Deathstroke 10

Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Deathstroke 10, originally released June 13th, 2012.

Patrick: Writer and artist Rob Liefeld is an interesting dude. He’s been a huge figure in american comic books since the 1990s, was one of the founding members of Image Comics, and currently writes and/or draws more comic series than the average person is reading. He’s a prodigious talent, and even when he’s mired by controversies about misogyny, late work or even plagiarism, the man sells a ton of comic books. There’s a legion of critics that absolutely loathe his contributions to the medium, but the legion of fans that support his efforts far outweigh the nay-sayers. For all the content the guy produces, he somehow manages to keep up a very active, incredibly aggressive public persona (the man’s twitter appetite is insatiable). He’s boastful, and likes to remind critics that no matter what they say, he’s always going to be successful. Besides, Liefeld frequently asserts, he’s not writing for the critics he’s writing for the fans. So if the artist is so interesting, why is his art so boring?

After last month’s highly ambivalent review of Deathstroke #9, Drew and I decided we should take it on ourselves to see what exactly was going on within the pages of this book that caused our compatriots’ goodwill to dry up so completely. Part of it was that Peter and Shelby had grown to like the Slade Wilson character as developed by Kyle Higgins, who wrote the first 8 issues. It’s hard to see something change, especially when it’s something you like. And the initial response  that change is usually to say “I don’t like this.” We like to be diplomatic and reasonable over here at Retcon Punch, so we decided what would happen if two readers new to the character picked up issue #10 and evaluated based on its own merit.

Are you expecting vitriolic rants? Are you expecting condemnations of idiocy? Sorry, I got nothing. Here’s what happens in this book: intergalactic… something-or-other, Lobo, orders everything at quiet Earth diner before beating up a stranger and stealing his motorcycle. Meanwhile, at Starpoint (an outer-space-forced-labor-camp), Deathstroke, Zealot and their team of disposable weirdos (called The Omegas) discover that Lobo has gone to Earth to locate the WORLD BREAKER (three guesses as to what that does). Back on Earth, Lobo finds the World Breaker.

The meat of this issue is a protracted fight between Deathstroke’s team (hereinafter referred to as “the Good Guys”) and a Khund slaver/prison guard named Karlack. The characters all trade insults — many of which would seem way-racist if these characters were from Earth — but there’s no hint of what motivates these people or what they value. There’s nothing at stake here, other than the obvious: FIND LOBO. At no point is the arbitrary nature of the Good Guys’ quest more apparent than when Karlack threatens Kalista. Who’s Kalista? Why, she’s a member of the royal family of Euphorix and Zealot’s sworn duty to protect. What’s the matter? Never heard of this character (or the Euphorix) before? That’s because she’s neither mentioned nor shown before Karlack grabs her. Like, I literally don’t know if she was at the prison, or if they brought her along. And if they did bring her into a dangerous location, WHY WOULD THEY HAVE DONE THIS?

But it doesn’t matter. The only reason Kalista is here is so Zealot will murder the only person who can give them information about Lobo. Oh no! How will our heroes find Lobo now? Oh, I guess Deathstroke will just get the story out of Karlack moments before he dies. So… none of that mattered. Cool.

I just don’t get it – what’s the point of this kind of story? This whole thing is just repetitive macho posturing and pointless elevated language about unimaginative alien cultures. Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about:

Again, this is Karlock, taunting the Good Guys. The whole thing is like this. What does that mean? It means “Fuck you, I’m the bad guy; fight me now.”

So, right, if we’re not learning about alien worlds or meeting compelling characters or exploring interesting themes, what possible reason does a work of fiction serve? Fun and spectacle, right? You can talk about how dumb a comic book is, but if you have a good time reading it, all that criticism is rendered inert. But this isn’t even that. The action sequences are incoherent – there’s not even any satisfaction to be derived from beating this bad guy. Yeah, he’s a jerk, but no bigger jerk than everyone else in this issue.

Also, what’s up with the narration during the Lobo sequences? No one is thinking these little bits of voice-over, no one is writing it (as in Deathstroke’s journal which narrates the rest of the story). It’s like Liefeld wanted to say something about Lobo, but didn’t bother to work out how to show it in the context of his own medium. So he just wrote it out and threw it in there. It’s absurdly lazy. Though, I guess that does help answer my question about how Liefeld manages to produce so much content.

