Managing an unruly team of vigilantes, the world’s deadliest assassin and uncovering the secret history of the New 52 may sound like a lot, but it’s a regular work day for Justin Jordan, writer of “Team 7” and “Deathstroke” for DC Comics.
The scribe behind the acclaimed “The Legend Of Luther Strode” at Image Comics, Jordan joined “Deathstroke” in December of last year, replacing Rob Liefeld as the book’s permanent writer with artist Edgar Salazar providing the art. Besides exploring Slade Wilson in his own title, Jordan also pens a younger version of the assassin in “Team 7” with Jesus Merino on art. While “Team 7” has been detailing events five years prior to the launch of the New 52, beginning with issue #6 Wilson’s story starts to catch up with the current day when Deathstroke goes after his ex-teammates in the present while they search for Caitlin Fairchild in the past.
Speaking with Comic Book Resources, Jordan gave us a look into what’s coming up for both Slade and his teammates including his thoughts on “Team 7” in the current day, Deathstroke’s motivations and the challenges of balancing both a solo title and a ten-person team in the DCU.
CBR News: “Team 7” has been touted as the secret history of the New 52, but while it’s set five years in the past there’s mention of Slade hunting the ex-Team 7 members in the current day in issue #6. Are we going to start jumping back and forth through time, or seeing where the Team 7 members are in the present day?
Justin Jordan: Yeah, to a certain extent we’re trying to get a better integration between what happened in the past and what’s going on in the current day. Now obviously a lot of those people are doing their own thing in their own books, which for me with, say, Deathstroke, is not that hard to coordinate! But we’re trying to get a little bit of the present day stuff in and show how what happened five years ago still resonates and is still affecting the things that are going on as a way to bookend the story. So we’re trying something new going forward.
Along those lines, Team 7 was created to deal with the “threat” of superheroes when they first appeared. Are we going to see a big change in the team’s attitudes and their purpose when moving into the current day where superheroes are now the norm?
Yeah, I mean that’s the idea. There’s not a lot of point telling a story set five years ago if everybody is exactly the same as they were in the present continuity. So we’re trying to show how people have changed in present times, and what it is that changed them. That’s probably most obvious with Amanda Waller, I think, she’s one of the big ones, but Black Canary, Dinah’s, attitude has changed and everybody is affected by it. Some people don’t change a whole lot, they just kind of have what they suspected at the beginning confirmed. But several of them are changed really radically by what happens to them.
Because we know these characters have quit in the present, will you actually show readers what drives the team apart, or are there more stories to tell in the past before we hit that point?
I can tell you in the next arc you get to see the very beginnings of what breaks the Team apart and it leads to a fairly cataclysmic event that we haven’t revealed yet. So coming up we have kind of a big deal thing going on!
With that in mind, what can you tell us about the story coming up in the next few issues and into the next arc? There’s clearly an emphasis on Slade as we get his origin — will the focus remain on him?
In the next arc we are showing them dealing with some technology and some characters that have not yet been introduced in the DC New 52. In the arc we did with Eclipso you get to see the beginnings of how Slade ended up with his powers and that sort of general track will go on in the next arc and going forward. We’re trying to show how they became the people they eventually become.
Since you’re writing both “Team 7” and “Deathstroke,” will the two comics start to tie-in with each other more? Are you eyeing doing a crossover with the books down the road?
A bit! It is something we discussed and it’s something I don’t want to spoil too much. But it is convenient being able to write the character in both the modern framework and five years ago. It makes it a pretty organic fit when we want to do that stuff.
Jesus Merino is the book’s main artist, but Pascal Alixe will be taking over the next couple of issues — will Pascal be taking over art duties permanently, or is this just a fill-in for Jesus?
To the best of my knowledge Jesus is remaining on, it’s just going to be switched off with a couple more people to give him a little more breathing room in the schedule.
Turning to “Deathstroke,” how did you get tapped for the series? Was it just a natural shift since you were already working on the character in “Team 7?”
Yeah, I was originally just going to come on for a two-issue arc because they needed somebody to write it, and with me having experience writing him on “Team 7” it seemed like a pretty natural fit. Then they liked what I was doing with the character and I liked writing him, so they had me stay on indefinitely!
How is Slade in his solo book different than the man we’re seeing in “Team 7?”
My take on him in “Team 7” is that Deathstroke took the whole military mercenary thing as far as he could take it. He kind of did everything he set out to do and there wasn’t any more world for him to conquer. One of the reasons he’s agreed to be on Team 7 is that the emergence of superhumans allowed him a new challenge. It stopped him from being bored, basically, and it gave him something to aim for. Five years later he’s been there and done that and he’s still looking for that bigger challenge, still trying to find the thing that satisfies him, and he’s finding that the things he thought would make him happy aren’t really doing the job. He’s in a different stage of his life, he’s significantly more powerful in the modern day, he’s got his superpowers now and that allows him to do a lot of stuff. For the last five years he’s mainly been enjoying that. He’s kind of hit the stage of, “Well, now what?”
Along those lines, prior to your taking over both Rob Liefeld and Kyle Higgins worked on the book and had very distinct takes on the character — Higgins presenting him as a man with something to prove while Liefeld’s Deathstroke was much more fight-oriented. What do you feel is the motivation and driving force behind Deathstroke?
In general I’m going with the take that Deathstroke is out to prove that he’s the biggest badass in the world. The nuance of that is, I mentioned before, he’s finding out that, yes, he’s every bit as awesome as he thinks he is — and he’s also finding doing that is not providing the satisfaction he hoped it would. He’s basically gotten to the stage of his life where he’s accomplished most of his goals, but he’s found them wanting.
