All right, it’s time for another flashback episode! As I’ve written in this space before, the episode “Aqualad” didn’t actually tell us much about how the original Titans team got so messed up. This episode does a better job… but only slightly.
Not long after Aqualad’s fatal run-in with Deathstroke, the team encounters his son, Jericho (whom we previously saw exchanging records with Dick at the end of that installment). They bond over having weird, horrible father figures; Dick and Hank in particular are really able to empathize on that front.
From Jericho, the team learns Deathstroke’s origin story — how a soldier named Slade Wilson was experimented on until he became an unstoppable killing machine. But when such a person marries and starts a family, suddenly they become vulnerable. This story has been told several times in the comics (most recently in writer Christopher Priest’s magnificent Deathstroke run), but eventually some of Slade’s enemies raid his home and hold Jericho at knifepoint to get the information they want. Slade isn’t the kind of man to give in to such threats, and he kills all his assailants — but not before one of them manages to slit Jericho’s throat. The boy lives, but loses his ability to speak.
You may remember that one of my other questions about Aqualad’s death was why Deathstroke was even at the airport with a sniper rifle in the first place. At least we get an answer on that: Apparently his target was Jillian, Donna’s Amazon chaperone! Garth just walked into the line of fire at exactly the wrong moment. I find such an accidental killing slightly hard to believe from an expert assassin like Slade, but I like how it adds an element of irony to his whole tragic dynamic with the Titans. Jillian tells Donna that she’ll take responsibility and handle the situation.
Dick and the others soon find out that Jericho isn’t just a source of information about Slade; he’s also got powers of his own. Jericho has always had the ability to take control of another person’s body by making eye contact, but I love the way this version depicts it with a cloud of ethereal smoke. As Jericho explains his abilities to the Titans, he flashes back to the first time he used them in front of his father. Slade explained that they were an inheritance from the experiments done on him, and warned Jericho never to reveal them, lest people try to control him. Honestly, aside from conducting his life in such a way that armed men would be inclined to slash his son’s throat, Slade doesn’t come off as that bad of a dad in this episode.
He’s still much better at being a killer, though. If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of an Amazon named Jillian before, it’s because she’s not very good at her job! Slade dispatches her easily and then texts Donna from her phone to meet at the gallery. Donna shows up and gets a duel. I love the lasso-vs.-sword action, but ultimately she can’t compete. Deathstroke leaves her bleeding and crawling on the floor, warning her and the rest of the Titans to leave his son alone.
This will shock you, but they do not take his advice! Instead, they convince Jericho to join their ranks. The one-two punch of “We’re superheroes! Look at our awesome costumes!” and “Also your dad is a mass murderer” obviously does wonders on a young boy’s brain. But when Jericho declares that he’s moving out of his mom’s house to live in Titans Tower, she tells Slade about it. He sends Wintergreen to facilitate a meeting. Talking to Jericho, Wintergreen makes the very good point that the Titans of Greek mythology all got their butts kicked by Zeus. “Who wants to hang out with losers?” It’s an apt comparison considering the pretty paltry win-loss record among this superhero team.
Jericho agrees to a one-on-one meeting with his father in order to find out his side of the story, but only after getting an okay from Robin. Unfortunately for the kid, Robin lies to him and tags along so he can take down Deathstroke. Slade says that betrayal is a sin much worse than murder, which is certainly not a widely accepted moral stance but makes sense with his worldview. He and Robin fight (this time it’s bo staff vs. bo staff), and he beats Dick just as easily as he overcame Donna. But at the last second, when Slade is about to deliver the, um, death stroke, Jericho steps in the way and gets killed instead.
And… that’s it! Cut to all the Titans giving Dick withering looks as they leave the Tower, even though pursuing Deathstroke aggressively was something both Hank and Donna had previously been gung-ho about. I kind of can’t believe Jericho’s death lasted like two seconds even though it was the whole reason for doing this entire episode? I especially would’ve loved to see Deathstroke’s immediate reaction, since this typically coldhearted killer seemed to have a soft spot for his son. But we don’t get it. What we do see also doesn’t really mesh with Dick’s confession last week that he “killed” Jericho. If you love the kid, doesn’t he deserve some agency for his actions? He chose to sacrifice himself.
Oh well. Back to the present next week.