Comic fans got an unexpected start to the week on Monday, when Ben Affleck tweeted rough footage showcasing longtime DC villain Deathstroke.
Soon after Affleck’s social media post, another revelation: The Wrap reported Deathstroke has been lined up as the main villain in Affleck’s solo Batman movie, due out sometime in the next few years. (The news was not confirmed by Warner Bros.) Sometimes known as “Deathstroke the Terminator,” other times by his real name Slade Wilson, Deathstroke has dotted DC comics and TV shows for decades. But who is Deathstroke, a character who will make his DC movie universe debut in the near future? Here’s his story.
Deathstroke the Terminator was created by writer Marv Wolfman and George Perez in 1980 as a primary antagonist for their comic The New Teen Titans. Slade Wilson was a former army colonel who turned mercenary following a military experiment that turned him into a super soldier. Yes, that’s right, kind of like Captain America, but not quite so extreme; Slade mostly has enhanced senses and reflexes, the kind that allow him to remain a top-notch assassin despite missing an eye. Deathstroke is so confident about his ability to thrive with a missing eye, in fact, that his costume makes his loss blatant: He often wears a blue/orange getup with a mask that has only one eye hole. If that costume looks familiar to comic movie fans, it should; the character of Deadpool originally started out as a parody of Deathstroke (hence the similar names, both in and out of costume; Wade Wilson = Slade Wilson). The most famous storyline from that The New Teen Titans era is probably “The Judas Contract,” in which Deathstroke teamed up with a terrakinetic girl named Terra to infiltrate the Titans, to devastating effect.
As the years went by, Deathstroke expanded from just menacing the Teen Titans to a general DC universe villain. He has developed feuds with both Green Arrow and Batman. Like those two, Deathstroke is capable of holding his own against superpowered characters; in an issue of Brad Meltzer and Ingio Morales’ 2004 miniseries Identity Crisis, for instance, Deathstroke systematically took down almost an entire Justice League roster (including Hawkman, the Atom, Black Canary, and Elongated Man) until Green Arrow stopped him by shoving an arrow in Deathstroke’s empty eye socket — hence that aforementioned feud (Identity Crisis was not for the faint of heart). Identity Crisis later led to 2005’s Infinite Crisis, which found Deathstroke as a charter member of a newfound Secret Society of supervillains. In the run-up to that mega-event, Deathstroke often ran around impersonating Batman, manipulating heroes and villains alike in service of the Secret Society. In that series’ epic final battle, Deathstroke finally came face-to-face with Batman (along with Nightwing, who he’d been fighting since the Teen Titans days) and was roundly defeated.
Lots of things have changed since Infinite Crisis. A few years later, DC rebooted its entire line with a new continuity in an initiative known as “The New 52” (since there are 52 separate Earths in the DC Universe, and the reboot began with 52 new series). Deathstroke, like many new characters, received a slightly different origin, though it mostly involved updating the specifics of his military background from Vietnam to Somalia and North Korea. Now that the DC lines have been rebooted yet again under the DC: Rebirth banner, Deathstroke currently stars in his own solo series from writer Christopher Priest and artist Carlo Pagulayan.
Deathstroke has had a lively career outside of comics as well. Cartoon Network’s early-2000s Teen Titans cartoon used him as a primary villain, but referred to him only as “Slade” and dressed him up in body armor rather than his typical blue/orange mesh costume. That look seems to be the main reference point for the armored Deathstroke seen in this new Affleck footage. Deathstroke also popped up in live-action DC adaptations like Smallville (as the anti-vigilante General Slade Wilson) and Arrow, where he trained Oliver Queen (Steven Amell) in the arts of combat and survival before becoming his mortal enemy.
It’s still unclear what role Deathstroke will take in the DC movie universe — and if he’ll debut in Justice League when that film premieres next year. Perhaps he’ll show up briefly only to menace Batman later on, the way Marvel Studios introduced Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis) in Avengers: Age of Ultron so that he was around if they needed him for Black Panther.. Maybe he’s being manipulated by the forces of Apokolips, the way he became a puppet of the demon Trigon in the Teen Titans cartoon. Either way, it’s safe to assume the DC heroes are in for a rough ride with this ace assassin in armor.