Deathstroke, the Punisher? (My Life as a Teen Titan, Part Twelve)

I think that one of the drawbacks of Marv Wolfman’s sixteen year run on the various Titans books is that he didn’t do much as far as take time off.  Sure, that is definitely an advantage because he was able to really craft his core group of characters and have them grow in a way that seemed organic, but at the same time there were clearly periods where he was, for lack of a better word, running out of gas.  In the next couple of months, I’ll definitely be getting to one of those times as I start moving toward New Titans #100 and I get to go through at least a couple of years’ worth of Titans stories that aren’t considered the best of the bunch.

When Wolfman did step away for a moment and leave the books in someone else’s hands–like Louise Simonson, who did the Red Star Storyline I looked at last time around–the books weren’t necessarily better, but they were a refreshing “pinch hit”.  At the same time Simonson was handling Red Star and Cyborg over in New Titans, Steven Grant–he of the Punisher mini-series from the 1980s–was brought on to do several issues of Deathstroke.  I think that Wolfman was out on his honeymoon or something when these issues were due, or at least he felt he needed that break from Total Chaos.  At any rate, the Titans books moved along pretty well during this time, although I think Grant had an easier job than Simonson because he wasn’t dealing with all of the soap opera-type of stuff that had been moving its way through the Titans books.

Deathstroke was at the end of a long storyline that culminated in Cheshire’s destruction of Quarac and Slade’s telling off the U.S. government.  The Cheshire conspiracy had essentially been started back in the very first issue of the series so you are basically talking about nearly two years of story that wrapped up right before Grant came in.  Instead of starting something that was long and involved (which we will get with the “World Tour” storyline that starts with issue #26), Grant does one-offs and two-parters that remind us that the book is meant to first and foremost be an action comic.  I’d say that in ways it is definitely trying to reflect The Punisher but whereas The Punisher is a vigilante with a mission, Deathstroke is a mercenary/hitman and takes jobs.  It serves to further solidify his supporting cast (characters like the weapons supplier Squirrel and a contact named Frannie) and makes for some solid reading.

In issue #21, Slade is hired to protect a pregnant convict and it just so happens that Pat Trayce, The Vigilante, is after the woman.  Whereas the two were once romantically involved, we get a “teacher versus student” showdown over the woman and some very nice interaction between the two.  I’m sure that not many people have a lot of love for most of the incarnations of The Vigilante, but I actually really liked the Pat Trayce version and I think that had the character been able to continue in the DCU rather than just kind of being forgotten about she could have been a decent female hero and either fit into the Birds of Prey book or shown up in Batman or another one of those titles.  Hell, I think a miniseries or one-shot would have worked, to be honest.  But that really never happened and what we have are strong issues like this where Pat uses her relationship with Deathstroke to her advantage, sleeping with him at one point and taking all of his clothes and cuffing him to the bed while he’s sleeping.  It’s amusing and I like seeing someone like her get the upper hand.

Deathstroke vs. The Janissary, who is an annoyingly '90s villain.

After the issue ends (the convict he was protecting just wanted to have her baby as a free woman so that the kid wouldn’t be born in jail), Deathstroke winds up being paid to rescue a rich guy’s kid and winds up in the middle of a skirmish between two government agencies.  In fact, he would deal with the U.S. government throughout the majority of Steven Grant’s guest run on the title.  In 22-23, the agency skirmish leads to Slade taking on The Janissary, who is another assassin.  He’s a halfway decent rogue but is never seen again, which is kind of the problem with a lot of villains during this book’s run.  Then again, it’s hard to have a rogue’s gallery when your hero is technically an anti-hero.

Grant’s run ends with a two-parter wherein Slade is hired by an agent who works with the Department of Justice (but just like any other government agent we see in books like this, she’s definitely got something shady going on.  She gets killed anyway, so whatever she was up to is moot by the end) to infiltrate “The Black Dome,” a Bio-Dome type of project that has gone suddenly awry and has essentially been taken over by terrorists.  Honestly, it’s a pretty forgettable story as far as the overall continuity of Deathstroke is concerned, but as I mentioned earlier, it was refreshing to see a couple of short, straight-up action stories that I didn’t have to know a whole lot about in order to enjoy.  That’s good because this was a time when I was still subscribing to the comic so the issues tended to arrive a few weeks to a month later than when the originally appeared in the comic store.

A sample of Vince Russell's work from Deathstroke 24.

Grant’s writing was tight and having Slade Wilson more or less removed from the New Titans and that drama, which he would be for the better part of the next two years, made that book more enjoyable.  Most of the artwork was servicable and nothing to write home about, except in issue #23 when Vince Russell handled the pencils and did an excellent job.  Russell had previously done work on Team Titans and it wasn’t the best but I think that the nature of Deathstroke’s story fit him much better.  It almost had a Terry Dodson-like feel to it, a fluid style that lends itself well to action.  I honestly wish that Russell had stayed on when Wolfman came back to the title with issue #26 and the “World Tour” storyline because while I have nothing against the Steve Erwin and Will Blyberg art team, I thought that the book could have used artwork that was a little more “slick” (and not in a ’90s/Image way).

But in what would be a barrage of crazy events that was 1992-1993, the Deathstroke title’s more or less straightforward approach (though less straightforward than The Punisher who, as one of the Marvel Year-in-Review magazines put it several times over, just killed people) was refreshing, and considering the hack job that’s been done to the character lately, it still is.

Next Up:  My Life as a Teen Titan goes bi-monthly, first with a look at Nightwing and Starfire’s relationship as well as Gar Logan and Steve Dayton during the acclaimed Wolfman-Perez run.

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