Deathstroke 0

Today, Shelby and (special guest writer) Kevin Elliott are discussing Deathstroke 0, originally released September 12, 2012. Deathstroke 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Shelby: My first exposure to the man, the myth, the legend that is Rob Liefeld was when he took over Deathstroke from Kyle Higgins at issue 9. Liefeld is the most polarizing writer/artist I have ever encountered. Most of the comic fanbase despises his work, for a number of very valid reasons. He seemingly has no idea what the human body looks like, especially the female body. He cannot draw feet, to the point that his panels are often cropped so that the feet aren’t even pictured. He has no consistency; it is not unusual to see multiple haircuts on a character in one issue, hell, on one page. His writing is sophomoric at best. And yet, the fans of his work are just as rabid in their adoration as the rest of us are in our abhorrence. I have a personal beef with Liefeld, because I was really enjoying this title before he took over and sucked the good out of it. I’m going to try to maintain a professional, objective voice so we can just get through this, but I make no promises.

This issue starts with young Slade, either in the Army or in basic training. It’s unclear. He is under the tutelage of Adeline Kane, who can excel in the field despite having to wear a skirt and heels because she’s a woman. After graduating with honors, Slade joins Team 7, and they’re sent out on some generic mission. Slade, regardless of the fact he is point man and a brilliant tactician is almost immediately shot. He’s rushed to some sort of lab, where doctors save his life, and decide while they’ve got him they might as well alter his genes to enhance his strength, speed, stamina, etc. Adeline and Slade eventually get married and start having babies, which doesn’t really jive with his new role as Deathstroke the Terminator, crazy contract killer. Things go wrong as they are wont to do, and some of Slade’s enemies show up at his house looking for revenge. Adeline and one of his sons are “believed dead.” We all know what that means. He goes on a little murdering spree of his own, losing an eye in the process. Years go by, and all of a sudden Slade receives an orchid in the mail; oh, did I forget to mention it was his wife’s favorite flower? Of course! Adeline and his son Joseph are not dead, and they’re plotting some sort of revenge against the man who endangered them in the first place!

God, I don’t even know where to begin with this title. The writing is boring, cliched, and occasionally doesn’t make sense. The bulk of the story is told through expository boxes instead of actual dialogue, so any information we get is told, not shown. I’m not necessarily complaining, though; if Liefeld understood the concept of show, not tell, we’d have to put up with even more of his art. The inconsistencies are apparent in the writing as well as the art. At one point, Adeline makes the common complaint that the process to jack him up changed his personality, that he wasn’t the man she married. Except he was; they got married after the procedure was done. Liefeld made a point of telling us through her journal-style narration that they grew so much closer as he was recovering from the whole deal. Speaking of that tender moment, can we take a look at this image of them…snuggling, I guess.

The whole page is so bad, let’s take this panel by panel.

Panel 1: I must have missed the scene when they were in a horrible nuclear accident and their bodies were fused together. Neither Adeline nor Slade have a right leg, her right hand appears to be attached to his right arm, and I think his left hand is…I don’t really want to know where.

Panel 2, “Slade finally started smiling again”: He’s demonstrating the new style of smiling, where you turn your mouth down at the corners instead of up. I know it’s remarkably close to a frown, but trust me, he’s smiling. Also, he’s reverse aged nicely; his hair was white on the previous page. Probably doesn’t matter, since it was blond two pages before that.

Panel 3: Through a clever use of women’s clothing and strange flower placement, we don’t have any hands or feet in this panel. Classic Liefeld. Also, those are the angriest harpy bridesmaids I have ever seen.

Look, I could go on and on and on with this. The point I’m trying to make is Rob Liefeld inexplicably makes a living doing something he’s terrible at. I think I can say pretty confidently that this isn’t just a matter of taste; never have I encountered a comic book of such low quality, both in conception and execution. The story is trite; the art is both ugly and poorly drawn. Patrick made the point in his review of Team 7 0 that he felt bad for Liefeld for having the editorial staff muscle in on the universe he was creating with this character. I cannot feel bad for a man who creates a shitty product and then throws a tantrum when he is told he needs to do things differently. If there is something redeemable in this issue that I’m missing, someone let me know; I would love to talk about it in the comments. How about you, Kevin? I think you might hate Liefeld’s work even more than I do, what did you think of this issue?

Kevin: Hate is a strong word, Shelby. Though, after reading this issue, I admit it is close to accurate.

