Our three-part retrospective on DC’s Deathstroke series with writer Christopher Priest concludes today. Before you continue on here, we advise you to read Part One and Part Two beforehand. We'll wait.
Got it? Good.
In our final installment, Priest talks about why he ended the series, how he really wanted to end the series, and much more.
Newsarama: Priest, given Deathstroke's ties to other characters in the DC Universe, and also the occasional crossover storylines with the Titans, what was the most difficult part of writing the Deathstroke storylines around ongoing continuity?
Christopher Priest: For me, it was the character's ties to other characters in the DC Universe, and also the occasional crossover storylines with the Titans! [Laughs]
For a book like Deathstroke to function, logically, the prime DCU villain must interact with the ongoing continuity.
But, to be honest, a lot of that never seemed fair. We were always requested to play ball with other DCU events, but getting others to play ball with us, at our request, was always a tough get. Yes, we can use Arkham, but our Arkham story was about Harley Quinn becoming temporarily sane and becoming Slade’s lifeline to sanity, nursing Slade back to mental health. Then the Joker finds out, and we’re off to the races. But neither character was available.
Nrama: Dr. Ikon is one of the more unique creations for the series. Like many characters, he has a very twisted relationship with Slade, but also a relationship with Jericho that in some ways mirrors the more unsettling aspects of Deathstroke's relationship with Terra. How did you conceive this character?
Priest: I wanted to give Jericho an upgrade: a more grown-up costume, flight, and a more dramatic representation of his mind control power. Yes, we could have simply had Slade or Lex Luthor or somebody simply give Jericho a new costume, but my twisted mind was also looking for a core conflict, a Telltale Heart beating inside Jericho to haunt him and drive his character arc. I found both in Dr. Ikon, Slade’s former tech guy who falls in love with Slade’s son, thus forcing Jericho to remain closeted whether he wanted to or not, if only for Ikon’s safety.
Which is ironic considering Jericho ends up throwing Ikon off a roof in order to prevent Ikon from disclosing their affair to Slade, and Jericho begins fighting crime while wearing a dead man’s clothes.
I never watched HBO’s Six Feet Under because I assumed it was about zombies. True story. I’m not a zombie guy. It was only, like, a few months ago that I actually watched the show and realized the show was an emotionally complex dramedy about a family who happen to run a funeral parlor.
I run into a lot of people who don’t read Deathstroke. They don’t read Deathstroke because they assume Deathstroke is a comic book about a guy who runs around shooting people. Stab, slash, head shot, bloody blood-blood. Deathstroke is, or was, an emotionally complex action-dramedy about the World’s Worst Dad.
Nrama: Long-term fans of your work recognized Dr. Villain ("Will-HANE") from your run on Steel back in the day. Why'd you decide to bring him back for this book?
Priest: Because I love the character. I don’t know why he’s so hard to draw. I asked Denys Cowan and he just shrugged and reached for his coffee.
Nrama: And of course Death Masque, who's taken a few different forms in your works...
Priest: No no, this was not the Death Masque from The Ray. I just co-opted the name because DC already owned it and it wasn’t being used. The Death Masque who shows up in Deathstroke's "Arkham" is obviously Deadpool, and us daring Marvel to sue us.
We're talking now just after Deathstroke ended with #50. Why is the series wrapping up at this point? Could you conceive it going on longer, and if so, can you tell us about any of your story ideas?
Priest: The series is ending now because I went to DC Publisher Dan DiDio and asked him to end the series with #50. Sure, we could keep going, but that’s not how the business works. Books launch hot and then the numbers settle in somewhere, with the occasional rarity of numbers going up. They usually settle in somewhere. Numbers-wise, sure, we’re not causing any problems for DC, but we’re not setting the world on fire, either, which ties up talent DC could redeploy elsewhere and get better numbers.
I didn’t want the book to get cancelled at #56 or #62. So, I said to Dan, let’s plan it so it works into the publishing plan and budget and all of that, and we end on our own terms. I was really happy he agreed.
