The 'Deathstroke' writer tells EW about the coming six-month struggle
Credit: DC Entertainment

Deathstroke the Terminator (real name Slade Wilson) was first created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez in 1980 as a villain for their New Teen Titans comic, but the multi-talented assassin has really stormed to the forefront of the DC stage over the last few years. Writer Christopher Priest’s ongoing award-nominated Deathstroke comic has remained one of the major highlights of DC’s publishing output ever since it debuted as part of the DC Rebirth publishing initiative.

Then there’s the recent cinematic stardom of Deadpool, which serves as a reminder that the Merc with a Mouth was originally a spoof on Deathstroke, from the outfit to the name. But rather than being left in the cold by his more popular imitator, Deathstroke has even garnered his own blockbuster prospects. Joe Manganiello’s appearance in the post-credits scene of Justice League suggested he could play a major role in the future of DC’s film franchise — perhaps as the central villain of Matt Reeves’ planned solo Batman movie, or as the solo star of an action film from The Raid director Gareth Evans.

That film may still be years away, but fans will still get to see Deathstroke and Batman face off in a new six-part “Deathstroke vs. Batman” story that begins in this month’s Deathstroke #30, written by Priest and illustrated by Carlo Pagulayan. The story features a dispute over the parentage of Batman’s son Damian Wayne, who currently serves as Robin. Damian is supposed to be the son of Batman and his old flame Talia al Ghul, but when a new paternity test claims Slade is the boy’s real father, Batman is determined to get answers.

EW caught up with Priest to talk about the coming battle and the enduring similarities between the two combatants. Check out that interview below, along with an exclusive preview of Deathstroke #30, which you can order here.

Credit: DC Entertainment
Credit: DC Entertainment
Credit: DC Entertainment
Credit: DC Entertainment
Credit: DC Entertainment

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Deathstroke and Batman interacted early on in your Deathstroke run, but the last issue of Deathstroke ended with Slade Wilson inside Arkham Asylum. Doesn’t take much to see how he could cross paths with Batman from there, but how will their dynamic be different this time?
CHRISTOPHER PRIEST: Deathstroke and Batman really did not interact much in the previous episode you mention, Deathstroke #4. Deathstroke briefly mixed it up with Batman as subterfuge for kidnapping Robin — who subsequently drove Deathstroke insane and made Deathstroke want to give him back.

Deathstroke vs. Batman was a completely separate thought, originally intended as a standalone series. The idea came up two years ago, so Deathstroke vs. Batman is set at a time previous to current continuity; Slade’s commitment to Arkham Asylum has not happened yet. The dynamic between them is very different than before as an unknown agent has set Batman and Deathstroke on a collision course over the issue of Robin’s paternity. Slade may be stuck with the brat after all.

I love this Slade line from issue #30: “Don’t confuse me with some lunatic who dresses like a penguin.” What separates Deathstroke from Batman’s other villains? What unique challenge does he pose to the Dark Knight?
As I see the Bat franchise, most of his villains are grown out of the culture and iconography Batman creates. In building his own mystique, Batman has ironically created a model for criminals to follow, adopting gregarious themes and costumes.

I am writing Deathstroke as an entity outside of the comic book mindset whose voice is often that of the lapsed or uninitiated comics fans who may have difficulty with the level of suspension of disbelief typical superhero memes require. I mean, I can hold my nose and accept the idea that a man can fly, but I struggle with the notion that people really don’t recognize Clark Kent as Superman — which I, as a reader, am required to do in order to enjoy Superman’s adventures.

Deathstroke just sees most all of it as nonsense, even though he himself is obviously wearing a colorful costume. He is prone to make pointed observations about the broader conceits of the superhero genre (like that Penguin crack) because he, like his writer, does not fully or willingly subscribe to the comic book logic, or lack thereof, which is often imposed upon these stories.

