This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on August 25, 2016.
Deathstroke is appearing in the official debut of his new Rebirth series this week (not counting the Rebirth special). Slade Wilson has received a variety of ongoing series since Rob Liefeld reintroduced him during the New 52 relaunch, but nothing has stuck so far. Lots of different writers and artists have provided their unique flair to the character, and none have come close to the epic runs of someone like Marv Wolfman. This new series seems particularly promising though with a potential clean slate of opportunities for this complex and morally ambiguous ne’er-do-well.
While it’s exciting enough to have DC’s number one mercenary helming a new series, that’s only half of the reason to get excited about this debut. Writer Christopher Priest and artist Carlo Pagulayan are helming the series as a truly all-star pairing. Many will be familiar with Priest from his time writing Black Panther and Quantum and Woody who is bringing his unique style back to comics after a long hiatus. Pagulayan can be expected to deftly deliver some of the best action at DC with some of the sharpest lines in superhero comics enhanced by colors from Jeromy Cox.
The return of Deathstroke is exciting, but it’s never too late to take a look back at what made this character great to begin with. We’ve collected five essential Deathstroke stories and appearances that any fan of the character should consider reading. Whether you know him from Arrow, are just learning about him in Rebirth, or are a long-time fan, be sure to give these comics a read.
The Judas Contract
Creators: Marv Wolfman and George Perez
Issues: Tales of the Teen Titans #42-44, Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3
There’s no way any list of Deathstroke stories shouldn’t contain “The Judas Contract”, so we’re tackling it first to add some suspense. While Deathstroke appeared early in New Teen Titans (more on that later) and quickly became the defining villain of this iconic comic, this was the story that made him the definitive Titans villain. It’s here that he not only managed to brutalize the Titans in combat, but break their hearts as well. Manipulating the young woman Terra to infiltrate the team and betray them, leading to her own death, created a situation the team would take years to recover from. This tale also provided some additional insight into Deathstroke’s own past and just how bad he could be. The Teen Titans may have escaped in the end, but there’s no question that they were both beaten and permanently changed by Deathstroke the Terminator in this story.
Creators: Gail Simone, Dale Eaglesham, and Val Semekis
Issues: Villains United #1-6
Deathstroke played a key role in the Infinite Crisis event as one of six leaders in the new Secret Society of Super-Villains. He was one of the more quiet members on the team, especially compared to Dr. Psycho, but his presence was a constant threat with each comment denoting his wisdom and ferocity. The best story to get a sense of his place in this grander epic is the mini-series Villains United. It focuses on six villains who oppose the Society, and it’s Slade who leads overwhelming forces against them in the end. This battle shows off just how far above his super-powered peers Deathstroke rests, providing as much impact as ten of his incompetent troops. It also delivers a showdown between Deathstroke and Deadshot, two of the absolute best assassins in the DC Universe, that cannot be missed.
City of Assassins
Creators: Marv Wolfman and Steve Erwin
Issues: Deathstroke (vol. 1) #6-9
Deathstroke vs. Deadshot is one great face-off, but there’s one matchup that is better in everyway: Deathstroke vs. Batman. Slade Wilson is better known for facing off against Batman’s first ward Nightwing, but Batman is a perfect match for the mercenary in every way. They are both masters of strategy trained in a variety of martial arts and weapons who keep their bodies in peak condition. The biggest differentiator between the two is their moral compass with Deathstroke dedicating all of his talents towards self-interest instead of the public good. This story about hitmen, assassinations, and surprising allies pits Deathstroke and Batman against one another for the first time. It’s a battle worthy of the two characters involved and brutally depicted by Steve Erwin. They use everything in their respective bags of tricks to make this one fight you definitely cannot miss.
Today… The Terminator
Creators: Marv Wolfman and George Perez
Issues: The New Teen Titans #2
“Today… The Terminator” is notable simply for being the very first appearance of Deathstroke in DC Comics (as seen above), but it’s on this list because it’s also essential to the character. Everything you need to know in order to understand who Deathstroke is can be found in this issue. He’s the super-powered, hyper-vigilant, self-interested mercenary that we all know and love (or love to hate). But he is also driven by something more here: his family. It’s his son Grant who gets him involved with the Teen Titans and whose death in this issue drives him to seek revenge. In spite of his tough exterior, there’s more to Deathstroke and you can see all of it in this issue of The New Teen Titans. While Marv Wolfman and future writers would continue to delve into Deathstroke’s history and personality, all of the broad strokes are here. It’s clear that Deathstroke came into comics fully formed, a villain who looked incredible and had chops to match from his very first fight.
Identity Crisis: Serial Killer
Creators: Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales
Issues: Identity Crisis #3
This is bound to be the controversial choice of this list. Identity Crisis has faced a lot of well-deserved criticism, but we’re not ranking the mini-series for its strengths or faults, we’re just concerned about Deathstroke. And Deathstroke’s brief appearance in Identity Crisis? It’s one for the history books. In Identity Crisis #3 Deathstroke is hired by Doctor Light to protect him from the Justice League and he almost manages to pull it off. It’s a massive brawl featuring Slade at his absolute best, showing how all of the training and planning in the world can put one man on the same level as gods in superhero comics. He’s an amoral Batman in this issue proving why he really is the best mercenary in the entire DC Universe. This story also help to set up the rivalry between Deathstroke and Green Arrow, as a particularly nasty move from Green Arrow helps the team stop Deathstroke. That makes this essential reading for Arrow fans and lovers of big, bad superhero brawls alike.
What are some of your favorite Deathstroke stories? Did we miss any big ones? Share your thoughts in the comments below.