Captain Jack Sparrow. Tony Montana. Deathstroke. Michael Bolton loves the first two and no doubt, if he read comics, he would love Deathstoke, too. There is something undeniably delicious about antiheroes and writer/artist Tony Daniel says telling stories with characters who walk the line between good and evil is just as fun as one would imagine.
This isn’t the first time Daniel has been tasked with both gigs on a DC title as he previously held both roles for “Batman,” “Detective Comics” and “Action Comics.” Nor is this Slade Wilson’s first foray into a solo title. In fact, “Deathstroke” launched as an ongoing series as part of the New 52 in 2011 written by Kyle Higgins with art by Joe Bennett only to be canceled in May 2013 after 20 issues.
But Daniel told CBR News that the character, created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, has never been more popular thanks to the popular animated series like “Teen Titans” and “Young Justice”; video games like “Injustice: Gods Among Us” and “Batman: Arkham Origins”; and his inspired portrayal by Manu Bennett on “Arrow” and the time is absolutely right for an all-new set of adventures featuring as the character formerly known as The Terminator.
Daniel also teased tweaks are coming for Deathstroke’s costume design and that, while his teammates in the recently re-launched “New Suicide Squad” aren’t currently in the plans, he’s open to having Joker’s Daughter or Harley Quinn join in the fun (and action) as long as it happens organically.
CBR News: Is Deathstroke a character that you know well or did you have to do a lot of research once you landed this gig?
Tony Daniel: A little of both because I’ve always liked Deathstroke — as does practically everybody else that’s ever read him. My first introduction to him was, of course, by George Perez and I was probably still in grade school. I remember a kid pulling out a comic book with him in it and was floored by his mask and his machine gun and his really big sword. He was just instantaneously cool and unforgettable. So yes, I’ve also liked him. And later on, when I started to work in comics, I was able to work with him in “Teen Titans,” and that was a real honor and privilege to get to draw such a cool character back then.
This truly is your book since, like you did with “Batman,” you are writing and drawing “Deathstroke.” What does wearing both hats allow you to do as a creator?
It allows me a lot of freedom actually. As I’m writing, I’m thinking visually and I can come up with great big, imaginative backdrops and settings for the adventure. And it allows me to really plan for how I want the book to look and feel. I am envisioning the overall tone as I am writing. I’m really allowed to put all of my imagination onto the page. I am still working with an inker and a colorist but working with a great colorist like Tomeu Morey, who is phenomenal, and a great inker like Sandu Florea, really sets the tone, as well. For me to get to write the characters too is a huge bonus for me.
There is so many things that I want to do with the character and so many directions that I want to go. I want people to feel invested in the character and invested in his missions. They are not going to just be missions for hire or flavor of the week bad guys that he’s going to fight. The missions that he is going to undertake are going to be a little more personal to him and I hope that translates into people wanting to follow his story.
Will these missions lead to a long-term storyline or arcs, or are these personal missions done-in-one adventures?
To be honest, I am looking at a year out. The road is a long journey and it’s not something that’s going to be resolved in the first arc. The first arc, which is going to be between five and six issues, is going to be a long arc. But it’s leading to something bigger. But we’ll also have the mysteries and intrigue and thrills and all of that other stuff that go along with all of the action that readers want to see with a character like Deathstroke. We want to see him doing what he does best — killing and taking on the biggest and the baddest the DCU has to offer — but we need a reason to follow his story. And that’s the challenge for me. To create a story that will drive his story all the way through to the next year and hopefully beyond.
After “Forever Evil,” Lex Luthor is looking to join “Justice League,” Sinestro has his own series and there is a “Lobo” series coming too. Is Deathstoke another villain with his own series or is he a good guy? Or does he at least consider himself a good guy?
That’s the fun part of the job — getting to write a character that is essentially looked upon by the DCU’s superheroes as a bad guy, as a villain, and for the most part, he is a villain when it comes to their adventures together. Ask the Justice League or the Teen Titans and Deathstroke is definitely a bad guy. But for me writing his character, you have to write it for him as the protagonist so what that means for me is that I get to write him in a way much like a Tony Soprano. He’s essentially a bad guy and a flawed character that killed a few people but you still came to watch “The Sopranos” to watch him and his story. And you wanted the best to happen to him.
I get to take a guy that is essentially a bad guy and get to put him in situations where he is the good guy. And for most of my first year, his villains are going to be guys that are truly evil, guys where there is no question. These are evil badasses. [Laughs] And they need to be taken down. He’s not going to be going after Batman or Superman and we’re rooting for him as he does it. I’m not going to be doing a story where he is killing a good guy although maybe someone like the Green Arrow may play a role down the road. I don’t have anything planned at this moment but I can see that coming into play.
