And you thought your family had problems.
Next month, the World’s Greatest Assassin will emerge once again in a brand new, twice-monthly series written by Christopher Priest and drawn by Carlo Pagulayan and Joe Bennett. Fans can expect Deathstroke’s signature high body count and a stripped down, back to basics storyline that repaints Slade Wilson as the destructive, driven villain he once was. However, in Priest’s thoughtful hands the story spends just as much time dealing with Slade out of the black and orange mask, and particularly how he connects with one of the few remaining threads of humanity he still has—his family. In short, you can expect plenty of explosions and bloody action, but also a surprising amount of introspection and consequence when Slade Wilson returns in DEATHSTROKE: REBIRTH #1 this August.
We recently spoke with Priest about where this new series will take us, whether he considers Slade a villain or anti-hero and why he feels darker characters like Deathstroke are important to comics.
I wanted to begin by asking the question of alignment. Do you see Deathstroke as a hero, villain or anti-hero?
He’s a villain. He is unquestionably a villain. He’s Darth Vader. He is a bad guy.
So how do you approach a story where you’re asking readers to cheer for the villain?
I think to adopt Deathstroke’s attitude, it’s the readers’ problem to work out.
If you look at the film Collateral with Tom Cruise. Half of the audience is rooting for the assassin character and half of the audience is rooting for Jamie Foxx’s character, but at the end of the day, the Cruise character, no matter how much you want to like him, he’s a bad guy. He runs around and kills people. So my approach to Deathstroke is he’s a hired killer. He’s an assassin. He’s a bad guy, and he’s the world’s worst bad.
I think Slade is ultimately amoral and a sociopath. I think he struggles with relationships and so forth, but he’s addicted to the action. He’s addicted to the run and gun and the challenge of different things.
Can you tell us a bit about your story? Where is Slade Wilson when we first look in on him?
He is in what we consider his status quo. He’s gone off to assassinate someone, and there are complications along the way. But basically, what we’re dealing with for the first half a year of the series is a sort of rebuilding process. We’re redefining Deathstroke himself and reintroducing his supporting cast, who have been systematically shot, stabbed and thrown off rooftops over the years. Over the years, just about everybody in his circle of family and friends have been wiped out for one reason or another
The Rebirth issue is mainly Slade’s book, and then in issue #1, we bring Wintergreen back into the fold. But those issues are basically one story told in two parts. They’re sort of our series pilot, if you want to look at it in that way.
It sounds like we’re dialing back some of the more mythological elements we’ve seen in Deathstroke over the past few years in favor of something a little more straightforward. Would you say that’s correct?
Yes, we’re scaling back his world and trying to make Deathstroke more or less like the evil version of Batman. Like what if he had become corrupt at one point?
The Deathstroke I remember was the George Perez and Marv Wolfman character. That was what my reference was.
One of the more common tropes when dealing with anti-heroes is that they often don’t care about anyone other than themselves. How much do you think Slade cares about his family?
I think he cares a great deal, but I see him as a sociopath. I see him as someone who really struggles to express emotion. I think Slade loves his children, but has a tough time expressing it. This isn’t a Deathstroke who’s going to be hugging Rose or angsting over Joseph. I see him more of the Hugh Laurie character from the TV show House. That character was an emotional cripple, and he demonstrates his affection or his caring about people in very roundabout ways.
We’re bringing the characters in slowly. We don’t see Rose until issue #3 and we don’t see the Joseph/Jericho character until even later.
With Wintergreen, who is also pretty much a family member, he has a different problem. He’s kind of reached a point where he’s having ethical problems with some of the things that Deathstroke does. So he’s kind of hanging around with Deathstroke reluctantly because he’s no longer in lockstep agreement with some of the choices that Deathstroke makes in terms of jobs he takes and the people he pals around with. Wintergreen is having a real struggle with it.
The whole thing is kind of a morality play with a lot of push and pull in terms of good and evil, and also the consequences of the lifestyle that Deathstroke leads. We’re exploring the concept of heroism and villainy, and the difference between being a super hero and being a vigilante.
In order to serve justice, back in the Silver Age when life was simpler, we just had Spider-Man web up the bad guy and leave him outside the police station. You know if we actually did that today, the cop would have to let the guy go because without evidence there’s no arrest. The reason why guys like Deathstroke exist in the DC Universe is that unless Superman is going to lock all these guys up without a charge, Guantanamo Bay-style, or kill them, then it falls on guys like Deathstroke to find legal ways to walk between the raindrops. The guy I’m writing is not a compromised character. He is a super-villain, and he’s dysfunctional in many ways because of it.
Finally, as the World’s Greatest Assassin, Slade kills for money and over the years, he’s killed a lot of people. So it stands to reason that he’s made A LOT of money. I’ve always wondered, what do you think he does with that money?
I don’t think he cares about the money. I think the money is how he keeps score. Alex Antone and I developed a very different storyline for Rebirth initially, dealing with that very question of Slade’s wealth and what would happen if it was to get away from him and all of a sudden he didn’t have access to the toys. What if the guy was dead broke and we really showed you what this guy could do when he’s pushed out of his comfort zone? That was the arc we were going to start with. That arc is now being pushed back, probably to year two. Assuming we’re still around because for all we know, we’re all going to get fired as soon as this book ships.
Deathstroke returns with a vengeance on August 10, 2016 in DEATHSTROKE: REBIRTH #1 by Christopher Priest and Carlo Pagulayan. The action then continues on August 24, 2016 in DEATHSTROKE #1 by Priest and Pagulayan
This is the latest in a series of interviews looking at the many DC comic books that will be spinning out of this summer’s Rebirth. Keep an eye on DCComics.com for more!