I’ve been familiar with Liefeld’s work for over twenty years. The love/HATE relationship began back when I was a thirteen year old fanboy rushing out to Arcade Comics in Menomonee Falls, WI to purchase Youngblood #1. Before that, I was pretty strictly an X-title reader as far as the major publishers went. Unbeknownst to me, Liefeld’s work had already begun tainting my teenage bloodstream through X-Force, but it wasn’t until the major announcement of Image as a new competitor in the 90’s comic book arena that I started paying attention to artists, writers, and creators. For better or worse, Liefeld helped set the stage for what was arguably one of the best decades of comic books during my lifetime so far.

I was an Image junkie, Spawn, The Maxx, and Shadowhawk being some of my favorites (Shadowhawk, it should be noted, made his Image debut in Youngblood #2). I spent a large portion of my paper route money on Image titles back then, so that means Youngblood and Rob’s work were a significant part of my formative years. It’s a miracle my taste made it out alive. Youngblood, as we all now know, was a testosterone fueled jumble of recycled X-Plots with bigger muscles, tragically drawn foot-stubs, and the kind of femininity that was meant to give every pubescent boy a tingling feeling, though even I knew that women didn’t have the body proportions of a Barbie doll/watermelon love child.

The thing is — and I’ll get to this issue in a second, I promise — I want to like Rob Liefeld. For all of his faults (and there are so, so many), the man admits he isn’t even that good. He has been quoted numerous times as being a workhorse who rode the zeitgeist and helped change the game. I hate to admit it, but that’s fair. Still, Rob Liefeld is no Guided by Voices or James Patterson. I mean, some of my favorite comic writers like Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis built their careers out of the coal mines of hack-and-slash violence fests and shock-and-awful throwaways, but at least they dig deep every once in a while to produce a diamond. I have yet to see even a dusty quartz pendant from Rob Liefeld, and this sorry excuse for a comic book isn’t even the dust tap from his miner’s boot.

Deathstroke #0 reads like a MadLib for comic origin stories. It’s basically split up into three acts:

I. Physical/Mental prodigy excels at something (military achievement and brute force)

II. Prodigy cum hero falls from grace and is experimented on (wounded in battle, transformed into super-soldier)

III. Super-soldier battles with humanity, becomes mercenary, revisits humanity only to see family die, reaffirms inhuman goal to blow shit up and shoot the villain of the week.

The tragedy in this episode is thick and hackneyed. I assume there must have been a winning eBay bid on the complete DVD set of Thirtysomething in Liefeld-land during the three hours it took him to scratch out the detached box-text narration Shelby mentioned above. There is a section nearly 2/3 of the way through this issue where he throws in a miniature domestic spat between Slade and Adeline that fizzles like most of the foot illustrations here.

Textbook-soap-opera-emotional-pap aside, I’m not against trashy entertainment by any stretch of the imagination; I just have standards for my trash-ertainment. Obviously, Liefeld does not.  If you are going to write low-brow, throwaway, agro comics, at least get your characterization and plot flow right! In addition to the comical attempts to create a strong female character that can tame Slade/Deathstroke/Terminator/HairDyes, Liefeld can’t even keep his obviously bulleted outline consistent. Witness these three panel sets below, taken from pages 4, 5, and 6.

In the span of three pages, not only did Liefeld forget that Slade willingly accepted the tutelage of someone else, but we are expected to forget too. I suppose this is just further proof that dialogue is meaningless in Liefeld’s world. Let’s hope none of Slade’s future enemies have the ability to hit three stationary wooden targets with a firearm, he’d have to change his codename to S.O.L.

Deathstroke #0 fails on nearly all levels of storytelling. Even the thirteen-year-old version of myself found this to be disappointing on all levels. Though, Liefeld seems to have improved his female waist proportion skills. There’s something. You gotta hand it to ol’ Rob: he writes comics.

…and I didn’t even mention the number of gratuitous male crotch-shots drawn in this thing. I consider that an achievement. For me, not Liefeld.

Kevin Elliott is the Bookstore Manager of Open Books, Chicago’s first nonprofit literacy bookstore (www.open-books.org). He gave up his single issues in the late nineties, but still enjoys a healthy diet of graphic novels with his highfalutin’ literature. If you doubt he is a real person, start a conversation with him on twitter @KevinElliottChi.

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?

33 comments on “Deathstroke 0

  1. I can see the appeal of Liefeld to 13-year-old boys in the 90s. Not the men those boys grew up to be, not 13-year-old boys now: 13-year-old boys in the 90s.

    Does anybody know, is Justin Jordan taking over Deathstroke for issue 13, or is he not on ’til #15?

  2. Kevin, thanks for writing with us man. We’ve had so much ire directed at Rob Liefeld around here lately. All of it is justified, of course. He’s a terrible writer and artist, and a cantankerous asshole to boot. But he obviously is/was a force in the industry, and we don’t always need to attack him like he’s Comic Hitler. There are so many other asshats making shitty superhero comics right now, so why do we make Liefeld’s name a four-letter word?

