I admit, perhaps I'm not the best person to write this one, but I seem to be the one who's willing to. I owe katarik, merfilly, second_batgirl, and www.titanstower.com a huge debt.
Slade's history is... complicated, and at times he is utterly baffling to us, but here's my best shot at introducing him.
There's very, very little canon about Slade's early history--as a matter of fact, there's not any certain data on when or where he was born, or what his parents were like (well, his mother at least), what social class he was from (a point of contested debate between katarik and me), or anything else. The few bits of canon scattered across New Teen Titans and Deathstroke about his early years: he had a step-mother named Frannie, who eventually had a husband named Max who was not Slade's father (probably Max DeFarge), and a half-brother named Wade DeFarge—probably adopted by Max. Keep Wade's name in mind for later trouble. Frannie was obviously a very wealthy woman during the Deathstroke title, but that can be laid at the feet of the mercenary organization she runs and occasionally uses to help her stepson. One canon-ish source gives a birth year of 1938, while katarik has an attachment to 1935 (which makes more sense). An argument could probably be made for about any year in that range that still would have let him be shipped to Korea while he was sixteen.
Now admittedly, given DC's stupidity of perpetually compressing their timeline, it makes more sense these days to have his first action set in Vietnam, his special training set between Vietnam and the police actions, and for Deathstroke have been born during the same... but the canon is solid on that it was Korea and then Vietnam.
One way or another, one thing that has to be in his background, no matter which war, is that he was a child-soldier in an American war after having lied about his age to enlist and go serve, because it's a major facet of his character. The motivation behind his decision to pretend he was eighteen and go serve is ambiguous, because canon doesn't say what it was. Whatever was in his head when he enlisted, he pretty obviously thought it was important that he be in the Army right then. [Army, Chuck Dixon, not Marines, though since you wrote an otherwise awesome Slade that little slip is forgivable.]
After he enlisted in the Army and went through basic he went straight to Korea, where we really don't know much until the point when he met Wintergreen. He'd been there long enough to make Sergeant, but he was still pretty young.
He was also too honorable for his own good or the comfort of his CO, as the pages and my attempts at transcription immediately below display.
Slade got into a fight with his C.O. about a possible attack on a village that had North Korean soldiers.
Slade: "Sir, what about the civilians?”
Lt: "Screw 'em, Sergeant. They're harboring the enemy.”
Slade: "No—they're probably just scrounging for food. We can pick 'em off once they leave.”
Lt: "Sgt, I said screw 'em and torch 'em. NOW!”
The order to engage was obeyed by the rest of his squad, resulting in a complete massacre of the village's innocent civilians.
"Voice"-over: "Death didn't bother him. He'd cut down the enemy without question. Without remorse. But this...
..this sickened him. The deafening explosions drowned out the cries, but he could hear each one. He knew war had its purposes, and even its nobility. More, he knew who was the enemy... and who obviously wasn't.
And so a code of ethics was born on a battlefield and baptized in blood."
After the engagement, Lt. Sampson challenged Slade that he didn't see him firing. Slade replied that he fired at the enemy. The Lt's reply was that they're all the enemy.
V-O: They got back to base and filed separate reports with the A.G.(Attorney General)'s office. Despite conflicting statements, they didn't care. After all, enemy troops were sighted, engaged... and removed. Sampson would probably receive a promotion.
Back in the barracks, Slade got one hell of a lecture, and then two very large enlisted men--one big enough to get away with calling Slade Wilson "runt”--started delivering one hell of a barracks beating.
They'd devolved to the point of stomping on his ribs with their boots when suddenly there was a lovely punch to the face of one of the men and a very British voice said: "Pardon me for joining in, Yanks--”
"But I haven't engaged in a good scuffle since the Boxing Day bout at the Cock and Bull. Whoops, pardon my boot!”
Once both men were down, Wintergreen said, "Say, I hope you don't mind me stepping in like that, eh? Just needed the exercise, you know?”
Slade's very weakly drawn voice, from the ground where he'd been beaten down to, asked, "...w-who...?”
"A friend, lad. That's all. Hand?”
And thus began a friendship that would last for the next forty-odd years.
Back in the "present day”, the end of that particular story was told. "Of course, a military board buried the incident. And a year later Sampson sent me out on another damn fool mission and you had to rescue me again, Wintergreen.”
That piece above about the code of ethics, the obvious understanding of who is and isn't an acceptable target, the disgust at the targeting of civilians... these are the reasons that Slade Wilson, despite his very early canon, is a character I am absolutely in love with. I have a preference for men and women who will do what is necessary. Now I will say that I frequently disagree with his choices rather intently, but at least most of the time I understand why he does what he does. He's been nothing but a damn fine soldier since he was a kid (possibly since he was a child, given what we see of Frannie and her ways of dealing with her boys), and in a lot of ways it's all he knows how to do.
