Death is coming for Lex Luthor.
Not just death, mind you... but Death — the character from Neil Gaiman's acclaimed Vertigo series The Sandman.
Death's appearance in Action Comics #894, announced today by DC Comics, marks a rare appearance by a Sandman character within the DCU, although one that isn't without precedence.
While Action Comics writer Paul Cornell says he came up with the idea to use Death, he made sure he had Gaiman's full support. The two discussed the story and, according to Cornell, Gaiman was "enthusiastic" about the idea of the character meeting Lex Luthor.
Action Comics has been featuring Lex Luthor as its focal character since June, presumably because Clark Kent is walking across America within the pages of Superman. Beginning with June's Action Comics #890, Cornell launched his run along with artist Pete Woods, taking Luthor on a "quest for power" that spins out of Blackest Night and co-stars a robot version of Lois Lane.
Now Luthor faces Death herself in October, and DC has released a new cover by David Finch for Action Comics #894, featuring Sandman's Death on a background of skulls.
Newsarama talked with Cornell to find out more about the decision to bring Death into Lex Luthor's life.... er rather... death.
Newsarama: Paul, seeing a Vertigo character show up in a DCU book is going to get people talking about the imprints. But was this something DC asked you to do? Or did you come up with the idea on your own?
Paul Cornell: It was me. Basically, Matt Idelson and Will Moss, the editors of Action, asked me what characters I'd like to have Lex Luthor encounter during our current story arc. And having given a list of mainstream list of DC villains, I suddenly thought, what would be the most dramatic character for Lex to encounter?
One of the reasons we're doing this is to have Lex encounter villains from outside the usual Superman encounters. And what could be more outside, or more dramatic, than Death from Vertigo?
So I put it to them.... and they buckled for a few minutes. But then they said, "Oh, you'd better ask Neil, hadn't you?"
So I asked Neil. And he was enthusiastic. And we went from there.
Nrama: Since you came up with this idea, I assume you're a fan of Sandman and this character?
Cornell: Oh, hugely. It was really important to me when I was younger. I'd given up superhero comics entirely for that new wave of adult comics. It was there for me at exactly the right age.
Nrama: So you're just using this character for one story? She's still a Vertigo character?
Cornell: Yes. Vertigo readers should rest assured that none of us wanted to do this in a crass way. It will be respectful. And Neil himself will be looking over my shoulder and reading the script.
Nrama: And this isn't attached to any grand plan to integrate Vertigo characters into the DCU?
Cornell: No. This idea came about only because it seemed to be perfect for this issue and this story. We already had Lex in a situation where he was dying. So the thought process followed from there.
Actually, my first thoughts had been, wouldn't it be weird and wonderful to use the Black Rider, Jack Kirby's creation on skis from the Third World book?
But then I thought, well I know we can do one better than that! [laughs]
So yeah, that's sort of how my thought processes work.
Nrama: Paul, after Lex meets Death during his "power quest," are you going to be exploring Lex Luthor's character for awhile in Action Comics?
Cornell: Oh yeah. I'm not sure if it's announced how long, but we're running for a considerable time with Lex.
Nrama: And the Lois Lane robot will be around for awhile as well?
Cornell: She's his constant companion. There's a supporting cast for the whole length of this story, but she is right there at the center with him throughout.
Except, actually, the majority of this issue, because, you know, dying is very much an individual experience.
Nrama: You mentioned you were planning to put Superman up against villains he wouldn't normally encounter. Is that also something that will continue for awhile?
Cornell: Yes. To start, we've got Mr. Mind, as you've seen. We've also got Vandal Savage coming up in the run, leading into a crossover with Secret Six, which is entirely because I love Secret Six and just wanted to interact with it.
And there's various others who will be showing up from different DC genres — not all of them from this point in Lex Luthor's or the DC Universe's time stream either.
Nrama: Any others from Vertigo?
Cornell: No, I think it's safe to say this is a one-off.
Nrama: It's interesting that you used the word "enthusiastic" to describe Neil Gaiman's reaction to Lex Luthor meeting Death. Did you discuss the story idea you had for the two characters?
Cornell: I think Neil is a great enthusiast for the weirdness of the DC Universe, the way it can put two such disparate things together. And I just saw him on Monday, and yes, we talked about the story.
One of the things I said to him about it was, it's not going to be the superhero fight. It's going to be something that's entirely in keeping with Death's former appearances. Vertigo didn't feel that we were dragging her into a situation where it would be a sideshow.
This is just one, long, very dramatic conversation, as Lex Luthor tries to save himself from her arriving for him.
Nrama: More of a psychological trauma for Lex?
Cornell: Yes. It is. One of the things we're showing in this book is that Lex is really, really clever. He's got a mind that works very fast. And he thinks he can talk his way out of anything.
But Death is one of the fundamental universal principles. I don't think he's going to talk his way out of this one.
Well? Surprised? What do you think of a Vertigo character showing up in the DCU?