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By Thomas Wheeler

You know, sometimes it's tough having TWO distinct Teen Titans toy lines out there. There's the one from Bandai that's based on the animated series, and then there's the one from DC Direct that's based on the comics. This figure is from the DC Direct line based on the comics, just so you know.

It's probably fairly obvious, though, given that this figure has his proper name of "Deathstroke", a name that neither the cartoon series nor Bandai were especially comfortable with, using the character's "real" first name of "Slade" in its place. Granted, the character's full title - "Deathstroke the Terminator" - is no help. Nobody wants trouble from California's current governor. Not even the DC Direct version uses the "T" word.

Although technically part of a new line of Teen Titans figures based on the revamped-one-more-time comic book, the character of Deathstroke goes all the way back to the earliest days of the Titans' most popular incarnation, the early 80's version under the guiding hands of Marv Wolfman and George Perez.

Deathstroke the Terminator was introduced as a colorful mercenary, working for an organization called the HIVE who for reasons undetermined for quite some time, wanted the Titans brought in. As Deathstroke made more appearances, his origins became increasingly known.

Deathstroke is Slade Wilson, a quintessential soldier with a superb track record of service to his country. Along the way, he underwent certain top-secret genetic experiments, which seemed initially to fail, but ultimately succeeded, increasing the workings of Slade's brain to a far higher level than most humans, granting him superhuman strength, reflexes, and agility.

After leaving the military, and bored with the concept of civilian life, Slade Wilson became a mercenary for hire, although not one without a certain honor. He would never take a contract to betray his country. Still, his life was not without problems. His younger son was kidnaped and injured at one point, which resulted in Slade's increasingly estranged wife to try to kill him. Wilson dodged the bullet, but it still took out his eye. This is reflected in the appearance of his mask. As Dick "Nightwing" Grayson once put it, "So he really is blind in one eye - but he's good enough not to care who knows."

As to where Deathstroke got the rather outlandish suit he wears, that has its origins, too, but suffice to say that you've got to respect someone who can enter the seamy underworld of mercenary life wearing orange and blue and get away with it...

The character became increasingly popular in DC Comics, and Deathstroke started to forge a life outside of the Titans. He became less of a pure bad guy and more of a tough-guy hero, of the type much in demand in those years. He appeared extensively in a Superman-based mini-series alongside most of the DC pantheon of established heroes, in a storyline called "Panic in the Sky". In fact, he was specifically recruited by Big Blue himself. He also worked alongside the Titans he had once pursued, on several different occasions, most notably durng the extensive storyline known as "Titans Hunt".

Ultimately, Deathstroke was given his own title in the late 80's - early '90's, which enjoyed a fairly healthy run of gritty action stories, generally very capably written with excellent artwork.

In more recent times, Deathstroke seems to have returned to the role of semi-villain, accepting a contract to attack Superman, and seeming to challenge the current team of Titans at every turn, although supposedly it's to convince them just how serious a game the superhero biz is these days. He still is nowhere near as blatantly villainous as his animated counterpart. These days, Deathstroke seems to be something of an enigma, working his own agenda and not really falling squarely on either side of the hero-villain fence.

The action figure produced by DC Direct is excellent. Deathstroke has always had a dynamic appearance, and although he went through a few uniform changes when he had his own title, in more recent years he has returned to his traditional uniform, which remains his best. You're not going to forget the bifurcated mask, and the uniform that seems half chain-mail and half super-hero union suit tends to convey an image of someone who is ready for a fight, on his own rules, and it's not going to be pleasant, but who is not without a sense of honor.

The figure is a perfect likeness of the character, superbly sculpted and detailed, and well-articulated as DC Direct's figures tend to be. Deathstroke is articulated at the head, arms, elbows, wrists (gloves, if you want to be technical about it, but it's nice way of concealing the articulation joint), legs, and knees. The waist does not appear to be articulated.

One nice touch to the costume are the two thin sashes coming from the back of Deathstroke's mask. The figure comes equipped with a sword, which fits into a slot in the back, and a rifle of rather futuristic design.

About the only negative point to the figure is its height relative to other DC Direct figures. He's a hair shorter than my JLA Aquaman figure, and only very slightly taller than my Beast Boy figure. Really, he should be the same height as Aquaman. However, there has been some slight scale variance in DC Direct's lines over the years (I was sincerely stunned by a recent article in Tomart's Action Figure Digest as to just how many figures DC Direct has actually made!), and there's no rule that they all HAVE to be displayed together (and I don't own very many of them anyway), and Deathstroke is probably to scale with the rest of the Teen Titans assortment that he is shipped with (which includes Robin, Wonder Girl, and Blackfire), so it's certainly forgiveable.

Bottom line? Deathstroke's been around for over 20 years. This is really his first official action figure, not counting the one from the animated series. He's fought alongside and against some of DC's finest. He's had his own title. It's about darned time he got a good action figure, and this one is certainly it. If you're a Titans fan, or even just a Deathstroke fan, then head to your local comic shop, Suncoast, or other specialty shop, and bring Deathstroke home to your collection. I know you'll be as pleased with him as I am!