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Who Is Deathstroke, and What Does He Add to the DC Extended Universe?

He's likely to appear briefly in Justice League, before going on to become the main villain in a future Batman movie.

Yesterday, Ben Affleck tweeted footage from London, where Justice League is currently filming. The footage featured a supervillain fans immediately identified as Deathstroke the Terminator, one of DC's most notable assassins. If rumors are to be believed, he's likely to appear briefly in Justice League, before going on to become the main villain of Affleck's solo Batman movie! But who is the man called Deathstroke, and why would he be added to the DC Extended Universe at such an early stage?

Who is Deathstroke?

Deathstroke prepares to battle Robin! Image: DC Comics

Created in 1980, Deathstroke is a mercenary and assassin-for-hire who's plagued DC's heroes for decades. He began as a soldier in the US army, where he met and married Captain Adeline Kane — but Deathstroke's convictions were shattered by the Vietnam War. Deathstroke was subject to a secret experiment that enhanced his physical abilities; ultimately he chose to go rogue, beginning a career as a mercenary. At first he succeeded in keeping this career secret from his wife.

Tragedy struck. One of his targets kidnapped Deathstroke's son Jericho - although Deathstroke successfully rescued him, Jericho was badly injured, his vocal cords slashed. Adeline was furious at this, and blamed Deathstroke for their son's injury; she attempted to kill him, succeeding in destroying his right eye. The family problems have been a constant theme in Deathstroke's life ever since.

To this day, Deathstroke's trademark mask displays that 'weakness', with no eye-hole in the right eye of his mask. He's proud to have developed his skills to such an extent that this weakness doesn't even slow him down. Deathstroke's powers were later expanded by further experimentation, and he gained a powerful healing factor; this healing factor can't restore his right eye, though, as the injury was sustained before he was given the power.

A Major DC Villain

Deathstroke seeks revenge on Green Arrow! Image: DC Comics

Deathstroke was introduced in Teen Titans #2, and swiftly became a recurring villain in the book. His most dangerous plan was an alliance with a woman named Terra, who successfully infiltrated the Titans; with Terra's help, Deathstroke came within a stone's throw of defeating and killing the whole team. Ultimately, Jericho betrayed his father and helped the Titans; Deathstroke was captured, for the first time in his career. Naturally, Deathstroke soon escaped and resumed his career, although his relationship with the Titans became more complex — they even worked together on some occasions!

Deathstroke's role in the DC comics universe broadened when he went head-to-head with the entire Justice League during the Identity Crisis miniseries. Giving an idea of Deathstroke's skills, he almost took the team down, but forgot his strategy when Green Arrow shot an arrow into Deathstroke's right eye. Enraged, Deathstroke launched a furious attack on the archer, but the mindless rage meant he made tactical errors. He was defeated, but still escaped, and this began a long-running vendetta against Green Arrow.

From that point on, Deathstroke became a major presence in DC, routinely going up against Green Arrow and Batman, and working alongside other supervillains during events such as "Infinite Crisis". He'd always return to menace the Teen Titans, though!

What Does Deathstroke Bring to the DC Extended Universe?

It seems pretty much certain that Deathstroke is the villain of Ben Affleck's solo Batman movie, and this marks a radical departure from the normal superhero movie conventions. Traditionally, a superhero faces one of their classic enemies; Batman has a particularly strong rogues' gallery - here's a quick summary of which villains he's fought in the movies since 1989:

  • The Joker - faced twice (1989's Batman and 2008's The Dark Knight)
  • The Penguin - faced once (1992's Batman Returns)
  • Catwoman - faced twice (1992's Batman Returns and 2012's The Dark Knight Rises)
  • The Riddler - faced once (1995's Batman Forever)
  • Two-Face - faced twice (1995's Batman Forever and 2008's The Dark Knight)
  • Poison Ivy - faced once (1997's Batman and Robin)
  • Mr. Freeze - faced once (1997's Batman and Robin)
  • Bane - faced twice (1997's Batman and Robin and 2012's The Dark Knight Rises)
  • Ra's al Ghul - faced once (2005's Batman Begins)
  • Talia al Ghul - faced once (2012's The Dark Knight Rises)
  • This year's Suicide Squad also brought the Dark Knight face-to-face with Harley Quinn and Deadshot, while giving a nod to previous battles with Killer Croc 

If you're wanting to make a good Batman film, you look primarily to Batman's rogues' gallery. If you're wanting to make a good Batman film that continues to build up the DC Extended Universe, you look beyond that tremendous rogues' gallery, and choose a character with broader meaning to the world that you're building. Deathstroke - who's been such an important figure in franchises ranging from Teen Titans to Green Arrow — is a smart choice. He's a perfect match for the Dark Knight, but he's also a potential building-block for the wider DC Extended Universe.

As you can see, Deathstroke is a fascinating character, with a rich history. I view the choice of Deathstroke as a strategic one, positioning the solo Batman film very carefully in the growing DC Extended Universe. It's a smart call, and - should the character survive his encounter with Ben Affleck's Batman - he can go on to be a major player in DC's movies. I'm looking forward to seeing how this plays out!

Deathstroke teams up with Harley Quinn! Image: DC Comics

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Who Is Deathstroke, and What Does He Add to the DC Extended Universe?
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