Overview: In the explosive conclusion of Deathstroke vs. Batman, all the deeds of the past come home to roost.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead): Decades ago, young Bruce Wayne spelunks in the catacombs below his home, as Alfred admonishes him over the radio. In the present, Alfred’s words ring in Batman’s ears as he wakes up, bandaged, next to Deathstroke, in those same caves. Waking Slade with a jolt of electricity from his gauntlets, the two begin to fight but realizing it’s useless, they help each other up and stagger towards freedom.
Alfred and Wintergreen, in a shadowy recording, reveal their involvement in the chaos that’s engulfed both of their masters for the past weeks – to force them both into a timeout together, hopefully, to cause a re-assessment of their current paths and a moderation of their intensity. Slade and Bruce analyze the situation – locked in the caves with fifteen minutes before Batman’s security protocols flood the premises with knockout gas, exit from the Manor impossible because of the Federal agents currently investigating Bruce (thanks to Slade’s plan). Batman reveals that he knows who planted the fake DNA results that started this all.
Years before, during the events leading up to Batman RIP, Tim Drake found the DNA tests linking Deathstroke to Damian and recorded the video Damian found after his “death”. A few days ago, Bruce told Alfred of the video, and that he knows Tim would never falsify Damian’s parentage, even though he was hurt by the events leading to the new Robin. Bruce tells Alfred he hates Slade, but still doesn’t reveal the origin of the DNA results.
Just outside of Gotham, a car hits a biker, who turns out to be Joseph (Jericho), Slade’s son. Using his mind-control powers, he possesses the driver, an FBI agent on the way to Wayne Manor.
Batman and Deathstroke come to a crevasse and use Slade’s titanium rocket-staff to lower themselves to the ground. On the way down, Batman, still keeping the secret of the DNA, tells Slade how proud he is of Robin, and that Deathstroke doesn’t want to screw up another promising boy like he did his own children – and finally revealing his belief that Adeline Kane, Slade’s ex-wife, is behind the DNA plant – but Slade blacks out because of his concussion before they land on the ground.
Joseph, controlling the FBI agent, asks Wintergreen how he could help. He convinces the other agents that the FISA warrant has been vacated by a court order, and they leave Wayne Manor in peace, allowing Damian and Dick to rush into the cave to find the two enemies. After yanking their chain and pretending Batman is dead, Slade tells Damian to never forget that whether they admit it or not, fathers need their sons. Over comms, Jericho hears this from his own father, before flying back to his mother.
Bruce confronts Adeline while disguised as Deathstroke, and discovers that it was actually Talia, who boasts of faking the DNA results long ago, as part of a plot to entice Slade to join her. Slade reveals that after he accidentally fathered Rose, he fixed himself so he could never make the same mistake.
At Wayne Manor, Bruce and Alfred receive the new DNA results. Bruce throws them in the fire, declaring that biology or not, Damian is his son. Alfred attempts to explain his plan with Wintergreen, but Bruce assures him he understands that Alfred was just looking out for him, as he always has.
The flames reveal to the reader, but not to Bruce, that Damian is indeed the son of Batman.
Analysis: After six months (plus the three months prior to the release of Deathstroke #30, due to solicitations), the question everyone was asking has been answered: Bruce, not Slade, is Damian’s father. But honestly, everyone who thought for a few seconds knew this would happen. Despite Priest’s protestations to the contrary, DC editorial would never let someone overturn the foundation for Damian’s ten-year existence. That being said, the fundamental joys of Priest’s run on Deathstroke has never been the solutions to his complex, twisty plots, but instead the delight of his dark, cynical, but tragic and noble characterization of family ties, and the sheer delight of seeing Deathstroke cause trouble for everyone around him – in this case, Batman, who causes just as much trouble back. The spy vs. spy interplay between two master planners – especially when you realize that Slade knew he couldn’t be Damian’s father all along because he removed that possibility long before the boy was conceived, and was just trying to mess with Batman’s head (quite effectively) – provided endless mirth and action sequences.
Priest masterfully uses parallels in this issue’s flashbacks – realizing that young Bruce looks almost exactly like Damian is just one element of the careful construction he’s created with artist Carlo Pagulayan to make the final reveal feel fresh but also inevitable. The way he forces Bruce and Slade to work together, after fighting rather brutally while already dangerously injured, shows exactly why Alfred and Wintergreen felt they had to intervene and moderate both Slade and Bruce’s actions and attitudes. Just as in the first battle in issue #30, the action sequence concludes with Slade and Batman falling from a great height together, and one helping the other up.
Finally, having Slade deliver the message of it all – fathers need their sons – hits home just as effectively as Tom King’s more idealistic portrayal of Bruce and Dick’s relationship in this week’s Batman #54. Though King’s story shows the pain that binds Bruce and Dick together, the grit and fallibility of Priest’s characterization of his families help build the impact of seeing two men who are normally unable to express the deep love they have for their sons finally crack the smallest bit and reveal that depth.
Next month, Deathstroke: Arkham picks up where issue #29 left off, and we’ll be here to cover it. Same Bat-time, same Bat-site!
Final Thoughts: Priest and Pagulayan have created a sturdy, beautifully crafted examination of who Deathstroke and Batman are that ought to provide a model for writers in the years to come.