Review – Deathstroke #36: Welcome to Arkham

Comic Books DC This Week
Deathstroke #36 cover, credit to DC Comics.

Deathstroke #36 – Priest, Writer; Ed Benes, Fernando Pasarin, Pencillers; Richard Friend, Jason Paz, Wade Von Grawbadger, Inkers; Jeromy Cox, Colorist

Ratings: Ray – 9.5/10

Corrina: So *Much* Happens In Slade’s Head

Ray: The interesting thing about the launch of this new arc of Deathstroke is that we’re picking up on the series’ ongoing plots six months since we last saw them. Priest took an extended break from his main narrative for Deathstroke vs. Batman, which was a flashback story set while Tim Drake was presumed dead. But when we last left Deathstroke, he was a broken man – beaten by his former friend Dr. Isherwood, betrayed by his ex-wife, and left a prisoner in the notorious Arkham Asylum.

When we meet him again, he’s in the middle of a brutal jailhouse brawl with famous Batman villains including Dr. Destiny, Mr. Zsasz, and Mr. Freeze – or is he? The scene shifts in a mind-bending way, ending with a graphic act of violence – until Slade wakes up, stripped of his weapons, in an Arkham cell with only his vision of Wintergreen for company. And so begins Slade’s journey to mental wellness – at least that’s what Arkham is advertising. Priest is known for breaking down the tropes of the DCU, and they don’t get any more flawed than the mess of a mental health system in Gotham.

As Slade tries to figure out his situation and if there’s a way out, it becomes clear that he’s far from the only inmate who is trapped in this confusing mess. All the villains he encountered in the opening segment are in there as well, also stripped of their powers. Arkham is experimenting with a new therapy system – group therapy done entirely through virtual reality, allowing the inmates to meet without ever putting anyone in danger. While this is going on, Slade isn’t the only member of his family struggling with mental health issues. Rose is still struggling with her dual identity of “Willow”, going out at night to find gangs and collapsing in her home seriously injured. While Jericho on the outside works with Hosun to break his father out, Slade isn’t willing to wait – he teams up with a mysterious new inmate named Devon to mount an escape. Devon, the Harley Quinn-loving enigma, is an amusing new addition to the series, but before the issue ends we’ve got one more bizarre twist waiting for us. Although the previous event arc was a lot of fun, it’s great to have this title back to its bread and butter.

Deathstroke #36
This might make sense in context. Maybe. Credit to DC Comics.

Corrina: We’ve seen Arkham before. We’ve seen Bat-villains before. And we’ve seen Slade escape before.

But we haven’t seen anything quite like this.

Slade’s head is a terrifying place and even he knows it. The progression of Slade from a near-sociopathic villain to someone questioning his own sanity has played out over Priest’s run until Slade finally ended up in a place for the criminally insane after his closest friend gave up on trying to reach him. That leaves Slade with the Wintergreen mirage in his head.

Is the young Wintergreen real? Neither Slade or the reader has any idea and that is part of what makes this issue so compelling.

Slade beating up on people is the least interesting thing he can do–which is probably why Priest makes that part all a dream. It’s also why, while Slade talks with all manner of dangerous people, he hardly leaves his cell. The virtual reality counseling is a touch of genius and it’s one of the few times we see doctors trying to help the Arkham inmates instead of simply locking them into rubber rooms. (Heck, there is more therapy here than over in Heroes in Crisis #1).

And, yes, it gets bizarre at the end but I’m not entirely convinced what is real and what isn’t real. We’ll see, next issue.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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