Deathstroke Inc. and Robin had the opportunity to bring back two dead characters but what they did instead subverted expectations.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Deathstroke Inc. #7 and Robin #12, on sale now from DC Comics.
Shadow War looks set to be the typical comic book crossover event with three series – Batman, Robin, and Deathstroke Inc.- coming together to tell the story of the war between Slade Wilson’s Secret Society of Supervillains and Talia al Ghul’s League of Shadows. The event will be kicked off by the death of a major character and, while in comics death doesn’t mean much anymore, two of the titles crossing over just changed that.
Both Deathstroke Inc. and Robin were set up to reintroduce dead characters back into comics continuity. This has been a trope that has troubled comic books for a long time. It used to be said that there were three characters in comics that would stay dead – Uncle Ben, Jason Todd, and Bucky Barnes. Notably, only one of those characters has remained dead. Now, these two Shadow War series have subverted this tired trope of death and rebirth.
Deathstroke Inc. #7 (by Joshua Williamson, Stephen Segovia, Hi-Fi, and Steve Wands) revealed the identity of the character Respawn, who was inspired by Slade Wilson and introduced in Robin. Many assumed the character would turn out to be Slade’s long-dead son, Grant Wilson. Both this series and Robin emphasized the death of Grant and its effects on both Slade and his daughter Rose aka Ravager. However, rather than a resurrected Grant, Respawn turned out to be far more interesting. He is, instead, a clone of Damian Wayne with Deathstroke’s super-soldier DNA mixed in.
Meanwhile, Robin #12 (by Joshua Williamson, Roger Cruz, Norm Rapmund, Luis Guerrero, and ALW’s Troy Peteri) was all set to resurrect Batman’s faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth, with the Boy Wonder planning to use Lazarus Resin from the life-restoring Lazarus Pits to do SW. Despite traveling all the way to Gotham to Alfred’s grave, and with Lazarus Resin in hand, the Son of Batman refused to bring back the most iconic member of the Bat-Family.
When Talia asked her son why he didn’t resurrect Pennyworth, his answer spoke volumes. He said that Alfred wouldn’t be the same. This is because of the effects of the Lazarus Pits and how they can twist the minds of those who use them, like Ra’s al Ghul. However, this also speaks to the concept of bringing back dead comic book characters in general. They’re never quite the same as they were before their original demise and it inevitably takes away from their death. There have been many great stories about superheroes dying and even more wonderful stories about those who continue their legacy. Unfortunately, not everyone is Gwen Stacy or Captain Marvel and the likes of The Death of Superman come across as insincere or even cash-grabs because of this.
At this point, there isn’t anyone in comics who hasn’t died before. Both Damian and Deathstroke have been killed and brought back to life before. The fact that both of their series seemed all but certain to bring back two more dead characters seemed like nothing new. The fact that they didn’t bring back Grant or Alfred and instead used the impacts of their deaths to further develop the characters left behind feels refreshing. In Deathstroke’s case, it’s even created a new and unique character with an interesting backstory. For years now, death has lost its sting in the realm of comics. Thanks to these Shadow War titles, it’s begun to mean something again.
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