By Christopher Priest, Carlo Pagulayan, Robert Viacara, Larry Hama, Jason Paz, Jeromy Cox, Willie Schubert
Deathstroke #31 charges forward with the Deathstroke versus Batman arc of the series. In part two of the six issue run, the conflict between the two heroes begins to come to a head. Priest shows some of the lines these characters are willing to cross when work is personal, and Pagulayan and Hama draw these action scenes out with grandeur. Like last issue, we feel the weight behind each encounter. When there aren’t explosions going off or punches being thrown, though, Priest is setting up a huge web of plot strings, not only for Deathstroke, but Batman as well.
There’s an interesting balance between fights and character work in this issue. Priest emphasizes the personalities of the characters, which gives this crossover depth. When the Dark Knight and Deathstroke duke it out, we know the intention behind it. We know why Batman has become so invested in this fight, and hints of Slade’s past drive that home even more. Aside from that, Priest’s banter between Deathstroke and his companions is a delight. Against the action and drama of the issue, Slade is cajoled for not being a ‘normal’ assassin, and it’s these characteristics that make Priest’s iteration memorable. His straightforward, efficiency focused mindset is constantly challenged by the people around him.
With all this going on, though, it’s easy to have a lack of cohesion. The pieces of the puzzle are beginning to be laid out, but they don’t seem to want to go together. At this point in the series, it’s too early to put much judgement here, but there is a recurring question. Readers may wonder how all the parts of this series will fit together, and not always in a good way.
Pagulayan and Viacara’s rendering of the issue is full of energy. They make a point to use panels with characters at unique angles, and use depth well in an opening scene. Then, as Priest builds tension with dialogue, and Batman or Deathstroke swell into a moment, the artists put forward a powerful spread. It’s a classic technique, but it always works well here. Inks from Paz and colors from Cox pull their weight in the Batman scenes. Neither are afraid of hefty strokes of black. Their dark Gotham, filled with deep shadows and thick hatch marks, is reminiscent of the Dark Knight’s noir stories, which is especially fitting for the subplot there.
When all is said and done, Deathstroke #31 is a solid issue for most readers. It’s exciting artistically and narratively, and is able to overcome its flaws because of that. Priest is building an arc that’s meaningful for the characters here without fan servicing, and that alone is reason to give it a look. If that’s not enough, the art team of Pagulayan, Viacara, Paz, and Cox is assembling a classically good superhero story. In this issue, Deathstroke and Batman are as true to themselves as they’ve ever been.