By KIM HOWARD JOHNSON [From Comic Scene #24, February 1991]
Deathstroke, the Terminator visits Gotham City How long will he stay? That’s up to the Batman – and Marv Wolfman.
Although Deathstroke, the Terminator has been around for over a decade, he’s now the newest, hottest action hero in comics. With his non-Comics Code-approved solo series barely half-a-year old, the Terminator faces an active future. beginning with a four-parter costarring the Batman.
“Terminator is wanted by the CIA in the current storyline,” says co-creator Marv Wolfman. “Jericho [of The New Titans] has been killed by Terminator, his own father, in a scene that’s just gorgeous, the way Tom Grummett drew it. So, issue #5 saw the Terminator try to make amends with Addle, his ex-wife, who never wants to see him again. He leaves Wintergreen, the calming influence on him, behind, and wants nothing to do with anybody.”
A criminal gang in Gotham City wants him to kill a turncoat/informer, but “Terminator turns them down. Then, the Mob wants to wipe him out, so he does go after the informer. A Gotham policeman is killed,” says Wolfman. “Now, Terminator is wanted by the Gotham police, too, and they call in the Batman.”
The next year will see Slade Wilson (the title character) involved in a variety of storylines.
“We’re gonna keep moving in different ways. In the next few months, Terminator will be hunted by virtually everybody in the DC Universe,” Wolfman says. “He’s gonna be caught and imprisoned. We don’t have to worry about secret identities. because he doesn’t have one. He wears a mask, but that’s a professional thing. People do know who he is and how to get in touch with him.
He’s put behind bars, and unlike any supposed hero, nobody in prison dislikes him. He’s a killer-he doesn’t put away criminals. At the same time, he’s losing all of his extra abilities because of what happens in the Batman storyline.”
When Terminator first appeared in New Teen Titans #2, he was a violent gun-toting mercenary, unafraid to kill. And when DC finally gave him his own title, Wolfman says the character wasn’t softened up to make him more appealing or accessible.
“In fact, I probably hardened him!” the writer says. “When you’re working with other people, you work at their level. Since he had to accomplish the same goals-he wanted to find his son-be had to work with the Titans. Ho needed their abilities. On his own, he doesn’t have to temper himself.”
Terminator isn’t your typical comic-book hero, says Wolfman-in fact, he’s not exactly a hero at all.
“I have always viewed him as pretty much what he is-a mercenary. He’s not a superhero. He’s the protagonist of our hook and has a strict moral code, which regular people would probably disagree with completely. If he’s attacked, he kills. He’s a mercenary, and he takes on jobs as a soldier of fortune. I guess that’s legal. unless you get caught by the other side! That’s the way he has made his money.”
He achieved popularity with his first appearance. Nevertheless, it has taken several years for Deathstroke the series to begin.
“It’s strange, because when I created the character with George [Pérez) back in Titans #2, we knew we had something. Dick Giordano thought the character should have stood on his own; that’s how strong he was. We had done several stories that indicated this was a powerful character and could probably get his own book. This eventually became [Titans editor) Jonathan Peterson’s idea. We did the pilot in Titans #70, which was a way of reminding people who the Terminator was, since he hadn’t appeared in years. Reaction was so good that we made a regular series out of it.”
Although some have drawn comparisons between Terminator and Marvel’s Punisher, the writer says there are few similarities.
“We got this an awful lot before the book came out,” he observes. “Obviously, Punisher was in the ’70s, and Terminator was created in 1980, but Terminator, in my mind, is very clearly a mercenary. Punisher is a mob-hunter. They have completely different reasons for existing, and it’s essentially the difference between a soldier and a policeman. Granted, they’re freelancers, but one goes after the mob, and the other takes on jobs for hire.
“From what I’ve read of The Punisher, Vigilante, which I did, was much closer, but when we did Vigilante, there was no Punisher comic book. The other difference is that the stories are not personal stories in The Punisher. All of the stories in Deathstroke are personal. They’re about him, they’re about the people he cares about; there’s a love interest. To me, Slade Wilson is a vitally interesting character. He’s more interesting than (his alter ego) Deathstroke, who’s more of a hired gun. Slade Wilson’s a real person. The character in The Punisher exists solely to be the Punisher-his sole purpose is to wipe out bad guys.”
One problem Wolfman continually faces is writing a lead character who isn’t really a nice guy.
“I think Slade can be likable. Terminator isn’t,” he says. “Slade is certainly a social animal-that’s another difference between him and the Punisher-I can’t even remember the Punisher’s real name (Frank Castle), even though I wrote one or two back in Spider-Man, when he still used mercy bullets. Slade can be a very social and sexual character. He’s a person who has needs, desires and everything. On the other hand, Terminator is a mercenary. He can be a very likable person in a job that most of us would find repulsive.”
Wolfman isn’t sure why Terminator is so popular, but he says they knew the character was a success from the beginning.
“Frankly, when we started him in 1980. we knew we had something with him. Readers have always liked the character. He has always gotten the best mail of the Titans. I used him very sparingly because 1 saw he was so strong that I didn’t want to overuse him as a supporting character,” Wolfman explains. “I saw him as too strong for the book; he would eclipse everybody else-and he has done just that! To brag a little bit, I think it was one of those times that we came up with a nearly perfect creation, and you can’t plan those. This character just sang the moment he was created, and we all knew it.
“Deathstroke, the Terminator is a book that I really enjoy doing,” Wolfman says. “I did Jon Sable for a while, simply because I love writing international stories. The blend I currently have writing Titans and Terminator is a phenomenal one, because I get to write several genres that I enjoy doing.
“I love doing the type of realistic, gritty stuff that Terminator affords,” enthuses Marv Wolfman. “And I like writing the fantasy stuff with the Titans, too. It’s not like I’m writing the same book, and that’s important.”
Bill Walko is an author and artist and the man behind titanstower.com. He's been reading and drawing comics since he was 5 years old and hasn't stopped since.