Deathstroke's Comic Book Journey from 'Teen Titans' to 'Batman' Bad Guy

Is Slade Wilson a villain, or just a complicated man no one can quite work out who likes to kill people?
ACO/DC Entertainment

If Ben Affleck's social media tease is to be believed, Deathstroke is coming to the DC Extended Universe, setting up a potential showdown between Affleck's Dark Knight and the most dangerous assassin alive — but what would bring Slade Wilson to Gotham, and just who is Slade Wilson, anyway … ?

When Wilson first appeared in 1980's The New Teen Titans No. 2, he was technically called "Deathstroke the Terminator," a name he'd keep for more than a decade — his first solo comic book series featured that full title on its covers for the majority of its five-year run — before abandoning the latter part in favor of the more succinct, less-likely-to-inspire-comparisons-to-Arnold-Schwarzenegger "Deathstroke."

His main role, throughout his first decade of existence, was as a morally ambiguous (adult) foil to the former sidekicks known as the Teen Titans; while he worked against them in his first handful of appearances, he went on to team up with them in later storylines, ensuring that both fictional heroes and real-life readers were kept on their toes about his true intentions. That latter about-face also set the character up to become an anti-hero lead in his own 1991 comic book, a la Marvel's Punisher, who had become a sales success as a solo star some years prior.

This was easily achieved, given the backstory the character was gifted by co-creator Marv Wolfman (George Perez, Wolfman's chief collaborator on New Teen Titans, was Deathstroke's other parent); a mercenary for hire with his own (somewhat skewed) sense of honor, Slade Wilson has been manipulated into hating the Titans and acted on that personal instinct before common sense prevailed. It's not that Wilson was a bad man, per se; he was simply willing to assume that role if the price was right.

Deathstroke remained inexorably tied to the Teen Titans franchise until 2004's Identity Crisis comic book miniseries (written by noted Teen Titans fan Brad Meltzer), which re-positioned the character in a couple of notable ways. Firstly, he was set up to become a more credible threat to all DC heroes, managing to stand up to an assembled attack by the Justice League at one point. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, his anti-hero status was pared back as he began the process of become more obviously, unashamedly evil.

This played out across a number of subsequent high-profile appearances. As a member of the Secret Society of Super-Villains, he was highly visible in both the Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis comic book crossovers, and he would show up as an unrepentant villain in series including Justice League of America, Green Arrow, Teen Titans and Batman and Robin.

To some extent, the 2011 New 52 reboot of DC's entire comic book continuity undid some of the damage to Deathstroke's complexity. He was given a new backstory that tied him more closely to Suicide Squad's Amanda Waller — the two had served together as part of a black ops team in the past — and found himself turning against the assembled supervillains of the world as part of the 2013 Forever Evil storyline that saw him team with Lex Luthor to save the Justice League. He was, once again, a character who could see beyond his personal needs to a greater good when needs be.

That take on Deathstroke might come as a surprise to fans of the CW's Arrow, which has featured a far more villainous version of the character in the show's first three seasons. (It was actor Manu Bennett's Deathstroke who killed Oliver's mother in the show's second year in an attempt to hurt the hero, for example; the comic book version of the character would find such a murder unnecessary for its lack of subtlety, if nothing else.) That was just one of Deathstroke's media appearances, however; he's also shown up in the Teen Titans and Young Justice animated series, as well as the Batman: Arkham video game series and Injustice: Gods Among Us game.

Affleck teasing Deathstroke's movie debut is unexpected and interesting. While Deathstroke has comic book history with the Justice League, his doesn't have much when it comes to Batman as a solo character — if this is, as many are speculating, a sign that Deathstroke will be the antagonist in Affleck's stand-alone Batman movie, it'll be a clash of two expert strategists and fighters who haven't really spent much one-on-one time together in their shared source material. Which, of course, might make it a more exciting clash for the comic book faithful.

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