Are these villains going to be classic DCU villains or are you introducing new villains and antagonists too?
For the first arc, new characters, new villains, new people that are working against him and new people that he’s working for on a case-by-case basis. He doesn’t have one main benefactor that he’s working for. Though in this first arc, he does meet somebody new that he doesn’t know if he should trust 100 per cent. Basically, Deathstroke doesn’t trust anybody. Even though they are going to pay him, he has to have a certain amount of trust in the character. If I feel like someone from his past makes sense, sure, we’ll use him or her. But if has to be organic to the book. A lot of this book is going to be re-establishing who he is, what he’s about, what he wants and what’s important to him as a character.
Glad you mentioned Green Arrow as Deathstroke played a major role on the “Arrow” TV series this past season. Has the TV series lifted Deathstroke’s popularity enough to warrant another comic book series? After all, we already had a “Deathstroke” series in the New 52 that was canceled after 20 issues.
It’s very exciting because he’s probably more popular. Actually, I would say without a doubt that he’s more popular today than he was 10-15 years ago. He’s everywhere. He’s in video games. He’s in cartoons. He’s on “Arrow.” People love him. They love his look. Over the last couple of years, he’s really exploded into the brink of mainstream because of all of his exposure. That makes it a great time to release a new “Deathstroke” book because he’s never been more popular. This is a chance for us to take advantage of that and do a story that is going to last long and re-establish him as a prized character within the DC Universe, be it as a villain or a protagonist as he is portrayed in this story.
You talked about his look and how cool it is, but are there aspects of his design that you are most looking forward to drawing?
Actually, I have him up on my table right now. I’m re-designing him for other artists to use too. What he’s going to wear, essentially, is his base combat suit, which will feature things we are familiar with like the chainmail and his coloring — the copper/gold blend with the blue — that all stays intact. But we are going to be able to add things and subtract things depending on the mission. If he is going to go and take out crime lords in a palace or a mansion, he’s not going to go in there with rocket launchers attached to his shoulder pads. [Laughs] He’s going to go in there really quietly with just a knife so that gives me a chance to really make something exciting when he’s going to infiltrate an army of 30 soldiers. He’ll be totally tricked out with the works and that will be a great surprise for people and great fun for me to draw, as well, when you consider all of the weapons that he’ll have at his disposal.
I doubt it. Honestly, the first year that I have planned out is very Deathstroke/Slade Wilson-centric and it’s really all about him. There may be a mention of the Suicide Squad but if it happens, it will happen organically. And it would have to be something that I think would make a great addition to a story that I haven’t written as of today but there might be some way to have it make sense to incorporate one of those characters into something. The same can be said of the characters from “Green Arrow.” If it happens organically and it makes sense, then I will do it. At this moment, it’s very Slade Wilson-centric.
You mentioned Slade Wilson and Deathstroke interchangeably. We always talk about, which one is the mask: Batman or Bruce Wayne? Or Superman or Clark Kent? Are there two sides to Slade Wilson and Deathstroke?
I think we will definitely get the answer to that in this series. I would, of course, say: “Read it and see.” But I will say, there is a lot of stuff going on with Slade Wilson. There are some new things that we’re going to introduce for the character and a lot of those things have to do with both Slade Wilson, as well as Deathstroke. When he puts on that mask, he’s Deathstroke. When it’s off, he’s Slade Wilson but he’s still Deathstroke too. There’s a fine line. I am bringing some dimension to the character that he maybe didn’t have before and I hope people really enjoy it. The first issue really sets the tone for what we’re going to do with the character.
You mentioned the Suicide Squad is unlikely to appear, but will he have a supporting cast?
He will. There will be characters that I’m introducing, mainly new characters that are part of his network, or more specifically, his old network, from his past that we didn’t know about. I think with a character like him and the types of missions he will be tackling, his world is all underworld. It’s all criminals and dirty politicians. It’s assassinations and economic terrorism. And it’s global. There are a lot of things that we are doing within his world and basically everyone that he is friendly with is people like him. They’re all bad guys, and some of them he can trust and some of them he can’t and some of them he’s not sure of. That’s a fun world to explore.
We’re also going to get some great new female characters, including some really cool female assassins and connections within this underworld. They’re all really fun to write and draw.
“Deathstroke” #1, written and illustrated by Tony Daniel, arrives in October.