SPOILER WARNING: This issue contains spoilers for Deathstroke #21, on sale now.
After spending the bulk of last issue in a “gathering the team” excercise for the series’ new status quo, Priest and artist Diogenes Neves devote Deathstroke #21 to… gathering the team, albeit from a few different angles. Agendas are revealed, mysteries deepened, and the sincerity of Slade Wilson’s conversion is called into question. But perhaps the biggest revelation comes on the final page, where Defiance’s missing member makes her debut.
It sure looks like Terra is a double agent. Again.
Everybody’s on a mission
This issue, like most of Priest’s run on the title so far, is broken up into segments delineated by a word or phrase in an all-black panel. Here, the marker is the character or characters in focus for the scene. The opener is dedicated to the League of Assassins’ Willow, who executes a genocidal butcher known as the Grocer. It’s unclear, though, how she fits into the series — will she join Deathstroke’s team Defiance? Oppose them? Or simply complicate things?
From there, we’re on more solid footing as Adeline, Slade’s ex-wife and the mother of his sons, takes center stage. Adeline and Slade did not part amicably, as recounted in this issue — the former Mrs. Wilson shot Deathstroke in the eye after holding him responsible for their son Grant’s death and in retaliation for his reunion with Rose, his daughter from outside of their marriage. (Addie doesn’t put things quite so kindly.) Now, though, she’s ready to lead Project Defiance as a secret government initiative, with Deathstroke reporting directly to her.
Deathstroke goes along with it… sort of.
The next section, “Wally and Tanya,” brings a moment of levity to the issue, while also giving a pretty intriguing look at what drives these characters, their similarities and differences. Wally West — Kid Flash — asks Tanya Spears, aka Power Girl, what grade she’s in. A perfectly reasonable question, given their similar ages. “I have two PhDs,” she replies. Tanya also recaps her origin story, noting that her mentor Karen Starr, the original Power Girl, left Tanya her name, powers, and access to her technology empire, when Ms. Starr returned to her own Earth.
This is worth noting because, in the shifting sands of post-Rebirth continuity, the status of Earth 2 is still a huge question. In the New 52 universe — still in many ways the operative timeline — Earth 2 was an alternate reality in which a war with Apokalips brought the planet to its knees, and the world was only saved through the heroic sacrifices of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Eventually, this version of Earth was destroyed, though its heroes found and colonized a new planet in the aftermath of Convergence. But in pre-Flashpoint continuity, which is stridently reasserting itself elsewhere in the DCU, Earth 2 was home to the Justice Society and other Golden Age originals, of which the classic version of Jay Garrick, Earth 2’s Flash, recently made an appearance in the Batman/Flash crossover “The Button.” In both continuities, Karen Starr was originally from Earth 2 before emigrating to Earth 1. Tanya’s statement here suggests that Power Girl’s repatriation — which occurred in the New 52 — definitely took place; the question now is, from the current point of view, which Earth 2 she returned to.
Later, in the issue’s final scene, Adeline reveals that “the black kids” were not part of her plan for the team, which could lead to an interesting dynamic when loyalties are tested. It’s also worth noting that Kid Flash and Power Girl, the only unambiguously heroic members of Defiance, are also the only ones without a deep-seated hatred for Deathstroke.
His kids, for example, certainly bear a grudge.
In the “Jericho and Rose” scene, the half-siblings debate whether or not Deathstroke killed Jericho’s fiancée Étienne, and both agree that yeah, probably he did. Jericho maintains some doubt though, and states that “learning the truth is my only motivation for joining Pop’s team.”
Slade, meanwhile, is taking his mentorship of a new generation of heroes very seriously. First, in the “Slade” chapter, he scours news reports for a world crisis suitable for testing Defiance’s mettle. He finally finds it, oddly enough, in recognizing the chauffeur of a small nation’s president as a former notorious drug kingpin. Though there is a contract out on the man, Deathstroke executes him “on the house,” and in so doing sets off an international incident. Now call in Defiance!
But of course the twist comes in “Wintergreen,” the final chapter, where we learn that Slade’s not-always-trusty confidant is conspiring with Adeline to “end Deathstroke forever.” Wintergreen and Adeline also implicate themselves in Étienne’s death by noting that they “both know” that Deathstroke was not responsible.
And then, there’s the final page reveal of Terra. Who not only “has the stomach for a little back-stabbing,” as Adeline puts it, but is positively eager to dive in.
Though Terra has appeared in a variety of Titans-related series through the years, the conflicted earth-powered character is most famous for her role in the Marv Wolfman and George Perez classic “The Judas Contract,” where she charmed her way into the Teen Titans before revealing herself as a spy for Deathstroke. That story arc also strongly suggested that Slade and the underage Terra were engaged in a sexual relationship. Early in his run on the current Deathstroke series, Priest had said he would clear up once and for all the truth of Slade and Terra’s relationship, which he said would take place in a crossover with Teen Titans. Plans clearly changed, as Terra did not even appear in that recently-concluded crossover, but perhaps that story is coming soon.
At any rate, that Terra would feature in the Defiance lineup was never a secret; she’s right there on the cover, after all. But her role as saboteur is a twist. Of course, nothing is ever straightforward in Deathstroke’s world, where rival assassins are always thinking five moves ahead; it’s entirely possible that Slade recruited Terra before Wintergreen and Adeline even had the chance.
That unknowability goes a long way toward elevating the tension and excitement of Deathstroke. What is Slade up to, really? Can he prevail over his adversaries? Should we even want him to? He’s smart enough not to trust his ex, surely; but what does he know? And of course, what are the consequences for the young heroes who follow his lead?
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