Deathstroke and Batman are very similar in some ways — they’re both ruthless warriors and brilliant strategists who are devoted to their personal struggle, even when it means alienating those around them. How do they see each other?
As I see the characters (after all, every writer or fan will have his or her own view), they are more or less mirror images. I believe this is what Deathstroke creator (and my former boss) Marv Wolfman had in mind when he created him. Deathstroke is more or less a dark mirror of Batman (complete with his own British sidekick).

Deathstroke is what Batman could become absent his disciplined convictions (see DC’s megahit Metal for obvious examples). Batman, on the other hand, represents the person Slade Wilson could have become had he not lacked the strength of character to stay on the right path. Much like Marvel’s Captain America, Slade Wilson was endowed with powers by the U.S. military to serve a high purpose, but his innate character flaws became magnified as his career developed. His negative traits overtook him completely after his youngest son (Joseph, who later became the hero known as Jericho) had his throat slit by an assassin who came looking for Slade. After that point, Deathstroke moves from a morally ambiguous gun for hire to a patently evil supervillain.

A major focus of your Deathstroke run has been the various fraught relationships within the Wilson family, and Damian Wayne’s parentage is the catalyst for this Deathstroke/Batman encounter. How will this arc continue that exploration of familial themes and the weird relationships between Batman, Deathstroke, and the children they deputize as their assistants and sidekicks?
You’ve kind of answered your own question. [Laughs] What makes Deathstroke vs. Batman unique among superhero smackdowns is the theme of family powering it. We have confessionals featuring their sons (biological and adopted) providing a kind of Greek chorus and exploration of the motives and agendas of their complex mentors.

Rather than trying to stop a bank robbery or save the world, these men are trying to save their families or, more accurately, their place within those relationships. It is a very personal and revealing engagement which, much like my Superman/Clark Kent analogy, underlines the real-world perils to the very young people our heroes often have fighting by their side as well as the lack of common sense (or suspension of disbelief — take your pick) required to make that work. Deathstroke — the killer — chastises Batman for being a bad dad. And he’s got a point.

Since this arc is called Deathstroke vs. Batman, I’m hoping we’ll see some good fight scenes. How do you work with an artist like Carlo Pagulayan to coordinate a cool battle sequence?
I make up some dumb stuff and then Carlo (and breakdown artist Larry Hama) makes it better. There are a bunch of fight scenes because these are superhero comics and that’s the law, but the story is not driven by the fight scenes and the central conflict is not resolved by violence, which happens way, way too often in this genre.

I’ve worked with Carlo, who created the current Rebirth version of Deathstroke, for two years now, but Deathstroke vs. Batman represents a huge leap forward in craft. These pages are simply mind-blowing, a term used far too often in this business, but it is so apropos here. Carlo does a simply amazing Batman, and my jaw literally drops with every arriving page. Inker Jason Paz brings Carlos’ work brilliantly to life, and colorist Jeromy Cox provides the soundtrack; color is the music that makes comic books sing.

I’m almost tremendously pleased, in a fanboy sort of way, to have long-time Legends of The Dark Knight letterer Willie Schubert providing the typography for the series. It’s so great to see that lettering style back on Batman again, giving our series a classic look.

This Deathstroke vs. Batman arc follows close on the heels of another extended arc, “Defiance.” But through these arcs, your Deathstroke run has built an amazingly complex central narrative, constantly calling back events from older issues. Do you have a master plan for the series or are you just building on it as you go? How does Deathstroke vs. Batman fit into your vision for the series?
Deathstroke vs. Batman was a completely separate thought, originally intended as a standalone series, co-written by myself and a Batman writer…But once the decision was made to run it in the Deathstroke monthly slot, I was tasked to write both sides of it, which has been one of the toughest assignments I’ve had in recent memory.

DC Comics has shown enormous support and enthusiasm for the project, including a special polybagged foil cover, and the response from retailers and fans has so far been great — even though enthusiastic fans of Damian Wayne are closely watching to see where this all goes (and what to do to me if it doesn’t go where they want it to!).

If I had my way, the paternity question would be solved by a call-in: 1-800-4BATMAN or 1-800-DSTROKE. But, sigh, maybe next time.