DEATHSTROKE: Using an Assassin to Tell a Story About Gun Violence

An interview with writer Christopher Priest and penciller Denys Cowan.

Deathstroke #11, out this week, tackles the real-life issue of gun violence in a story called Chicago. Our columnist Christy Blanch discussed it with the series’ regular writer, Christopher Priest, and one of the two special-guest artists, Denys Cowan. — Dan


I’ve always thought of comic books as cultural mirrors – they reflect what’s happening in our current climate, whether it’s politics, economics, fashion or popular culture. This goes back to the creation of Superman (and comic strips before that).

Deathstroke #11 by Christopher Priest, Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz, out 1/25, hews to that tradition — taking on a real-life issue head on: urban gun violence, specifically in troubled Chicago.

It’s particularly compelling that DC is broaching the subject in a title starring its most violent antihero: Slade Wilson, the world’s greatest assassin.

“He’s a bad guy,” Priest said to me in an interview. “This is how he makes his living. He’s a sociopath to a certain degree. He thinks everyone is an idiot. He has no problem whacking anyone. He has numbed down his humanity.”

Deathstroke isn’t really the story’s protagonist. Rather it’s reporter Jack Ryder (alias the Creeper), who’s come to Chicago to chase a story about a group of frustrated mothers who hire Deathstroke to take out the city’s murderous gangbangers — and the thorny ethical questions that raises. Along the way, there’s much musing about the endless cycle of violence and whether it will — or can — end.

Without giving too much away, Deathstroke’s dubious morality stays constant. It’s the supporting characters who are the driving forces: “He doesn’t take sides. … He has no ethical stake in this one way of the other,” Priest said.

When he makes a revealing choice, he noted, it’s “not because of ethical qualms. He doesn’t care about that. He thinks it’s a bad situation that wouldn’t get better.”

So why use an assassin to tell this story? Because, Priest said, he “had been following what was going on in Chicago and wanted to do an anti-violence story. What better vehicle for that than a Deathstroke story?”

I asked him whether he thought the book would get any push-back, given our overheated political environment.

“I really don’t know, but I hope at the very least we start a discussion,” he said. “Even if they hate us and accuse us, a conversation needs to happen. Until we start talking about it and talking to each other, nothing is going to change.”

Cowan, the book’s guest penciller, added that “if they critique, it will be interesting because the book doesn’t take a side. It shows that this is just a problem that needs to be solved. Priest continued, “You ask the questions, get the discussions going. These discussions try to point us towards the light.”

Priest and Cowan would like the issue to end up in the hands of the people who need to put the guns down.

“I wish every kid in Chicago could get this for free,” Priest said. “It’s not a solution, but what it does is ask questions. It doesn’t preach, it doesn’t tell you what to think. It’s just Ryder walking around asking questions.”

“And,” added Cowan, it doesn’t give any simple solutions.”

MORE: Priest and Cowan discuss the return of the Creeper. Click here.


Author: Dan Greenfield

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