Slade continued to be a good soldier through Korea and beyond, with Wintergreen there first as mentor, then as a fellow soldier and friend. During those intervening years, other hostilities broke out, of course; for example, the Suez crisis (1956). Slade and Wintergreen were there, and Slade was assigned a suicide mission by Lt. Sampson. Wintergreen rescued him nearly at the cost of his own life. See Judas Contract for the details.
At some point during the years between that incident and Vietnam (as finding time to put him through Officer Candidacy School [and who forged that H.S. Diploma, Slade?] would have required peace), Slade took the officer's oath to become no longer an enlisted man, but a man bound to the United States Constitution for the duration of his life, not just the years of his enlistment; and the Army found something new for him to do.
Given his uniform in the pages below, I would say that Marv Wolfman meant him to be Green Beret at the point when the man already considered an Army legend was sent to a very classified, very secret training camp called Camp Washington (Deathstroke issue 4).
But whether he was or not, he was definitely Army Special Forces. And Captain Adeline Kane was the trainer of very Special Forces.
As Wintergreen put it, "Her training was rigorous. Half the men washed out in the first three weeks. But those who remained, those who learned, became the best fighting machines the Army had ever seen.”
In both Judas Contract and Deathstroke there are flashbacks to one of Slade's friends (in his eyes) being caught in a trap during an exercise, and Slade replying to his pleas that "In a real mission, you'd be dead. I have to proceed with the mission.” Cold, but utterly accurate.
"He was the Best,” Wintergreen thought in the flashback.
Slade went on, and as he tried to cross a water obstacle, a figure came out of the water and took his gun away, then cheerfully told him as he set eyes on her and her simulated gun, "Bang, Major. You're dead.”
His "buddy" tracked him down afterwards, screaming at him about leaving him, about trying to win points, and about "being beaten by a girl."
Slade's response in Judas Contract canon goes: "Not by a girl, Bill. By a professional. And if she's got something to teach, I suggest you listen. She knows her stuff better than either of us."
"But he still wasn't perfect," Wintergreen continued. ”He was fearless, but his fighting techniques were one-dimensional. She taught him to think three-dimensionally. To peripherally defend himself on all sides at once, in every manner conceivable. She wanted him to lose his reliance on weapons. She wanted him to become a weapon.
"The result: He graduated with honors. I quietly watched with pride as he received them.
"When the ceremony was over, I stepped forward. He introduced me and said "Wintergreen, the Captain's A-1... the Best." I believe that's when I knew he was in love.”
He was also promoted to Lt. Colonel at that point, which as far as I can tell is the rank he kept until he was discharged.
It is canon from elsewhere (Judas Contract TPB, among other places) that Captain Kane and Major Wilson had entered a relationship while Slade was still her subordinate and student. The amount that the two of them were risking in order to do so is... kind of appalling, in my opinion, but it seemed to work out for them. Despite the fact that at least one of Slade's comrades knew or had strong suspicions of their illicit relationship, no punishment descended.
They were married within the year, with Wintergreen standing up as best man. But very soon after their marriage, the Vietnam War escalated and Slade was sent to do what he did best, while Addie remained home, pregnant with their first child, Grant Wilson.
It is said in more than one place in Deathstroke and NTT that Addie would have been at his side had she not been pregnant.
...All I have to say to that is that the regulations must be very different in the DCU than they are in the actual US military of the real world. But it is the canon.
There are moments that I devoutly wish it wasn't, because the Captain Kane of Deathstroke is not the Adeline Wilson of the Judas Contract flashbacks. Because the Slade Wilson who was turned into the weapon he is predominantly by his wife, who fell for her the first time she beat him... would never have told her not to grovel. Of course and on the same line, she never would have been acting the way she is in those flashbacks, either. Reconciling the two drastically different portrayals of Addie (NTT vs. Deathstroke) could probably be an essay all on its own, which is why I'm not going to try here. Someone bat your lashes nice and pretty at katarik if you want that essay.
I would give a very great deal for solid dates on Slade's tour (or tours) in Vietnam. The closest I can come, however, is to do some math backwards and forwards. If Grant was 19 in 1983 (which is canon), he was conceived in 1963. --Wait a second, Marv, U.S. Combat units weren't sent until 1965! Well, not officially.
