You may have heard his name, seen his face (well, helmet), or watched as his story was twisted into becoming the most acclaimed villain yet for The CW’s Arrow, but the time has officially come for even casual fans of DC Comics to take a crash course in Deathstroke the Terminator. After years of delighting fans on the comic book page, small screen, and video game battles, the man they call Deathstroke is finally coming to the Justice League movie universe – a bombshell dropped by executive producer Ben Affleck himself.
Not only are camera tests being carried out on the Justice League set, but new rumors help to explain why it’s important to get Deathstroke right sooner rather than later. There are still only rumors claiming Deathstroke will be the villain of Affleck’s solo Batman movie, but an introduction in Justice League (since he’s not presumed to be acting as a main player in that story) would lay the foundation for a bigger role in the DCEU – and boy, does Deathstroke have a comic book history to make the most of it.
Instead of teasing, we’ll get to teaching. If you’ve ever wondered where Deathstroke came from, why he rose to such a fan-favorite role, or the real nature of his link to that certain similar Marvel antihero, we’ve got you covered in Deathstroke Explained: Who is DC’s ‘Terminator’ Slade Wilson?
The average comic book fan may assume that characters now claiming an iconic role in a publisher’s universe were destined for such a destiny from the start – and their arrival on the scene is, therefore, one of immense importance. Unfortunately, Deathstroke the Terminator is one example where that isn’t quite the case. Don’t get us wrong: The debut of Deathstroke in the pages of “The New Teen Titans” #2 (1980) was most definitely an intriguing one, but the actual reveal is seen above: his back to the viewer, delivering some less than chilling dialogue to the robed H.I.V.E. villains looking to bring down the titular Titans.
Before he’s even given any backstory or characterization, the plot takes over. The H.I.V.E. leaders refuse Deathstroke’s terms for a contract to take down the Titans – being famous as the most deadly mercenary in the world – and attempt to kill him in a seemingly-inescapable ambush. Obviously, Deathstroke escapes – but the villains have all they need. Having seen his heightened skills, agility, strength and reaction time for themselves, H.I.V.E. can now set out to recreate those abilities in a soldier of their own: Grant Wilson, a young man with serious admiration for the near-legendary ‘Terminator’… and an axe to grind with the Titans.
The procedure to turn Grant Wilson into the similar super-soldier known as ‘Ravager’ works, but when he gets in over his head with the Teen Titans, Deathstroke comes to the rescue. Grant still won’t listen to the warnings that his own heightened powers are draining him of his life, and even though Deathstroke tries to help him on combat, the younger hitman dies, while the older one escapes the scene.
It isn’t until the closing panels of the issue that H.I.V.E.’s true plan (and that of creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez) is revealed, with Deathstroke’s showdown, Grant’s procedure and contract – and death – all a part of their strategy. Because as Deathstroke pays his respects at Grant’s grave, their true bond – father and son – is also revealed. And in Deathstroke’s line of work, killing a contract killer’s own flesh and blood means earning some hate. Enough hate, in fact, for Deathstroke to take on Grant’s contract to kill the Teen Titans himself; a years-long plot that came to a head in the storyline that cemented Deathstroke as not just a famous Titans villain, but one of DC’s deadliest threats.
The Judas Contract
The Deathstroke appearance paid off in the 1984 story arc “The Judas Contract,” in which the titular Terminator unleashed his plan to separate and eliminate every member of the Teen Titans for their perceived role in his son’s death years earlier. The story had actually begun long before the arc, when a showdown between Deathstroke and the young metahuman girl Terra earned the latter a place on the superteam – a fight later revealed to have been staged, granting Deathstroke a spy on the team.
Having discovered the secret identities of every Titan – including Dick Grayson, having recently retired from the role of ‘Robin’ – Deathstroke… struck, incapacitating the team before coming for Grayson himself. We’ll stop short of breaking down the story in detail here, but “The Judas Contract” is notable for two distinct reasons. It saw Dick Grayson return to the fight in his brand new identity ‘Nightwing’, and thanks to the Terminator’s ex-wife showing up on his doorstep with their other son, Joseph, revealed the first detailed backstory of how Slade Joseph Wilson became the mercenary ‘Deathstroke.’
