Our First Supervillain: Death Itself

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Paris Porter, aka “Death Itself”, as drawn and painted by Isidore Koliavra

Growing up, I always found the supervillains more interesting than the superheroes. I think this is probably because I started reading comics in the ’90s, and if you remember comics from the ’90s, you’ll know a lot of them were terrible. I’m looking at you, Spider-Man Clone Saga. 

But. We did have the superhero cartoons in the ’90s also. Particularly Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, X-Men, and to a lesser extent for me (because I was still super pissed about the clone saga), Spider-Man.

It was in watching Batman: The Animated Series that I realized how much the villains carried the show. That cartoon could have gone on forever just on what the bad guys* brought to the show. And not only that, they were dynamic characters. Even my least favorite villain, The Joker, changed as the series went on in terms of his motivations because he went broke over the course of the series.

(*I say “bad guys” as a universal, non-gender specific term. Batman also faced off against Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and Red Claw, among others. Those first three became so popular that they even got their own online spin-off for a while, and Harley forced her way into the D.C. Comics universe based on the sheer popularity of her cartoon portrayal. So when you see me say “Bad Guys”, I don’t mean it to refer only to the guys.)

When I started reading comics again, it was with Geoff Johns writing The Flash and focusing a lot of attention on the Rogues that drew me back in.

It was all about the bad guys. 

Liberty’s story isn’t really a superhero story. It’s about being forced to make a huge, life altering change, and how she chooses to deal with it. (Hilariously, mostly.) But all because you’re not a superhero anymore doesn’t mean your enemies forgot about you. In Liberty’s case, there are three. So let me tell you a little about the first one for now.

P.S. When we talk about the second Liberty villain, I’ll get back to why I don’t like The Joker because she is my way of addressing a bunch of things I don’t like about the character.

9 Things About Paris Porter, aka “Death Itself”

1. Originally in my notes I just had “Evil Batman”, but as time went on I realize she’s probably closer to what would happen if Ramona Flowers and Vandal Savage got put into a blender with Lex Luthor. She’s thousands of years old, runs a giant multinational corporation, and can travel through wormholes. 

2. There’s actually two big things borrowed from Ramona, one is kind of obvious (the hammer), the second is keeping with the “Evil Batman” idea. Batman is able to disappear because he’s basically a ninja. Paris can disappear because she’s able to see a lot of things people and superhero’s can’t, like mini-wormholes that she uses to travel in and out of when needed.

3. I keep going back and forth on the gas mask. But here’s why I ultimately went with it:

Writing fiction is still new to me, and I’m learning that it really is true that the characters, once you’ve figured out how they think and what their environment is like, really do dictate what they want and will do in different situations.

For example, Liberty’s costume has an ab window because she thought if she showed some skin, they’d let her keep her job. Of course, her boss is a female general, so that doesn’t work out at all for her.

With Paris Porter, she’s a gamer. She’s been alive for thousands of years and the thing she’s most fascinated by are video games. On the hammer in the actual comic it’ll say “Death Machine” on it, which is a reference both to the wrestler, Jessicka Havok (so is the gas mask, by the way), but also to “Call of Duty”, which Paris enjoys playing. So she sort of likes the gas mask because she thinks it looks cool, but there’s also a practical reason for it …

4. When writing for her I realized that since she isn’t human, she’s not going to have the same biology we do, meaning different things would impact her in ways they wouldn’t us. Since she runs a multibillion dollar research and development company she uses a lot of the stuff they make the same way Bruce Wayne does as Batman. In particular, knockout gas. The thing is, since she’s not human, the gas adversely effects her. But because it’s so effective, she still uses it and has the gas mask to protect her.

5. So what is she? An angel. A greedy one that wants people to worship her instead of anything else. That’s why her wings are black and part of the reason she likes video games so much. It’s another way for people to worship her (or her gamer identity, more specifically) by becoming really good at it.

She’s already a celebrity for running a successful company. Although her supervillain alter ego is unknown to the public. 

Liberty’s motivation is that she just wants to keep her job. Paris Porter’s motivation is that she wants you to spend every waking minute paying attention to her. Hence being theatrical like Batman. So for the gamers she has one thing, for business she has her company, for the media she plays up that she’s really old (exactly how old she doesn’t disclose, but in a world with superheroes it’s not a big deal for her to walk around and say she was born before the Civil War because no one would logically think twice about it), and for superheroes she has a code name (“Death Itself”) that she uses to make them all afraid of her.