Drew: One of my favorite things about dropping this title (and rest assured, WE ARE DROPPING THIS TITLE) is that it means we can also un-follow Liefeld on Twitter. His tendency to mock critics for their opinions while also writing off their opinions as irrelevant is so mind-bogglingly contradictory, just thinking about it makes me angry. To guys like Liefeld, McDonald’s must make the best food on earth, and the fact that Adam Sandler hasn’t won an Academy Award is simply unexplainable. Yes, all of those things are popular, but that doesn’t make them good.

I honestly don’t want to let my opinion of Liefeld the man get in the way of my opinion of Liefeld the comic book creator, but a recent tweet of his explained it all to me: he’s righting for 13-year-olds, duh. Of course, he also used that opportunity to call any critics virgins (because, honestly, only virgins think 13-year-olds could appreciate good art — plus, complaining about stupid comics made for stupid kids is totally lame, whereas aimless complaining about that complaining is TOTALLY AWESOME), but that doesn’t negate his main point: we shouldn’t be buying his comics in the first place. They’re not written for us and, as he loves to point out, he doesn’t need our business anyway. An ingratiating salesman Liefeld is not, but he has a good point.

We here at Retcon Punch ascribe to a certain aesthetic, one that values character detail and thematic resonance, creativity and originality. We consider things “good” or “bad” based on their ability to adhere to that aesthetic criterion, but we don’t leave much room for things striving for other aesthetics. Deathstroke is clearly aiming for something different, which means I feel utterly unequipped for actually judging it.

Even ignoring ALL of the details I normally think make a comic good, this comic manages to insult my intelligence at every turn. As Patrick pointed out, this issue features BOTH omniscient narration AND voiceover from Slade’s journal, both of which are the blunt-object category of exposition delivery — why the fuck would Liefeld show you something when he could just tell you? — but at least they keep things moving. As adults, we’re patient enough with our art to be willing to wait a while for stories to develop. Often, we’re rewarded for that patience in a stories that use that space to build to something that simply isn’t possible in just two or three issues. 13-year-olds don’t have that kind of patience — at least Liefield doesn’t think they do — so instead we get a story that’s mostly exposition.

There was actually a point in the issue where I thought Liefeld was employing a third form of narration; when the border color on Slade’s journal entries arbitrarily changes from black to blue. It seemed weird to me that there would be three kinds of narration — though I guess no weirder than two — but that seemed less weird than this just being a mistake. It turns out, it was just a mistake; I was confused by my commitment to paying attention to details. 13-year-olds don’t care about details — at least Liefield doesn’t think they do — so why the fuck should he? Granted, that mistake could have fallen to the inker, the colorist, or the letterer, but I honestly can’t blame anyone for not caring about these details — their audience obviously doesn’t.

Speaking of details and not respecting his own audience’s intelligence, check out this exchange:

Zealot explains that, because there was a Czarnian below, there’s going to be a lot of blood and carnage; upon seeing that blood and carnage, Slade points out that Lobo seems to cause a lot of blood and carnage. It’s a point that goes utterly without saying, yet Liefeld finds the space for Slade to say it anyway. Also, notice that orange ring on Slade’s right leg in that second panel (the leg that’s not inexplicably smaller than the other)? Notice how it’s absent from the previous image? Throughout the issue, that ring appears, disappears, switches legs, and multiplies to two rings. But I guess that’s a detail, and 13-year-olds don’t care about details.

The funny thing is, I know I’d be able to forgive all of the dumb stuff — all of the needless exposition and the utter disregard for consistency — if the issue was actually enjoyable, but for all the narrative cramming Liefeld does, nothing actually happens here. Slade fights somebody inconsequential, and Lobo steals a guy’s motorcycle. There’s no reason the “cliffhanger” of Lobo getting to “Starpoint one” couldn’t have opened the issue, other than to needlessly draw-out this storyline, which I thought all of this exposition was there to avoid.

But again, I’m unequipped to judge this issue, since I’m not a 13-year-old. That said, I have been a 13-year-old (more recently than old, out-of-touch Rob Liefeld, I might add), and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this issue would have been too dumb AND too boring for me then, too. I’m surprised more 13-year-olds don’t get offended at the incredibly low opinion Liefeld has of them (his standing defense of his comics is that they’re for 13-year-olds, so they don’t have to be good), but then again, I also don’t understand why they keep letting Adam Sandler make movies.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

30 comments on “Deathstroke 10

  1. if you go to Google and type ‘I hate Rob” the first person that comes up is Rob Dyrdek. The second person is Rob Liefeld. That is all.