But it makes sense to move Grant's birth forward in time to the mid-Vietnam (or even the police actions), given the DCU's insanity with time. Slade and Wintergreen were re-united in Vietnam, and spent an indeterminate amount of time within the hells of the Vietnam jungle theater. Oddly, he hadn't received another promotion in all of that time, though that could be explained by the strength of his ethics--ethics that would have been inconvenient in the war that gave us the phrase "Mai Lai Incident” as shorthand for absolute slaughter and involved more than enough atrocities on either side to fill entire textbooks. What he went through as a mid-level commander is something I can only imagine, and poorly at that. There are several issues of Deathstroke that make it clear that he did not escape that war without Vietnam Syndrome (the illness we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Entirely understandable, given that during one of his tours of service he was taken prisoner and marched down the Ho Chi Minh trail (Deathstroke 12). Details on just how he escaped from the route where eighty percent of the prisoners of war we still haven't located are thought to have been lost are non-existent. However, it gave him a level of disregard for the conditions of any American prison that makes for... amusing reading. He was sitting in a Metropolis jail (Deathstroke 12) when we found out that piece of his past: "I remember marching down the Ho Chi Minh trail in a storm. Barbed wire binding my wrists behind me, Federovs jabbing at my ribs. My life has been a tightening spiral of repetitions. Betrayal, violence, blood, death, in an endless cycle.
"No way out. Until now.
"I don't regret my life. I chose it. I regret things about it.”
Later in the issue, he went back to that theme. "Stripped to my dogtags, rocks in the mud shredding my bare feet to ribbons. No escape. I'd spend the rest of the war in a bamboo cage somewhere. They knew it. Any idiot would have known it.
"But I knew something they didn't know. I'm me.” The issue ended on that flashback, and on Deathstroke going from prisoner gear to his own uniform, with Superman taking him on a flight.
At some point after Grant was born, Slade was shipped back home and told that his government and his country had another need for him.
He immediately volunteered.
Let me state one thing right here and now: Slade Wilson was the ONLY survivor of the ACTH serum that gave him his abilities. Period, end of story, the only survivor. Every other man in that experiment died in screaming agony. [Which Slade likely heard].
Also, at no point in time during Marv Wolfman and George Perez's run on NTT, NT, or Deathstroke did any other person who was given the serum, either from his blood or directly, survive the experiment with health and life intact. It is explicitly and intensively canon that only Slade's "unique physiology" made him capable of surviving what the serum did to him.
What exactly that means was never clarified. My personal guess is that he had some variety of latent metagene, and the serum just reacted with it.
But "What was the serum?"
I'd love to know. This was written in the early 80s, about a project undertaken in the early 1970s. Understanding of brain chemistry and physiology was kind of... lacking at that point. What's in Judas Contract is that it was a medical experiment testing ways to resist truth serums. The serum is called an experimental ACTH derivative (adrenocorticotropic-hormone). Portrayals in Judas Contract and Deathstroke differ slightly on the aftermath, illustrations from Deathstroke below.
Judas Contract says he went into shock and was sedated, then a cripple, hampered by a loss of motor control. Deathstroke shows that he went into a berserk strength, was sedated, then remained comatose for some time. Both portrayals agree that when he came out of the sedation/coma, he had periods of great strength mixed with periods of great weakness.
In addition, the serum "proved a failure". He had come out of it with only a mild resistance to the truth serums the compound had been created to protect soldiers from. Because of his unpredictable health the Army put him behind a desk, a fate he utterly dreaded.
(Late in the Deathstroke series, it was retconned in that the Army had always intended to create a super-soldier with the serum. I find this massively unlikely, given a) how plain the early canon was about them thinking the project a failure, and b) that he remained free from government control for so long afterwards.)
In the middle of these shifts between superhuman strength and an invalid's weakness, Addie became pregnant again while, despite all attempts to reach him, Slade "grew morose, purposeless, almost suicidal," as she recounts.
Then, as tends to be the case in comics... something really bad happened.
Joseph William Wilson was a week old when Slade received a phone call that would change the rest of his life.
His colonel called to inform him that Wintergreen had been captured by the Vietcong, and that the governments involved were not going to attempt any rescue. Lt. (now General) Sampson had sent Wintergreen on this particular mission, which had no small part to do with why they weren't going to try to rescue him. Slade pleaded with the colonel to let him go alone and try to get Wintergreen out safely, and was refused.
So, as he had always tended to do when he was sure he was right or thought his honor didn't leave him any choice... he decided to do something about it himself. It's not specific if he was on leave or if he went AWOL; either way, he got on a plane to Hanoi. Once there, he created a costume that would help him scare the life out of the Vietcong (it's garish. Worse than what he wore later) and went into the jungle to get his best friend back.
