Rob Liefeld Soldiers On With "Hawkman," "Grifter" & "Deathstroke"

Writer/artist Rob Liefeld has been on a tear at DC Comics since the publisher's reboot last September, and despite Twitter talk of going fully creator-owned, he isn't ready to make the transition just yet.

Currently, Liefeld is shepherding three New 52 titles across the DC Universe: "The Savage Hawkman" with co-writer Mark Poulton and artist Joe Bennett, "Grifter" with co-writer Frank Tieri and artist Scott Clark and "Deathstroke," which he's writing and drawing solo. Each series focuses on tropes familiar to the creator's wheelhouse -- namely, weapons-toting leads and alien invasions -- but each also riffs on a different piece of the new DCU, from the secret of Nth metal to the merging of the DC and WildStorm Universes and the reintroduction of fan favorite villain Lobo.

With new issues of both "Deathstroke" and "Grifter" hitting stores this week, CBR News spoke to Liefeld about all his DC work, and the creator revealed new details on Hawkman's incoming origin including a new take on the planet Thanagar, Grifter's battle against longtime Wildcats foes Helspont, the battle between Deathstroke and Lobo and his plans to return to "Bloodstrike" with a new take on Brigade once current writer Tim Seeley's storyline wraps.

Rob, when you came on to work on your three DC books, you spoke openly on Twitter about being tasked with raising the sales of a crop of titles that were at a precarious point in regard to their future. How has that challenge gone so far? Are these titles still set for continued existence under your stewardship?

The latest issue of Liefeld's "Deathstroke" is available today and features the final showdown between Slade Wilson and Lobo

Rob Liefeld: I have no idea of the long term fates of any of these titles; that's well above my concern. I was asked to spice these books up and we managed to jump every book with issue #9. If you chart each book from their launch, each was having a rapid fall sales wise. It's over at ICV2, listed under "actual" sales. We stemmed the bleeding and the patients are healthier now, albeit in a very competitive market that favors what I deem the 1% -- Batman, X-Men, Spider-Man, Avengers. No variants, no incentives. We are doing it with story, character...the old fashioned way.

"Savage Hawkman" seems to have kept a lot of the same story ideas and plotlines in place from Tony Daniel's run. What about that series struck you as the kind of story you wanted to complete, and how has having artist Joe Bennett remaining on to provide some continuity aided in your run?

I was not aware of any of the previous storylines past issue #1. I just read the premiere issue and saw that Carter was attempting to burn his armor and started figuring out a direction that I could take the character that would create the most potent stories. I loved Philip Tan's art, I wish I owned some of it, and I felt that the initial villain Tony and Phil crafted was a beyond admirable attempt to create a dynamic counterpart for Hawkman -- a Venom-ish type bad guy, if you will. Those guys gave it their best shot, and for whatever reason it just didn't fly. Not every idea and approach that we creators attempt will connect in the way we design it, but it doesn't lessen the quality of the effort. If there was a magic formula, we'd all subscribe to it, but there isn't a magic formula or button.

Now, we are trying hang a bright, shiny sign in the window that gets customers to give us a second look. I love Hawkman and feel adamantly that he deserves a more prominent role in the DCU. I think he is a fantastic character. I'm throwing my best stuff in order to get word of mouth buzzing. It doesn't hurt when your artist is turning in career defining art and turning heads with every page. I kept Emma from the launch -- I love their relationship, her spunk. Otherwise, I've tried to chart a course that really puts Hawkman through his paces, telling the reader who he is, why he is and how he plans on taking control of his destiny. I've thrown a number of new villains into the mix -- Xerxes, St. Bastion, the upcoming Warhawk -- and I've been allowed to write what I feel is a character-defining origin. I'm so excited for the #0, it has a grand scope. This book launched at 60,000, proving that people absolutely want a great Hawkman book. The interest is out there. Let's see if we can get some of them to give us another try.

