Becoming political is risky for superhero comics. After all, if gods and supermen are fundamentally benevolent, why can’t they simply scoop up the dictators, stop the wars, invent free energy, and otherwise solve all our problems for us? So for Deathstroke #11 (DC Comics) to not just get political but tackle the thorny problem of violence in Chicago at all puts Priest, Denys Cowan, and Bill Sienkiewicz on shaky ground. But they walk across it elegantly, focusing not on high-minded solutions but the deeper problems.
Priest’s script is anchored, as DC fans may have guessed by the cover, by Jack Ryder. Ryder, a disgraced Jerry Springer-esque tabloid journalist, is in Chicago on the trail of a rumor Deathstroke has been hired by the mothers of Chicago’s youngest victims of violence to start collecting heads. Priest’s script doesn’t avoid the ugly realities of Chicago, which includes police officers willing to throw people under the bus, but it also offers a fast pace and a thorny mystery: Why is Deathstroke suddenly an anti-hero instead of an outright villain?
Cowan, handling pencils, and Sienkiewicz, on inks, meanwhile, deliver a vivid sense of place and a noirish style that carries the story through to a bitter end. Cowan avoids using landmarks, depicting a real city from the ground, while Sienkiewicz’s deep, scratchy inks create a stark tone that demands attention. The ultimate goal here isn’t to tell us how to solve a tough social problem: It’s to force us to consider the human costs, and keep it at the forefront of our minds. It’s a bold move for a character like Deathstroke, one that yields equally bold results.