Deathstroke’s Origin (Finally)
Since the origin of Deathstroke is actually pretty standard and formulaic for comic book super soldiers, it’s a massive relief that it’s delivered here by the villain’s estranged ex-wife as a means of selling him out (original and scandalous). The ex-wife in question is Adeline Kane, a highly-trained soldier who was chosen to oversee and train a new class of specialized soldiers at the off-the-books Camp Washington shortly before the outbreak of the Vietnam War. An elite group that included – you guessed it – Slade Wilson.
As readers would expect, Wilson was a distant, calculating soldier even before his augmentations or turn to villainy, excelling over his classmates to the point that he attracted the attention of Captain Kane. It’s also worth pointing out that in the origin story, Adeline (‘Addie’) was every bit as deadly, if not smarter in a fight that Slade, which meant that the extra time she and Slade spent training one-on-one made him a more ruthless and mechanical fighter… and eventually, Addie’s husband.
Before long, the aforementioned ‘augmentations’ arrived, disguised as an attempt to cure/render Slade immune to the enemy’s ‘truth serum’ (secretly intended to make him bigger, faster, stronger, etc.). It put him in a coma and out of active service, which meant his only release in domestic life was taking on hunting – a hobby that he was, unsurprisingly, both adept at and strangely addicted to.
The double life playing suburban husband and pretending his contract killings were just exotic ‘game hunts’ came to a crashing halt when armed gunmen burst into Addie and Slade’s home in search of Deathstroke. Failing to defeat Addie, they made off with their son Joseph, instead. He eventually succeeded in tracking down his son and taking out those responsible – instead of bargaining for Joseph’s safety, and rendering him mute thanks to a partially-sliced throat. When Addie learned of the damage, she tried to kill him, only succeeding in taking out his right eye… and leaving with his sons.
The bottom line is that Deathstroke’s plan to take out all of the Titans almost succeeded, showing he was not just deadly, not just highly skilled against even Batman’s protege, but brilliant when it came to the planning and execution of a hunt, too. Wolfman and Perez delivered a runaway hit with the story, and the character work on Deathstroke compared to other villains of the time, and how the ordeal actually left a tangible mark on the entire team were praised. Not to mention Slade’s son (blessed with the ability to possess other people thanks to Slade’s chemical experimentations) joining the Titans.
In the end, it was another example of how the writers were helping to bridge the gap between Silver and Modern Age comic storytelling. But in creating a killing machine with a pretty memorable costume, Deathstroke’s appearances in subsequent “Titans” arcs only paved the way for him to take the spotlight all by himself.
Deathstroke’s Solo Series
As we mentioned before, the emergence of Deathstroke (formerly ‘Terminator’) came at a time when dark, violent, gun-toting ‘badasses’ were quickly becoming comics’ next new thing. That meant Deathstroke was destined for a solo comic series alongside successful Marvel hits like “The Punisher” (a character who was more than a little similar, but with differing backstories). The solo series expanded on Slade Wilson’s life and career, even giving himself a British confidant and comrade to rival the Dark Knight’s: Wintergreen, a friend whose capture required Slade to first don his costume to conceal his identity when he flew in to the rescue.
The storylines in the “Deathstroke” series – like most of the 1990s – are a little too varied and odd to explore in detail , but it’s the comic where Deathstroke first met the other most gifted combatant and tactician in the DC Universe: Batman. The writers couldn’t have known the prominent rivalry that was being formed at the time, but when a target brought Slade to Gotham City, his run-in with Batman showed who was truly the most skilled fighter. For those wondering: it left Batman unconscious under a broken bookshelf (although Slade was pretty bloody, too). To be fair, this was also the comic that saw Slade granted an accelerated healing factor.
