By Christopher Priest, Carlo Pagulayan, Jason Paz, Jeremy Cox, Willie Schubert
Deathstroke #30 begins a new arc in the series: Deathstroke vs. Batman. It’s a title so simple yet immediately enticing that it’s difficult to ignore, especially given the major acclaim Priest’s direction has seen thus far. Being the first in a six-issue arc, this issue is, understandably, almost entirely set-up: lots of chatting, a cool action scene, and a mystery involving Slade and the Dark Knight make up the majority of the plot. On the art side, Pagulayan’s depictions of Batman and Deathstroke are a nostalgic fantasy. Bruce Wayne’s portrayal is realistic. He’s beefy with a powerful stature, but the effort he’s putting into his work is always evident.
Earlier on in the issue, the spectacle scenes involve a stylish version of the Batmobile as well as a classic, moustache-bearing Gordon. The best parts of Pagulayan’s art, though, are in battle. Wayne’s clenched teeth and fists depict his tension and determination; Slade’s fluid motions illustrate his experience in hand to hand combat. The taste of the upcoming battle between the two is thrilling, and if the series picks up the pace as much as it hints, it will truly be a story to behold.
Both Priest and Pagulayan are at their best at this point in the issue. The back and forth dialogue is weighty and exhilarating, issued threats carry significant meaning. The two bring up very unlikely, not often considered details, and the effect raises the stakes drastically. Priest wipes away the pretty parts of Batman and focuses in on his ability to blindly obsess over one mission. When he goads Slade on, it’s not only believable, but powerful and profound. Of course, Deathstroke won’t be one-upped. His answers are as sharp as his blades and, to be frank, as hype as just about anything else on the shelves.
One aspect of this issue stands out as odd, though, and that’s the huge focus on Batman. If the title were anything else, it would indicate it is a Batman spin-off rather than a canon Deathstroke book. That’s not to say that it’s bad, but it does inspire hunger for a Batman title helmed by Christopher Priest, not something tangentially involving the Dark Knight, especially given Pagulayan’s stellar performance with the character.
All in all, this issue is solid. It sets up clearly what the source of tension is going to be between Bats and Slade, and presents a taste of the superb action sequences the team has in store for the next five issues. Priest inspires some interesting juxtapositions as well early on, hinting at underlying thematic elements alongside feeding characters with exciting dialogue, while Pagulayan simultaneously choreographs intense fights. The best parts of Deathstroke #30 overshadow any of the middling ones without a doubt. When the page closes on this issue, it’s with enthusiasm. Based on the tone set by here, what follows in Deathstroke vs. Batman will certainly end up to be a story to remember.