  3. Oh god. I didn’t read this issue (for good reason), but guys, honestly, some of these panels you posted are COPIED EXACTLY from 1984’s Tales of the Teen Titans #44, the very first telling of Deathstroke’s origin. Except, of course, THESE are Rob Liefeld copying and redrawing the work of GEORGE FRIGGIN PEREZ, so there’s a huge difference in quality.

    Also, despite copying panels completely and basically recycling Deathstroke’s origin, LIEFELD CHANGED THE MOST INTERESTING PARTS. In the original origin Slade wasn’t given the serum after almost dying: he VOLUNTEERED to take it because he was a dedicated soldier and patriot. Afterwards he was kicked out of the army, according to them, because of the volitale mood swings it gave him, but he was actually kicked out because he disobeyed orders to rescue the life of his friend Wintergreen (who then served as Slade’s faithful butler the rest of his life). After getting kicked out of the army Slade was aimless until he, unknown to his wife, became the mercenary Deathstroke the Terminator. Unfortunately, one of Slade’s enemies kidnapped his son Joseph, and Slade was forced to reveal his identity to Adeline when they went to rescue Joe. Slade’s enemy had Joseph captive, with a knife to his throat, demanding information on Slade’s most recent employer, but Slade refused, saying his word was his bond, and attacked the enemy and all his men killing him; but Slade wasn’t fast enough to stop them from starting to slit Joe’s throat, and even though he survived, his vocal cords were forever severed. Furious, Adeline divorced him, but when that wasn’t enough, she attempted to kill him. Ambushing him when his back was turned and taking a head shot, it was only Slade’s superhuman reflexes that saved his life; she suceeded only in shooting out one of his eyes. Although Adeline kept tabs on him after that, she never again tried to kill him.

    Yeah, that’s a much more interesting, plus the stuff that was the same had Adeline as a much more complex character and was much better drawn.

    Honestly, this is the thing that has probably made me the angriest out of the entire reboot. Superman and Wonder Woman dating? It won’t last. Tim Drake was always Red Robin? Whatever. Amanda Waller isn’t fat anymore? Well, that’s frustrating. ROB FRIGGIN LIEFELD COPIES GEORGE PEREZ’S PANELS WHILE CHANGING THE MOST INTERESTING PARTS OF THE ORIGIN?! Yeah, now I’m pissed

    • Yeah, the way Slade lost his eye in this issue was in a random fight, almost as an afterthought.

      And how does Rose fit in to the picture? She’s Slade’s daughter, right? Honestly, Slade Wilson and Buddy Baker are on the opposite ends of the family man spectrum.

      • So, BEFORE the reboot, Slade and Adeline had two sons, Grant Wilson (who was the first villain to call himself the Ravager, and died in “The New Teen Titans #2”), and Joseph Wilson (who eventually became the Titan known as Jericho). Rose was Slade’s illegitimate daughter that he had with a woman named Sweet Lili Worth, and they didn’t meet until Rose was into her early teens.

        I have no idea what the deal is here in the reboot, what with Rose running around with NOWHERE in the Superboy and Ravagers books. I wouldn’t be surprirsd if she and Joe were Slade and Adeline’s children now and Grant was ignored completely, but that’s not canon, just me guessing, so don’t quote that. I have no idea where Rose actually fits in on the Wilson family tree in the DCNU

        • Grant was actually featured pretty heavily in Higgins’s run on Deathstroke, which is totally worth reading. It’s worth picking up in trade, if you’re a fan of the character.

        • So Grant is an adult now, but is a small child when Slade starts being Deathstroke (which is apparently after Team 7 was formed) as in less than 5 years ago. If they’re going to change his origin, wouldn’t it make sense to at least try to make it line up with the five year rule?

        • In issue 1, Grant was already an adult who had spent time as Ravager and had died; I really don’t know how these timelines are supposed to fit together.

        • someone needs to Retcon the fuck out of Liefeld’s Deathstroke run. Perhaps they can call Rob in to plot one last book that explains how issues 0,9-14 are all part of some fever dream side effect of the serum. Or… we could just photoshop a picture of Liefeld banging Larry Hagman in a shower “it was just a dream Wilson…”

        • I think I might just pick that up, thanks for the reccomendation! I’m actually [pleasantly] surprised that Grant was featured so heavily; he’s always been the forgotten Wilson child. The poor kid died in his first appearance!

    • Funny thing is this I remember WAAAAY back when Liefeld got in trouble for “his” cover of New Mutants #99. It was a direct lift of John Bryne’s cover from X-Men #138. Liefeld was forced to change his trademark signature to include the text “After Byrne” to avoid litigation.

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