    • I’m trying to take a as Zen-like an approach to dropping this as possible. It’s pointless to get mad at the guy – he might suck, but so many people suck. The problem is publishing houses and fans keep encouraging this specific writer/artist to make more comics by voting with their CASH. Should the guy know better? Yeah, probably. Should he be less of a dick about his absurd good fortune? Absolutely. Can I ignore him easy? Yes. Yes I can.

  2. I’m dropping this title.

    It used to be an elegant and fun series of explosions and sweet-ass sword fights. Now it is pedantic, dated, and corny. I didn’t even read comics in the 90s, and reading this makes me feel like I’m reading a comic from the 90s.

    I started reading Justice League Dark on the train, and it’s not bad, I think I’m going to make the switch. Do you hear me, Liefeld? I am dropping a book of a character I have grown to LOVE for a batch of characters I know NOTHING about. And I’m HAPPIER FOR IT.

  3. It’s interesting that ROB LIEFELD was the creator whose books got me talking about aesthetics most directly. Maybe it’s because he’s such an outlier for the things we value, or maybe it’s just because there wasn’t much to talk about otherwise, but I wouldn’t have expected that guy to get me thinking about the nature of art and art criticism.

  4. It’s a shame, really; Deathstroke writeups are a big draw to the site, especially 1-6 for some reason. Not a day goes by we don’t get hits for our Deathstroke 1-6 write-up.

    • Dropping Liefeld’s run on Deathstroke may be the most respectful way possible to commemorate Kyle Higgins’ run. I can’t believe how different those two writers are in terms of both skill and engagement with the community.

  5. I also couldn’t believe that my primary complaint of a Rob Liefeld story was that it was boring. I thought there would be all kinds of extreme violence and action, but this issue is boring as shit. I thought most of the Liefeld hate was for his comics being exciting at the expense of being intelligent, but now I think they’re just a toxic combination of dumb AND boring. I bet this is the kind of shit Milhouse reads.

    • Hahaha. “A guy like Liefeld humbles the medium.” Exactly; in the same way atrocities humble our faith in humanity. I’ll certainly agree that the hatred for Liefeld is overblown, but I really can’t understand why people like his comics. They’re just bad.

      • Youngblood isn’t bad; on the contrary, it is one of my favourite comics right now. Surely it’s because Liefeld is not involved in it as a writer: he’s just the (awful) penciller.

        • It’s funny — I guess I find Liefeld’s writing worse than his art, but honestly, neither is ANYWHERE NEAR good enough to make me want to read his comics. I could see putting up with his art if I liked the writing, but I can’t understand why he has fans. It’s weird to me that he could ever be a draw, like people might buy a book because he’s drawing it.

        • I think that even his greatest fans admit his tecnique is awful, but they appreciate him anyway because they like what they find in his pages: some people like body-builders-like superheroes, oversized weapons, 100 % action comics, and so on. They love him because of WHAT he draws, and they like it so much that they forget HOW he draws.

        • I feel strange commenting on how shitty I find Liefeld when I’ve read so little of his work. In fact, I’ve only read issues 9 and 10 of Deathstroke. The argument set forth in that article is that Liefeld may not be the most graceful writer and artists, he imbues his work with a sense of childlike wonder rarely found in comics today. I Vehemently disagree with this statement (again, based solely on the 2 issues of DS I read three months ago). His treatment of Lobo isn’t fun, it isn’t even particularly in-awe of a kick-ass character. It’s just vamping for time with silly characters. Silliness does not equal whimsy. Further, whimsy does not equal value.

          I’m more than happy to challenged on this. If anyone can suggest a Liefeld book or series that will be fun (fun is the only thing I’m asking for – I’ll check my other critical expectations at the door), I’ll cheerful give it an honest try.

        • I’ll tell you what I have just told Drew:
          “Youngblood isn’t bad; on the contrary, it is one of my favourite comics right now. Surely it’s because Liefeld is not involved in it as a writer: he’s just the (awful) penciller.”

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