Villain Spotlight: Deathstroke

 

Nightwing vol. 2 #82

Across Dick Grayson's history, few villains have had true staying power with him. He hasn't had his Joker or Lex Luthor yet, though a few have come close. The most notable among these is Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke the Terminator, a mercenary for hire who has clashed with the Teen Titans, Titans, and Nightwing many times over the years. In this spotlight, I will explain the history between these two characters, and show how they went from strangers, to enemies with a begrudging respect, to the closest thing the other has to a true nemesis. Nightwing and Deathstroke have each played parts in some of the greatest losses in the other's life, and it has led to one of the biggest grudges in comics.

Dick Grayson and Deathstroke first met in 1980's The New Teen Titans #2, when Dick was still Robin. The Villainous organization HIVE wanted to hire Slade to eliminate the Teen Titans, but he disagreed with the terms, and refused. To manipulate him into taking on the contract, HIVE recruited Slade's oldest son, Grant, and pumped him up with enhancements similar to Slade's. 

The New Teen Titans #2

The New Teen Titans #2

After being enhanced by HIVE, Grant took on the name Ravager, and attacked Cyborg. In their fight, his powers began to kill him, as they were drawing on his life energy. Slade saved him, and warned of what would happen if he kept using his powers.

The New Teen Titans #2

Grant did not listen to Slade, and chose to attack the Titans again. Slade joined in, but using his powers was too much for Grant, and he died in Slade's arms. After this, Slade blamed the Titans for Grant's death, and took on HIVE's contract to finish what his son couldn't.


The New Teen Titans #2

The New Teen Titans #2

The New Teen Titans #2

After these events, Slade spent the next 20 or so issues investigating the Titans, and occasionally clashing with them. Eventually, Tara Markov, a.k.a. Terra, joined the team as his double agent, so that he could learn even more about them, including their secret identities.

The New Teen Titans #10

The New Teen Titans #34


After Tara had been embedded in the team long enough, and Slade had enough information on their personal lives, he enacted his plan to capture them all. He struck when they were at home, or working their civilian jobs, when they were isolated and unsuspecting. Dick, who had recently taken time off from leading the team and quit being Robin, was the last person Slade went after.

Tales of the Teen Titans #42

Despite being the only non-powered Titan, Dick is the only one to escape Slade, and Slade remarks that it's because Dick is the leader, the best. This begins a long trend of a mutual respect between Dick and Slade. Their relationship is antagonistic, but they acknowledge how skilled the other is. 

Tales of the Teen Titans #42

Tales of the Teen Titans #42

After escaping Slade, Dick makes his way through New York, investigating the last known location of each Titan, discovering how Slade captured them, and realizing he's the last one standing. He makes his way to Titans Tower last, where he sees the result of a battle involving Terra and Raven. Here Adeline Kane (Slade's ex-wife) and Joseph Wilson (Slade's younger son) find him and tell him about Terra's betrayal and that Slade has brought the Titans to HIVE. Dick doesn't trust them at first, but Adeline explains her history with Slade, his origin, and the incident that led to their split and the loss of Joseph's voice. After this, Dick dons the Nightwing costume for the first time, and Joseph reveals his powers of possession and puts on his Jericho costume, offering to help Dick save the rest of the Titans.

Tales of the Teen Titans #43

Tales of the Teen Titans #44

In the following issue, Nightwing and Jericho infiltrate HIVE's base to save the Titans. They manage to sneak in and take down several guards, but are eventually captured by Terra. While this is occurring, Slade is wishing that the whole ordeal was over so that he could get out. At this stage in his career, Slade is characterized as an amoral mercenary, but not a super villain.

Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3

When Slade goes into the main chamber, where the Titans are held in a "Wheel of Power," it is revealed that Nightwing and Jericho have been captured. Slade is shocked to hear this, and even more shocked to see his son among the Titans. He begins to make a deal to have Joseph released, but before he can Joseph uses his powers to possess Slade, and release the Titans. It's worth noting that Slade chooses not to resist when he realizes what is happening.

Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3

Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3

Tales of the Teen Titans Annual #3

In the resulting battle, most of the HIVE base is destroyed, Terra is killed, and Slade surrenders. It's one of the most traumatic fights the Titans had been involved in to that point, and it takes a toll on all of them, particularly Changeling/Garfield Logan, who had grown close to Terra, and Jericho, who did not want to fight his father. In the resulting trial, Slade's lawyers are able to get Slade acquitted of the charges of kidnapping and murder, though are not able to prevent the Judge from sending him to jail for illegal possession of firearms, though he's released in the following issue after Gar tries to kill him. 

Tales of the Teen Titans #54

After Slade's release, he and Changeling have a frank discussion in a diner, where Slade explains that Terra was using him as much as he was using her, and that she truly hated both him and the Titans. He also shows his respect for Gar and the Titans, and says that he's glad his son is with them, and that he's done hunting them.

Tales of the Teen Titans #55

After this, the Titans and Deathstroke don't interact for a while. Several years later though, the Titans are tracked down and captured by a new antagonist, the Wildebeest Society. Steve Dayton, Gar's guardian, hires Slade to find and rescue the Titans.

The New Titans #71

Over the next several issues, Slade and other Titans associates clash with the Wildebeest Society, while Dick goes undercover with them to learn more. He is eventually discovered however, and beaten. Wildebeest number one says that he'd wanted all the Titans captured alive, except for Nightwing, who he considered the most dangerous.

The New Titans #75

Dick is able to get free for a moment when Wildebeest One shows him the other Titans in cryogenic stasis, and remove Wildebeest's helmet. At the same time, Deathstroke has infiltrated the Wildebeest base, and arrives in the same room just as Wildebeest is unmasked, revealing Jericho (who can talk now), apparently a traitor.

The New Titans #75

Slade and Nightwing are able to escape, and rejoin the other new Titans who have stepped up in the main team's absence. Over the next several issues, the Titans Tower is destroyed, Cyborg is badly damaged and loses most of his personality, and Joseph's plan takes shape. It is revealed that after the Titans' second battle with Trigon, the souls of the people of Azarath (the realm Raven's power comes from) merged with Trigon, and were formless until they possessed Jericho, whose body and powers were uniquely suited to them. They then used him to create the Wildebeest Society and capture the other Titans, to put them in a transference machine so that they could possess all of them. Their presence in Jericho's body is causing him to quickly deteriorate, and in a moment of him seizing control during the final battle, he asks Slade to kill him. Slade realizes it's the only way to stop Jericho and save the Titans, so he does it.


The New Titans #83


The New Titans #83

Following these events, the Titans each take time to recover and grapple with all that's happened. In The New Titans #86, Dick returns to the island where Titans Tower had been, and encounters Slade. He blames Slade for what happened with Jericho, and hates him for killing Joseph. They fight (though Slade mostly lets Dick wear himself out), and talk about what's happened.


The New Titans #86

After this, things continue to go downhill for Dick and the Titans. Eventually, he leaves the team and begins operating more regularly in Gotham, even becoming Batman for a while after Azrael proves unfit. Slade and Dick don't encounter each other again for years, and the next time is after both have undergone a costume change, and Dick has moved to Blüdhaven. This encounter places them at odds, as Slade has been hired to capture Man-Bat/Kirk Langstrom, while Dick is trying to protect him. They don't have much of a personal discussion in this encounter, but it does establish a more competitive dynamic between the two. Dick is fast enough to keep Slade on his toes and still rescue Man-Bat, but he also knows sticking around for a pitched battle is a bad idea. Slade, on the other hand, isn't particularly interested in killing Dick, and just wants to get his paycheck for capturing Man-Bat.

Nightwing vol. 2 #18

Nightwing vol. 2 #18

Nightwing vol. 2 #18

Several months later, Dick and Slade run into each other again when Slade collapses on the new Titans' doorstep. Slade was being hunted down by members of a group called Tartarus, which was run by Vandal Savage, the immortal. Slade tells the team that he'd been hired to stop Savage, and needs their help to finish the job. It's also revealed that Slade has recently become immortal, as has his ex-wife, Adeline. Nightwing allows the team to work with Slade, giving him an old costume to replace his damaged one, but lets Slade know that just because they're working together, doesn't mean he trusts him.

The Titans #10

Part of this incarnation of Titans are new members who remain relatively untested, and Slade and Dick have a few moments where their shared history and respect for one another's skills comes through, despite their dislike of one another. Slade even comes off similarly to Batman, much to Dick's annoyance.

