Who is Deathstroke? Just a man who beat up the Justice League… by himself

Ben Affleck set the internet ablaze Monday morning by revealing Deathstroke test footage, suggesting the character will be the villain in Affleck’s solo Batman movie. For DC diehards, Deathstroke is a welcome addition to the stable of cinematic Batman rogues. For others, there is perhaps some curiosity as to who this character is and why they should be excited, so let’s do a little Deathstroke 101.

Deathstroke, real name Slade Wilson, was created by comics legends Marv Wolfman and George Perez. The character debuted in The New Teen Titans #2 in 1980. That’s right: Deathstroke is not, strictly speaking, a “Batman villain.” Arguably, he’s more famously known as a foe for the Teen Titans and Green Arrow, the latter of which he’s battled in live-action on The CW’s Arrow.

That’s not to say Deathstroke hasn’t fought Batman. He’s battled Batman and a number of other DC heroes on several occasions. In perhaps his most famous fight of all, Deathstroke took on seven members of the Justice League at once and gave them all a proper beating.

Before we go over that epic moment, however, let’s go a little further back and get into how Slade Wilson became Deathstroke. In many ways Deathstroke’s origin is a dark reflection of how Steve Rogers became Captain America in Marvel Comics. Imagine if you gave incredible power to someone who was not so inherently good.

Originally, Slade Wilson was a member of the United States Army who served in both Korea and Vietnam. In the DC Extended Universe, it’s a safe bet that if Wilson has a military background, this will be changed to Iraq or Afghanistan. While in the military, Wilson became a master martial artist and displayed a natural aptitude for all aspects of combat.

Wilson was chosen for a secret military experiment to create meta human soldiers. As a result of the experiment, he has enhanced strength, speed, agility, and endurance. More important than all of those is his ability to use 90% of his brain. His physical abilities are great, but Wilson’s intelligence is what separates him from most other DC villains. He can outsmart pretty much all DC heroes and is an intellectual match for Batman.

Slade Wilson’s abilities were most effectively and brilliantly displayed in 2004’s Identity Crisis, a comic book masterpiece by writer Brad Meltzer and artist Rags Morales. I’ll minimize the spoilers in case you haven’t read it (because you definitely should), but at one point in the story, Deathstroke is hired by Dr. Light for protection from the Justice League. When seven members of the League — Green Arrow, The Flash (Wally West), Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), Black Canary, Zatanna, Hawkman, and the Atom (Ray Palmer) — come after Dr. Light, Deathstroke is the only one in their way.

Advantage: Deathstroke

Source: DC Comics
Source: DC Comics

Deathstroke spends the next several pages of this amazing fight sequence showing just how prepared he was for each hero. He knew their behavioral tendencies, which he paired with his knowledge of their enhanced abilities to plan the perfect counter. All the speed in the world can’t help The Flash when Deathstroke uses explosives to only allow Flash a single angle of attack, which Deathstroke is ready to defend.

Source: DC Comics
Source: DC Comics

Deathstroke, much like we’ve come to know and love about Batman, has an answer for everything. A well-placed punch renders Zatanna and her spells silent and when his old rival, Oliver Queen, is ready to start firing arrows, Deathstroke is several steps ahead.

Source: DC Comics
Source: DC Comics

I’m not going to spoil the entire battle, as you either already know it or should be making a point to go read it (seriously, Identity Crisis is great), but suffice to say, it’s an impressive showing for Deathstroke. It is a perfect example of what Batman will be dealing with when he takes on Deathstroke in the next solo movie.

With all due respect to Ra’s al Ghul and Bane in The Dark Knight Trilogy, neither was put on the level that I expect Wilson will be on in Affleck’s film. If Affleck gets it right as the director, and there’s no reason to think he won’t, Deathstroke will be the most evenly-matched antagonist we’ve ever seen Batman encounter in a live-action feature.

Aside from intellect and ability, Slade Wilson is a match for Bruce Wayne’s emotional experience. Like Bruce Wayne, Slade Wilson has a tragic backstory. After Wilson gained his powers, he was a mercenary for the military and anyone else willing to pay up, a fact he hid from his wife, Adeline (who was also in the military, just not in the same division). Wilson’s activities caught up to him, but it was his and Adeline’s son, Joseph, who paid the price.

Joseph’s vocal chords were destroyed when his throat was slit after Slade would not give up the name of a client. An enraged Adeline shot Slade in the eye, which is why you see him wearing an eyepatch when his mask isn’t on. That’s also why his Deathstroke mask is dark and has no eye slit on one side.

There’s no telling just how much of Slade Wilson’s backstory will be lifted from the comics. The source material at least supports the idea that Deathstroke has more to offer in a Batman movie than a good onscreen fight. He is a physically and intellectually challenging, emotionally complex villain who can play an important role in great Batman movie.