The Deadpool Connection
It’s here where we’ll directly address the not-so-secret connection between DC’s Deathstroke, an augmented, masked mercenary and Marvel’s Deadpool… an augmented, masked mercenary. Around the same time that Deathstroke was getting a solo title, artist Rob Liefeld brought a design for a new character, ‘Deadpool’, to his “New Mutants” writer Fabian Nicieza. Now, depending on who you ask, one of two things took place: either a) Nicieza recognized the mercenary as an obvious riff on DC’s Terminator, giving him the civilian name ‘Wade Wilson’ as a knowing nod, or b) Liefeld’s inspiration was simply giving Spider-Man guns, and the rst is coincidence.
Don’t look for controversy or scandal here, however, since the very nature of Deadpool meant Marvel and DC all appreciated the joke. In fact, analogues for either antihero have both appeared in the publishers’ stories, making it clear to readers that they really are in on the gag. Their origin stories are also fairly similar – former soldier experimented on to become super-skilled gun (and blade) for hire – but the characters themselves differ greatly. Deadpool’s sense of humor defines him – for Deathstroke, it’s his skills and seriously tortured family relationships.
The next major story beat worth knowing (and reading) where Slade is concerned came in 2004’s “Identity Crisis”, in which a blow close to home sends the Justice League in pursuit of the supervillain Dr. Light. We’ll steer clear of the specifics, since the miniseries is worth reading (if divisive among fans), but you can’t really discuss Deathstroke’s most memorable moments of the past decade and a half without mentioning his appearance in Issue #3. And if you’re looking to understand just how powerful and dangerous Deathstroke can be… well, he never has, and likely never will exceed what takes place.
Hired to protect Dr. Light from the combined strength of the Justice League, Deathstroke simply stands his ground and one by one, takes each member of the League completely out of the fight. For the record, that means stabbing The Flash through the chest, disables Zatanna by triggering uncontrollable vomiting, slices off Hawkman’s wing harness, breaks all of Green Arrow’s projectiles, silences Black Canary, overpowers The Atom with a laser pointer, and breaks every finger on Green Lantern’s hand before trying to take control of the ring.
Even more impressive? The entire fight probably lasts no longer than a few seconds.
While all will agree that it’s a memorable fight scene, perfectly demonstrating how Deathstroke is not only stronger, smarter, and faster than DC’s best heroes, but able to plan out every one of their moves ahead of time. Now, depending on who you ask, this scene is either the greatest moment ever written for Slade Wilson, master tactician (whom Green Arrow acknowledges fights just like Batman, only beaten by his temper), or an insane caricature of his skills. Honestly, he’s more aware and all-knowing than a Jedi would be in the battle.
Regardless, it gets the point across. The experimentation conducted on Wilson didn’t just heighten his senses, agility, or discipline: it chemically altered his brain, continuing the idea that if most humans “only use 10% of their brain,” Slade Wilson is able to use all of it in every second. That vague description, and this demonstration of limitless skill make it hard to pin down his exact powers for any adaptation or future storyline. Perfect problem solving, total recall, imperviousness to the mental impacts of pain… you name it, Slade can do it, depending on the writer.
The Nightwing/Ravager Conversion
Now we arrive at the real weak spot for the seemingly impossible-to-kill assassin: his children. That’s plural, despite losing one son (Grant a.k.a. Ravager) to the Teen Titans, and losing his second son (Joseph a.k.a. Jericho) to… well, the Teen Titans again. Despite Joseph’s preference for art and music over his father’s line of work, Slade never forget about his children, eventually agreeing to kill Joseph when he broke through the demonic entities inhabiting his body (we told you, these stories got pretty strange, in hindsight).
But enough about Joseph: let’s talk about Deathstroke’s daughter, Rose. Conceived in an affair and raised to adolescence without Slade even aware he was her father, Rose followed closer in her father’s footsteps than either of his sons. But she needed training. So when Dick Grayson failed to convince Deathstroke he had truly become a villain worthy of joining Lex Luthor’s new ‘Secret Society of Super Villains’ (Dick hoped to spy on the group, obviously), a deal was proposed. Dick would prove he had become a villain by teaching Rose all that he knew.
