Christopher Priest has been crafting one of the most intelligent and praised comics of the Rebirth era at DC in “Deathstroke” with a slew of artists such as Carlo Pagulayan, Joe Bennett, and Diogenes Neves. Priest and Pagulayan began the the book together way back in August 2016, and the duo have reunited on ‘Deathstroke vs. Batman,’ a six-issue event, taking place within the main “Deathstroke” title, pitting the Dark Knight against Slade over the possibility that Slade could be Damian Wayne’s father. At C2E2 I had the opportunity to talk first to Priest about “Deathstroke” and how the concept came about, and Pagulayan about what it’s like working on the series. The event began last month in issue #30, and continues today with part two in #31.
So Priest thanks for taking the time to do this. Your run on “Deathstroke” the past two years has really taken Slade through the ringer. He’s been varying levels of bastard-ness throughout the whole run.
Christopher Priest: [Laughs] Bastard-ocity, yes.
Bastard-ocity. [Laughs] He’s been mercenary, he’s been hero, he’s had this fancy religious encounter. How has your creative process changed in thinking about Deathstroke in that time?
CP: Well, at this point, Deathstroke speaks to me. If you write a character long enough, the character starts telling you what circumstance presents a logical platform for the next circumstance. It’s kind of like the old Apollo moon missions where you had this multi-stage rocket, and as each stage drops off, the next stage takes over. With any character, but especially this character, the more you take them through, the more opportunities it presents. For example, currently, in our main continuity in “Deathstroke,” we land Deathstroke in Arkham Asylum. Everyone has struggled with the notion of, “What can we possibly do? How do we stop a guy like Deathstroke without killing him or falsely imprisoning him?” Those are the only two options to actually dealing with a guy like Deathstroke. And then his ex-wife comes up with the idea, “Or … Put him in the loony bin, there.”
It was Slade’s wife, Adeline, and his partner, Wintergreen, conspired together to have him confined to Arkham. Slade is slightly off his rocker. He’s hearing voices. He’s hearing Wintergreen’s voice in his head. This is their attempt to save him from himself and ultimately deal with, once and for all, the threat of Deathstroke. But of course, you send him to Arkham, that invites more mystery. Stay tuned to see how that turns out. It’s kind of like, “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” But putting Deathstroke in Arkham is not a good idea, so we’ll see how that turns out.
For sure. In the meantime, so that happened in #29 and now we’re getting this side story, “Deathstroke vs. Batman,” which started [last month] in issue #30. What was the creative process like in creating that story?
CP: Back in issue #4 of “Deathstroke,” way back to #4, one of the first things I wanted to do with Deathstroke was, I had to explain why this character was allowed to wander around the DC Universe. Why isn’t every DC superhero spending all their time, day and night, trying to find ways to lock this guy up. Because, without that, we got no series. In order for the premise to work for me, personally, I need to stand him up to two main archetypes. The Superman, which we did in issue #7 and #8, and the Batman, which we did in issues #4 and #5. So during that process of creating this Batman story, Deathstroke kidnaps Robin and it’s like the Batman and Deathstroke, they switch partners where Batman is running around with Ravager and Deathstroke is running around with Robin. Robin is driving him nuts and he wants to just give Robin back, like what a dumb idea this was.
While I was researching this, I was looking for places where Deathstroke and Batman, where their histories cross. And they tended to cross at the League of Assassins, at Ra’s al Ghul and Talia. It occurred to me while writing that story…I think I wrote an email to my editor, Alex Antone. As a joke, I said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if Deathstroke turned out to be Robin’s dad?” And I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I think several months later I wrote up an actual proposal. Alex liked it, it went up through the chain of command. Bob Harras, Dan DiDio, they all liked it. And this has been planned in one format or another for the last two years.Continued below
CP:That’s how it got started. So finally, we had an opportunity to actually put it into the “Deathstroke” series, so that’s what we decided to do.
How did it come to be the main “Deathstroke” title?
CP: So I pitched the standalone series to editorial. Everyone in editorial said, “Yes, let’s do this as a standalone series.” You got the editorial group that’s headed by Bob Harras, and then you have a publishing group that’s headed by Jim Lee and Dan DiDio. When you get to the publishing group, they’re the strategic guys. The editorial group, those are the creative guys. We want to do everything, we want to green light everything. The group that is doing the big-picture strategy stuff, they have a point of view that, “We want to do events that lift the mainline books, rather than take energy or resources away from them.” So we could have done this as a standalone thing. It’s going to end up being a standalone thing when they collect it, in the collected edition. That’s where we will be our separate entity and that’s why it’s written the way it is, written outside of continuity. Well, not outside of continuity, but…it’s in continuity, but we’re just not saying where it takes place in continuity so that it works better as a standalone piece, as its own animal, which it will eventually be. But we’re publishing it within the “Deathstroke” line so that it just makes the whole line healthier. That’s actually having our cake and eating it, too. So the publishing group gets what they need. The editorial group gets their standalone project. It’s win-win.
I love the idea that Deathstroke might be Damian’s father. I just think that’s awesome.
CP:My house is going to be firebombed. [Laughs] Damian Wayne has the most vociferous, energetic fan base. I mean, seriously. And the stuff that shows up on my website and on my blog, I’m going, “You know this is just comics, right? You know he’s not a real person? He’s a comic book character.” I love Damian, too. It’s just that, my take on Damian, I see him as being kind of a little pest, a little snotty. I don’t know why some fans want to see him as, “Oh, no, he’s misunderstood.” No. He’s kind of a little jerk. And I write him in that way in the Titans crossover and things like that. I wrote him as a little arrogant, taking command. At some point, Dick Grayson pulls his coat and says, “You know, you and I have to be on the same page.” And he goes, “I agree. Apology accepted.” [Laughs] Because he’s just Batman times 10, which makes him so much fun to write. So we’ll see. We’ll see how the fans react to that.
