“Deathstroke” has been the most pleasant surprise in all of ‘Rebirth,’ and that is due, in large part to its writer. Simply billed as Priest, or sometimes as Christopher Priest, the man formerly known as Jim Owsley had not written a DC comic since an issue of “Hourman” in late 2000. His return to DC Comics was one of the bright spots of the WonderCon panel annnouncing ‘Rebirth’ last year, and his run has more than just lived up to his reputation: it further enhanced it.
Priest, as should be expected, was a fascinating interview, digging deep into Slade Wilson’s thinking, and shedding some light on his process. Check out the rest of our ‘Lazarus Contract’ coverage, including an interview with “Titans” writer Dan Abnett and “Teen Titans” scribe Benjamin Percy, here.
We saw Slade go through a sort of reckoning in the recent ‘Twilight’ arc. What his is mindset coming out of that story and how has it fed into him enacting the ‘The Lazarus Contract?’
Priest: As I see him, Slade Wilson is severely emotionally stunted. He is a person who wishes to love and be loved but is capable of neither. By the time of the climax to ‘Twilight,’ Deathstroke has alienated his two surviving children and his best friend. He knows he’s screwed things up for real, and possibly forever.
But, rather than admit he was wrong or apologize, he cooks up this cockamamie scheme to journey to the past in an effort to un-do all the harm he has caused.
“Deathstroke” #19 felt perfectly like an issue of your “Deathstroke” (which has a very unique voice in the landscape of’Rebirth’,) melded with the team book dynamic and cape comic high drama that the Titans books have provided. Specifically, how did your approach differ when working with a cast of characters roughly 3x as large as your regular cast, and most of them whom hadn’t interacted with Slade in this continuity before?
Priest: Alex Antone, my editor, is also the editor of the Teen Titans franchise. He worked closely with “Titans” writer Dan Abnett and “Teen Titans” writer Benjamin Percy to develop an outline. Once we had the story broken, the rest was easy. We all consulted and helped each other.
I believe I kept the overall tone consistent in my chapter, bringing the Titans group into Slade’s world rather than vice versa, while still striving to maintain consistency with how the Titans are currently portrayed in their own books.
Deathstroke tricking Young Wally into getting him to help with his car, and then with the speed force, shows that he’s still ever the bastard that you’d set him up to be in the “Deathstroke” series so far. But his feelings about Grant seem to signal an emotional entry point. Do you think this is specific to someone who is his own blood? Does Slade feel he’s let Grant down? Or is he starting to show a legitimate weakness for young people in trouble (thinking of Tanya aka Power Girl, Young Wally) Or, is he still truly selfish?
Priest: Grant has always been the key to Deathstroke. Before Grant’s death, Deathstroke was no angel, but he was more or less an agent of change who took assignments which were typically about taking out bad or corrupt people more so than, say, killing The Pope. His son’s death unhinged him, after which Deathstroke could fairly be considered “evil” in a way he hadn’t actually been before.
Power Girl (Tanya Spears) is a different story. She rescues Slade after he’s knocked unconscious in an alley and mistakes Slade for a superhero. Slade responds to Tanya’s desire to be a superhero herself and, owing her a debt, plays along by becoming this absurd ‘Twilight’ character.
Slade develops genuine paternal affection for Tanya, but the relationship is doomed because, first of all, he’s been lying to her and misleading her – which she will inevitably discover. Wintergreen, Slade’s best friend and Greek Chorus– warns him of the perils of forging an intimate bond with this innocent girl but Slade doesn’t listen. To Slade, this is the relationship he’d never had with his own children.Continued below
Ultimately, of course, Tanya does discover who Slade really is, and feels humiliated. She assumes Slade’s been laughing at her behind her back – look how stupid this girl is – which is exactly the opposite of what Slade was feeling. He was falling in love with her, the way anyone falls in love with their children.
But he realizes his screw up, and the noble thing for Slade to do (since “I’m sorry” is not in his vocabulary) is to make Tanya hate him, which he accomplishes with ruthless efficiency.
Both Grant and Tanya represent the hole in Slade’s heart, the space he keeps trying to fill and the engine that fuels Deathstroke. This creates a kind of ends justify the means myopia. He has an enormous blind spot to the suffering he causes others (as regularly seen in this book), so, for him, steamrolling the Wallys is just another day at the office.
We got to see some sequences from an earlier issue of “Deathstroke” replayed with a extended look at what happened after. Was this something that you had always planned to return to, or was it something that you found you could seamlessly work into a “Teen Titans” crossover?
Priest: Both. The scene extension already existed but got cut from “Deathstroke” #2 for space (I tend to write anywhere from 24-28 pages for each 20-page issue, so I maintain an outtakes file full of deleted or extended scenes).
I felt it essential, for the crossover, to put Slade’s relationship with Grant into the proper context. Otherwise, “Titans” fans unfamiliar with Deathstroke (puzzling as that sounds) might assume Slade was a martyr or something, rather than realize Slade was a bastard to his sons and is the primary cause of Grant’s death. Slade literally chased Grant into the arms of HIVE, as seen in issue #19.
It was an inspired scene to show Slade carrying out his regular assassin contracts at hyper-speed, cementing the idea that it isn’t going to be a clean break from Deathstroke the Terminator to Deathstroke the Good Father. Do you think Slade can change?
Priest: Hope not. I’d be out of a job.
I firmly believe we are who we are. I have seen people change, but it’s rare.
The final scene of the issue plays with time using the speed force. The last time we saw this, Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen ended up back in the ‘Flashpoint’ era, and before that Barry caused the Flashpoint. It doesn’t seem like a small deal thing for Slade to mess around with time, so how deep do the ramifications go? ‘The Lazarus Contract’ is playing out like a big deal event in these particular books, but its farther DCU impact remains to be seen. Is Slade affecting the universe in the same way Barry and other characters have across DC Rebirth?
Priest: Well, you have to read the books (and the “Teen Titans Annual”) to find out. The point of the conflict is to prevent Slade from creating another ‘Flashpoint’-type rip in the timestream. Will they be successful? You tell me.