Issue #12 sees a showdown with the old Wildcats villain Pike -- the latest of the WildStorm characters you've pulled into your many DC series. We'll talk about the broader implications of that "recruitment drive" in a second, but just looking at Pike, what's the attraction to using Jim Lee's characters so widely? Definitely they have a stylistic connection to you from back when both you and Jim were in the early days Image, and Pike seems to owe some visual flourishes to one of your characters in particular. What do you like about playing with that type of character still?

Well, from a story point, Pike services a basic function in that we have Hawkman being hunted and we need hunters. Why not use a bounty hunter that I'm familiar with? I believe as far as visual flourishes, you are referring to the idea that Pike was born in the aftermath of the Deadpool influence, and while there's no denying that visual tether, I see Boba Fett in there as well -- but I see Boba Fett in every bounty hunter. After pitting Hawkman against a pair of similarly armored foes like Xerxes and St. Bastion, I wanted to throw a more spry, agile, elusive opponent at Hawkman, and their battle really provides more great action that the fans have specifically requested and enjoyed. Pike is a wily foe as you'll see through out the issue. His arrival is important as it sets the stage to reveal the client that hired Pike in first place. Every issue is very deliberate in peeling away the conspiracy against Hawkman and the Nth metal.

So we've got a woman who's been breaking through to Hawkman's Nth Metal armor via some kind of distress signal, and then we've got a very Hawkwoman-looking character on the cover to issue #12. How are these two connected?

Hawkman has indeed been receiving messages within his Nth metal, since early in my first issue. We had to pay that off eventually, right? Issue #12 sets the table for months to come with #0 and the aftermath that leads to "Wanted."

The "Hawkman" #0 issue seems to be a chance for you to ties the origin special concept directly into the endgame you seem to be heading towards with Thanagar. Since so many fans know the something about how that planet has worked in the past, how are you trying to make it different in the New 52?

I have a completely different approach to Thanagar and Hawkman's origin. It's a very different path for Katar Hol than any that have been traveled before. Hopefully long time fans as well as new readers will enjoy this direction. We had a lot to fit into 20 pages -- conspiracies, drama, action, monsters -- it's really big.

On the other side of the DCU, "Grifter" has certainly accelerated the pace of that character's development from revealing his "chosen" status alongside a set of new powers to ramping up the Daemonite invasion so that Helspont is right on his doorstep. How does this week's issue #12 and its final battle turn the book and the character to their next logical phase?

Issue #12 competes the first arc. We identified Grifter as an important cog in the Daemonite plans, and Grifter reluctantly accepted that has to take action, and he can no longer hide from what he has been selected for. He finally faces Helspont and it's a huge measuring stick for both sides as they figure out what each is capable of. Another big issue with a nice twist heading into the issue #0.

Grifter and Voodoo's New 52 relationship is different from the one they had in the Wildstorm U

Again, there's a strong WildStorm thread running through all these series. That's obvious for "Grifter" as he's one of the WildStorm transplants, but you've got Voodoo coming along in issue #13 as well. Between those two teaming up, the Daemonite invasion, Zealot's leading "Deathstroke" to new info about Khera in issue #13 and everything else, what are the odds you're working towards a full-on reintroduction of the Wildcats into the DCU?

Y'know, I'm just playing with all the available WildStorm toys. I have no concept of when or if they will assemble together. My take on the WildStorm characters is that if they are going to integrate into the DCU, then let's integrate them as much as possible. Zealot in "Deathstroke" has opened up all sorts of crazy possibilities. Her relationship with Slade is a revelation to both of them. They started off as very leery of each other, and that's evolved into tremendous respect and a mutual attraction to each other. It fits, at least for now, and you'll be seeing quite a bit of Zealot in "Deathstroke." Same with Grifter and Voodoo -- they have a more obvious connection, but this is the first time they have shared a relationship in the DCU, so it's different. Helspont and PIke are just great villains who become even better in the context of the DCU.