As for story ideas, hey fella, I’ve gotta pay the rent, especially since I’m now semi-unemployed. [Laughs] I’ll keep those ideas for myself, thank you.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite moments from the series?
Priest: Wow, too many to name but, off the top of my head: issue #20 was my favorite issue because DC allowed me to hang out my minister’s shingle for an issue wherein Slade quotes scripture in an effort to manipulate Power Girl, a devout Christian, into joining his Dark Teen Titans team. I fully expected the book to get rejected. See? I’m too hard on the bosses sometime. The issue also dealt with, immodestly, very funny scenes with Power Girl having to get birth control pills, and the emergence of Doomstroke, formerly Dr. Ikon, who is both a supervillain and a gay born-again Christian.
I honestly don’t know how (or why) that book got approved, but I showed up here on Newsarama publicly thanking DC for allowing me to do that story. And I do, I really do thank DC for the gift of Deathstroke and a chance to do this kind of work again, to be a writer again.
(Power Girl 3)
#6 through #8 form the Superman Rope-A-Dope story with fabulous, drop-dead gorgeous art by Carlo Pagulayan.
#5’s “Nightmare Journey With Daddy” story by Joe Bennett who gave us one of the funniest openings to a Deathstroke story ever, wherein Slade and Rose travel across country undercover dressed as hicks - this bit reprised in equal hilarity by Ed Benes in issue #33, only with Damian Wayne.
The "Batman vs. Deathstroke" arc, now available in hardcover, was one of my proudest moments, a real difficult challenge but I was happy to get my hands on Batman at last – I’ve been waiting 40 years.
The whole alternate Deathstroke business in the run-up to the finale was fun; a tried-and-perhaps-tired trope that nevertheless felt fresh to me at least. With Alt-Deathstroke, I was allowed to write Deathstroke the way the character should be written if we actually took him seriously -a ruthless, heartless, despicable killer. Now, I don’t know if that Deathstroke could sustain his own book, but it was my plan for our Slade to lose his life (again) in their climactic battle, and for Alt to become the official Deathstroke of the DCU.
But, nnoooo, the House of Nice...
Nrama: What's next for you?
Priest: Well, I’m obviously writing Vampirella and loving, no kidding, every moment of it. I have several other things in the works that have not been announced yet. Suffice it to say I’m still staying up late.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about what we haven't discussed yet?
Priest: Oh, man, there’s nothing we haven’t discussed yet! It’s important to stress that I actually don’t tell stories. I tell my editor and my creative team and they are the ones actually telling the stories. My writing is only as good as their investment in it, so I’m eternally grateful to Carlo Pagulayan, the architect of the Rebirth Deathstroke, for his amazing creative vision and dazzling storytelling, aided and assisted by my adopted dad Larry Hama on layouts, and my The Crew partner-in-crime Joe Bennett. Letterer Willie Schubert has become, quite literally, my voice and I can’t thank him enough for putting up with my text-heavy pages. Jeromy Cox is our soundtrack, our orchestra, our special effects guy, who has brought all of this to life.
Artist Jason Michael Paz has been along from the beginning, bringing consistency across a diverse group of pencil artists, which also include the wonderful Diogenes Neves who brought new energy into our book along with "Defiance" - when asked, “What are you defying?” the answer was low sales! – and Fernando Pasarin, who has saved us from deadline hell many, many times.
Thanks also to ACO and Romulo Fajardo, Jr., Shane Davis, Michelle Delecki and Alex Sinclair, Ryan Sook, Denys B. Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz, the amazing Francesco Mattina - thank you so much!! - and, of course, the dozens of contributors whose names I’ve neglected to include here.
Thank you DC Publisher Dan DiDio and Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras for putting up with me, DC Group Editor Brian Cunningham for thinking of me to begin with. Thank you DC Executive Editor Marie Javins for making the call. Thank you Brittany Holzherr, Diego Lopez, David Weilgosz, and Andrea Shea for your invaluable assistance and patience. Thanks most of all to DC Editor Alex Antone for all the times I’ve sent you through the whirling knives, for your patience and humor.