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Friday, September 2, 2016

Cover Story - Top 10 Deathstroke Covers

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Let’s talk about Deathstroke.  This will be my third article dedicated to Da’ Stroke, as I’ve elected to lovingly call him, and I like to think of it as trying to make peace with the Terminator.  I may dislike him for the role he played in Identity Crisis and the undo importance thrust upon him in most adaptations, but regardless of my feelings, it’s clear Slade Wilson isn’t going away anytime soon.  

As such it’ll probably be better to try and find common ground now than keep resisting him, especially because his current ongoing series is shaking out pretty well and I really like Joe Manganiello.  As such these are the top 10 Deathstroke comic covers I’ve culled from across the shockingly high number of solo series he’s had.  Seriously, for a villain, this guy has had like 4 solo series at least, but I guess that just speaks to his appeal.  Let’s see if I can find what everybody else sees in these books. 

We’re starting out with a compromise as it features Deathstroke getting the death stroke from some kind of robot samurai.  I haven’t read all these comics, mainly because a good chunk of them come from the dark time that was the New 52, which even Deathstroke fans look down on, so I don’t know who this robot samurai is or why he’s about to deliver a fatal blow to Slade but it really looks cool.  Part of that is that the cover actually remembers what a lot of late period Deathstroke fans and comics forget- that Terminator actually does have superpowers.  

He’s been physically enhanced as part of some cargo-cult super soldier program in the military, which is why he’s still able to crawl around after getting more puncture wounds than Boromir.  This is also a splendid way to use negative space to enhance the image and increase the sense of energy from the scene, especially with how the samurai is actively blocking out the logo. 

Jumping ahead to the DC Rebirth series, I don’t really know when it was Deathstroke became lumped in as a Batman villain, or why for that matter, but covers like this make it a lot more palatable.  What’s impressive about this design is that it actually doesn’t make any sense, but it’s cool enough to easily override any logic requirements it might fail.  Like I have no idea what this odd, windowless building is Deathstroke’s in front of or why Commissioner Gordon is shining the bat signal onto the side of it, but I can’t say I really care one way or another, it looks amazing.  

There’s always been something uniquely cinematic about the iconography of the Batman universe, and the visual of the Bat symbol is key to that imagery.  I also like how much more stripped down this iteration of Slade looks.  Less of the hulking brute of the New 52 or even the muscle dad of the ‘80s, he seems more like a ninja mercenary, which fits his identity a lot better. 

Now for a trip, all the way back to the original Deathstroke comic by comics legend Marv Wolfman for this fantastic cover.  I have to admit, a big part of coming to terms with Deathstroke as a character I could engage with was going through this series because he gets up to some insanely cool stuff, as we can see here as he literally wrestles a lion.  Covers like this are the perfect epitome of why ‘80s comics were awesome as it’s actually a fully realized image that isn’t trying to trick you into buying the comic.  

Slade does, in fact, wrestle a lion with his bare hands in this issue, but the image isn’t being shortchanged here, with that courageous savanna background adding a lot to the texture of the scene.  I also really like Slade’s old-timey safari clothes that he probably insisted on wearing because he’s the deadliest dad in all of comics, as also evidenced by that dopey “call of the wild” pun (don’t worry, there are more puns ahead.)

Something that makes Slade such a dynamic comic star is that his role as mercenary to the world means he fits comfortably into any corner of the DCU against virtually any antagonist.  In this case, if it wasn’t obvious, he’s taking on Lex Luthor for reasons that aren’t immediately clear but are instantly remarkable.  I’m a big fan of in-universe corporations with branding and identity so I like that Lexcorp logo in the background but it’s also decidedly cool how this cover can tell you Luthor’s involvement just from the giant, metal purple gauntlets.  

In fact, the detail on those gauntlets is just out of this world, especially that line work on the metal rings.  The detail of this cover overall is a big selling point, I especially like the bits of chainmail visible along with that really gross bloody impact spot on Slade’s face mask.  It makes it look like it’s less of a helmet and more of a shell, which is super gross to think about.  I do note that the set-up of his gun, pointed at the reader, is a little awkward and hard to immediately identify but this is still solid regardless. 

This is an interesting cover as it’s almost entirely a product of modern cover aesthetics.  Covers tend to go through phases over the decades, with ‘50s and ‘60s covers being about crazy, attention-grabbing scenes and small character scope, followed by more literal and sized up scenes in the ‘70s and the development of metaphorical covers in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  Modern covers have taken much more to aping the design of movie posters, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.  In the case of Deathstroke, given that he’s basically evil James Bond with a facemask, modeling his cover on a Golden Age Bond poster works really well.  

My favorite part of this cover would have to be the giant gears and clockwork making up the background- I have no idea why it’s there or what it is but it’s mighty cool.  The spacing of the people on this cover is also really well realized, with a good blend of floating heads and greater torso shots.  For the unaware, the girl Deathstroke looming in the background is Rose Wilson, Slade’s daughter and the anti-hero Ravager, we’ll be seeing her again on this list also. 

