Friday, September 9, 2016

A History of Batman Vs. Deathstroke

So, Deathstroke the Terminator is going to be the villain in the upcoming solo Batman movie. I am of mixed feelings about this, as I find Deathstroke to often be written in odd and confounding ways, ways that put him way stronger than his weight class. But the more I considered it, the more I realized I have the same problem with Deathstroke that a lot of readers have with Batman, and so with a shrug of my shoulders I decided that it was a pretty cool idea, and decided that I wanted to write about Deathstroke.

But how to do that? There have already been plenty of articles on sites with way bigger readership than mine about who Deathstroke is. So I decided to come at it from the angle I'm best qualified for: the specific relationship between Batman and Deathstroke, and their confrontations, as well as a little about my history with Deathstroke. So what you're going to find is a little personal history, followed by a brief bio, and then a spotlight on the comic book and associated media battle between Batman and Deathstroke.

So I first encountered Deathstroke as a reader in New Titans #72 (well, a cameo at the end of #71 technically, but that was one panel), the issue at the top of this post, which was the second part of the famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) "Titans Hunt" story, the one that drastically altered the Titans line-up and began Deathstroke's trip from villain to anti-hero. It was the '90s, after all, and the only thing the big publishers liked more than a hero was an anti-hero. So I got to know Deathstroke as this tortured sort of good guy who still killed. And that was his status quo for a quite a while at DC. He had an ongoing, he guest starred in the various Titans titles a lot, and he never did much for me.

I actually started liking Deathstroke more when he returned to flat out villainy in the first volume of Titans and the Geoff Johns written Teen Titans series. By that point, I had read "The Judas Contract," which remains the definitive Deathstroke story, and other earlier appearances, and there, while he had a code of honor, he was still a hardcore villain. And he's sort of waffled from that over time, sometimes returning to being an almost anti-hero, but usually now being portrayed as a homicidal maniac for the highest bidder. When you factor in the infamous Identity Crisis #3, where he takes out the entire Justice League single handedly by counting on such plot improbabilities as Kyle Rayner, the Green Lantern who is not a scrapper, deciding to come at him by punching him instead of, oh I don't know, trapping him in a bubble, and you get a character who is sort of all over the place, often portrayed as a deus ex machina sort of character.

Deathstroke made his first appearance in New Teen Titans #2, created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, where he accepted a contract on the Titans after the Ravager, his son Grant, died in battle with the Titans. Over time it was revealed that Deathstroke was Slade Wilson, a former soldier who had agreed to go through an experimental process that did not work as planned: it was supposed to make him more resistant to chemical interrogation, but instead granted him access to the 90% of his brain a normal human doesn't, which increased his tactical skills and reflexes, as well as enhanced strength, speed, and durability. When he left the army, he became a mercenary and assassin for hire. When fellow assassins kidnapped one of his sons, Deathstroke was not fast enough to save the boy from having his throat slit. While the child, Joe Wilson, survived, this drove a wedge between Deathstroke and his wife, Adeline, that was furthered when, enraged, Adeline tried to kill him, but Slade used his enhanced reflexes to dodge the bullet, just losing his eye and earning his trademark eyepatch; the two split up.

Deathstroke's earliest appearances were all in relation to the Titans, trying to complete the contract that his elder son, Ravager, had accepted from the HIVE to take them down. Eventually, Deathstroke employed Terra, a young metahuman, to go undercover and get him all the secrets of the Titans; which she did, giving him the information he needed to defeat the team. Fortunately, Robin had recently left the team, and returned, with the new identity of Nightwing, with help from Deathstroke's younger son, Joe, who was the mute hero Jericho, to save the Titans and capture Deathstroke. Deathstroke was found not guilty, and returned to his mercenary ways, but had a newfound respect for the Titans.

As I said above, this led to a period of cooperation between the Titans and Deathstroke, a period that included Deathstroke having to kill Jericho, who had been possessed by the Trigon corrupted spirits of the people of Azarath (ah, there's a statement you could only make in comics). As the '90s waned, so did Deathstroke's popularity, and with the loss of his ongoing series, he returned to his status first as a Titans supporting cast member, and then adversary.

Since the return of Jericho, who as it turned out wasn't dead but had used his power to possess people to enter Deathstroke's body and had lain in wait, dormant, until he was strong enough to exert control, Deathstroke has been more of a full-on villain than he ever was before. He has worked with Alexander Luthor's Secret Society, bombed Bludhaven with a nuclear Chemo, and tried to kill the Titans on numerous occasions. The Deathstroke of the New 52 has no real ties to the Titans anymore, and is just the world's greatest assassin.

That was a really elementary rundown of who Deathstroke is, and there's a whole lot more to it, especially when you start to bring in more about Jericho, Grant, and Slade's daughter, Rose, who is the on-again-off-again Titan who took the name Ravager. All of these children have also appeared in the new DC continuity, although none with a real Titans connection (Rose worked for Harvest, the evil being who hunted teen heroes, but that's about it). Also, in recent years, Deathstroke became a regular nemesis of Green Arrow, something made even more a part of the character as he has been a recurring threat on Arrow.

