Villains don’t often get their own solo comics, so Slade Wilson, better known as Deathstroke, is a rarity. Christopher Priest, the co-creator of Quantum & Woody and whose Black Panther is the stuff of legend, has taken on comics’ deadliest assassin in the newest volume from DC’s Rebirth. Priest tells Inverse he wants to make the character truly vile. “I can’t be protective of Deathstroke,” Priest explained last week at New York Comic Con. “He’s a villain and he’s a vile person. He doesn’t have that monitor in there.”
And it only “came naturally” for Priest to make a bad man say bad things. The writer recalled a piece of dialogue in the prologue issue, Deathstroke: Rebirth #1, in which Deathstroke tells a genocidal African dictator there won’t be U.S. intervention. “These are black people,” Slade says, fidgeting with his phone. “The Marines aren’t coming.”
Priest was grateful DC let it be. “I know there must have been discussion in some room somewhere. ‘Can we leave that in? Can Deathstroke be a racist?’” Priest assures Deathstroke isn’t racist — he’s a bad guy, not a monster — but that “he’s just not politically correct,” which can only enrich Slade on the page. “He will say incredibly insensitive things. I said from the beginning: I have to be allowed to put those words in his mouth.”
Deathstroke has been thrust into pop culture consciousness following Manu Bennett’s portrayal on the CW’s Arrow and an upcoming role in Ben Affleck’s (so far untitled) Batman film. But it’s in comics where Deathstroke’s heart has opened up. Almost as stealthily as Slade himself, Priest’s Deathstroke has been a family drama on top of a bloody espionage thriller.
“Deathstroke was revolutionary back in the ‘80s, because Deathstroke had a wife and children. That was interesting, for a supervillain to have that kind of situation,” Priest told Inverse. “That’s always been part of who Deathstroke was, so what I’m writing is this dysfunctional family drama, The Sopranos with supervillains.” To Priest, Deathstroke is a guy that actually loves and wants to be loved, “but he’s capable of neither.”
Rose, Slade’s daughter who is also a trained assassin, has been roped into daddy’s business, embarking on “the road trip from hell to Gotham” in the most recent Issue #4. And it’s a road trip that will cross paths with Batman and Damian Wayne’s Robin in Issue #5, coming October 21. Priest promises a different sort of brawl than the physically brutal fights they’ve had in their storied history.
“It’s like ‘Batman vs. Deathstroke,’ but they are never in the same room at the same time,” reveals Priest. “Deathstroke has kidnapped Robin. Deathstroke sends the Ravager to deliver his terms to Batman, and Batman does not kidnap Rose, but sort of takes Rose on this adventure, so they ‘swap’ partners.” The result of this sidekick switcheroo is a “character study,” says Priest. “Damian Wayne is getting under Deathstroke’s skin, and Deathstroke is wishing he had never kidnapped the brat in the first place.”
Meanwhile, says Priest, Batman creates “a moral calamity for Rose, where she is realizing some things about her father she has never thought through.” Priest confirms Batman and Deathstroke clash, “but it is [more] intellectual and conceptual” than it is a royal rumble.
As for what’s in store for Slade in the distant future? Priest says he can’t give it away, “but basically he has some personal problems that threaten to end his career, and then after we go into a big crossover with the Titans.” Who knows if the youthful Titans deride Deathstroke for not being, as the kids say, “woke,” but Deathstroke is the kind of guy to not give a shit.