Obviously, Dick Grayson merely played a villain, instead teaching Rose how to think, plan, and deliver justice like only a hero would. The plot twist was based on two important points for anyone interested in getting to know Slade or Rose Wilson. For starters, Slade actually does care about making his children as strong as he is – and is keen on actually keeping them at his side, and protecting them himself. And perhaps most importantly: the fact that Rose didn’t turn out inherently evil may say more about her father’s own morality or ‘code of honor’ than Slade would like.
Slade took his anger out on Grayson, not his daughter for the conversion, and already began crossing the line in terms of manipulating or endangering his children. Giving Rose a kryptonite eye definitely weakened her trust once Dick explained that the radiation poisoning would eventually kill her, and not long after, Rose began straying farther and farther away from the simple contract killings her father defined himself through.
The dynamic between Deathstroke and his daughter became the most relevant aspect of the villain in the following years, with Wilson once again turning his attention back onto the “Teen Titans.” By forming his own group of ‘Titans’ designed to perfectly counter the heroic counterparts, including Rose, who had since joined up with the Titans just as her brother had before. But the promises he made to his team of young villains weren’t everything they seemed, since he had no intention of killing the Teen Titans, OR retrieving his children from their ranks.
No, after pushing the heroes (including Rose and Joseph) by continuously dismissing them as false heirs, or mistakes, Deathstroke’s team is defeated, and he flees the scene. But the closing panels of the comic confirm that Slade Wilson isn’t the ‘villain’ most would expect, revealing that the entire plan was merely to drive Rose and Joseph deeper into the heroes’ ranks, giving them the family and love that he could never provide for them. It’s not Deathstroke’s most violent, or even longest-lasting moment, but it’s a pretty pivotal one in understanding who the man under the mask really is.
There’s a good chance that plenty of DC fans will actually only be familiar with Slade Wilson a.k.a. Deathstroke from the incarnation brought to The CW’s Arrow in the show’s second season. The mercenary’s two-toned mask was actually seen in the opening shots of the show’s pilot, promising that the mercenary would play a formative role in the forging of Oliver Queen into the superhero Green Arrow – a promise that was mostly kept. Even if the version of the character on the show was a big departure from his comic book counterpart.
Deathstroke (as played by Manu Bennett) was still a soldier, this time an Australian one, but the real story departs almost immediately (even if the names may stay the same). In Arrow‘s version, Slade and Wintergreen are fellow soldiers and friends, but the latter chooses to betray his ally when they’re shot down on the island of Lian Yu. From that point on Slade is essentially a hero, forced to team up with Oliver Queen to take down his former ally, their captor… basically every other person on the island.
Over the course of the story, Slade winds up being presumed dead after an injection of “mirakuru” – super soldier serum, so drifting back to the comic book origin – that actually results in his resurrection. Returning stronger than ever before, Slade seeks vengeance that can only be delivered with the death of Oliver Queen. Ollie gets the upper hand, delivering an arrow to his right eye: making him look the part, regardless of the differences in his character’s journey.
‘Different’ doesn’t mean ‘worse,’ since there are plenty of DC fans who felt that Bennett’s rendition of Deathstroke was as good as it could be. It was in the present day portion of the storyline that Slade Wilson stuck most closely to his comic book version, and we don’t just mean the grey hair or eyepatch. No, as we’ve mentioned in the earlier chapters of our post, a years-long master plan to bring his enemies to their knees for a perceived wrong is exactly what fans can expect. And in Arrow, he delivered.
Heck, he even brought a version of Ravager (Summer Glau) along with him. But in the name of making him the ‘big bad’ of the season, the actual sympathy, morality, or quite honestly, the mercenary had to be totally removed. And that’s kind of a major part of the character, since an adherence to a ‘my word is my bond’ code of honor is what makes Slade interesting in the first place. And as far as costumes are concerned, the version deemed acceptable for TV audiences wasn’t quite as outlandish as fans tend to demand.
