WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Deathstroke #44 by Christopher Priest, Fernando Pasarin, Ryan Winn, Jeromy Cox and Willie Schubert, on sale now.
Deathstroke is the most successful contract killer in the DC Universe, but he has now found himself on the opposite end of the spectrum in the "The Terminus Agenda" crossover between Teen Titans and Deathstroke. Though a hit wasn't put out on him, Slade Wilson's continued needling of Damian Wayne resulted in his Teen Titans teammate, Red Arrow, killing him by putting an arrow through his good eye.
The fallout from Slade's death begins this week in Deathstroke #44, the first part of "Deathstroke: RIP," as villains from across the DC Universe come to pay their last respects to the fallen Terminator. Slade's own children, Rose and Jericho, also play an important role in "RIP" as they deal with his murder in different ways.
Deathstroke writer Christopher Priest spoke to CBR about killing the popular DC character, Jericho's comparison to a Jack Kirby Fourth World character, the Legion of Doom's interest in Deathstroke and how he plans to end his Rebirth run with the double-sized issue #50.
CBR: Readers saw Deathstroke meet the receiving end of an arrow to the eye in the conclusion of the Teen Titans/Deathstroke crossover. With Deathstroke #44 kicking off the "R.I.P" story arc, did you come across any advantages or disadvantages to starting a story with the main character already deceased?
Christopher Priest: Well, the main disadvantage is nobody will believe he’s dead. Or, if he actually is dead, that he’ll stay dead. Slade is a very popular character even with small children (Teen Titans Go!), and even my “civilian” friends (i.e. non-comics fans) have heard of him. Deathstroke’s dramatic entrance was one of the highlights of Justice League (the movie), and there’s an animated series in development for the character. So who are we really kidding, here?
As with all of the “deaths” of major characters in popular comics, the fun is in the journey the reader takes and the lessons the stories teach us. Rebirth Deathstroke has always been about family, something many fans who’ve chosen not to read the book may not realize. I recently compared it to the HBO series Six Feet Under in terms of how misunderstood the book was because of its title. Both series are about dysfunctional families struggling to find ways to love each other. In terms of communicating what the series is about, the closest comparison I can make is to Hugh Laurie’s Fox series, House, M.D., which was as much about a deeply emotionally crippled man as it was about medicine. I’ve described Deathstroke as "House, M.D. With A Machinegun."
I have a novel on Amazon, Dual, which is a murder mystery narrated by the victim. I’ve had a hard time finding a publisher for it because the editors who read it, while liking the book, disliked the narrative device, and the main character is dead from Chapter 1. So, yes, it’s a unique challenge, writing Deathstroke without having Deathstroke in it. But, as I said, the fun is about the process -- living in a world without Deathstroke -- which was the unstated goal of many of DC’s heroes. But do things actually get better or worse?
Can you talk a little about how Jericho and Rose are dealing with their father's death? On one hand, we see Jericho blaming himself for betraying Slade, and Rose just wants everyone to put some respect on Deathstroke's name. How will their opposing viewpoints progress as the story moves along?
Both Rose and her brother Joseph (Jericho) Wilson are, in many ways, adult survivors of child abuse. Slade Wilson didn’t even realize he had a daughter until she was ten years old and largely ignored her until her mother died years later. Throughout her life, Slade has done very creepy if not outright evil things to her (injecting her with a serum that made her crazy, putting a hit out on her so he could spend time with her), so I’ve always seen Rose as somewhat less than rational and always struggling for her father’s approval.
Joseph, on the other hand, struggles to not become his father. Far from wanting Deathstroke’s approval, he has turned away, becoming a hero or at least striving to be. I’ve blatantly patterned Jericho after Jack Kirby’s Fourth World demigod Lightray, including the white suit and flight capability. Jericho is an angel of light, perhaps the one pure thing Deathstroke ever did. But the darkness is there inside him and he knows it. He’s like an alcoholic who lives with a disease that could plunge him into darkness if he ever lets his guard down.
Both children are deeply upset that their dad is gone but, for Joseph, this was an inevitable end to the lifestyle his father chose. Rose, on the other hand, is red-faced and seeking vengeance, vowing to kill whomever killed her dad.
Their inevitable conflict presents itself when Rose finally finds out the teen archer Red Arrow is responsible, and Joseph is forced to defend the girl who killed his father. Everything in "Deathstroke: RIP" spins out of the siblings’ clash.
The Legion of Doom stop by the memorial to confirm if Deathstroke is really dead, and reference Lex Luthor's apparent suicide in the Year of the Villain one-shot. How did the discussions go with the architects behind Year of the Villain in regard to connecting Deathstroke's story with the larger DC Universe story?
[Laughs] You’ll have to ask my editor, Alex Antone. Every month I force him to walk the Klingon Rite of Ascension between two lines of DC editors bearing pain sticks. What I really hadn’t realized, when I took this gig, was Deathstroke’s enemies are DC heroes. Which means month after month, poor Alex has to go, hat in hand, up and down the halls begging on my behalf. And I really have not ever made his job easy.
As for Year of The Villain, I was prepared to talk about what geniuses we are but, full disclosure, we were headed here anyway. Scripts were written, pages drawn, when I got the call from Alex announcing YOTV. So it was a happy coincidence that our plans more or less coincided (and, in terms of Slade’s funeral) neatly preceded DC’s epic crossover. I wish the YOTV branding had appeared on the funeral issue cover (Deathstroke #44), but I’m sure there were good reasons to hold off on that trade dress until the event kick-off.
Something I enjoyed seeing was how Slade Wilson's murder has impacted those closest to him, from his kids to Damian Wayne on the Teen Titans and of course, the Legion of Doom. If Slade were to come back to life, how do you think he'd feel about all this attention being paid to him? I imagine a hired hitman would value having a low profile, and wouldn't be a fan of having all these prying eyes on him.
In what I thought was a clever and unique move on his part if not mine, Gotham City’s Police Commissioner Gordon sought to thwart Deathstroke by raising the killer’s profile, plastering Slade Wilson’s face on huge billboards all over downtown Gotham (issue #41). It didn’t slow Deathstroke in the least. He, in fact, hid in plain sight in Gotham Square among a host of laughable panhandling Deathstroke impersonators.
Genuine human affection is Deathstroke’s Kryptonite. He just can’t handle it, doesn’t know how to process it. He is, at the end of the day, a man who deeply loves and desires to be loved but is capable of neither. He can’t hug his children. He can’t tell his (now ex-) wife he loves her. There is a wall between Slade and his own humanity and, if the DCU heroes really understood that, they’d know how to defeat him. Fists and zap-beams are a waste of time. At his lowest point, badly beaten, stabbed, and blind (issue #14), a teenage black girl rescues and ultimately bonds to him, adopting him like a pet. The love (yes, love) Slade developed for her endangered his entire way of life, which forced him to go to extreme measures in order to turn her against him.
Jericho and Rose have their own ideas on the best way to honor Deathstroke's legacy. It reminds me of Batman's "Battle For the Cowl," where DC teased numerous characters picking up the mantle of the Bat. By the time "R.I.P." comes to an end, will there still be a "Deathstroke" in the DC Universe?
No, I don’t think so. And DC will pull the licensing for the film, animation, and new Titans streaming drama (laughs). "Deathstroke: RIP" will, however, have at least one permanent casualty -- me. The story arc will be my last for Rebirth Deathstroke as I take my bow with the double-sized issue #50.