Slade, I’m Afraid We’re Going to Have to Let You Go

RAAAWRR! I HAS A GUN!!!

The above line would probably be immediately followed by the distinctive and musical sound of a large sword through my throat.

I’m trying to put together tonight’s story, but my brain isn’t cooperating with me, so let’s prime the pump somewhat by talking about comics. Specifically, the current state of the New 52 in DC Comics, which is now entering its third month. More specifically, the ones that suck.

The first one to get cut was Deathstroke, after only two issues. Now why did I drop Deathstroke like it was a flaming turd in my hands? Hmmm….

Guys [1], remember when you were a kid, and you’d play super-heroes with your friends? One of you would be Superman and one of you would be, I dunno, Wolverine, and after you finished arguing about how Superman and Wolverine can’t fight each other because they’re from totally different comics and that wouldn’t make sense, you would start basically listing off your attacks:

Li’l Superman: I’m gonna hit you with my heat vision! BZZZAT!
Li’l Wolverine: I use my claws to reflect your heat vision back at you! FRINNNG!!
Li’l Superman: Well I can just let it bounce off my chest. Ha ha ha!!
Li’l Wolverine: I’m gonna throw Kryptonite at you! WHAM!
Li’l Superman: Yeah, well I’m gonna take these special metal-eating Kryptonian cockroaches and they’re going to EAT YOUR BONES! HA!

And so on. Point is, each kid would find reasons why his hero was utterly undefeatable and how there was no way the other one could possibly stand against him.

You'd think his codpiece would be bigger.

That’s what it’s like reading Deathstroke.

And that’s a shame, because they have a really interesting opportunity here. Most of DC’s metahuman characters are like football players in their prime years – their twenties and thirties. They’re still fit and clear-minded, they’re still hip and with it. Their careers are fresh and new and their best years are still ahead of them in terms of kicking ass and taking names. But Slade is older. We don’t know exactly how old, of course, because time in comic books is a plastic and unreliable thing, but he probably has a couple of decades on the Justice League at the very least.

Super-soldier or no, time takes its toll. You have to keep learning new skills, keep up with the newest technology and weaponry. You have to continue to improve and adapt yourself to the world, and that gets harder as you get older. So the first issue sets this up very nicely: Slade’s handler Christoph basically comes out and says: “They don’t think you can cut it, Slade. Not anymore.” There. The issue is out in the open, ready to be dealt with. It suggests that Slade isn’t what he once was, that he can’t hold his own against the newer, younger crowd. Like an aging prizefighter, the time has come where perhaps he should think about bowing out gracefully and leaving the ring.

We could then have a really interesting storyline that explores the perils of age and obsolescence, where perhaps Slade tries to accept this new reality but is not allowed to do so. Perhaps he gets his ass kicked in the first issue and has to figure out new ways to defeat his enemy. Or he goes the “old gunslinger” route, where he has to deal with the young up-and-comers who want to make a name for themselves by killing the greatest assassin the world has ever known. Hell, maybe he looks back on his life of murder and bloodshed and sees that there’s more time behind him than before him. Maybe he stops and asks, “What’s it all about, really? What have I contributed to the world?” And despite an earnest desire to make good, to maybe give up his lifetime of violence, he gets pulled back into it, Unforgiven-style. There is so much that can be done to expand this character and make him vivid and believable and interesting.

RAWR!

Instead, they go for a gore-festy fight sequence that is basically the writer with his fingers in his ears screaming, “LA LA LA DEATHSTROKE IS A BADASS I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” He cuts through a whole slew of assassins and soldiers as if he were a young man of twenty, never once having to deal with the fact that he isn’t. And everything that tries to stop him is cut down with absolutely no significant effort. It is proven in bloody detail that Slade Wilson cannot be stopped – not by ninjas on motorcycles, not by guys in ridiculous armored suits with wheels on them, not by the ravages of time itself. He has no doubts, no fears, and no competition.

And that, friends and neighbors, is utterly and fantastically dull.

I swear to you, this was real.

This was actually one of the problems with Superman back before the character was first rebooted in the 80s – he was far too godlike. There was literally nothing that Superman couldn’t do, no battle he couldn’t win and no enemy that could give him more than a moment’s pause. With nothing that can challenge him, there’s really no point in writing stories for him.

So when John Byrne gave him a new start, he brought down his power levels a bit and created new conflicts that would force the Man of Steel to adapt and improve. And, again, he succumbed to power-creep over the years, to the point where J. Michael Straczynski actually decided that it would be more interesting to see him walk across America than punch out giant robots. He had grown so powerful that physical conflict was beyond him, and he needed to start dealing with social and political problems. [2]

He could also use a haircut.

In the New 52, Superman was de-powered again. In Action Comics – which takes place several years before “now” – he’s probably at his “weakest” since he was introduced back in 1939. He can’t fly, he can still be injured and get worn out during a fight. Even in Justice League of America, which is a little closer to “now” in comic book time, he suggests that he has limits to his powers and he knows what most of them are. By putting limits on what Superman can do, the various writers are forced to make the character work harder and be more creative in dealing with problems. The reader knows that it’s possible for the character to fail, and so we are more interested to know how he deals with the problem at hand.

No so with Deathstroke. The writer, Kyle Higgins, is doing his best to eliminate any chance that Slade Wilson could be defeated by anyone – even himself. He slices through his enemies in a single panel, makes bored quips about how pathetic they are, and the artist, Joe Bennett, makes sure that the closest thing we see to an emotion on his face is bemused detachment.

Yawn.

By the time I got to the end of issue 2, I was pretty much convinced that there was nothing holding me to this title. There were no characters that I cared about, no plot elements that interested me. All they had given me was Slade Wilson, Badass With a Sword, and I have no reason to read that.

Well.

That was certainly more than I thought I’d write on the subject. Next up, let’s tear apart Green Arrow. But not right now – I have a story to write.

————————

[1] My analogy here is more geared towards my male readers than my female ones, but I’m sure there was an equivalent for little girls and I’d love to hear about it.
[2] Which, from what I could gather, was such a dumb idea that Straczynski himself got bored with it and went on to do other things.

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One comment on “Slade, I’m Afraid We’re Going to Have to Let You Go

  1. matthewhyde says:

    You’ve just highlighted why I can’t really get on with Deathstroke as a character – your ideas for him having to deal with his age and weaknesses would be far more interesting to read than anything DC has put out featuring the character in recent years…

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