WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS up to Green Arrow #39
Are Green Arrow and Deathstroke being set up as arch-enemies once again? This seems to be the case in the latest issue of DC Comics' Green Arrow. Although Slade Wilson does not make a physical appearance in Green Arrow #39, his presence is felt throughout the book.
The action of the issue spins out of Deathstroke Annual #2, in which Slade Wilson's actions inspired a war between two powerful clans in the nation of Rhapastan. With the country in ruins and the infrastructure destroyed, Oliver Queen takes it upon himself to personally airlift food and medical supplies to the war-torn populace, all while cursing himself for not having put an arrow through Slade's good eye - or capturing him for Amanda Waller - years earlier.
This proves significant, as the Green Arrow title hadn't suggested any prior contact between Green Arrow and Deathstroke in the reality of the DC Comics Rebirth before now. Indeed, the dialogue seems more appropriate to the versions of Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson seen in the television series Arrow more than DC Comics.
The modern rivalry between Queen and Wilson, for those who knew little of it before The CW series, started in the event book Identity Crisis. Hired by the fugitive Doctor Light to protect him from the Justice League, Slade Wilson pit himself against seven superheroes and held his own for a time thanks to careful planning. The turning point of the battle came when Green Arrow attacked Slade armed with nothing but the pointy end of a broken arrow.
While Slade had the foresight to break everything in Green Arrow's arsenal with a well-timed sword-strike, he literally didn't see it coming when Green Arrow targeted his blind-spot in a hand-to-hand fight.
After that, Slade Wilson held a grudge against Green Arrow and began seeking ways to take out Oliver Queen and his family, throughout the Judd Winick run of Green Arrow. This culminated in Deathstroke teaming with Shazam's arch-enemy, Doctor Sivana in the Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special to lead an army of super-villains to crash Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance's wedding.
Why? Basically, "because we're evil." In the end, old grudges mattered more than the plan's likelihood of success.
All this worked to inform the rivalry between the two in Arrow several years later. While the writers of Arrow were able to craft a new origin story to develop the relationship between Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson to make the rivalry work, the conceit of setting these characters up as arch-enemies never worked anywhere near as well in the comics.
The chief reason being the derailment of Slade Wilson's character under various writers in the 2000s, who wrote Slade - like so many other supervillains before and since - as a mustache-twirling villain instead of a tormented anti-hero. As originally envisioned by Marv Wolfman and George Perez in their legendary run on The New Teen Titans, Slade Wilson was a mercenary possessed of a keen sense of honor. Deathstroke always fulfilled a contract once he took it. Deathstroke kept his promises. Deathstroke never held grudges. And Deathstroke never killed unless in self-defense... or if he was getting paid for it.
He even once peacefully surrendered himself to Superman after learning that a fight with the Metropolis Police Department had caused injury to the daughter of an old friend from his days in the Army!
While the Deathstroke of the DC Rebirth continuity has been portrayed as a more sinister figure, or at least far more amoral, a grudge-match with Oliver Queen makes less sense than ever. As Benjamin Percy's run on Green Arrow proved, Oliver Queen is at his best when he is fighting against corrupt authority figures.
As Robin Hood fought The Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John, Green Arrow stands against crooked cops and illegitimate politicians. There's no place for an amoral assassin in that structure without straying from the hero's recent success. And considering the success of Green Arrow: Rebirth, the Green Arrow/Deathstroke rivalry is one story that doesn't deserve to be reborn.
Green Arrow #39 is now available from DC Comics.