Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter wear their love for comics on their sleeves while delivering Deathstroke Inc. #1. The issue may not move the needle drastically, but it is an enjoyable read and has the potential to be a must-read series. The concept isn’t novel by any means, but what makes the issue stand out is its execution. Williamson and Porter aren’t afraid to take some chances, and it shows in what is a joyous opening chapter to a series with plenty of potential.
SPOILERS AHEAD for Deathstroke Inc. #1!
D.C. Comics describes the issue as follows:
After suffering too many losses, Slade Wilson decides it’s time for a change. When he’s enlisted to work with an ages-old secret organization called T.R.U.S.T. who want to take down the heavy-hitter villains, he’s all in. They’ll supply him with an all-new team and resources for his new mission into the depths of the weirdest parts of the DCU, including a new partner…Black Canary! Wait what?! Enjoy explosions, kick-ass action, and new outrageous adventures as D.C.’s meanest S.O.B. gets tangled up in a major mystery building in the shadows of the DCU.
The entirety of the issue encompasses a single mission with new T.R.U.S.T. agents Deathstroke and Black Canary. But rather than feel like a simple one-shot, writer Joshua Williamson uses the issue to accomplish several things: establish the series, provide a fun, singular story, and give fans a sampling of things to come. For the most part, Deathstroke Inc. works on all fronts. Granted, it doesn’t necessarily approach the subject with something new or tackle the story in a drastically different way. However, it is still early on, and the opening chapter proves to be an enjoyable experience nonetheless.
Deathstroke Inc. #1 moves at a fast pace. If the “get in late, leave early” writer’s rule of thumb has any merit, then Joshua Williamson’s approach holds true. Readers are dropped in at the kickoff of the mission, with information being fed to the reader organically, which is a welcome means of providing the information instead of an exposition dump. On the comms with Slade and Dinah are Hiro Okamura (Toyman 2.0) & T.R.U.S.T. Director Juliette Ballantine. As Juliette and Hiro provide their new field agents with info, the reader also becomes privy to this information. Slade and Dinah are tasked with infiltrating the town, finding the H.I.V.E. queen, and bringing her back alive. Of course, it’s easier said than done. As simple as it may be, all the moving parts come together to establish the who, the what, and the where of the story, while also providing a clear goal for our protagonists.
While the story is solid, it’s the dynamic in the team that works best. Slade and Dyna play off each other well, both in terms of their team chemistry and how they approach the mission. While disguised, Dinah looks to infiltrate the town with subtlety and nuance; Slade throws caution to the wind as he literally comes in guns blazing. Dinah isn’t the moral compass Superman might be, but her good cop/bad cop dynamic with Deathstroke is interesting to see and is sure to provide memorable moments in the future. Similar to a buddy cop film, they banter while carrying out the mission. The fact that the characters have such a rich history and established relationships on opposite sides of the law is evident. Williamson plays into that, with callbacks to past events and Slade even bringing up Dinah’s on-again, off-again romance with Oliver Queen. Slade’s on hero/villain status has always been middling at best. Ideally, this series will determine if where Slade’s loyalty lies.
One noticeable omission is the lack of narrative boxes, but it appears to be a deliberate choice. There are a few boxes early on with brief character overviews or explanations for the very forced acronym T.R.U.S.T. However, there is never anything conveying a character’s inner monologue or an omniscient narrator describing the story on the page. It appears to serve a narrative purpose as everyone involved with T.R.U.S.T. seems to have hidden motives behind their actions. We only gather information based on what they verbally tell one another, but they all can easily lie or omit vital information. Throughout the “Surburban Horror” issue, we realize there is far more at play than anyone is letting on. By foregoing the narrative boxes, the characters get to keep their secrets.
Howard Porter’s art steals the show on this one, perfectly capturing the tone of the scene/frame at hand. Every panel is filled to the brim with details, never allowing too much open space but never looking messy on the page either. The action feels vibrant with a true sense of motion and detail befitting the character within the shot. Both Deadshot and Black Canary are introduced in splash panels that are front and center, forcing your attention to the character at the center of the page. It’s like a set-piece movie scene on a comic book page.
The town Slade and Dinah invade is far too quaint, but the township is a front for the H.I.V.E. Queen and her subordinates. It’s a top coat of 1950s nostalgia with a horror movie underneath. Porter’s art encompasses the quality of both with aplomb; the suburb is picturesque yet eerie. The hive that dwells within the homes is as creepy as they come, with putrid insect/human hybrids that churn your stomach, and it’s terrific. A final touch that must be noted is how porter incorporates onomatopoeia into the art. For example, a building is torn asunder from an airstrike resulting in a massive explosion. The blast takes the form of the actual words “Kaa-boom.” It’s a clever touch and works in concert with the tone of the issue.
While Deathstroke Inc. may appear formulaic to a seasoned comic reader, part of its appeal is how it leans into expectations and provides a joyride from start to finish. Some of the pending “twists” seem evident, but I’m curious to see how it plays out, nonetheless. “Suburban Horror” ends with a preview of things to come, and if the snippets they provided are any indication, Deathstroke Inc. could work its way onto my pull list.
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