An all-new story-arc for DC’s deadliest assassin starts here! In a story taking place in the very recent past, Deathstroke finds himself on a collision course with Batman. After what is sure to be a thrilling battle of wits and strength, who will remain, and what will be left of them?
DEATHSTROKE (2016) #30 “The Burning Wall Part 1 of 6”
Artist: Carlo Pagulayan
Inks: Jeremy Cox
Cover Artist: Lee Weeks and Brad Anderson; variant by Francesco Mattina
Colorist: Jeromy Cox
Publisher: DC COMICS
What You Need to Know:
For the previous twenty-nine issues of this series, writer Priest has given readers a personal tour of nearly every element of Deathstroke lore, from his dysfunctional family to his most outrageous allies. This series could also be read a deep-dive exploration of the foundations of Slade Wilson’s personal sense of morality, as he has oscillated from merciless contract killer to leader of a superhero team (Defiance), and every modality in-between.
When we last saw Deathstroke, he was apprehended after being defeated by an unlikely team-up of his former ally Isherwood, his former (something) Terra, his son Jericho, and the New Super-Man of the Justice League of China. Since his previous run-in with Isherwood, Slade has believed he was implanted with a chip that provides him access to an Artificial Intelligence with the voice of his longtime partner, Wintergreen. Last issue, it was revealed that Isherwood was only bluffing about the chip and that Deathstroke must be clinically insane to have believed it. Whether Isherwood is telling the truth or not still hangs in the air, but after his defeat, Deathstroke awakens, still talking to AI Wintergreen, in a cell at Arkham Asylum.
“The Burning Wall” takes place prior to the events leading to Arkham, but after the introduction of AI Wintergreen.
What You’ll Find Out:
The issue opens on a charming sequence featuring Wintergreen and Alfred Pennyworth running into each other at a bar, having a detailed conversation about soccer/football, and ending with a brief discussion about their responsibility to their respective “benefactors.” It is worth noting here that the sequence spans two pages with identical page layouts, set ten years apart, presumably from the first meeting between the two, and the most recent. The symmetry of page layout, the staccato rhythm, and the dialogue create a clear situation of leading the reader to see the parallels between the figures of Deathstroke and Batman. Arguably, symmetry lies at the very heart of this story-arc.
Plot-wise, the majority of this issue is very straightforward. In investigating a bank robbery, Commissioner Gordon discovers an envelope address to Batman and passes it along. Inside the envelope is a DNA analysis for Damien Wayne, Bruce and Talia Al Ghul’s son. Also included is an analysis of Talia’s DNA, as well as an analysis of Damien’s father’s DNA. The problem and the driving force of the narrative is that the DNA analysis does not match Bruce’s DNA. In fact, as we will later discover, it actually matches Slade, causing Bruce to question the validity of his own DNA testing methods (out of character, but I’ll allow it for now). When confronted, Slade admits to 1) having slept with Talia, and 2) having seen these results before, but beyond a shadow of a doubt believes they are fake and are instead an obvious attempt to pit the two against each other.
The result of the relatively civil (or at least as close as it gets when you’re dealing with these two) conversation is Batman’s demand that Deathstroke shut down all operations until Bruce can get to the bottom of the DNA results. Deathstroke is, naturally, opposed, and seems clearly uninterested in the results of the investigation, citing that “Ignorance is bliss.”
Bruce’s response? “Yes, it is. Because truth…? Truth is a burning wall.”
What Just Happened?
There are several things to note here. First, if somehow Deathstroke is wrong and he is, in fact, Damien’s father, that would be quite the dramatic shift in status quo for both of the characters. On the other hand, maybe it really wouldn’t be. Both characters are notorious for their failures in parenting, so perhaps a change in parentage would merely shift the onus and responsibility of Damien to essentially the same situation. I am not suggesting that I think it’s likely that Slade is Damien’s father, but it is certainly an interesting catalyst for exploring the similarities between Deathstroke and Batman.
I submit the following sequences, from pages 6 and 13, for analysis:
Note that both the Robin and the Jericho sequences are in black and white. Robin’s explanation begins with an explanation of why he does not call Bruce dad, while Jericho leads with “Pop?” in reference to Deathstroke. Robin features black gutters, while Jericho’s gutters are white. Both sons engage in a rationalization of their respective “father’s” methods (I’m not convinced, because of the art style, that the Robin in question is Damien. He looks more like Dick Grayson to me, although he certainly sounds more like Damien). The effect of these distorted-mirroring sequences, at least on this reader, is to establish a sense of the uncanny surrounding the similar, but still different figures of Bruce and Slade. It adds a sense of dread to the narrative that helps propel the notion that the showdown between these two cannot yield positive results. In my humble opinion and coming from a longtime fan of Priest’s ability to weave a complex tale, this issue may his finest work to date.
Lastly, the final sequence contains that mysterious line regarding truth being a burning wall. The only “burning wall” that I am aware of is the Berlin Wall. For our younger readers, the Berlin Wall stood for decades, separating East (Communist) and West Germany (Democratic) from 1945 to 1989. If indeed Bruce is evoking the wall as a metaphor, it remains to be discovered which character is representing which Germany. Either way, though, buckle up for a bumpy but exciting ride for the next five months!
Final Thought: Priest continues his tour de force with Deathstroke and promises much more to come. Deathstroke continues to be an underrated series, and I fear greatly for its cancellation in the near future, but for now, I will live in the moment and enjoy the ride while it lasts.
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