In that case, how does Jericho and Slade’s family factor in?
We’re going to address that stuff at some point; it’s part of the subtext of what’s going on. Deathstroke is a guy, in my conception of him, who given enough time there’s nothing he can’t outthink in terms of an enemy. But he’s managed to fuck up his family pretty spectacularly. That bothers him! [Laughs] He doesn’t admit it, but one of the answers to what he needs to make his life worth living might come back to the mess with his family — which might not be fixable.
We know from talking with you before you have a deep and abiding love for the original Wildstorm Team 7. Were you also a fan of Deathstroke from “The New Teen Titans” or his other appearances?
I was, I like [Marv] Wolfman and [Georg] Perez’ work with him. I actually was a big fan of his solo series in the ’90s, which I liked a great deal. He’s one of those characters who it’s hard to find the right fit. He’s an interesting character and he’s got a lot of fans but at the same time you’re dealing with a character who is fundamentally, at best, an anti-hero, which kind of makes it hard to hang a monthly series on him! Trying to find that right tone has been interesting. But I’ve always liked the character and it’s interesting to write a character who is portrayed as being the smartest guy in the room in addition to being the guy who can kick your ass physically, so it’s been fun!
Because of that, how do you tackle the challenge of writing a character that is this unstoppable force — the smartest guy with the biggest guns — and make him relatable to readers?
In terms of relatability, I honestly think the family thing is a basis for that. As a professional he is more or less unbeatable; in his personal life he’s kind of a fuck-up. I don’t want that to be the level of soap opera, but I think the fact that he’s really good at his job but is terrible at other things takes away from the invulnerability aspect of him as a boring, invincible character. On the other hand, the other thing I’m trying to do going forward is to present him with problems that he can’t solve by shooting them. The first two issues ask, “How do you kill someone who can’t be killed?” I want to present him with challenges that are mental, that he has to think so you get a sense of how he approaches these problems, how he solves problems, trying to make it a character study. I think trying to show readers how people think and why they do the things they do, even if the way they think is horrible and even if the things they do are awful, goes a long way to making them relatable and making them interesting, or at least I hope so.
After these first issues he’ll take on the Teen Titans and the Ravagers in March — what can you say about your upcoming issues?
I kind of want to open up his world a little bit. One of the things that has been tricky about Deathstroke is he’s a very self-contained character. Basically, in the current run he’s kind of got Peabody and that’s sort of it. That’s difficult to write a character who is not bouncing off people who know him. It’s hard to show contrast, though you can do it a little with internal monologue. So to a certain extent I want to develop a supporting cast for Deathstroke, which he hasn’t had in a while — give him people to bounce off against and have conflict with so we can see different sides of him and see him in situations that aren’t just combat related ones.
Do you see the New 52 Teen Titans being part of that, either supporting cast or — I guess you would say “heroes gallery” rather than “rogues gallery” for an anti-hero?
[Laughs] I would like them to be, and that is something we’ve discussed, it’s just a matter of making it work in terms of coordination. But everybody seems behind the idea; I mean, that’s where he comes from, so it makes sense to have him interacting with them. Just thematically it’s kind of interesting because Deathstroke is an older character in terms of his actual experience and the Teen Titans are not — you’ve got Superboy who is a couple of months old! That contrast of youth and exuberance versus cynical old experience is a good one, and I think it would be a shame to miss that. So we’re trying to get him to interact with the Titans when we can.
Edgar Salazar is the artist working with you on “Deathstroke” — how is the experience working with him different than working with Jesus on “Team 7?”
It’s pretty straightforward in both cases. We talk a little bit and we mostly go through the editors; I do find that just the nature of the book changes how I’m interacting with the artists, because Team 7 has a lot of characters who are doing a lot of stuff at once. That changes how I write the script and that informs how Jesus has to draw it, whereas with “Deathstroke” we have one character interacting with one or two other characters and Edgar is a little freed-up in terms of what he can do. In both cases the working experience has been both positive and pretty easy.
Like you said, on “Team 7” you have some heavy lifting with about ten characters running around. Outside of Deathstroke, is there a character that really stands out from the pack, or conversely someone you want to focus more on in upcoming issues?
I don’t know if there’s one character. There are characters I found that I really like to write. I really like writing Grifter, he’s a lot of fun — my approach to Grifter, as I have mentioned, is that I’m writing him as if he were Sawyer from “Lost” in a superhero book! [Laughs] But there are characters in Team 7 that given the sheer volume I have not gotten to focus on as much as I like; Higgins for example. Moving forward I want to give characters a chance in the spotlight. Coming up we’ve got some focus on Fairchild, which is interesting, because Fairchild’s sort of the anti-Slade but they are best friends.
Finally, now that you’re a few issues into your DC work, how does it feel to have the books in readers’ hands and have them respond to it?
The response has been pretty positive, especially with “Deathstroke.” Rob’s run on it was unfortunately fairly maligned, so people seem to be pretty happy with what I’m doing on the book. I’m certainly trying to give them the book that I, as a Deathstroke fan, would want to read. That’s my approach to “Team 7” too. I’m trying to write the books I would want to read. I will say that in “Team 7” things are getting stepped up. If you thought the first issues were action-packed and there was some “holy shit!” stuff going on, you haven’t seen anything yet. The stakes get substantially bigger in the next arc, and that’s going to be when we see the scale on which the team is working.
“Team 7” #4 and “Deathstroke” #16 hit stores January 16.