In the last couple of days, Bleeding Cool highlighted a scene written by John Ridley in The Other History Of The DC Universe, Book Three, published by DC Comics. In which, quite explicitly and at length, Deathstroke was described as a "pedophilic rapist" as part of The Judas Contract storyline. Given the higher profile the character has had as an anti-hero in the comics, TV and movies, this skews away from how the Deathstroke "brand" has been treated in recent years.
Bleeding Cool got a number of messages stating that this interpretation was clearly not what the original creators intended. So we found an interview with George Perez when he would state just that, albeit it in a different tone.
But answering questions set by Brian Salvatore at Multiversity three years ago, Christopher Priest took a different tack. He wrote the characters of Deathstroke and Terra in his DC Rebirth run on Deathstroke, including rewriting events inthe original Judas Contract scenes by Marv Wolfman and George Perez that John Ridley picked up on in The Other History of The DC Universe.
In a series of questions and follow-ups, he addressed the issue. Extracts are below, you can read the full interview and context at Multiversity.
This is what I'm asked about most regarding this series, especially by comics readers who remember the Wolfman/Pérez run. "How can you write that pedophile?!"
It frustrates me a little that Deathstroke is so popular these days, and actually has always been super popular with the fans, while so many of them decry this, the moment that literally defined who he is.
Deathstroke manipulating a young girl is reprehensible. It is kind of unsurvivable in terms of character—you really can't soft-pedal the behavior and continue to root for Deathstroke. Any attempt to rationalize the behavior just blows up in your face. Deathstroke's choices are indefensible.
But painting Terra as a saint is wrong and stupid. Excusing Deathstroke's behavior is wrong and stupid. Not talking about it leaves this cloud lingering over DC, over Deathstroke, over Marv, over me.
The sense I get, from fans branding Deathstroke a pedophile, is they have this vision of Terra as some innocent whom Slade corrupted, which shows me they don't know the character of Terra and don't know the character of Deathstroke.
So, re-reading the original Judas Contract, while I was as disturbed as everyone else, I never thought of Terra as a flower of chaste innocence and presumed her willing if not eager cooperation. Terra wasn't 12 and she wasn't a prostitute, but she was a contract killer which implies she was not innocent. That's my only point: fitting Terra for a halo is wrong and stupid, that's not the character.
A pedophile is a person with a sexual attraction to or predisposition toward children. That's not Slade Wilson. If it was, I'd have written the character as a man struggling with those kinds of impulses. I didn't write him that way because that's not who the character is. Slade couldn't stand Terra. He was only using her to help him kill the Titans. Which does not excuse his heinous behavior nor does it, I suppose, fully exempt him from the label.
But labeling him a pedophile diminishes a very serious global threat to children by applying the term generically and often disparagingly as a dismissive aspersion rather than treat the term and condition with the gravity with which it must be considered.
My regret concerning things that did not make it into MY run, which was your original question, was over 2017 Deathstroke not taking fuller responsibility for 1980 Deathstroke by our not more fully exploring how sexual exploitation impacts at-risk youth. I thought rounding the corners off of the original story was a less courageous choice than holding Deathstroke accountable for his actions and exploring the long-term impact on Terra.
"Pedophile" isn't a term we should just toss around. Sexual exploitation of minors happens every minute of every day everywhere in the world. In 2016 alone, child protective services agencies substantiated, or found strong evidence to indicate that, 57,329 children were victims of sexual abuse. One in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult (RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) https://www.rainn.org/statistics/children-and-teens). That's why I'm eager to take the opportunity to address this business, not to excuse Slade but to stop the character or the story from being used to make pedophilia a punchline.
We could have written a story that addressed this issue in a way that would educate and perhaps even help somebody. Instead, we changed it to protect the character, Terra, once again being exploited for Deathstroke's benefit.
I was frustrated by the insistence we round the edges off of all of that. Mainly because, I promise, 90% of the fans already know the story and little kids don't read Deathstroke. So who were we protecting? The company? The fans? Or were we protecting Deathstroke by shaving edges off of what he is—a reprehensible human being.
I'm not sure what good running away from this classic event does. I'd have rather dealt with it head-on, exploring the greater ramifications of how this kind of abuse and violation victimizes youth. That's a story worth telling, a story that could help educate and inform rather than pretending this doesn't actually happen. I wish we hadn't shied away from telling it.
In our 'Rebirth' retelling, Deathstroke only kisses Terra (who'd been aggressively coming on to him), and we explore the impact Deathstroke's manipulation has on Terra, who is emotionally scarred because of it. This still earned me the scarlet letter. It's a bit of business that rightfully concerns everyone. However, pretending this kind of abuse does not go on, when we have an opportunity to responsibly explore and deal with it, would have been, I think, the wrong choice.
I often had to fight City Hall and repeat, ad nauseum, that Deathstroke is a villain. In the first issue, Slade kills a bear in order to save his son. Then he goes back and kills the bear's cubs because, to his thinking, it would be cruel to leave them without a mother. That is Deathstroke. But I had to fight to get that in because of concerns over the character's likeability. This was the unfun part about writing this character, a guy who should have an even sharper edge than Wolverine. Please write this down someplace for future reference: Deathstroke is an ass.
I was, and am now, wholly unconcerned about his likeability. Supervillains are asses. Fans need to be reminded of that fact. I don't think they deserve to be liked. More important, I am using Marv and George as my reference: this is who the man is.
DC Comics and their media partner websites have yet to address the new version of events. But I understand that John Ridley's version from The Other History of The DC Universe was approved, specifically, at the highest levels.
OTHER HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE #3 (OF 5) (MR)
(W) John Ridley (A) Giuseppe Camuncoli, Andrea Cucchi (CA) Giuseppe Camuncoli, Marco Mastrazzo
1983. Japan. Tatsu Yamashiro's life has been taken from her. Her home, her children, her husband are all gone. With nothing left but a burning pain and the sword that stole her family from her, Tatsu begins a long journey of healing, self-discovery, agency, and rebirth. This is the story of Tatsu Yamashiro, the woman known to many as Katana—a hero who became more than the world ever intended for her, ultimately making a family of like-minded Outsiders who rally together for the common good amidst xenophobia and oppression. The long-awaited miniseries written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave, Let It Fall) and beautifully illustrated by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Andrea Cucchi continues to look at the mythology of the DC Universe as seen through the prism of DC Super Heroes who come from traditionally disenfranchised groups. Retail: $6.99