For fans looking to see their favorite DC Comics characters adapted from the comic book page into a re-invented, but completely faithful 3D world, it doesn’t get much better than Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham video game series. So it came as no surprise when Arkham: Origins (the game picked up by Warner Bros. Games Montreal following Rocksteady’s lead) decided to tackle some of the most infamous hired guns in the DC Universe. The story follows the Dark Knight on Christmas Eve early in his career, when a $50 million bounty is placed on his head by the mobster Black Mask – catching the attention of eight assassins in total, including Deathstroke the Terminator.
In the end, a somewhat unclear combat scheme meant Batman’s showdown with Slade Wilson was more of a cult ‘gong show’ than an iconic boss battle. Thankfully, the enthusiasm for Deathstroke’s initial reveal was more than enough to keep spirits up. The main topic of conversation was the actual costume worn by Slade Wilson; in particular, how it had made the leap from the kind of comic book insanity and flourishes possible only in artwork to something resembling a real, tangible, 3D structure.
The makers of the many skins available for Origins‘ “Deathstroke” DLC actually helped inform this very conversation, adapting the original comic book costume, and the updated (but just as heightened) New 52 armor designs. The version for the in-game character, however, took a different route. Designing body armor out of carbon fiber and intended to look like something an elite soldier might actually wear in a modern battle, the modern Deathstroke costume turned heads from the moment it was first revealed (and cosplayers got constructing immediately).
There may be some nostalgia for the fish-scale body armor, the fabric hoods, or the oversized boots of his original look, but the walking tank of the modern Deathstroke was just as impressive. So it only seems right that it’s a design most similar to this incarnation that fans of Zack Snyder’s Justice League are seeing teased.
Joining The DCEU?
Finally we arrive at the reveal that fans weren’t even prepared to start hoping for: Ben Affleck taking to social media to reveal what looks to be test footage from the set of Justice League, on board the Flying Fox (Batman’s larger aircraft designed to transport the entire League) of none other than Deathstroke the Terminator in full costume. It’s not the hi-res photo or video teaser that fans would want, meaning the specifics of the new costume can only be guessed at (and the person actually wearing the suit, if the actual actor for the role, is completely indecipherable).
We’ve got our ideas on the actors who could play the role, and even what possible explanations there may be for Deathstroke to enter the story currently being teased for the film. But in terms of what we actually see, there’s only a basic paint scheme and silhouette to go with – one closely resembling a riff on the modern armor seen in the Arkham image above. That, and the knowledge that Zack Snyder has proven to put the source material above all else. In other words: don’t expect too drastic a departure from the version of the character we’ve discussed here.
Now, the future of Deathstroke is a bit uncertain. Unsurprisingly, the emergence of such a well-known and recently-recognizable villain on the scene, coming from Ben Affleck, has led to rumors that Deathstroke will be the main baddie of Affleck’s solo Batman film. It’s still a little difficult to see how a contract killer with respect for any other skilled fighter would actually hold up an entire film himself – without similar departures to Arrow – and there’s always the chance that Batman could face more than one antagonist throughout the story.
Whatever the case, a reveal like Affleck’s can only imply confidence or excitement – and with a character as deadly, dominant, quietly compassionate and relentless, why wouldn’t it? The DCEU seems to be the next logical step for Deathstroke, after Harley Quinn made the leap from the comic world to the DCEU in Suicide Squad after getting newfound attention thanks to Rocksteady’s Arkham universe. She made pink and blue work – how hard can orange be?
Suicide Squad is now playing in theaters. Wonder Woman opens in theaters on June 2, 2017, followed by Justice League on November 17, 2017; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; an untitled DC Film on October 5, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League 2 on June 14, 2019; an untitled DC film on November 1, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps on July 24, 2020. The Flash, The Batman solo movie, Dark Universe and Man of Steel 2 are currently without a release dates.
Deathstroke Statue Images By Prime 1 Studio