Review by Frank Plowright
While the cover may suggest this to be a Batman graphic novel, it’s in fact tied to Deathstroke’s continuity, first appeared in his series, and has a greater impact on his life. That noted, Christopher Priest has ensured it can be read as a standalone graphic novel provided you’re attuned to the fractured storytelling he employs.
There will be expectations that Deathstroke’s continuity picks up from his location at the end of The Fall of Slade. That doesn’t happen. Batman vs Deathstoke is a thrilling six chapter interruption. It doesn’t start well, when a conversation about English football places two Liverpool players from different eras in the same eleven and then refers to “Manchester” as a team. It’s an attempt to establish the English credentials of Alfred Pennysworth, Batman’s butler, and Wintergreen, who’s served in that role for Deathstroke. Please do the research next time. Of course, most of that will just sail by American readers who’d pick up on Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter in the same Yankees squad, and the remainder of the opening chapter is a nicely constructed compare and contrast followed by some cat and mouse.
That’s broadly the pattern for some while, as Batman warns Deathstroke he’ll no longer countenance his activities, each of them speculates abut the other and assorted people close to both comment on their similarities. Oh, and there’s a lot of violent action, the type of action only Batman or Deathstroke tend to walk away from, all impeccably laid out by Larry Hama for Carlo Pagulayan to draw in his bold fashion, with Ed Benes filling in nicely for an interlude chapter.
Priest plots an interesting game, although it could be more confusing than intended if you don’t pay attention to the time defining title captions. A nice technique is being right up front in his opening chapter about what’s going on, yet muddying it sufficiently, and discrediting something when it’s key to nearly everything that subsequently happens. It’s a maguffin that leads to a complicated trip from the past, gradually moving forward to the present day, with good use of several guest stars. It would ruin the plot to name them all, but a beefed up Nightshade and Jericho work well. As the action continues Priest is constantly prodding at Batman and Deathstroke, peeling back obsessions that could equally be weaknesses, with Batman and associates given an equal time in the spotlight. A very clever few ending pages tie everything up nicely just in time for Deathstroke to pay a visit to Arkham.
A better bet if you have the money is Deathstroke by Christopher Priest, collecting the entirety of Priest’s impressive run in hardback.