The Titans #10

The Titans #10

Despite offering the Titans' help, Dick is firm on his no-kill rule, and threatens to abandon Slade to Tartarus and HIVE if he kills anyone. 

The Titans #10

During the battle, Slade slips away and finds that his ex-wife, Adeline (who due to a blood transfusion is also immortal) has been captured by Vandal Savage and Tartarus, and had her throat slit (though she isn't dead yet). They attempt to use her to tempt Cyborg into helping them (as she could be used to build him a new body), but before anyone can make a decision, Starfire kills her to end her suffering. This devastates Slade, and he is left at the end of the battle holding Adeline's ashes.

The Titans #12

The Titans #12

After these events, Slade has a few more altercations with the Titans (namely Roy Harper), and attempts to return to his life as a mercenary. The next time he encounters Nightwing, he's taken on a contract to kill Amy Rohrbach of the Blüdhaven Police, who happens to be Dick's former police partner. Out of respect to Nightwing, and appreciation for his friendship to Jericho, he informs him that he's operating in his city, but won't tell him who he's after. He even asks what it'll take to get Dick not to interfere, knows Dick will say killing him, and hopes he'll reconsider.
Nightwing vol. 2 #80

After this encounter, Dick thinks to himself that Slade is his responsibility, and that he isn't willing to put anyone else in the line of fire. They clash a few times over the following days, and Slade even has the opportunity to kill Dick, but doesn't. Dick sees him near the police station and tries to stop him, but Slade defeats him, all while trying to talk Dick out of interfering. In the clash, Dick is shot and has to go to the hospital. While there, he asks Cassandra Cain/Batgirl to keep an eye out and help him out with Slade while he recovers.

Nightwing vol. 2 #80

Nightwing vol. 2 #81

Slade and Cass get in a fight while she's trying to learn who he's after. She hold her own until he pulls the pin on a grenade, forcing her to retreat. She was able to snag a disc with surveillance info Slade had been collecting. This disc reveals that Slade is after Amy Rohrbach. Dick rushes to the police station to warn her, and while she's leaving Slade tries to kill her. In the ensuing fight, Amy is able to get away, but Dick is knocked out by Slade.

Nightwing vol. 2 #82

Nightwing vol. 2 #82

Nightwing vol. 2 #82

When Dick comes to, Amy and her husband get a motel room to hide out from Deathstroke, while Dick investigates who could've paid Slade, and how much. He discovers that Arnot, a corrupt captain, paid Slade 30,000 dollars to have Amy assassinated, so he confronts Slade with 30,000 dollars and one dollar, fifty cents, to not kill Amy. Miraculously, Slade accepts.

Nightwing vol. 2 #82
Nightwing vol. 2 #82

After this, Dick and Slade don't interact for another few months. Dick's life begins to collapse, as Blockbuster discovers his identity. Donna Troy, one of Dick's best friends, is killed in a battle, his apartment building is blown up, killing most of his civilian friends, he goes homeless and injured for an extended period of time, is shot in the leg, has a mental breakdown, feels responsible for Tarantula's murder of Blockbuster, and is sexually assaulted. While all of that is happening, Slade starts to descend more towards a path of villainy. He clashes with the Teen Titans, has to deal with the soul of Jericho possessing him, reunites with and begins training his daughter Rose, and joins The Secret Society of Super Villains, a group of villains that teamed up in the lead-up to Infinite Crisis. After all the events of Dick's life, he cuts all contact with his family and friends, goes by the nickname "Crutches," joins the Blüdhaven mob, and uses a new, red costume and the name Renegade instead of Nightwing. It's at this point that Slade once again tracks him down, and asks him to train Rose. Dick is in more of a negative headspace at this time, and you can see it in both his reluctance to train Rose, trying to convince Slade he's a "bad guy" now, and his cutting remark about Grant and Joseph.

