Another year without Superman in Action Comics ... at least a year of Lex Luthor in Action ... thatmight be a tough sell no matter how great the story or art is. So what better way to lure readers in than to add a beloved, seldom seen, and unique guest star?
In what has to be deemed a fascinating decision, Death - of Neil Gaiman's Sandman - will guest star in Action Comics #894. Having a Vertigo character cross over into the mainstream DCU is bold. Does it lift up Action? Does it diminish Death?
As usual, the whole interview is worth reading. I have culled a few parts that I enjoy.
Newsarama: Paul, seeing a Vertigo character show up in a DCU book is going to get people talking about the imprints. But was this something DC asked you to do? Or did you come up with the idea on your own? Paul Cornell: It was me. Basically, Matt Idelson and Will Moss, the editors of Action, asked me what characters I'd like to have Lex Luthor encounter during our current story arc. And having given a list of mainstream list of DC villains, I suddenly thought, what would be the most dramatic character for Lex to encounter?
One of the reasons we're doing this is to have Lex encounter villains from outside the usual Superman encounters. And what could be more outside, or more dramatic, than Death from Vertigo?
So I put it to them.... and they buckled for a few minutes. But then they said, "Oh, you'd better ask Neil, hadn't you?" So I asked Neil. And he was enthusiastic. And we went from there.
We know about Mr. Mind and Gorilla Grodd and Bizarro and Deathstroke all appearing in upcoming issues. But Death ... she isn't a super-villain. She isn't another step in his power quest. She's Death. And so the Lex/Death interaction has to be a very different story than the ones with those other villains.
Nrama: So you're just using this character for one story? She's still a Vertigo character? Cornell: Yes. Vertigo readers should rest assured that none of us wanted to do this in a crass way. It will be respectful. And Neil himself will be looking over my shoulder and reading the script.
I suppose this is my biggest concern. You don't want her character to be lessened by this appearance. But putting Death into this universe ... to put her on this stage ... can it be pulled off in a respectful manner? It sounds like Cornell has enough reverence for Sandman to do the right thing. So I think the answer is yes.
Nrama: Paul, after Lex meets Death during his "power quest," are you going to be exploring Lex Luthor's character for awhile in Action Comics? Cornell: Oh yeah. I'm not sure if it's announced how long, but we're running for a considerable time with Lex.
Death or no Death ... I'm not too thrilled to hear about no Superman in Action let alone for a 'considerable time'. And is the length of this arc hand-cuffed to JMS' Grounded? Can there be no Superman while Grounded is ongoing?
Nrama: It's interesting that you used the word "enthusiastic" to describe Neil Gaiman's reaction to Lex Luthor meeting Death. Did you discuss the story idea you had for the two characters? Cornell: I think Neil is a great enthusiast for the weirdness of the DC Universe, the way it can put two such disparate things together. And I just saw him on Monday, and yes, we talked about the story.
One of the things I said to him about it was, it's not going to be the superhero fight. It's going to be something that's entirely in keeping with Death's former appearances. Vertigo didn't feel that we were dragging her into a situation where it would be a sideshow.
This is just one, long, very dramatic conversation, as Lex Luthor tries to save himself from her arriving for him.
Well at least he won't be shooting her with his power suit. I suppose a conversation is probably the only way this guest star sting can easily be pulled off. And my guess is he is probably close to death when it happens. Maybe it comes off as a dream to Lex, some vision while he is unconscious, some discussion with Death when he is in shock.
It can work.
It's not like it hasn't been done before. We have seen Vertigo to DC crossovers before. And we have seen the opposite. Matt Wagner, in particular, seems to have a knack for the latter. We saw Hourman, Blackhawk, and others in Sandman Mystery Theater. We have seen the Phantom Stranger, the Demon, and J'onn J'onzz in Madame Xanadu.
Perhaps my favorite Vertigo-to-DCU cross over is in the '5YL' Legion, Legion of Super-Heroes #38.
In that issue, the Earth is destroyed by the Dominators, killing all Terrans who aren't in a select number of protected cities which have rocketed away.
Death is simply the background of the scene, overseeing the billions of people who were killed in the destruction. In this way, she is simply above the action, above the primary colors. She is more a concept than someone who would go talk to Brainy in his lab.
I also enjoyed Daniel/Dream in Grant Morrison's JLA. In that story, the Justice League exist within the dream world of a child and need to 'become' to fight Starro.
So it can be done. And in the right hands, it can be done right ... effective, without sullying the Vertigo characters. This post may come off like I am against Death appearing here ... but I'm not. Maybe nervous is more like it. Heck, I'm not even a big Sandman fan. I just think that if it is going to be done, it has to be done right. And I really think it will be. If it is done wrong, it will come off more like a stunt than an important part of the Luthor arc.
At the very least, Death starring in the issue has allowed us to see David Finch's interpretation of the character. That is a fantastic cover.