.