Writer: Christopher Priest
Artists: Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz
Minor Spoiler Warning Ahead
“Guns don’t kill people – Deathstroke kills people.”
This week in Deathstroke, Priest takes a break from short arcs and long arcs to focus on a one-off issue with a very important theme: gun violence. I would like to start this off by stating something about myself: I live in Australia and can’t pretend to have any kind of solid idea of what gun violence is like first-hand, considering we have an average of 200 gun-related deaths in a year, as compared to the thousands that America experiences. This being said, the news is reporting on these offenses constantly, so I am not completely in the dark either. There are more than likely some more “correct” reviews of this issue out there, but I am going to do my best to make sure the message comes across clearly.
The opening page of this issue features Jack Ryder talking to Detective Gill at the scene of a gun-related murder. Right from the word go, the theme has kicked in strong and hard, with Gill mentioning a number of tragic events that have happened over the years from the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting to the Pulse Nightclub in Florida. He compares America’s 11,000 shootings last year to Japan’s 11, and this is definitely an eye-opener for someone like me who isn’t on top of this issue as much as I should be. While researching some background information for this review, I came across another by Oliver Sava from the A.V. Club, who summarized this issue better than I could ever hope to:
“Rising homicide rates aren’t just a Chicago problem, though. According to an article published by The Trace last week, Chicago was one of the many cities to see more homicides last year. Chicago has become the primary location in the national conversation around this subject, but its homicide rate is eighth highest in the country when the numbers are adjusted for population size. This isn’t a Chicago problem, it’s an American problem, and Deathstroke #11 understands that.”
Continuing on with the story, we are told that Deathstroke has been hired by a group of mothers whose children have fallen victim to gun violence so that he can apprehend and kill the killers. It’s at this point that another issue comes into play. Well, a few. One of the other major themes explored here is race, specifically, black culture and the staggering number of victims from within it. From this comes the idea that gun violence is caused by circumstance, which stems from negligent parenting. Again, I would like to point out that I am a white male living in a semi-coastal Australian suburb, so I am not going to pretend I understand all of the issues being presented here in their fullest forms, but I sympathize.
In the conclusion of the issue, Ryder – after being shot in the back and “transforming” into The Creeper – discovers that it isn’t Deathstroke going around killing everyone, but rather a black reverend who was trying to seek vengeance for the parents whose children had been taken from them. Ultimately, in a cruel twist of dramatic irony, he takes his own life with a gun, however it is important to note that none of his victims were killed with bullets. The story comes full circle in a disturbingly pleasing way, and the issue ends on a rather ambiguous note. Slade himself only appeared on the final two pages of this issue, however it felt more like a Deathstroke issue than ever before.
It was incredible to see Priest tackling this issue with no sugar coating. Everything he wanted to say was put on full display, and despite the seemingly obvious stance that he presents readers with, it is handled in an extremely mature and thoughtful way. The art in this issue is provided by Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz and stands out as some of the most raw and heart-felt art I’ve ever seen in a comic book. The pencil work and colors used really brought the text to life, which made for an all-round incredible read. Priest and the team really brought it together this issue. This unflinching look at such a divisive and important issue was an eye-opener for someone like me who hasn’t experienced it first-hand, so I can only imagine the impact it might have on someone who knows more about the issue than I. All I can say in summary is to read this book, because it might be one of the most important comics you will ever pick up.
Images courtesy of DC Entertainment