Anti-violence and Deathstroke.
It's an odd marriage, but this week's Deathstroke #11 takes on the gun violence in Chicago in a story by Priest and Denys Cowan.
Priest equates the teaming of Deathstroke and non-violence to the old saying, "Only Nixon could go to China." With the way that Deathstroke - and his title - embrace violence, it made sense to the writer to address the escalating gun violence in Chicago within the pages of Deathstroke.
That said, Priest claims this is his most violent issue of Deathstroke yet. Newsarama talked to Priest and Cowan both about the issue to find out more about its anti-gun violence theme.
Newsarama: Priest, this is a very different approach to a villain who's associated with violence - and a title that is usually filled with violence. Why did you think it made sense for Deathstroke's story to address the issue of gun violence?
Christopher Priest: As you know, only Richard Nixon could go to China. If you're going to have credibility talking to the communist, you've got to send the most ardent, anti-communist that you know about.
So if you're going to do an anti-violence story at DC, I think the best place to do it is in a book that all but glorifies violence. That would make the strongest point, I think.
So that was my thought initially, when the specific subject matter of Chicago came up. My first thought was, "I want to do an anti-violence story. What way could we do that while not violating the character of Deathstroke." So that's how that began.
Nrama: I think most people who watch the news are aware of the problems in Chicago, so I think it's obvious why this city inspired the story. Does the city itself play a role in the issue? Were you guys familiar with Chicago?
Denys Cowan: Yes, I've been to Chicago a few times. It's easier to draw a place that you've been to. So I had a sense of what the city is like and the people in it, more importantly, which really makes that city.
I used my experiences and photographs and a lot of reference.
Because it takes place in the winter, I wanted to convey the sense of that cold that you can feel in Chicago like you feel nowhere else on earth.
It's Christmas in Chicago, but things are not that hopeful.
Chicago is as much of a character in the story - through the people, through the architecture, through everything else - as Deathstroke or the Creeper.
Priest: I grew up in New York City. My father's family lived in Chicago. When I was a kid, I used to go to Cabrini-Green, which is no longer there. But they lived in not-great-parts of Chicago - let's put it that way.
As an adult, when I would visit Chicago, I was always in a tourist-y area, which are very nice. We didn't go beyond certain areas there.
As far as the city itself, what's uniquely Chicago about this story is the tragic situation there, and it's unique to Chicago. Although there are urban areas across the country where gun violence is at an all-time high, Chicago is currently experienced tragic numbers.
The story starts out in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, and I'm sure some people are going to think it's a typo. But that's a neighborhood in Chicago.
The story takes place in several neighborhoods in Chicago. It takes place at night with some city views, although a lot of it takes place inside. So it really could be any urban area.
So what makes it a uniquely Chicago story is not the architecture, but the situation in Chicago.
Nrama: But to be clear, this story is true to Deathstroke in that, although the theme is anti-violence, it depicts plenty of violence.
Priest: It's probably the most violent Deathstroke issue that I've written. I think it's more violent than the issues that came before, and the ones that are coming after.
Nrama: Do you tap into Deathstroke's sense of right and wrong? Or does the Creeper play a role in exposing the injustice?
Priest: Deathstroke has very few lines in the story. We're seeing the story through the eyes of a reporter named Jack Ryder. He's kind of a Greek chorus who is observing this onslaught that Deathstroke's conducting, and he's asking questions about the police, about the parents, of the man on the street, of a minister - he's questioning people from all walks of life and asking, what is the solution to this problem?
Deathstroke - those days when he was an anti-hero are over. I'm writing a villain. He's a complete, utter bad guy, and kind of an asshole. So there is no point in this story or any other Deathstroke I'm writing where the character is considering the greater good. With all due respect to writers who have come before (and those who will come after and undo all that I'm doing), in my opinion, this is my view of the character. And I think this is what Marv had in mind all along.
He's very deceitful and duplicitous. He's not an anti-hero. That's how I portray him.
Nrama: Denys, have you drawn Deathstroke before? What's it been like to work on the character with Priest?
Cowan: Priest and I have known each other since we were teenagers. We've worked in this industry with each other on and off. The last time we worked together was in early 2000.
When Priest became the writer on Deathstroke and they needed an artist for this issue, and they reached out to me, I was happy to take it, because I love working with him. I think he's one of the best writers.
I'd never drawn Deathstroke before, so that was another reason to be interested, as well as the mention of the Creeper.
Getting into the issue and really getting into the script, I started to realize that this is a story that's a little different, with a different emphasis and a different heart at its core than a typical superhero story. So I tried to measure up to it.
Nrama: Priest, is there anything else you want people to know about this story?
Priest: I just wish we could afford to send copies of this comic to every school kid in Chicago. The only real solution to what's going on there is education, discussion, people talking to one another. But it's going to be the next generation, who are now little kids under siege by the knuckleheads having shoot-outs every day. Those kids are going to grow up one day, and hopefully they're going to say, "enough is enough" and put this thing down.
I don't know if there's much we can do immediately, other than try to reach out to one another. But I have every hope in the generation of tomorrow. And those kids are the people to whom this story is really dedicated.