Wintergreen was being tortured (indeed, he was sure he wouldn't live out the next session with his interrogators) when this "man screaming like a wild banshee" leapt into the midst of the compound and started fighting. Wintergreen had no idea who he was, given the mask, but was amazed by the power and skill he brought to bear in ridding that Vietcong camp of life. Slade smashed the solid bamboo cage with a blow of his fist--ever tried to break bamboo?--and pulled his mask off, to Wintergreen's very great relief.
Slade got him out of there, and both of them back across enemy lines safely... and was promptly discharged from the Army by his furious superior officer. So far as I have read in any canon, he was not dishonorably discharged but allowed to resign his commission because of his health--as Slade, being a smart man, hadn't told the Army he had those powers under control.
So, Slade had lost first his physical ability, then his active service career... and if that wasn't bad enough, he then (for loyalty and love and friendship) lost the Army entirely.
A Slade at loose ends is not a good Slade to have around, for anyone's sake. You get the definite impression that Grant and Joe were about all that kept him sane.
It took some months before he found a new vocation, that of a safari guide and hunter (at least in Addie's knowledge). Back in the seventies, that was still an occupation that brought quite a lot of money and fame. He really was guiding safaris at least part of the time, and hosting parties that brought the cream of society to his home... Or at least, on the surface it was his prowess as a guide that brought them.
I cannot (without descending into major fan-wank), explain why, given everything already said in this essay about Adeline, Slade chose not to tell his wife what he was actually doing part of the time. I just can't. [Other than by saying that Marv and George didn't have a clue what they were going to do with him later than Judas Contract.]
He never did explain, and Addie didn't either. I certainly can't explain why Wintergreen let him—oh, yes, Wintergreen knew; he was a major contact for Slade's jobs--or how the brilliant, dangerous ex-Army Captain Kane never noticed more scars on her husband, or that something always happened in the world while Slade was gone for those weeks at a time. If you want to know the opinion I finally managed to beat together, I'll tell you, but you'll have to ask. Because I'm trying to stay out of fanon territory here.
That said, this is the piece where everyone is stupid.
The full story is recounted in Judas Contract, so I'll do my best to sum it up. Joey was somewhere between four and five years old, home with his mother. Grant was off at military school, and Addie heard people outside her house. Slade was off on a hunting trip, so she went for her guns. She managed to take most of them, but she missed the one with the gas grenade... which is the only reason the attackers managed to get out the door with Joe.
Slade was home within hours, and had to tell Adeline that their youngest son had been kidnapped because he was off working as a mercenary. And then he tried to leave without her, possibly because of how long she'd been out of training. Possibly just because he was being an idiot.
Adeline refused to let him leave her behind, and went with him to Tangiers, where things got very, very messy. Joe was being held with a knife to his throat, and the group who had taken him wanted the name of Slade's employer from a job he'd completed. The Jackal (a Ugandan terrorist, so far as they knew) offered to let Joe go if Slade would tell him.
Slade refused. His reputation for never turning on an employer, never failing a mission--his ability to continue to work at all--all rode on this moment.
He knew he was fast enough to stop the knife.
He was the best in the world. He'd never missed a shot in his life.
He knew he could save both his honor and his son.
He was dead wrong.
He managed to take them all down... but the knife had started to move. Joe's vocal cords were irreparably damaged. Their gifted singer, their artist, their gentle son... was mute. And the last thing Joe had ever said was "Daddy?"
Slade disappeared after racing with his son to the hospital. Where he went, no-one knows.
Addie next confronted him in their home, well after they knew Joe would live. Slade tried to convince her that he had had no choice, that he'd believed he could save Joe. He told her how incomplete he'd felt since he left the Army, that he needed something... She challenged him on "killing makes you complete?", and he told her it wasn't the killing. It was the missions. And "I never do anything that would compromise our country's security."
She'd already intended to kill him. Hearing him try to brush off risking their son's life just sealed it, and she drew down on him, cocking the gun. He whirled at the sound, and the bullet that should have torn through the back of his brain instead only destroyed his right eye.
Despite Slade's hyper-regeneration abilities, the eye never healed, and apparently never will heal.
While he was incapacitated with the wound, Adeline divorced him, and for the next decade-plus of 'real-world' time, there are only a few mentions in Deathstroke flashbacks of what he was doing. One major flashback sequence involves the mother of his only daughter Rose, Lillian "Sweet Lili" Worth, who he rescued from the Khmer Rouge at some point during their rule in Cambodia. But given that when he appeared on the scene in NTT he was a complete unknown to the hero world... he was obviously being pretty careful.