Nightwing vol. 2 #112

Nightwing vol. 2 #112

Over the next several issues Dick and Rose work together, him teaching her about fighting, strategy, and detective work, while also insisting that she not kill and follow his rules. He's gruff, but his lessons take. Meanwhile, she's spying on him for Slade, looking for any leverage to use against him, as neither of them believe Dick has really gone over to the dark side. While they work together, Dick slowly starts to turn her towards the light, instilling a morality that Slade doesn't have. They have an encounter with Superman that ends in a fight (though they manage to escape because of the kryptonite implanted in Rose's eye). Despite, to his eyes, Dick being a villain now and a major threat, Superman chooses to save endangered civilians, allowing them to escape. This is when Rose begins to really turn away from Slade's teachings.

Nightwing vol. 2 #112

Nightwing vol. 2 #115

Nightwing vol. 2 #115

Dick also uses his time training Rose to investigate The Society, who Slade is working with. He uses this to further illustrate to Rose the dangers of working with villains. Eventually, the tension between the three of them comes to a head after Dick and Rose's confrontation with Superman. Deathstroke threatens to kill Dick, but Dick makes a counter-offer that if Slade stays out of Blüdhaven, and keeps his meta-villain allies out of Blüdhaven, Dick will do the same with the heroes, along with organized crime and the corrupt police. Dick has spent the past months making deals and manipulating people so that he can finally save Blüdhaven from all those who would damage it or take advantage of it. In return, Dick will stop training Rose and turning her against Slade, though her conversion is already mostly complete, especially after Dick mentions kryptonite poisoning. But if Slade kills him, that clinches Rose's conversion to the good side. Slade lets him go, but not before threatening him. From this point, Slade's feelings towards Dick are more hate-filled than the previous respectful antagonism. This is also when Dick stops being Renegade and goes back to Nightwing.



Nightwing vol. 2 #115

Unfortunately, Dick didn't fully comprehend the levels of destruction the Secret Society of Super Villains were willing to go to. Less than 36 hours after his confrontation with Slade, Chemo is dropped on Blüdhaven, turning it into a radioactive nightmare and killing over 100,000 people. Slade personally chose Blüdhaven to make an example of Nightwing, and as revenge for betraying him and trying to turn his daughter against him. 

Infinite Crisis #4

Infinite Crisis #4

Luckily, Dick wasn't in the city proper when Chemo hit, and survives the initial blast. Despite Superman trying to stop him (because of the excess radiation), Dick goes into the city to save as many people as he can, thinking about how he never expected something like this from Slade.

Nightwing vol. 2 #116

Nightwing vol. 2 #116

Dick manages to coordinate first responders to save as many people as he can, and saves Amy Rohrbach and her family, but eventually collapses from the chemical fumes and burns. He's saved by Batman, and they have a frank conversation about how many brushes with death Dick has had lately, and that Dick has lost sight of the value of his own life. After Dick gets enough rest to get back out there, he prepares to go fight in the events of Infinite Crisis, but not before he tracks down Deathstroke.

In this fight with Slade, Dick is focused, and fast. He's not there to defeat Slade in single combat, he's there to finish what he started with Rose. He plants Geiger counters in their cabin, and while fighting Slade, explains how damaging the kryptonite in Rose's eye is. He also promises to make Slade pay for what he did to Blüdhaven, but not right then. Rose tosses a grenade, and in the ensuing chaos both she and Dick escape, while Slade is left alone, again. From here on, the relationship between Deathstroke and Nightwing is one of pure hate.



Nightwing vol. 2 #117

After this, Dick goes on to fight in the events of Infinite Crisis, and then goes on a year long sabbatical with Bruce and Tim. After this, he moves back to New York City and continues operating as Nightwing until the events of Final Crisis and Battle for the Cowl that lead to him becoming Batman, and taking on Damian as Robin. In all that time, he and Slade never interact. Slade goes and acts as more of a Green Arrow villain for this period. Their next battle comes in Grant Morrison's Batman & Robin. Damian had to have significant portions of his spine replaced after being seriously injured, and the only one with the proper capabilities to do so was Talia al Ghul and her League of Assassins. During the surgery, Damian was implanted with a control chip, allowing a user to take over his movements. The user selected was Deathstroke, who tried to use Damian to kill Dick. Dick is able to stop Slade by tazing Damian, and nearly stopping Slade's heart.





Batman & Robin #12

After getting overriding the control chip in Damian's spine, Dick and Damian go back to Talia's base, where Damian confronts his mother, and Dick confronts Slade in the infirmary. He lets Slade know that when he has the time, he's coming for him, and that this meeting is just a trailer.