Going all the way back to Deathstroke’s first solo issue for this one, though I don’t know what about this comic made it a “take no prisoners issue,” though I feel that’s cause for at least mild concern.  Much like the other cover from the Marv Wolfman comic, this is an excellent example of how much ‘80s comics went in for resizing their subject and fleshing out the background.  A bigger scope of the character meant the artist could afford a greater range of detail in the surroundings, which is what gives this cover such a rich and textured look.  

Stuff like the swooping birds, smoking chimney, and Deadpool’s chainmail texture all enhance the visual a lot.  What I really love, though, is how much of a dad Deathstroke looks like here.  I’ll get into this more as we go on, but there’s something about his chunky frame (seriously look how wide he is compared to the rifle) and that hand on belt pose that screams “middle aged father.” 

Even more detail went into this cover, not that that’s a problem because it’s a totally great cover as well as being unintentionally hilarious thanks to some of that detail.  Firstly, points for almost predicting the red wedding, credit where it’s due inter-title.  Secondly, I love this vision of a wedding where everyone, even the bride, is armed to the goddamn teeth.  

I can only assume this is some kind of mob marriage given how many people are already pulling pistols but the fact the bride was hiding a knife in her flowers for some completely separate reason is pretty great.  I’d actually have to assume she was planning to kill the groom all things considered, or at the very least she hoped to peg out some bystanders when she threw the bouquet.  

What really elevates this cover, however, is the look on Deathstroke’s face.  This was back when his mask was made of cloth and they let you see his pupil, which gives him a much more expressive face and that face is saying “oh crap I didn’t think this through!”  That might seem odd but it kind of makes sense if you think about what the proportions of this scene are actually implying- that he’s about to land crotch to face into the priest, just lucky that’s the only guy here who looks to be unarmed. 

Okay, admittedly this cover made this list because this situation is really cool and it just happens to feature Slade rather than because he’s doing anything all that impressive.  If you don’t recognize what's going on here and “bizarro” is basically Greek to you- Bizarros are imperfect clones of Kryptonians that become chalk white monsters with super powers and limited mental facilities.  They’re basically Frankenstein Supermen who range from comical to terrifying depending on the author’s preferences.  So basically Deathstroke is jumping into a mob of creatures with all of Superman’s powers but none of his self-control or morality- someone is about to get killed real bad.  

Admittedly this cover probably would’ve been better used in the best Bizarro list, but I don’t care, it’s too solid a visual not to use and I do appreciate the huevos on Slade for choosing the most impressive method of suicide imaginable, even if he is going to break out a blue kryptonite sword or something.  Also, special mention has to be given to the incredible purple light effects in the science fog around the floor, that’s some really great color and lighting work. 

This cover requires a little bit of comics history for explanation.  So, Slade first premiered in the Teen Titans comic, which is why a lot of fans know him now through the early 2000s Teen Titans TV show.  He became a breakout villain for the comic in part through his role in a beloved story called Judas Contract, where he convinced the unhinged sociopath Terra to join the Titans and betray them from within.  Judas Contract was well received at the time though it’s been reappraised lately (mainly because it features Slade having sex with an underaged Terra, yikes.) 

Anyway, the baggage of that comic has more or less always haunted Slade and is what this cover is actively referencing to.  However, the character involved here is Ravager, Slade’s daughter who we met earlier in the article.  This is the other bit of comics history you need to know- Slade is a terrible father (all of his kids have gone nuts) but he works off that Rick Sanchez theory of “no one abuses my family but me.”  

So, someone taking a shot at his daughter is a pretty huge deal, especially based on the severity of this crime scene.  Again, the detail is what makes this cover, especially the blood spatter and shell casings around the mask and that really nice touch of the shattered eyepiece, echoing Slade’s own missing eye. 

I’ve been dancing around this throughout the entire list but what’s really won me over for Deathstroke is how much of a stereotypical dad he actually is in the comics, as evidenced by comics like this.  It’s something distinctly dopey and consequently humanizing about him that tends to get really looked over by modern stories that just want him to be a stereotypical bad ass.  A lot of that has to do with the very weird and kind of messed up way fatherhood is framed in geek culture’s struggle with traditional masculinity. 

See, even though geeks love to think they reject empty, meathead macho-ism like 24 or Taken the truth is that you can transpose the hyper-competent father identity of those films to another universe and win them over with a chance of set dressing, that’s why Batman so often ends up framed as super-dad to the entire world or why The Last of Us was so well received.  As such, accepting a vision of fatherhood that actually accepts snarling, swaggering machismo makes you a terrible dad no matter how many fatherly activities you engage in is frowned upon, which is why Deathstroke is so often forced out of the role of a bad dad. 

What I love about this cover is how much it throws him into what’s become the archetypical coding for the dopey banality of modern fatherhood- dad jokes.  Having Slade Wilson throw around embarrassingly dumb puns in the midst of his work would be great on its own but there’s just so much conviction here you can tell he thinks he’s being hilarious.  It all adds up to a portrait of Deathstroke as a father confidently making an embarrassing ass of himself because he’d rather be fun and open than some stoic, deified figurehead of masculinity.  

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