Monday, November 14, 2016

Review: Deadshot: Bulletproof

In 2005 DC published a five-issue Deadshot solo mini-series. This was well after the character's hey-day as a regular member of the 1987-1992 Suicide Squad cast, and just as writer Gail Simone was beginning to use him as a member of her Secret Six, a Suicide Squad-inspired villain team that began in the pages of a Villains United miniseries and eventually lead to an ongoing monthly.

Perhaps because of the higher-profile nature of the Villains United/Secret Six comics, which began as a lead-in to DC's big Infinite Crisis crossover event series, that Deadshot miniseries tends to get overlooked. Which is a damn shame, as it is pretty excellent, and writer Christos Gage found a way to use a character that was always best-suited as either a villain or a member of an ensemble of such characters as a solo protagonist.

Deadshot: Bulletproof includes that entire miniseries, a story entitled "Urban Renewal" in the table of contents, as well as a one-issue story tied to those events that Gage penned at the time for the still extant Batman: Legends of The Dark Knight.

In retrsopect--that is, read in 2016--there's an aura of the unfortunate about the book. Not only did it offer a viable take on the character as anti-hero and solo protagonist that didn't quite catch on (although it certainly influenced the portrayal of the character in this year's live-action film), and not only did it present a nice, clean "more realistic" redesign of his costume that is pretty much infinitely better than the one he was given in the publisher's 2011 "New 52" initiative (and still wears today), but this was apparently Gage's first comics work. After working for DC's long-suffering WildStorm imprint, on one of its many re-focusings, Gage went on to do a bunch of pretty good stuff for Marvel and other publishers, but nothing else for DC.
For the miniseries that fills most of the trade, he was paired with the art team of pencil artist Steve Cummings and inker Jimmy Palmiotti, and, while serviceable, clear and easy to read, the art is the weakest part of the package. Mike Zeck penciled and Jerry Ordway inked all of the cover though, which surely didn't help Cummings and Palmiotti look good; it's hard to turn the page from one of those great covers to find work that lacks the heft and tension of those images.

Gage opens with Deadshot Floyd Lawton in a familiar situation, working with a group of supervillains--Killer Frost, a new version of minor Gotham villain Firebug and new character The Closer--only this time as a mercenary, rather than as part of a government task force. During the opening action scene and its aftermath, we learn some relevant information about Deadshot regarding his late child, and establish a few character dynamics that will payoff later in the series.

When Lawton finds out he actually has a young daughter, conceived with a prostitute without his knowledge, he attempts to play the role of a father in some fashion. The mother refuses his duffel bag full of blood money, and so he instead tries to clean up the poor, crime-ridden neighborhood that his daughter and her mother live in. He is essentially forced into the role of a hero, or at least anti-hero, a Punisher-like criminal-killing vigilante doing bad things for a basically good reason.

That neighborhood is located in Star City rather than Deadshot's original stomping grounds of Gotham, which accomplishes two important things. First, it means Gage doesn't have to worry about introducing Batman into the narrative, which can be problematic, given that character's track record with taking down villains and his unbending, uncompromising moral stances and the fact that Deadshot is supposed to be a cold-blooded killer that never misses. When Batman encounters Deadshot, one of them has to lose, which usually means Deadshot, which kinda makes a Deadshot comic book difficult to continue too long after Batman enters the picture.

The other thing is that it allows for an easy introduction of a different Batman-lite like character, Green Arrow Oliver Queen, who has the additional benefit of being a preternaturally gifted super-marksman not unlike Deadshot. They have a pretty spectacular battle, which basically involves blocking one another's shots with shots of their own, so that Deadshot shoots Green Arrow's arrows out of the air just as fast as he can fire them, and so on. This is just one of several mini-boss fights though; the big showdown is the one alluded to on the cover of the collection, in which Deadshot must take on a whole host of supervillains he's worked with in the past who all want him dead.

The story ends as it must, but certainly serves as a rejuvenation of the character, one that offers a particularly appealing take on him that obviously attracted and influenced the movie makers, if not most of those working on the characters since 2011's New 52 revamp.

There's also that pretty great costume, which is basically a 21st century update of his rather '80s look. Sure, it's still busy, and does still look a little goofy when Floyd "hides" it under a trench coat, but compared to all other possible Deadshot costumes? Not bad; not bad at all. Note too that here the mask is more of a helmet than the silvery fabric ski mask that it was usually drawn as previously.
As for the Legends of The Dark Knight story, for that Gage is joined by artist Phil Winslade, and he puts Deadshot back in his classic costume and back in Gotham City, where he does face Batman this time. Deadshot's been hired to kill a criminal before that criminal can testify, and Batman wants to prevent the assassination so that the testimony can go forward. The two fight a little and circle one another, but Batman is unable to go full-force at Deadshot, and Deadshot either won't or can't kill Batman, who here Gage has repeat something from an older encounter in which Batman explains Deadshot unconsciously pulls his shot around Batman because, deep down, he doesn't really want to kill him.

It's a nice exploration of the two characters' peculiar characterizations, and how they relate to one another. It's a done-in-one, and a rare one that does a pretty exemplary job of defining both of them equally well. I know I just said previously Batman and Deadshot don't always work well together, as the fact that one must lose puts and end to their conflicts pretty quickly, but they do work in small doses like this; if you read it, you'll see their stand-off works, but it's not the sort of standoff that would work indefinitely.

The story is definitely one for any sort of greatest hits collection of Deadshot stories, though (and, for fans of the Suicide Squad movie, likely one that served as inspiration, given the nature of Deadshot's assignment here and in the opening scenes of the film).

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