What’s it like getting to play Batman and Deathstroke off each other. What do you see their dynamic as?
CP:Well at first, I thought it would be fun. It’s a lot of work mainly because if I have Deathstroke making a monkey out of Batman for five issues, the series won’t have credibility. So I have to have Batman one-up Deathstroke, which is not easy to do, and take Deathstroke by surprise. And what we’ll see, I think … The first issue is already out, so this is not really a spoiler by the time this comes out. But what we’ll see is Deathstroke, from day one is saying “Robin? You want him? Take him. What do you want”…But there’s this DNA evidence. And it’s like, “Eh. DNA. DNA, Shmee-NA. Have him. Take him.” Deathstroke, he acts like he doesn’t care. But Deathstroke is more like Hugh Laurie’s House, MD with a machine gun. I mean, he’s that sort of emotionally-stunted sort of person. So he may say, “I don’t care,” but is that true? What’s really going on inside? And it’s really hard, with both of these characters, to depict what they’re experiencing emotionally because neither one of them is going to admit to the other. Batman is never going to tell Deathstroke, “Oh, but I love him. He’s my heart.” So I have to find a way to express that obliquely and directly.Continued below
I don’t personally, no offense to any other writer, I personally am not doing first-person narratives mainly because that’s all anyone seems to be doing these days. So that makes it ten times harder because I don’t have that running monologue telling you what they’re thinking. So I have to find a way to…I was taught in journalism school, I was taught that a character is defined by action. So whatever they’re feeling, I have to demonstrate through the choices they make, and the actions that come out of it.
Having read #30 and having seen these interactions between Alfred and Wintergreen, or having seen Robin and Jericho having their monologues. How do you see Batman and Deathstroke as parallels and as opposites?
Well, the whole story is set up about fathers and sons. So you got the two grandpas. You got Wintergreen and Alfred conspiring because they feel that both Batman and Deathstroke have gone too far and they need a lesson in humility or something to kind of bring them back to what they’re supposed to be about. Then you have, obviously, Batman and Deathstroke. And then you have these confessionals, these black and white confessionals with the two sons. So you have these different parallels and these different levels of fathers and sons going on here, and what it means to be a father, and the responsibility, the legacy, and why fathers are important, why they matter. So we’re laying it all on trial here thematically.
At that point Carlo Pagulayan showed up and Priest gave him his chair and Pagulayan and I began our converstion.
What’s it like, I guess, getting to come back now with “Deathstroke” #30, coming back to this character in this series that you helped kick off at the beginning of Rebirth?
Carlo Pagulayan: I was pretty excited because I am coming back with him battling Batman because the last time, I missed out on that. So right now, it’s just exciting to see him go head-to-head with Batman. In the first issue, I’m trying to…Just drawing the Batmobile was fun for me. It’s basically just fun moments for me.
What’s it like getting drawing this character that is such a villain, such a bastard, not a great guy?
CP: Some of the things that I’ve drawn before, it’s like I couldn’t really…I’m not really into violence, but I still do enjoy drawing kick-ass action and how he does his villainy. To me, I mean, I know Priest said Deathstroke is a real villain. But for me, he’s a really dark vigilante to me. [Laughs]
CP: I mean, he’s very near that line where he can be an actual villain or not, sort of like Batman. He’s that to me, but I’m pretty sure that to Batman, he’s an asshole. [Laughs]
All right, all right. [Laughs] What makes, and you’ve said some of this just now, what makes Batman and Deathstroke different or similar?
CP: I think I could say that the only advantage that Deathstroke is his enhancements. I think they could go toe-to-toe if Deathstroke was still his normal self without all the super strength, ability, and everything. If they’re given the same equipment, the same weapons, they could actually go head-to-head and probably they’ll tie.
What makes him different is their approach to accomplishing whatever their quest or whatever the mission is. I mean, Batman wouldn’t go so far as killing someone, where Deathstroke, if he can kill someone to meet his goal or meet his objectives, he would do it. And I think if they have the…They could probably shift in morality and Deathstroke would be…I was actually just playing with it in my head, if say Batman turned up missing, Deathstroke would probably, you know, if there was a dark Batman, he could be that Batman or something. It’s the morality. It’s how they approach things, it’s how they value life. That’s their main difference.
Is there anything else that you would like to tease or to promote with the miniseries?
CP: Usually, I don’t ask too many questions so that I don’t spill anything. [Laughs]
It’s okay if you do. [Laughs]
CP: The thing that I’m quite enjoying about the series right now is that Batman is trying to agitate Deathstroke. So if there’s anything or anybody more annoying than all the characters in DC, it’s Batman going against you and trying to annoy you. So I guess, that. I’m trying to be safe.Continued below
I’m currently drawing the second issue and there’s a bit more in the flashbacks with trying to figure out who is the father. I haven’t really gotten in-depth with the script.
Is there something that you’ve drawn in issue [#31] that was really exciting, or really bombastic?
CP: In issue [#31], the page that I really enjoyed drawing was…Deathstroke, basically he’s flying over to some distant place and he has to…his plane was shot and he had to come in without a parachute and everything. It’s really cool.
“Deathstroke vs. Batman” continues today with part 2 in issue #31 out today.