Batman is going from punching out Superman to battling Deathstroke.
A few weeks ago actor-director Ben Affleck teased fans with a blurry look at the deadliest assassin of the DC Universe, who will be the main antagonist in the latest Batman big screen adventure. That it was the first look at Ben Affleck’s forthcoming superhero movie at all was a big deal, and that it was the first peek at the first cinematic rendering of Deathstroke made fans flip out.
Deathstroke isn’t strictly a Batman foe; in fact, he’s generally more concerned with messing with the Green Arrow and Nightwing. He also isn’t cut from the same gothic cloth as most of Batman’s enemies. A worldly-trained assassin, Deathstroke (real name Slade Wilson) isn’t the same type of baddie as Two-Face, Penguin, and Joker, monsters who are men scarred by fate and lash out by plundering Gotham. Slade Wilson is scarred too — he has one eye from when his wife shot him — but he doesn’t seek anything besides a payday. And his job is a real killer, which sets him up perfectly against Batman, who abhors murder (although Ben Affleck’s Bats, as displayed in Dawn of Justice, might be more willing to kill).
There are few in the DCU who can go toe-to-toe with Batman, and Deathstroke is one of them. Having lied about his age to join the U.S. military at 16, Slade Wilson was a natural soldier who excelled at all types of warfare, from hand-to-hand combat to guerrilla tactics. Selected by the military to undergo a breakthrough super soldier operation, Wilson’s already peak human strength, speed, and agility were enhanced, which compelled him to turn on the government — what were they going to do? Stop him? — and became a private mercenary for hire.
Like Batman’s best movie foes Bane and Joker, Deathstroke is less muscular husk than calculated killer. Slade is trained for any scenario, not unlike Batman, whose speciality is improvisation. The two have crossed paths before, with both claiming victory at different times. In 2005’s Infinite Crisis, Batman and Nightwing made quick work of Deathstroke, but in the earlier Deathstroke #8-9 from the ‘90s, Slade viciously defeated Batman in a fight that left Batman broken and bruised.
Deathstroke isn’t driven by greed. He’s got skills, so he’s going to earn his living, but he doesn’t pursue a lavish lifestyle. Instead, he seeks to protect his rep as an unstoppable predator, and that sometimes puts Batman in his crosshairs. Other times, it’s just business; when Deathstroke accepts a contract, he’s dead set on finishing it, and sometimes clients want Batman dead. Hugo Strange hired Deathstroke in 2013’s Batman: Arkham Origins and again was hired by the Arkham Knight in Batman: Arkham Knight. Both times Batman put him away, but it didn’t come easy.
Deathstroke isn’t the richest antagonist for Batman, but he’s certainly one of his most formidable. With zero personal investment in the Dark Knight — most of Batman’s foes want his blood, but Deathstroke couldn’t care less unless it was green — Deathstroke is a different kind of enemy for the Gotham crusader’s next movie. It’s not yet known who else in Batman’s rogues gallery may appear in Ben Affleck’s Batman, but there’s few who can be as fearsome.