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In Comic 'Deathstroke,' Taking Revenge For Victims Of Chicago Gun Violence


Two hundred sixty-eight people have been shot in Chicago so far this year; 4,368 people were shot last year. And there have been almost as many ideas offered as to how to end the violence - Crackdown on guns, invest in destitute neighborhoods, put more money into inner-city schools. President Trump tweeted this week, if Chicago doesn't fix the horrible carnage, I will send in the feds. And there's this suggestion - hire a supervillain. That's the premise of this week's issue of the comic book "Deathstroke." Mothers of the victims of gun violence pool their money to bring in a practiced assassin to avenge their children's deaths. It was written by Christopher Priest and drawn by Denys Cowan, two pioneering African-American artists who've been in the comic business for 40 years. Christopher Priest is in Colorado; Denys Cowan in Los Angeles. Thanks very much for being with us.


DENYS COWAN: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

SIMON: And what moved you to bring "Deathstroke" to Chicago, Christopher?

PRIEST: Writing "Deathstroke" presents a number of challenges to me. As a Christian, as a minister, it's difficult for me to write a comic book that all but glorifies violence. So my take on "Deathstroke" has been to not so much celebrate violence but to deal with the consequences of violence. So in order to do a credible anti-violence story, I thought, you know, let's do it in the place, you know, probably the most violent comic book that DC publishes. And as I started working on a story, there were news reports of just tragic numbers coming out of Chicago in terms of gun violence. And I thought that Chicago would make an appropriate platform for this story.

SIMON: Denys Cowan, for - we just heard the author of the storyline say it's an anti-violence comic book, but as the artist, you had to draw a lot of violence in there, didn't you?

COWAN: (Laughter) Yes, yes. You know, I've often said that a lot of times in the comics that I draw, we're dealing with action, not necessarily violence. So you have characters flying around and shooting, you know, ray beams out of their eyes or using feats super strength. You know, it's over the top. It's not real. It's action. In this case, with "Deathstroke" we were dealing with violence. That required a different approach and that necessitated in me drawing a lot of stuff that I don't normally draw in comics.

SIMON: Christopher Priest, there's a point in the story when a character says there would be outrage if Chicago police were killing as many people as Deathstroke does.

PRIEST: Yeah. You know, it seems to me that the outrage associated with violence, it really changes depending on what your perspective is, which side of the spectrum you're on. So yeah, there was a line there where, referring to Deathstroke - this is presumably a white man running around killing young black men - and the mother replies, my daughter was black. The kid who shot her was black. If a white cop shot and killed my daughter's killer, I'd bake him a pie. It's a line I really didn't invent. It's something that I've heard from people before. You know, I think personally nothing comes from violence other than more violence. But that's the point we're trying to make here. We're not even dealing with the, you know, police right now. We're dealing with just sort of this intramural tribal culture that is fueling a lot of the violence going on in Chicago.

SIMON: Denys Cowan, in these days of social media, I wonder what kind of reaction you're getting.

COWAN: Most the reviews are really good, and people seem to get it. There are a few criticisms that I've seen come down. Like, you know, one was Priest and Cowan - what are they, spokesmen for, like, the Black Lives Matter movement and then they're anti-white?

SIMON: They didn't read it very closely, did they?

COWAN: They didn't read it very closely at all. It was just a knee-jerk reaction, and we don't offer any solutions in "Deathstroke #11." We do ask a lot of questions, and...

PRIEST: Well, in addition to that, we're also saying that we're all to blame, the police, the gangsters, the parents, the education system, the economic system there, the politicians, the mayor. We've all got skin in the game.

SIMON: As you noted, Christopher Priest, you're also a minister.


SIMON: I was struck by the priest who's the minister.

PRIEST: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, you know, Reverend Priest. You know, I've got all the bases covered.

SIMON: Of all things, is "Deathstroke" - does that fit into your ministry in a way?

PRIEST: Not directly, and it's something that is difficult to get people to understand that number one that art is art. There is no such thing as Christian art or secular art - writing, painting, drawing, whatever it is. As far as, you know, finding a moral basis for writing a hardened killer, this is a guy with a lot of problems, and he pays a heavy emotional toll for the lifestyle that he's chosen. We don't couch him in theological terms, but this is in fact a book about morality and is actually preaching a pretty strong sermon against violence and against this behavior and against this lifestyle.

SIMON: Christopher Priest and Denys Cowan, they are author and illustrator of "Deathstroke." Thanks very much for being with us.

PRIEST: Well, thank you for having us. I very much appreciate it.

COWAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.