Which isn't a trait that lasted long once he did come into contact with the Titans. And now to the very first of his canon (and I get a headache).
Enter the Terminator
The first time that Deathstroke (then called Terminator (4 years before the movie)) appeared was NTT issue #2, published 1980, in which he told the Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Eliminations that if they wouldn't pay him in advance, he wasn't taking the job on the Titans and basically that they could shove it. But unwittingly, he gave the HIVE what they truly wanted: a chance to observe him in action as he fought his way back out of their grasp, and take full biological recordings of his abilities. They didn't want him. They wanted the ability to re-create him.
And because Bill Walsh had sold Slade out somewhere along the way, the HIVE had the perfect candidate for their experiment: Slade's long-estranged son, Grant Wilson, who already had more than enough reasons to dislike the Titans (in his own head, at least). How Adeline Wilson, nee Kane, raised a son so misogynistic and controlling that Starfire felt it necessary to attack him to protect his girlfriend will never make sense to me. [Other than that Wolfman and Perez had no idea where they would eventually go with Slade's character and extended cast, again].
Everything I quoted canon for above was years in the future when he first appeared. Especially in the case of Wintergreen. In NTT #2, Wintergreen is very obviously just an Alfred figure, a hired hand who had no knowledge of Grant at all, or of Slade's past. I just shake my head at those panels, because that's not the man I came to adore as Slade's best friend. But then, neither is the Deathstroke of the pre-COIE world the man I fell for. He is stark black, a villain driven by his own ambitions and barely by his code.
Grant willingly submitted himself to the serum, wanting to be better than the Terminator he'd been told about--this is one place that is directly retconned by later canon. Bill Walsh, not "Grant's father," told Grant about the Terminator.
Grant almost immediately attacked Cyborg once he'd been enhanced. Slade rescued him from Vic's counterattack and tried to convince the young man that the HIVE had failed him, that he would destroy himself if he continued to use the powers he'd been given. Grant refused to listen and went after the Titans again.
Slade followed and took them on at his son's side. In this first appearance, Slade sidestepped Kory's starbolt, Grant dodged Vic's punch like it had been thrown in slow motion, and both Grant and Slade moved fast enough that not even Kid Flash reacted quick enough to avoid them. These are the reflexes the serum gives.
But Slade had been right to warn Grant against using the powers the HIVE had given him, as his son's body began to burn out from the inside, aging him at a rate as fast as the speed he'd gained. He collapsed on the battlefield, and Raven slipped an image into his mind of the Titans broken so he could die at peace.
That should have been enough to end it. In any rational universe, Slade would have realized the truth of Raven's words that the HIVE was his true enemy. That it was the HIVE, and not the Titans, who were responsible for Grant's death.
Slade is sometimes very much not a rational man.
He hadn't seen his son in at least a decade and change (Grant was 19 at his death), and when he was there he failed to save him, just like he'd failed to save Joe. And Slade is, above all else, a soldier. Soldiers have very deep superstitions about incomplete missions resting over their buddies' heads. How much worse it would be for Slade to have an incomplete contract resting on his son, preventing the boy he failed to save from being at peace... again, I can only guess.
But he took up the job his son had failed at, to the HIVE's very great glee. Were I willing to descend into fan-wank territory, I would have quite a lot to say about Slade's ability to play a deep game, and what his final goals likely were. As it is, I won't. The canon stands that he blamed the Titans for Grant, and he disappeared again to plan how best to bring about their downfall.
Betrayal From Within
There has been a retcon recently in comics which utterly enrages me. So I will give all of you a direct quote from Marv Wolfman, published in the forward of the Judas Contract trade, to explain just where Tara Markov came from, and what she was intended to be.
"But the accusation that we were an X-Men clone continued... some die-hards refused to give up. Now, I love puncturing balloons, and I decided if some fans thought we were an X-Men clone, why not play with them a bit? The X-Men had just introduced a new member to their group, a young 14-year-old cute-as-a-button girl with incredible powers. I'd do the same. I'd play her first as a villain, then seemingly reform her and have her join the Titans. Only I'd have her consistently lie to the Titans, change her stories, do suspicious things, and, in general, make her a louse. I could do that, I knew, because comic book convention would demand that the readers ignore all the evidence and assume she was a good girl. After all, Kitty Pryde was a heroine, so even the lying, cheating, conniving Tara Markov had to have a heart of gold. Right?
"Wrong. From the very beginning Tara was conceived as a villainess. It was the first time a member of a super-hero group ever proved to be a spy (Not a traitor, she was always working for the Terminator). Playing on the comic-book readers' expectations worked."