Speaking of "Deathstroke," this seems to be the series out of all your current DC work that you were most excited to tackle as both writer and artist. You've long been a fan of the character. What's been most surprising to you in developing him on the page for the first time?

I'm not sure there's as much surprise as there is respect for the great history that Deathstroke has enjoyed and trying to stay faithful to what made him so memorable while carving out a new path for him in the New 52.

I think anyone could tell that "Lobo Vs. Deathstroke" was the story you were itching to tell for the first time in this week's issue #12, but the standout for me in this buildup was how you returned the Main Man to his roots with the Omega Men. Overall, what did you most want to accomplish by reintroducing Lobo into the New 52, and how does the final battle with Deathstroke serve that goal?

The first goal in introducing Lobo into the Deathstroke book was the necessity of creating a threat that could define and challenge Slade. DC wanted more pop, more urgency in the book. I pitched them the Lobo storyline, and they were very responsive. Rather than face other mercenaries, this puts Deathstroke up against a foe that he can't out maneuver as Lobo is an accomplished opponent in his own right. He has to go right through Lobo. We've seen Slade try to go toe to toe with him only to get pummeled by superior strength and ferocity. We've seen him use his arsenal, and ultimately he has to do what Slade does and that is out think him. It pushed Slade, reminded him that he shouldn't get comfy with his status as most dangerous hunter/assassin as there are threats he has yet to imagine and encounter. It also reveals another threat with Maxim and his organization, who were charged with holding Lobo these many years. And with Lobo, you will see that we expanded his story, gave him a love interest, Sheba, that means more to him than everything. I have big plans for Sheba as well.

The entire story revealed that the original Omega Men are lurking out there somewhere, having left their offspring here on earth. Where are they and why they left is another question I'd love to answer. I love the original Omega Men. This was sort of my love letter to Roger Slifer, Kieth Giffen, Marv Wolfman and George Perez, as I was doing a giant mash-up of all their wonderful creations.

You've already brought Deathblow into the mix for "Grifter," and the incoming "Deathstroke" #0 issue promises an appearance by the new Team 7. How does aligning Deathstroke's past with this wide range of DC and WildStorm characters change how readers will view him in the DCU?

You'll get to see what an Alpha dog Slade truly is. His tenure with Team 7 only enhances his history, I love that he's tied to this elite group that served together. It makes the well even deeper.

Finally, I wanted to ask about your recent comments on Twitter echoing Grant Morrison's desire to wrap up your current run of work-for-hire gigs in favor of getting back to creator-owned work full time. What's your personal timeline for making that move, and how quickly do you expect your new stuff to roll out?

Well, my issue isn't with DC as they've been fantastic to me, in every way. The last couple years working with everyone there has been the best pro experience I've had with either of the big two. I've been itching to tell more adult stories. For me, it's a reflection of everything that I've been consuming for years -- just harder, more adult fare that I could really only do on my own. It's not a reflection on any company other than subject matter and the levels of "mature" content I'd be able to produce. More gore, blood, sex, violence, like any good cable show. It starts on my "Bloodstrike" arc, and then there's a new title I'm launching mid 2013.

Also announced through your Twitter account is your next big creator-owned story -- the "Bloodstrike" arc, featuring a new version of Brigade that also includes Shaft, Die-Bold, Deadlocke, Bloodwulf, Fourplay and Cabbot. Why make this team happen now? Does this mean an end to Tim Seeley and company's run?

Tim Seeley was moving on. He let us know he was finishing up. Dude has a ton going on. He told his story, and with his arc finishing, I stepped in to tell a story I've been itching to tell for years. I'm very excited to share it. It's bloody good.

"Grifter" #12 and "Deathstroke" #12 are in stores today from DC Comics. "Savage Hawkman" #12 ships later this month.

Tags: dc comics, image comics, deathstroke, tim seeley, hawkman, rob liefeld, lobo, bloodstrike, grifter

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