If the rumored rule about crossover between the characters of the DC Comics superhero universe and members of the publisher's Vertigo line being off limits was ever true, that rule seems to be breaking.
Today, the company announced via The Source that in October's "Action Comics" #894, newly-minted writer Paul Cornell will pit Lex Luthor against Death from Neil Gaimain's "The Sandman." This won't be the first time that one of Gaimain's Endless characters have crossed over into the DCU proper – that honor goes to Grant Morrison from a 1998 "JLA" storyline – however, it has been years since the two worlds have interacted with much speculation being made as to why in the intervening time.
With the news out on Death's return hitting the web, CBR News spoke with Cornell about the genesis of the character's inclusion in his Lex Luthor-starring, villain-heavy "Action" arc, how he intends to keep her appearance well in line with Vertigo stories of the past and what he feels his future with Vertigo may be.
CBR News: Paul, you spoke a bit in the release about using Death in "Action" being an idea that you brought to DC. Did you think that it would be an easy thing for you to make happen, or did you just say, "I guess I'll throw this out there and see if we can make it happen"?
Paul Cornell: A little bit of both, really. I was asked by Matt Idelson and Wil Moss to provide a kind of shopping list of big DC villains that I wanted to use, and I knew I wanted to take Lex into all sorts of directions and settings to meet villains he really hadn't encountered for long at all. I knew I wanted to take him to areas he hadn't been, and one of those areas was the supernatural/the theological. I initially thought, "Oh, there's the Black Racer for Kirby's Fourth World books! The guy on the skis - that's the personification of Death there." I had happily been thinking of pitching that, and then suddenly it occurred to me that there's another Death, isn't there, that's from even further across the reach of the DC Universes. I pitched it to Wil and Matt, and they said, "Really? What?!?" and it took them a couple of days to wrap their heads around it and see if it was possible. Then I set up to talk to Neil and had a word with Neil, not expecting him to say yes, but he said yes!
I saw that the two have you have been Tweeting back and forth in oblique terms over the past few days. You both seem to travel in similar circles from sci-fi to TV to comics. Have you known each other long?
We got to know each other in recent years. He's a lovely man and we're basically puttering around the field of British television together a bit. I've read an awful lot of his work over the years, and it's absolutely terrific to know him as a person.
Off the top of my head, I know there are several instances where the cast of "Sandman" have made their way into other books at Vertigo and DC, but I don't recall if anyone has ever written Death except Neil.
Grant Morrison did in "JLA" I think.
I haven't read that story with Daniel in years. In either event, what is it like to coming on to a character that's SO closely associated with a writer like Death is with Neil?
I'm obviously going to be really careful. Neil will have a look at the script. I'm not sure if he's asked to look at the script, I'd just like him to. [Laughs] It's going to be very much in a Vertigo mold. This isn't going to be a superhero battle between Lex Luthor and Death. It's going to be Death doing what Death always does, and it's a very intense book-long conversation/debate between Death and this delicious, huge DCU supervillain in the form of Lex Luthor. Basically, Lex is a very, very clever individual who asks that, now that she's come for him – and she has because of what's happened in the previous issue, which is to say he's dying – can he talk his way out of this? And the answer to that is no, I'd think. I think we'll just have to stop the book there. "Action Comics" will just cease.[Laughs]
You'll just be the man who's killed DC's marquee title.
My wife said when I first got the book, "Well, at least they can't cancel 'Action Comics.'" [Laughter]
One of the things a lot of people have talked about lately and something I asked Jim Lee and Dan Didio of late is the idea of whether or not there's a moratorium on characters that were once DCU but went to Vertigo coming back, or characters who are Vertigo but are technically connected to the DCU being used in DC books. The permeability of that divide seems to be in doubt in terms of corporate policy as its been a long time since we've seen the two world crossing over. What was your experience in terms of whether or not there was any discussion at DC of you being allowed to do that?
I'm not sure if there is a policy or what the policy is, because we went to Neil and we went to Vertigo, and once Neil said yes, Vertigo said yes. So I'm not sure if this is a one off or not. I suspect it's a one off. We're not going back there again. We're quite content to have done our one thing, and I honestly don't know about the politics of it all. It all seemed very, very straightforward this time around.
Considering this and your DC exclusive status, might you have a Vertigo series of your own percolating for the near future?
Well, it has always been my ambition to write a Vertigo series. I must say, I'd really like it to be something of my own with my own room to play, and we shall see if that comes to pass. As much as I love the Sandman Universe – and I really do, not just Neil's original but Mike Carey's "Lucifer" as well as many other titles – I'd like to launch something of my own in the Vertigo world. But goodness, let's just see if it happens.
"Action Comics" #894 by Cornell and Pete Woods and featuring Neil Gaiman's Death will be in comic shops in October.