DC: Rebirth has been successful in bring a lot of characters back to their roots, reminding fans what they loved in the first place. A character who’s benefitted from Rebirth is Deathstroke, particularly in the latest graphic novel to be released called The Gospel of Slade. It puts the spotlight on Deathstroke and his family, giving the reader an insight into the life of the complex mercenary. Written by Christopher Priest, The Gospel of Slade strips Deathstroke down to his core and asks the question of whether he’s a necessary evil.
The story opens with Slade taking a job in Africa to extract a dangerous warlord called Red Lion. Accompanying Deathstroke is his closest friend, William Randolph Wintergreen. The relationship between Slade and Wintergreen is like the bond Batman and Alfred share. Wintergreen acts as his voice of reason, only he’s far crotchetier than Alfred. It was hilarious to see the two of them bickering while Wintergreen tries to counsel Slade on how to be a decent father to his children.
The rest of Deathstroke’s supporting cast include his ex-wife Adeline Kane and his children Joey and Rose. Kane wants to make life hell for her ex-husband while his children want nothing to do with him. For better or worse, it doesn’t stop Deathstroke from being a constant presence in their lives.
Having found out Slade manipulated her into spending time with him, Rose has gone to Joey to cool down. Joey’s fiancé, Etienne, is present at the meeting and suggests that Rose still loves her father despite everything that he’s done. Etienne suggests Rose get in touch with her Hmong heritage if she really wants to get away from Deathstroke.
Meanwhile, Slade takes another contract to kill a cartel boss called Alisante. At the same time, his ex-wife alerts Superman to his whereabouts and The Man of Steel decides to bring Deathstroke in. What follows is an epic battle that sees Slade use his intelligence and equipment to outwit Superman. For example, his suit acts as a gravity sheath, absorbing Superman’s blows and redirecting the shockwave back at him.
For a time, Deathstroke manages to keep Superman at bay and get to his target. He’s taken down when Joey shows up and deactivates Slade’s suit. Deathstroke is put in jail and meets a man he served with in the military called Dexter. It leads to a retelling of the first mission he and Wintergreen took part in, explaining how Slade became Deathstroke.
On the other side of the world in Vietnam, Rose has decided to get in touch with her heritage. She defeats a group of men who’ve been stalking her and comes face to face with a woman called Mai who claims to be her aunt. Rose spends time with her cousins and comes to feel closer to her mother’s side of the family.
Priest’s characterisation is strong throughout the story. He captures the complexity of Deathstroke, painting him as a man on a mission to be the best. Even when fighting Superman, Deathstroke can’t help being an arrogant jackass and it suits him well. There’s also room for some softer moments when he’s talking to Wintergreen about his kids.
I enjoyed the way Rose was presented. Focusing on her Hmong heritage is something that hasn’t been done enough in comics. She has a headstrong confidence to her, but she’s still unsure of her place in the world.
The art style changes through the graphic novel and I found it distracting. The best art crops up in the early parts of the story, especially during Superman and Deathstroke’s fight. In certain parts, there’s a disjointedness to the narrative. This occurs towards the end when Deathstroke takes a contract in Chicago, and it feels like reading a collection of vignettes rather than a complete story.
Deathstroke: The Gospel Of Slade is an enjoyable graphic novel that will please long-time fans of the character and provide a helpful jumping on point for new readers. You can buy it from Amazon now.