May. 8th, 2017

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So after seeing the list of Eisner nominations, I grabbed a bunch of them from the library. I do this with a lot of nomination lists, and it usually leads to some good reads, like Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathizer: A Novel (which I read when it was shortlisted for an Edgar, before it had won either that award or the slightly more famous award it pulled in later). I'll occasionally find a book I bounce off of, but rarely one I actively dislike.

"Rarely," of course, doesn't mean "never."

For some reason, in the "Best New Series" category, mixed in with Simone's Clean Room (which is fantastic and often disturbing in the best possible way), Houser's Faith (which is a blast), and Cain's Mockingbird (which is a must-read if you were a fan of '80s West Coast Avengers or of Fraction's Hawkeye run), is Christopher Priest's Deathstroke: Rebirth.

This book is the offspring of a hot mess and a flaming bag of dogshit, people.

First, let's start with the obvious problem. Deathstroke/Slade makes a terrible lead character. DC's been trying to make him work as a lead since the early '90s, and it's failed so miserably he might as well be named "Fetch." It's not surprising. He's a great supporting character, but by his very nature, is one who can't sustain a book. He's a villain (albeit one with some familial ties to super heroes), for starters. There are plenty of folks who are antiheroes, or morally-challenged, who sustain books (Punisher, Deadpool, John Constantine, Catwoman, etc), but they almost all have to be drawn somewhat back over the line from true villainy to make them work. The occasionally team book like Secret Six or Suicide Squad lets villains work as a group, but for the most part, villains work best as supporting characters, with the occasional focus issue to humanize them. Whenever DC tries to make Deathstroke a lead, it forces the character to be softened, or for us to root for someone we can't realistically engage with. And in the end, there's very little story to tell around his actual villainy, meaning we're stuck time and again with stories about his family (most of whom are also awful characters not meant to get much screen time).

That's the core of the problem, and while Christopher Priest has done some great stuff in the past (I like his Black Panther run a lot more than the current one by Ta-Nahisi Coates, for example), he falls into the trap here. We get Deathstroke's origin for the zillionth time, drawn out over multiple issues, complete with all the usual beats -- his son nearly getting killed, his long-lost daughter from an affair, etc -- but minus the verve with which Marv Wolfman first told it in the '80s. We get a bunch of standard fights and combat missions (including the most ridiculous and ludicrous opening issue, in which there's are multiple sets of supposedly predictable betrayals by an African warlord, a D-list Batman villain (Clock King), and Slade himself that are somehow designed to get Slade to trade out his outfit for a different one at the cost of dozens of lives in an act of manipulation that nonsensical even by comic standards). We get silly super-hero battles that rely on both Deathstroke and Batman having so many layered plans-within-plans that it reads like Vizzini going on his poison-detecting rant in Princess Bride.

There's also the supporting cast, which here consists of Wintergreen (Slade's ever-loyal companion, a former British SAS agent who now, as in most previous incarnations, seems to exist mainly as a combination manservant/sidekick with little agency of his own); a hacker whose name I've already forgotten but who is the generic Remote Hacker archetype who can do anything*; and Rose (AKA Ravager, the aforementioned daughter from Slade's affair with a Hmong woman -- to the book's credit, the racial erasure that was performed on the character in New 52 has been undone here, although there are a few problematic things involving the origin here).

And Rose, dear god, is so much of the problem here. See, she's working as a bouncer in a strip club -- a bouncer and not a dancer, of course, because she should be a sexy character but that would be going too far (ETA: Per textual reading, not my own opinion, of course). But also, she tells her dad (who she hasn't seen in years and who, incidentally, she caught spying on her as she woke up that morning, which is CREEPY AS FUCK), she's not actually having sex with her live-in boyfriend with whom she sleeps. See, they literally just live and sleep together, because it's about "owning" her sexuality. Which, you know, could be a thing in the right circumstances (I mean, if they'd pitched this as her being asexual but romantic, sure), but everything about their relationship (including their flirting by text) is that of a sexually active couple, but more fucking importantly, WHY THE FUCK WOULD SHE TELL HER DAD THIS ANYWAY? Her estranged dad, but it wouldn't be his business if they were having dinner nightly.

Oh, but it gets worse, because Slade then casually comments that she's "blue-balling" her boyfriend. OH JOHN RINGO CHRISTOPHER PRIEST NO.

Seriously. I have no idea of Priest has any kids, but actually, yeah, I'm pretty sure he doesn't, nor has he ever seen parents interacting with their adult female children.

Oh, and as a little lagniappe (although one that comes before that scene), when Wintergreen and Rose see each other, the former tells her that he's "had a crush on you since I first met you." They first met when Rose was 11 and Wintergreen was in his late-forties or so (and also right after she shot and crippled one of Slade and Wintergreen's buddies). Welp.

Anyway, the book sucks, both because of how fucking creepy it is, and because it's mediocre even without the creepy factor. It's literally the only bad choice in its category this year, which means it'll probably win because the world sucks.

*In fact, if any single fucking trope needs to die a fiery death, it's the Magic Hacker. At this point, there are roughly four zillion people in the DCU who are on a par with Oracle at her prime, and the use of Magic Hacking is just some of the laziest shit imaginable. This is more than a DCU problem, of course, but it really has to fucking stop.

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