So, with all that laid out, what exactly does Deathstroke have to do with Batman? For a pair of characters with such similar backgrounds (highly trained fighters with massive extended families that are Shakespearean in their trauma), they have actually met face-to-face relatively few times. Mostly, Deathstroke is thought of as one of the main nemeses of Nightwing, as the two have a long history. Deathstroke also had more than his share of run-ins with Tim Drake in his days as Robin with the Titans, and Deathstroke manipulated Cassandra Cain, then Batgirl, with a drug to make her one of his puppets in his vendetta against the Titans. So, what are the notable battles between Batman and Deathstroke, and who came out ahead in each?

City of Assassins (Deathstroke the Termination V.1 #6-9)

The first on page meeting of the two characters, this storyline sees the two initially fighting, and then teaming up, to save the life of a mob hitman who has escaped witness protection. It is an exciting four part story, Marv Wolfman at his best on Deathstroke. It does feature a scene of Deathstroke pretty savagely beating Batman down, which establishes which side of the debate on who would win in a fight Deathstroke's co-creator falls on.

The Death Lottery (Detective Comics #708-710)

When a dying man decides his last wish is to see the wealthy of Gotham die as well, a contract is put out on the wealthiest men in Gotham, bringing assassins to the city for around the world, including low level Batman rogue Gunhawk. Deathstoke, who had previous encounters with Gunhawk, has also come to Gotham to get revenge against the assassin. Batman and Deathstroke fight twice in this arc, the first time with a clear win by Dethastroke, and once with Batman victorious, although he did attack by surprise. This story is from Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan's nearly 100 issue run on Detective, a vastly under-rated run of solid stories, and features a notable instance of Batman using firearms.

Infinite Crisis (Infinite Crisis TPB)

When DC released it's crossover event Infinite Crisis in collection, it made certain strategic art and dialogue changes, as well as adding a few pages of new content. One of those pages was a confrontation between Batman, Robin, Nightwing and Deathstroke. This time, it's Batman who pretty clearly wins, although this is Deathstroke at one of his lowest points, driven pretty crazy by the loss of his family, so you have to take mental stress into account.

Stop Me If You've Heard This One... (Superman Batman Annual #1)

So, Batman doesn't really fight Deathstroke in this issue, but they both appear, as Slade has been hire to kill Bruce Wayne. Needless to say it is not successful. This is a tremendous comic, one that I am always surprised that more people don't know. Written by Joe Kelly, with principle pencils by Ed McGuinness (with various others throughout), it retells a Golden Age story of how Batman and Superman learned each other's identities, while also tossing in counterparts from the morality reversed Earth-3. And not just Owlman and Ultraman, but an unnamed Deathstroke doppelganger, who is obviously Deadpool. And it's written by Joe Kelly, master of the Deadpool quip. Oh, and no matter what some people might want to believe, Slade Wilson/Wade Wilson? Come on, there's clearly a connection.

Battle Royale (Deathstroke Vol.2 #5)

Deathstroke comes to Gotham. Batman fights Deathstroke. They both get in some good punches. Deathstroke escapes. That's pretty much it. It's some of Tony Daniel's most action packed art, really well drawn, but is pretty much an issue long fight sequence.

Son of Batman

Again, not really much Deathstroke Vs. Batman in here, mostly Damian vs. Deathstroke. This was the first Batman movie in the new DC Direct-to-DVD universe, and introduced Damian in a story VERY loosely based on Grant Morrison's "Batman and Son." And by based on, I mean it introduces Damian and has a similar name. In the story, Slade kills Ra's al Ghul to take over the League of Assassins, and when Damian comes to get revenge on Slade for the death of his grandfather, we get a sort of war of philosophies between Slade's merciless assassin thinking and Batman's value of life. Damian spares Slade,so you can chalk this up a a win for Batman.

Batman: Arkham Origins

On Christmas Eve, Black Mask has hired some of the world's best assassins to kill Batman. And when you're hiring the world's best assassins, you have to get Deathstroke in there. But since the game has Batman in the name, and you're playing as Batman, take a guess who wins this fight? Although I will say Deathstroke puts up one of the best fights of any of the big bads in the game. From what I gather, Deathstroke also appears in the final game in the Arkham series, Arkham Knight, but I don't have a PS4 yet so I don't know how that one turns out, but the game isn't called Deathstroke: Arkham Knight, so I've got to give the edge to Bats there again.

So, what has past experience taught us about who will win in the movie fight between Batman and Deathstroke? Well, it's going to be a big fight, that's for sure, but I have to give the edge to Batman, since it's his movie. Still. it's rare to see Batman fight a character on the big screen who is his physical equal, so I'm excited to see the fight choreography on it, and I like Joe Manganiello, announced yesterday to be playing Deathstroke (and returning to comic book movie acting, as he played Flash Thompson in Spider-Man), so I remain cautiously optimistic on this one.

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