1994 and 1995 were odd years for comics. In hindsight, they were the death throes of what we often refer to as “The Nineties” because it was the middle of the market collapse (which explains why my comics shop has so many old IMage books in the quarter bins), but while I could point to crap like Brigade and Bloodstrike as everything that was wrong with comics in the 1990s, the books I was reading weren’t completely innocent. As I mentioned the last time around, DC decided to beef up flagging titles like New Titans and Deathstroke by giving them new lineups, new attitudes, and even new titles.
The first half of the change in Deathstroke was “The Hunted” but once Slade is captured and no longer on the run, what do we do? Well, we drop “The Hunted” and change the title of the book to Deathstroke, which would be the name of the book from issue #46 until it was cancelled with issue #60.
But a title change wasn’t just it. In the issues that follow, we complete the change of Deathstroke’s statu quo, which goes along with the change in the Titans’ status quo. By the end of Deathstroke Annual #4, our hero will have a new boss, Rose will have a new home, Adeline will have a new psychpathy, and the identities of both The Crimelord and The Ravager–who had been around since issue #0–would be revealed.
Marv Wolfman divides Deathstroke #46-50 into 35 “chapters” that focus on different characters and are indended to finish forever changing our main character. In the first two, Slade is in a government holding cell and is eventually convinced to work for Sarge Steel and the government in the way the Titans are under their employ while the three villains of the story are reestablished. There’s The Crimelord, of course; Adeline Wilson, who is now completely obsessed with destroying her ex-husband; and The Ravager, who survived the confrontation with Rose and Sweet Lili but whom we still don’t actually know, even though we see him unmasked.
He won’t be much of a player for a little while anyway because The Crimelord puts his plans into motion, revealing to our heroes that he has placed nuclear bombs throughout the world and they have twenty-four hours to find and disarm them. If The Syndicate doesn’t get in the way first, that is.
Which is where things get absolutely crowded. I understand that during this particular time, the editors at DC were trying to create small universes within the larger DCU, giving titles like New Titans books that were somehow connected, which meant that Deathstroke, The Darkstars, Damage, and Green Lantern were brought into various stories. For this storyline, we have the cover of Deathstroke #48 featuring an unmasked Slade leading the Titans into battle with his sword glowing like a lightsaber. This is the first part of a four-part “Crimelord-Syndicate War,” where the alien mafia known as The Syndicate goes after The Crimelord, a story that will take us from Deathstroke #48 to New Titans #122 to Darkstars #32 and back into Deathstroke with #49.
In all honesty, it’s unnecessary because we could have had The Crimelord’s plans unfold without alien interference and it may have made this whole “game-changing” epic tighter. We already have Deathstroke after The Crimelord and Aldeline and The Ravager after Deathstroke; do we really need two and a half issues of team-up fights?
Anyway, while I owned all of these issues at the time, they were becoming more and more back burner for me with each trip to the comic store and when I ran into Harris at school one day and he asked me what I thought of Steve Dayton being The Crimelord, I don’t think I had much of a response.
In fact, I remember going back home and grabbing the issue, which had one of those “everyone’s in this one” covers–a bevvy of heroes will help Slade disarm the nuclear bombs that The Crimelord has planted throughout the world–and wondering how I didn’t see it. As many as thirty issues earlier, members of The Hybrid were seeing harrassing Dayton and there were hints that he had never put his Mento helmet away. So what he’s done here is created the ultimate Mento helment, a supercomputer named Zarina, which he hooks himself into in order to go full-on Lawnmower Man so he can live on and rule the Internet.
No, really. Steve Dayton has gone so nuts that he melds with a computer so he can rule the world as some sort of digital master.
Sigh … it was the Nineties.
Needless to say, Deathstroke along with every other hero and team in the DCU, stops The Crimelord’s bombs and also stop him from becoming Evil Internet Overlord just in time when they disconnect Dayton’s access to the outside world just after he goes all Lawnmower Man. It’s just as ridiculous as it sounds and the saving grace is that Deathstroke fights many Hybrid monster soldiers in his effort to destroy The Crimelord. Plus, The Ravager makes his move and is unmasked to be Wade DeFarge, Slade’s half brother, a raveal that takes us from the final page of Deathstroke #50 and into Annual #4 where we get The Ravager’s origin–not only is he Slade’s half brother but he was once in love with Adeline and completely obsessed with her after she broke it off.
Adeline, in the meantime, has been masquerading as The Vigilante and goes after Slade, the result being a three-way family fight that would have been a lot better if Wolfman hadn’t gone to the well of Everyone! Yelling! At! One! Another! During! The! Fight! Seriously, I get that comic books often have people talking (or at least thinking) during fights, but the fight in the annual here would have been pretty awesome if it had been several pages of well-drawn silent fisticuffs, especially since Addie ends up being shot in the head. Oh, don’t worry, the big reveal at the end is that because Slade gave her a transfusion some time ago, she’s now got his immortality.
Which makes what was a pretty decent action comic book a nearly complete mess when this is all over. Slade could have gone from freelance adventurer/mercenary to a Nick Fury-type of character and that would have been a refreshing direction for this time and within a few issues it would look like Wolfman was trying to get something like that going, but as we’ll see, Deathstroke will limp to its conclusion.
Next Up: In the immediate aftermath to The Crimelord saga, Deathstroke will give us a glimpse of a possible future.