Deathstroke (a.k.a. Slade Wilson) has an extensive history in the world of DC Comics, stretching back to 1980 when he first appeared in the pages of The New Teen Titans #2 and began his rise to infamy. The daunting metahuman adversary has long been a fan favorite in the DC universe, as his superhuman speed and lethal tactics make him the perfect assassin to take on the might and cunning of heroes like Batman and Green Arrow. Although already established within the CW’s so-called Arrowverse, Wilson was supposedly on his way into DC’s Extended Universe for a Suicide Squad pop-in - one that never happened.
As the first Justice League movie rolls on in London, news arrived via Ben Affleck’s Twitter account that Deathstroke would be crashing the team's first party. Although the announcement wasn't accompanied by any casting news, rumors are still swirling around Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike XXL) taking up the role. Actor-based curiosities aside, the real question is how does Deathstroke fit into Justice League – and whose side will he be on?
The Villain: Is Deathstroke Working with Steppenwolf?
An old fiend of the family, Deathstroke’s opposition to the Justice League wouldn’t take much coaxing, especially if he's preparing for his role as Batman's main antagonist. At the same time, Slade Wilson has no history of working alongside the Apokoliptian general or his second-in-command in the comics.* In addition, his loyalty coda wouldn't necessarily allow him to ally with an interplanetary menace seeking world domination. His four-color history has made it clear that Deathstroke has his price. A Steppenwolf collaboration even has a tiny bit of precedent, at least in the TV realm.
In the final season of the Superman prequel series Smallville, the US Army attempted to enact something similar to the MCU’s Sokovia Accords on its heroes. Called the Vigilante Registration Act, the anti-superhero legislation was spearheaded by a certain Lieutenant General by the name of Slade Wilson. It's later determined that Slade was acting under the influence of a certain alien known as Darkseid. Although Snyder and Co. probably won't be cribbing any plot points from the Superman spinoff, the story could provide some inspiration for the mercenary's entry into the DCEU.
Still, as the godlike leaders of the parademon hordes, Darkseid and his right-hand man don’t really have much need for hired assassins. Human adversaries like Lex Luthor, on the other hand, even operating under the influence of the Apokoliptians, could hire Deathstroke to disrupt the newly created Justice League. The merc has collaborated with Luthor in the past, joining him in the Secret Society of Super Villains during “Infinite Crisis.” If so, the metahuman hitman could make life difficult for the DCEU crew. Of course, it’s also possible Mr. Wilson could take up arms against the League for an entirely different reason (more on that later).
*Footnote: The only other time Darkseid and Deathstroke worked together is when the New God hired the Terminator to take out the Teen Titans and the X-Men. Since that story was very non-canon, and less likely to happen than Wolverine joining the Avengers, it won't likely figure into the equation whatsoever.
The Mercenary Hero: Was Slade Wilson Hired by Bruce Wayne?
With his history of antagonism against DC’s crime fighters, it would seem improbable that the hired super-gun would side with the Justice Leaguers. It also seems farfetched to imagine a situation in which Bruce Wayne would bring his nemesis into his corner, for money or otherwise. But even with an assembled task force of the baddest superheroes on the planet, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to have a little extra meta-muscle.
Wilson, although primarily known as a villain, does have a history of tenuously teaming up with his first adversaries, the Teen Titans. In spite of his long-standing beef with Oliver Queen and other heroes, Deathstroke has swapped sides depending upon the paycheck, the adversary (such as aiding Batman and Lex Luthor in taking down the Crime Syndicate in the “Villains for Hire” story arc), and whether it meshes with his code of honor.
Nevertheless, his shared history with Batman is not as extensive as it is with other members of the Justice League (such as Green Arrow) and the various versions of the Titans. It's plausible, though, that Wilson – who was retconned to have a connection with Suicide Squad’s Amanda Waller during The New 52 – could play a tentative role as an anti-hero in the next major DC team up. After his heroic go-around, he'll be more than ready to get on the Dark Knight’s worst side.
A Family Man Goes on the Attack
Before Bruce and Slade butt cowls in the Batman solo film, Deathstroke will require the proper introduction. His motivation for picking a side might not only be exposition but a part of his backstory. The first Justice League chapter probably won't provide a full work-up on the adversarial merc, since there’s already a heck of a lot going on. But it should at least explain his rationale for teaming with our heroes or the Apokoliptian vanguard.
Obviously, simply dropping Deathstroke into the fray doesn’t make much sense, though. What’s his motivation? If he’s not being hired for the gig, he should at least have a personal stake in the matter – such as Steppenwolf capturing one of his children like Grant (Ravager I), Joseph (Jericho), Rose (Ravager V, kind of confusing), or his ex-wife Adeline Kane. Perhaps the intergalactic nasty or his cronies harmed his old military buddy Wintergreen. There are any number of good reasons he could get involved in the JLA's first outing.
In spite of Wilson’s killer instincts, his sense of loyalty would probably come into play were his family in danger, depending on which Deathstroke variation the DCEU uses. Giving him some complexity would certainly help to build his mystique in preparation for the Affleck's Bat-flick. Perhaps the forces of Apokolips (or Lex Luthor) could manipulate the merc to attack the newly minted League. Conversely, he could join our heroes while seeking vengeance or looking for his missing family members.
Where Will Deathstroke Fit into DC's Extended Universe?
Thus far, within the DC Universe, Deathstroke has worn many masks (although all of them came with gun sites). He’s played an unstable ally, an anti-hero, and a card carrying super villain. At this point, though, it’s difficult to tell exactly which Wilson will show up in the franchise. Clearly his appearance will have a significant impact on the action in Justice League and beyond, no matter what his reasons for getting involved are.
His early entry won’t necessarily reflect the overall tone of his character throughout the movies - at least, if he's given a complex personality to work with. If Deathstroke winds up as a cartoonish baddie, though, it could affect the overall tone of the forthcoming Ben Affleck-written and directed Batman adventure. As the main adversary, a great deal is riding on his portrayal and characterization, including his lifespan within the franchise (which could be indefinite), as well as the success and efficacy of the studio's take on the latest Batman.
Whether or not Warner Bros. plans on keeping Slade around for a while – perhaps to take part in the next Suicide Squad or even future adaptions of the Teen Titans or Arrow. His entry into Justice League, though, will be a further means to gauge the maturation of the shared universe. With the right actor and scripting, Deathstroke, already a popular figure in the comic book, animated, and television worlds, could become a staple within the franchise and lead the way for dozens of incredible films and anti-heroes.
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 release dates.