Batman and Robin #12

The "main event" that Dick promises takes place in the Titans book. Slade has founded a new team of mercenaries, using the name Titans to tarnish the legacy of the original team. Among their crimes is the murder of The Atom, Ryan Choi. When Dick confronts them, Slade is leading the team into Gotham to extract a woman from Arkham Asylum. Dick is at his most skilled at this point, and the fight with him and Slade is bloody. There isn't any of the banter of their old battles.



Titans vol. 2 #29

Slade is able to slip away while Dick saves the Arkham guards, but not totally escape. Dick chases him through Arkham, encountering various escaped villains and members of Deathstroke's Titans along the way. Eventually he comes across Roy Harper/Arsenal, who had recently joined the team (though as a double agent, with the intent to help Cheshire kill Slade). Roy is in a pretty dark phase in his life at this time, due to the death of his daughter Lian. When Dick sees that he's working with Slade though, he doesn't know that Roy has ulterior motives, and believes he really has gone bad.

Titans vol. 2 #30
Titans vol. 2 #30


Before Dick can try to stop Slade again, they're surrounded by Arkham guards and the inmates. Slade uses the situation to escape with his team, while Dick is forced to stay behind and protect the Arkham doctors and guards. He's not happy about it, particularly since he thinks Roy is turning evil, but he has to protect the innocents and put the inmates back in their cells. This is the last time Dick and Slade interact before Flashpoint reset the universe and erased much of their shared history.

Titans vol. 2 #30

Titans vol. 2 #30

Though they escape, it is later revealed that all the missions Slade and his Titans were going on were to procure the necessary people and technology to save the recently resurrected Joseph Wilson/Jericho's life, as he had been dying. Slade then offers to use the same technology that saved Joseph to resurrect the loved ones each of the Titans on his team had recently lost, including Lian Harper, Roy and Cheshire's daughter. Roy and another member of the team decide it isn't worth it to resurrect their children, and Jericho possesses Slade to destroy the machine, as he feels responsible for all the crimes committed that got them to that place. In the final battle, Jericho is kicked out of Slade's body and knocked unconscious, while Roy confronts Slade about tarnishing the Titans' legacy. He takes command of the Titans, remembering what made them important, and defeats Slade, kicking him off the team. While Dick isn't present for these events, the work he put in as a Titan is relevant, and he has as much ownership over the Titans legacy as Roy. 



Titans vol. #38

The conflict ends with Arsenal and Jericho as the last Titans standing, and they resolve to reform the team, and take it "one day at a time." Slade on the other hand, goes back to being a solo villain, but before we can see more, Flashpoint occurs.

Titans vol. 2 #38

Post-Flashpoint, seemingly all of Dick's time as a Titan is erased, and therefore so is any personal animosity between him and Deathstroke. Blüdhaven was apparently never leveled by The Secret Society of Super Villains either. It isn't until Rebirth that we learn that Dick's generation of Titans were a team, though it was a different lineup. Rather than the New Teen Titans roster, Grant Wilson/Ravager fought a team consisting of Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Speedy, Wonder Girl, and Omen. When Grant dies in combat with them, much like in the original story, Slade swears to take on his contract and hunt the Titans.

Titans vol. 3 #11

After this, Slade and the Titans apparently clashed a number of times until Dick, still as Robin, tracked him down solo. It could have ended in Dick's death, but instead Slade offers to make him a deal. A Lazarus Contract, which means that if Dick does as he's asked, Slade will stop hunting the Titans, but if Dick goes back on his word, Slade will resume the contract to kill them.

Deathstroke vol. 4 #19
Deathstroke vol. 4 #19

Dick agrees to Slade's terms, which are different from Pre-Flashpoint. Before Flashpoint, Slade wanted Dick to train Rose because of his skills in combat and strategy, so that she would be a better partner and mercenary. In this instance, both Slade and Dick are younger, less experienced. He doesn't want Dick to train her because of his skills, which Slade finds lacking, he wants Dick to instill in Rose his morals, so that she doesn't follow his path.