So, that's Tara. Never a victim. Never a pitiful child that Slade twisted. Tara was always a villainess. And unless you're reading a version of Judas Contract that is based in toonverse, there is no question of that.
Now, there's also absolutely no question that the panels which make it far too clear that Slade was sleeping with the fifteen/sixteen-year-old sociopath mean that he'd slipped way the hell over a moral line. But if you want to slam Deathstroke for a relationship with Tara that was very obviously consensual, I would really rather you slam every superhero with a sidekick for child endangerment, too. Double standards aren't pretty, folks, and the heroes dragging those kids out to war with them is way more morally repugnant (to me) than a relationship in which the girl was the aggressor, the more powerful of the two, and a cold-blooded murderess who knew exactly what she was doing long before he ever laid a fingertip on her.
This isn't a Tara essay, though. If you want the essay on "Why Tara Markov was a badass (and thus DC sucks)", someone go bat their eyes real pretty-like at impactbomb. He knows her better than anyone I've met. And it'd be a heck of an essay.
Back on track to Slade, though. He helped set her up to infiltrate the Teen Titans by staging a fight between them--and freed himself from surveillance by faking his death during that fight. So while Tara slowly wormed her way inside, learning their secrets little by little, he was free to plot, and test her occasionally... One of those tests nearly got him killed, and Tara continually challenged him if he was "getting soft", or, "going sentimental on her" when they were together, because Slade would brood over photographs of his family.
As Slade memorably put Tara's mental state: "She's the best little sociopath I've ever known."
With the information Tara brought him from her lips and her contact-lens camera, Slade was able to devise ways to bring every Titan down alive... every Titan but Dick and Wally, that is. Dick--no longer Robin, and not yet Nightwing--Slade saved for last and for himself. A move which would turn out to apparently backfire, as Dick was able to escape and Slade refused to shoot into the crowd to shoot him in the back. This is one of the first glimpses of the man that would come to be in Deathstroke, and even it is Pre-COIE. He left Dick running free, and went to deliver the rest of the Titans to the Hive, claiming his job as complete because Dick and Wally had left the Titans at that point.
Once Dick escaped, he ran almost straight into Adeline and Joseph Wilson. Addie and Joe had followed him onto Titans' Island, actually. Adeline explained to him what had happened to his teammates, a good deal of Slade's history, and just why Dick needed to take Joe with him as they went to the HIVE's base to try to free the Titans.
Try, unfortunately, was the operative word, because Terra got in their way and rendered them both unconscious, handing them over to the HIVE. The moment Slade recognized Joe, he started working--in his own way--to get his son freed. The HIVE refused, citing him as "Terra's kill", and Slade, for one of the few times in his life, froze, then stared up into Joe's eyes, trying to figure out how to save his son this time, no matter the cost.
Looking into Jericho's eyes is... rarely the move of a wise man, and this time was not much different: at least, not if Slade's goal was indeed the death of the Teen Titans. Joe used his body-jumping ability to take his father over, freeing himself, then struck to free the rest of the Titans, allowing them to turn on the HIVE and shatter them pretty completely.
Slade did absolutely nothing to resist his son until the point when Terra was completely out of control and trying to kill him (thus killing his son as well), when it's been proven that a strong enough force of will can push Joe out of a stolen body.
The fight that raged in the end of Judas Contract is an agonizing read. It's father against son, friend against false-friend, and a love shattered and broken (Gar Logan's very real love for Tara), and in the end, Tara destroys herself. "Her name is Tara Markov and she is little more than sixteen years old. And due to the fault of no-one but herself, she is insane." Sorry, but it doesn't get much more explicit than that.
She lost control of her powers over the earth itself, and the earth turned on her. That there was a body for Gar Logan to find is kind of amazing.
Tara was buried as a hero, mostly for her brother's sake--a move immediately countered by Batman, who told him just what his half-sister had been, and done. Which is why Brion almost immediately changed his costume from brown and gold to green and gold. He didn't want to be associated in anyone's mind with her any longer. And Slade, for his part, was packed off for trial for various crimes.
And by this point, it was fairly obvious that Marv and George had decided that they had an awesome character on their hands, if they could just figure out what to do with him.
The Trial, Adrian Chase, and One Unlikely Friendship
One of the reasons that I love Marv Wolfman and George Perez's NTT run is that it was beautifully constructed, very plotty, very real-world at times and yet not painfully grim and gritty. And it had more than a few times that were intensely courtroom-drama, like the trial of the Terminator. I'm not actually going to try to give details of the Trial. For one thing, the technicalities make my head hurt, and for another, the only things you really need to know are: one, there was a second Terminator running around at that point; two, while Adrian Chase would have loved to have thrown the book at him, the Titans couldn't prove their case on most of the charges; and three, Gar Logan did everything he possibly could to sabotage that trial so that he could take Slade on personally for, as he saw it, "twisting" Tara. Slade was finally sentenced to about a year on weapons charges.
