“Deathstroke” is a strange comic, and it took me a little while to figure out why it doesn’t quite work. Ultimately, it’s a comic that is trying to do too much at once.
I don’t have a problem with a comic in a superhero universe going for a different tone; for instance, I appreciate this week’s “Grifter” playing its cards firmly as an action/thriller story, not as a superhero tale. But in the case of “Deathstroke,” its fingers are in too many pots at once, and the end result is nothing quite hitting its mark.
Is it a superhero (or rather, supervillain) comic? A parody on extreme violence? An action adventure? A heist story? Higgins’ script seems to be trying to check off “yes” to all of those questions, but none of them are centered long enough to make a strong, notable impression on succeeding. As a result, each genre gets a little flash at the reader, enough for you to identify the trope but not long enough for it to get fleshed out enough that it feels like more than a stereotype. The “briefcase that characters see the inside of but the audience doesn’t” is just one example of that; it’s played so vaguely that even if you don’t think “Pulp Fiction” (one of the most popular examples of this type), the moment where everyone gasps upon seeing it will rapidly get old. Higgins isn’t giving us enough to care — it’s just the cliche — and that’s a problem that continues with all aspects of the comic.
The thing is, every now and then you get glimpses of what Higgins is going for. Characters like Road Rage or the Alpha Dawgs are so deliberately over-the-top stupid that it reminds me of “Judge Dredd” with its ruthless parodies, but Higgins hasn’t quite let go entirely to embrace the silliness. As a result it’s hard to keep from wondering if Higgins isn’t taking this a little serious, and in doing so it ruins the overall effect.
Joe Bennett and Art Thibert’s art hits the nail on the head, though. The slightly blocky style of Bennett clicks well with the ultra-violence and bloodbath that is to follow, and while Deathstroke’s new costume is less than ideal, Bennett still makes it work. All the ridiculous new cannon fodder characters, likewise, come across as so goofy that you can’t help but laugh, and I think that’s what saves “Deathstroke” from completely collapsing.
“Deathstroke” is a comic that doesn’t really work, but it’s frustrating because I think it’s one step away from truly coming together and nailing its voice. If it can do so, the end result will be a lot of fun. But for now, it’s reaching for too much at once and it can’t hang onto any of its targets. A little more focus, a little more intensity, and I think “Deathstoke” could shift from a mess to a winner. This issue was an improvement over the last one, if nothing else. Here’s hoping third time will be the charm.