Deathstroke vol. 4 #4

Dick keeps his end of the bargain, and has become Nightwing by the time he trains Rose. Her combat abilities at this time rival his, so he's mostly focusing on lessons in morality. Years later, Slade (who never told Rose he asked Dick to train her) tracks her down to work with her on a new mission. During this, she feels like Slade doesn't respect her abilities, and cites Nightwing as her instructor. Slade scoffs at it, despite being the one who made it happen.

Deathstroke vol. 4 #3

Several months after teaming up with Rose, Slade hatches a plan to steal the speed from Wally or Wallace West (Flash and Kid Flash) to go back in time and save Grant. It's after he kidnaps Wally that the Titans first start to suspect something went down with Dick and whoever is behind the word "lazarus," which they learned from a group of hired mercenaries working for Deathstroke.

Titans vol. 3 #11

It's in the next issue, when Damian and his Teen Titans are investigating the disappearance of their Wallace, Kid Flash, that Dick's lie to the team about the contract comes to light. Neither team responds well, but he explains it was to protect them, and they can't focus on that at the moment, as they need to find the Flashes.
Teen Titans #8

Over the course of the story, the Titans are able to reunite with both Wally and Wallace, while Slade continues to use the speed he stole to enter the timestream and try to save Grant. Wally seeks out Jericho for help (in this timeline Jericho apparently was never a Titan, but he's still a good guy). This is the first time that Dick meets Jericho in the New 52/Rebirth timeline.

Teen Titans Lazarus Contract Special #1

In their efforts to find and stop Deathstroke, Damian is able to cut him off from his stolen speed by temporarily killing a past version of Wally that has been brought to the present, along with the other original Titans. When Slade discovers this he returns to fight them, before discovering that he's now tapped into the Speed Force without the need to steal it from a Flash. He makes a last desperate attempt to go back in time and save Grant, but gets trapped in the Speed Force. Some of the Titans and Teen Titans are content to leave him there, but Wallace declares that they're supposed to be better than killers, and goes after him. Wally, being the more experienced speedster, prepares to go after him so he can save both Wallace and Slade, and Dick comes up with a plan to keep Wally anchored to the present, so that he won't be lost in the Speed Force again.

Teen Titans Lazarus Contract Special #1

Teen Titans Lazarus Contract Special #1


When Slade  is returned to the present, he's lost his powers and been utterly changed by what he saw in the Speed Force. Rather than fight the Titans anymore, he lays down his sword and walks away. The Titans, for some reason, allow him to leave.

Teen Titans Lazarus Contract Special #1

Several months later, there is a conflict between Batman and Deathstroke, as evidence comes out that Damian may be Slade's son instead of Bruce's. Nightwing appears in this story, but only sparingly, and has no real confrontation with Slade. In fact, it's revealed that Slade doesn't even know that Dick is Nightwing, or that Bruce is Batman, he simply thinks the Waynes are funding Batman. Deathstroke and Batman fight in the bat-cave, until lockdown protocols are enacted by Alfred and Wintergreen (Slade's Alfred), to force them to stop fighting and talk out the paternity issue. At the end of the issue, Nightwing and Robin get into the cave and save Bruce, while Slade leaves again. 

Deathstroke vol. 4 #35

This is the last time they've interacted in canon, and once again the focus was not on their relationship. It will be interesting going forward to see how that changes, as The New Teen Titans and Nightwing vol. 2 were recently re-canonized, bringing back many of the instances in their lives that made Slade and Dick hate each other so much. Slade has appeared in a few splash pages of all Nightwing's enemies as recently as Nightwing vol. 4 #68, and in the dark Future State timeline, Dick has apparently taken cues from Deathstroke, both in tactics and costume.


It seems that at some point after the world fell apart in the Future State timeline, Dick escaped Gotham and began working with Deathstroke, wearing his old blue/gold costume, and changing his name to Death-Wing. The last we see of this version of Dick, he is almost possessed by one of the Four Riders of the Apocalypse, before Shazam and Raven go to the Rock of Eternity to stop them.

Future State Teen Titans #1

Future State Teen Titans #1

Future State Teen Titans #2

Future State Teen Titans #2

It's possible that we will see the events that lead to this, and further developments of Dick and Slade's relationship in Teen Titans Academy, but as of now, this is as much as we've seen between the two of them.

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