We’ve known for a while that that the “Lazarus Contract” crossover running through Deathstroke, Titans, and Teen Titans would lead to Slade Wilson recruiting his own unlikely band of teen heroes, and as the crossover concluded with this week’s Teen Titans Special #1 readers started to get a sense of how this new super group would come together. Written collaboratively by the three series writers, Christopher Priest, Dan Abnett and Benjamin Percy and illustrated by Paul Pelletier, the special lays the groundwork for the mass-murdering supervillain to recruit some of the next generation’s finest heroes.
Of course this isn’t Deathstroke’s first crack at forming his own team of teens with attitude. His first attempt, Titans East, was made up of renegade former heroes like ex-Titans Risk and Bombshell, Batgirl (Cassandra Cain), and others. Later, he formed a group of mercenaries which he ironically dubbed the Titans in the Villains for Hire miniseries; the group, which included Cheshire and Arsenal, was most famous for murdering the Atom, Ryan Choi. (He got better.)
So what leads Slade to form a new group now? Family has been at the heart of the current Deathstroke series, so that seems an excellent place to start. He’s also been looking for a way out of the mercenary life since the beginning of Priest’s series; in the “Lazarus Contract,” he offers to quit being Deathstroke if Wally West(s) lends him his power to change the past. And while the Teen Titans Special concludes with Slade quitting, it more out of hopelessness; he couldn’t save Grant, so why bother?
For a man of his genius, though, it’s clear Slade will need a project. Perhaps that, paired with his longing to connect with his children, will provide the impetus for him to create a new heroic legacy.
So why might the young heroes choose to follow him?
When that first image of Deathstroke’s team arrived with the July solicitations, the biggest surprise had to be Kid Flash’s presence. The other characters have some established connection to Slade — Jericho and Rose are his children, albeit severely estranged; Power Girl assisted him in his time of great need, albeit unknowingly; and Terra… well, there’s history. But Kid Flash, the New 52 version of Wally West, was a newly-minted member of the Teen Titans in good standing. Why would he jump ship to team with a villain? Could he be a double agent keeping tabs on Deathstroke for the Titans? What is his deal?
Well, Kid Flash’s deal, as seems to be the case with most folk who find themselves in Deathstroke’s orbit, is daddy issues.
Earlier in the crossover, Deathstroke manipulated Wally into giving him access to the Speed Force, so that Slade could go back in time and save his son Grant, aka the Ravager, from succumbing to the effects of terrorist organization H.I.V.E.’s genetic modifications while battling the original Teen Titans.
Kid Flash and Jackson Hyde — presumably, but not yet officially, the new Aqualad — are left behind as the adult and teen Titans embark on a mission to stop Deathstroke. They are approached by Wintergreen, Slade’s longtime associate and, mostly, ally, who attempts to explain the assassin’s point of view.
“The entire planet is at risk simply because this man is incapable of hugging his children.” Wintergreen’s line pretty effectively sums up the concept of Deathstroke’s new team.
But Wally oddly sympathizes. Not without reservations, of course — he describes Slade as “a man looking for a son [who] takes advantage of a boy looking for a father” — but with the recent revelation that his own dad is the Reverse Flash, Kid Flash is especially keen to see the best in people and root for them to change.
When Deathstroke runs headlong into the Speed Force, never to return (according to Adult Wally, who’s been there more than once), Teen Wally charges in after him for the rescue. This is the last straw for Robin, already intensely critical of Wally for allowing himself to be duped into giving up his speed — once the day is successfully saved, Damian fires Kid Flash from the Teen Titans.
Rose and Jericho
On the one hand, why shouldn’t Deathstroke’s kids join him as he begins his superhero career? On the other hand, well, there are some very good reasons. Rose, Slade’s estranged daughter, has only grown moreso over the first twenty issues of her father’s series. First, Deathstroke put out a hit on her so they could spend time together as he protected her from assassins that he himself recruited. One of them turned out to be her boyfriend. Oh, also, Rose finally got to meet the Hmong side of her family, finding for the first time a place she felt she truly belonged. Problem is, these folks, too, were imposters hired by her father as a weird gift to grant her heart’s desire.
And Joseph Wilson, also known as Jericho? Joey’s got his own stuff going on. His fiancée, who was in fact a spy for Amanda Waller, was murdered on their wedding day. Also, she had been sleeping with Joey’s father. But Joe wasn’t exactly blameless in their relationship, as he had tried to kill his mentor Dr. Ikon to stop him exposing their affair.
So why on Earth would Rose and Jericho join up with Deathstroke. Rose is very much trying to find her place in the world, and as African warlord Jazaki told her a few issues back, there are “no such thing as ‘heroes’ and ‘villains,’ Rose. There are people who make a difference and people who watch TV.” Does she find this argument sufficiently compelling to follow Slade on his alleged quest for redemption?
Jericho is even harder to pin down. There is a jarring narrative jump between Deathstroke #18, the last issue before the “Lazarus Contract” crossover, and Titans #11. For one, Deathstroke, who had been blinded in such a way that apparently could not heal, suddenly wakes up in hospital with brand new corneas; we’re told that Jericho, last seen bloodied but victorious over the unconscious forms of Slade and Rose, is now “in rehab.” We still don’t know for sure who killed Etiénne, his fiancée. When he shows up in the annual, he seems pretty down with doing whatever’s asked of him to help, without a ton of angst or emotional turmoil. He even tries to talk “pop” out of running into the Speed Force. Must be one hell of a rehab program.
Also interesting is that, in one of his voyages into the past, Deathstroke tells his son Grant that “I never wanted this life for you. For any of my children.” So, having failed to rescue Grant, why would Slade allow Rose and Jericho to join his team?
Not Appearing (Yet): Power Girl and Terra
The last two members of Slade’s team, apparently called Team Defiance per Deathstroke #22 promo copy, did not appear in the “Lazarus Contract” crossover at all, though they both have a checkered history with the infamous assassin.
Tanya Spears may be a teen genius, but she misjudged the situation when a blind man with superpowers crashed into her life. Believing him a hero, Power Girl nursed Slade Wilson back to health and created an advanced technology to give him a form of artificial sight. When Deathstroke’s true identity was revealed, they battled, though Slade refused to kill her even when he had the opportunity.
Power Girl felt a deep betrayal of trust, but perhaps their brief closeness will serve as the hook that reels her in to Deathstroke’s alleged new life on the side of angels.
Terra… We all know the story with Terra, right? The Titans traitor from way back in “The Judas Contract” by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, infiltrating the team at the behest of Deathstroke, the Terminator. Deathstroke and the underage Terra also had a sexual relationship, which has occasionally been retconned; current Deathstroke writer Priest has previously said that the series will confirm a post-Rebirth version of their relationship.
More recently, the New 52 version of Terra fought against Deathstroke on a team called the Ravagers, which also included Rose and the Teen Titans’ Beast Boy, whom she briefly dated. As with most New 52 things post-Rebirth and post-“Superman Reborn,” it’s somewhat difficult to say for certain whether this story actually “happened” in the current reality. Perhaps we’ll find out in the upcoming issues of Deathstroke.
The Teen Titans Annual set up potentially massive storylines in each of its connected titles, but its implications for Deathstroke present perhaps the greatest change in status quo. The loner assassin is now the leader of a team of unwieldy heroes, each with his or her own agenda — some or all of which may be self-destructive. The themes of family and the costs of violence at the heart of Priest’s run inform the directions the next arc may take, and the bonds forged and broken may affect the legacies of these characters for a generation.