From his spot in prison, he gave an... interesting interview The most relevant bits include: "Many years ago, after Vietnam, like many ex-soldiers, I felt unwanted within the US. I had been trained by our government to be a killer. I knew nothing else, so I became a mercenary."
"Mr. Wilson, you shock me! You admit to being the Terminator?"
"Of course. It's a matter of public record. Oh, need I mention, mercenary work is not illegal? Most governments, ours included, use mercenaries as a matter of course...."
He went on to spin a line of bull about the Titans being reckless and dangerous that really exasperates me, but it suited the reporter interviewing him quite well. Gar, watching, became utterly enraged, and slipped into the prison to attack Slade.
Slade had barely gotten himself clear of Gar's very lethal attacks and out into the open when the warden came to announce that he'd been freed by "friends in high places," which only infuriated Gar more. He sent a letter to Slade, formally challenging him.
Slade decided to go to the fight.
I cannot do what happened next any justice in words. So I'm going to have to give you the pages, and let you see for yourself what happened between them.
When was the last time anyone saw ten full pages dedicated to one conversation between two people who had plenty of reason to be enemies, but walked out of a diner with... a very deep understanding and respect of each other?
I call Slade and Gar the "Titans Platonic Love Story" for many, many reasons. Those pages above are the first of them.
Slade did disappear back to Africa after that, for a while. Then, well, New Titans 62-65 happened. Which is another good example of the issues of the platonic love story. The Titans (Cyborg, Starfire, Speedy, Jericho, Troia, and Raven) were hunting a non-human killer in the sewers of NYC. They got jumped by some nasty rat-things, and Donna and Raven nearly died of a plague the rat-creatures were carrying. Raven managed to cure Donna, and herself, but it was close. Slade had been hired for a job four months prior. Two months later, he'd been attacked in Africa, the house was burned down (for the first time, not the last), and Wintergreen was injured badly enough that he slipped into a coma. Slade took it poorly, and went hunting his one-time employers. He managed to track down his attackers... coincidentally, to a party Gar was at. Slade attacked his enemy, Gar tried to stop him, and the enemy transformed into one of the rat-things.
Things got... messy. Gar doesn't exactly take it well when one of his friends is hurt, and the rat-thing struck what would have been a mortal blow on a normal human.
[Tell me again they're not friends, DC.]
Slade got away from that fight, and wound up joining up with the Titans to explain that he'd been hired to ship underground medicines into the country a few months back. (Joe was kind of relieved to hear that his dad had a decent reason for being in the middle of all of this.) Slade got suspicious and investigated, and found out that the supposed medicines were actually the beginning of the plague-carrying shape-changer rat-thing vampires from outer space. [Hey, I didn't write it!]
As it's against his code to let things like that use him, especially against his country, even more especially when they attack his best friend, Slade was a little irked and went on the offensive, running at the Titans' side for the rest of the time. He tried to warn Raven that something was leaping for her, but she didn't react fast enough. The plague in her veins made for them having to fight Dark Raven all over again.
Also, the rat-things managed to capture Slade, and tried to turn him. Kory interceded. Had she been ten seconds later...
Oh, by the way, for all of you TT v.3 fans? This is the storyline where Tim Drake, Gotham boy, introduces himself to Changeling, Starfire, Cyborg, and Deathstroke as someone who was "helping Batman behind the scenes", angled in such a way that Deathstroke got a very good look at this black-haired, blue-eyed teenage boy's face.
Once the giant evil space vampire rats were all taken care of (and Raven was cured) Slade went back to Africa.
Wintergreen had been in a coma for the previous two months, with really no change. Slade stood there at his bedside, pleading with him to wake up, to be all right... and Wintergreen woke. Came straight up out of the coma to look at him and scold him over sentimentality.
...Sometimes they're not subtle.
Crisis on Infinite Earths happened not that long afterwards. If you look, Slade's there, running with the heroes, trying to save the world. Afterwards... one of the major storylines of the Post-Crisis NTT team happens. It's commonly known as:
Due to length, I'm only going to hit the high points (there are high points?) of Titans Hunt. It's a fairly well-known story, after all.
Joe had many times tried to help Raven in one of her many battles against her father's influence and her own nightmares. In one instance, he used his ability to slip inside her mind, trying to strengthen her from within, and he was successful in that goal.