She rules all these different domains. 

6. She was actually almost called “Envy”, but I wanted to limit the Scott Pilgrim references and influence with this character to two. Because she’s able to travel in and out of wormholes, and you know, has a giant fucking hammer, she’s pretty good at sneaking up on whoever she wants to kill. Between that, the scary gas mask and the black wings, all the superheroes (and other supervillains) are afraid of her. The name “Death Itself” came from the superheroes. 

By the way: Why knockout gas when she can use wormholes? Because there’s not always a wormhole around for her to use and she likes to be prepared.

7. Except Liberty, none of the other characters are white. And Liberty was raised by the Freeman family, so her adoptive father, brother, mother, and sister are all black. Her superhero friends (Victory and the guys in Dante’s Inferno) are black, the general (Liberty’s boss) is Indian, her other superhero friend is from Mexico, her ex-wife is Algerian, her counselor helping her find a regular job is Korean. In fact, the only other white characters that play an important role that you’ll see in the book are the Nazis. (We’ll talk about them some other time.)

One of the questions I asked myself when I was writing this was, “What would a comic book created in 2014 look like?” And so I wanted the cast to be really diverse.

In Paris Porter’s case, even though she’s the only angel character running around (you know, because she’s a supervillain and decided to kill the other ones), she’s also not white. The person she’s based on (WWE’s AJ Lee) is Puerto Rican.

8. I’m a big fan of Angels in America. So it’s not a coincidence that she’s standing where she’s standing given that she’s an angel character who doesn’t think too highly of people. If you’ve seen the play, you’ll know where she is.

One of the footnotes I had about her said, “Killed Tony Kushner because she didn’t like the way the angels were portrayed in the play. Briefly considered letting him live because she enjoyed “Lincoln” and thought it was an accurate depiction of the man she once met.” She also shares the same verbal tic the angels did where she says I like “I, I, I, I”.

9. I don’t like cartoonishly evil villains. There aren’t many “evil” characters in Liberty in the sense that they’re evil for the sake of being evil. 

Paris Porter is definitely a villain, but she has a very clear motivation for why she does what she does. It’s really no different from someone who is really religious trying to bring you over to their way of thinking. She wants you to worship her instead of anything else because you can see her, whereas there isn’t a God in the comic’s universe. It’s just a bunch of angels making decisions and sometimes tying themselves up with bureaucracy and parliamentary procedure. That’s why she left.

So like any good villain, she’s convinced that her way is better. 

There’s more, but this is just meant to highlight and explain stuff that you see in the painting above. If you want to find out more, you have to read the comic.








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A Brief Kevin Smith Story

The month I got married to the ex-wife in 2008, I had an idea for a comic. It was about how people would deal with the fact that there is no afterlife. 

I never got to working on it though because my ex-wife and I were both burnt out from SUNY Potsdam, where we both went to school, and a couple of months later we both became substitute teachers in the city of Albany. And if you know anything about teaching in an inner-city school, you’ll know how intense that can be.

BUT! I had a lot of fun character ideas, and one of them was a devout Catholic who, after learning there was no Hell, decided to create his own version in New Jersey. It would be a place he could punish who he thought was wicked.

We’ll skip over the easy “Hell is in New Jersey” joke here. Besides, I’m pretty sure Futurama made the same joke at some point.

Anyway, I’m a big Kevin Smith fan. So we reached out to the View Askew people and asked permission to use Kevin Smith as the model for the character’s likeness. They were totally awesome about it (and even shared the completed image on their website) when it was done. So I’d like to think the character has his stamp of approval, but I doubt he or any of those guys remember this.

So, the character, who had a really clunky name at the time of “The Replacement Devil” (or as I called him in my notes “Satan’s Neighbor”) builds his own version of hell under, you guessed it, a convenience store.

This character is a little tricky to put into the “Liberty” universe, especially because there’s a fucking archangel running around killing superheroes, so the whole “there is no afterlife” thing doesn’t work here. But I floated this picture around today and people seemed to like it, so I may find a way to work him in, even if it’s a brief appearance. 

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P.S. Keep in mind, this is from 2008, and I know Kevin Smith now always wears a jersey modeled after the Edmonton Oilers, not the New Jersey Devils. The jersey above is from a hockey team I used in an old comic strip of mine. If he appears in “Liberty”, the logo will be changed to something from their universe.