However, that one act of love paved the way to one of the worst things to ever happen to the Titans, because the corrupted spirits of Raven's people found a useful tool in the gentle, mute artist. Through some bizarre twists of comic-book logic, the Spirits covertly used Joe to take over the Wildebeest Society, and the Wildebeests managed to attack and capture, maim, or kill almost all of the Titans. Again, Nightwing slipped through the cracks--this time by imitating one of the 'Beests.
Steve Dayton (Gar's adoptive father, aka Mento) called Slade, and asked him to come, since the Titans were missing and no one knew why. He offered to pay him for the help, and Slade flatly refused. The quote is "Wallet the money, Dayton. They took my son too."
The pair of concerned fathers -- mostly Slade -- managed to first find the broken, dead body of Golden Eagle (Charlie), and then some of Dayton's people found a nearly-dead Aqualad on the beach where they were attacked. They got Garth to the hospital in time to save him, but it was Slade, not Dayton, who told them that if they put oxygen on that boy, they would kill him and had a water tank flown in to put him in.
Fetching Arella (Raven's mother) and pulling her out of her grief, helping to rescue Danny Chase and take the Wildebeests on, finding Pantha, trying to find Nightwing, and the first fight in which Slade and Dick (finally re-united) learned that Joe had "turned on them" took up the next few issues of Titans Hunt. As did the moment when the capsules apparently containing all of the other Titans were launched to several parts of the globe to keep them from being freed by Slade, Dick, Arella, Danny, and Pantha. The group managed to escape back to Titans' Island, where Slade and Pantha made friends in their own, inimitable way. Mostly involving brawling with each other and some very... pointedly catty insults.
They'd escaped, but not for long. The Wildebeests attacked the Tower, and in the fighting it was nearly completely destroyed. The small group of often uneasy allies were left without a base except the T-jet, and their friends scattered all across the globe. They tracked one of the capsules to Russia, to Science City and Red Star and one of his allies. Vic Stone had been in that capsule when it exploded, and had been badly damaged. They had tried to save him with Russian technology, but had only been able to turn him into a drone.. a drone full of Russian technology that Leonid's friend did not want to release to the Titans.
Things went... badly. But they managed, after a nasty fight, to convince the scientist to let Vic come back with them, only to walk straight into a new disaster, one in which Joe managed to kidnap Dick away from them. Slade and Arella, while trying to find them and understand what had happened, had quite a long talk. Slade, apparently, had fully expected Raven and Joe to become lovers after what they'd gone through, given how often Joe mentioned her.
It's interesting to note that throughout Titans Hunt, Slade was the only person who refused to believe that it was his son's choice to become evil. Not Dick, one of his best friends, or Arella, Raven's empathic mother, but Slade. He was the only one that never wavered in his belief that that was not his son.
Titans Hunt promptly got side-tracked by the story where the Titans from the future attack Troia, and the War of the Gods came to Earth (issues 80 & 81, totally skippable). In issue 82, though, the Titans search for Joe and the others, picking up the original story. That search led them into the pocket-dimension of Azarath, and to a fight between the Wildebeests and the Titans, the Spirits of Azarath and Joe Wilson, and a moment that would change Slade Wilson's life forever, all over again.
The spirits had used Joe's body too hard in their quest for new bodies to inhabit, a new life to take over, and they used him worse yet in the fight with his father. Joe's body, just like Grant's, began to burn out from the inside. As the spirits struggled to free themselves from him and to take over the Titans, Joe did, for a few minutes, gain control of his own body and the voice they had given him with their twisted healing. In those moments of clarity, as he struggled to save the lives and souls of his friends and teammates, he begged his father to save his friends. To "stop me, before I hurt the others. Do it, father. I'll always love you, Dad. Quick, before they gain control, STOP US!!"
And Slade struck. The blade he'd always carried went straight through his son's chest, and he eased his son to the floor, cradling him in his arms just as he'd cradled Grant... Much like with Grant, Joe's body decayed further, burning away into nothing but ash in his father's hands.
Slade took it... pretty horrifically badly. The spirits of Azarath were still loose, because he had held off too long in making that strike, and... at least he had a target. The rest of the Spirits and Wildebeests and all of their technology worked pretty well to let him vent some of his rage. Though he didn't come anywhere near starting to cope. Escaping out of the pocket-dimension of Azarath took the willing sacrifice of Danny and Arella, and Raven's near-total destruction.
Slade disappeared, only to show back up and have some very sharp words with Nightwing. Some days they really don't communicate all that well. Especially when they're both grieving so much.
Slade then vanished back to Africa almost immediately. The canon in Deathstroke is that he refused to speak for almost a month.
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