Deathstroke: The Most Versatile Villain in the DC Universe

Slade Wilson is Deathstroke, the DC Universe villain who will be making everyone's lives miserable on Titans season 2.

He’s so darn cool he needs more than one name. Whether he is called The Terminator, Deathstroke, Deathstroke the Terminator, or Slade Wilson, the one eyed killer has been one of DC’s leading villains since his debut in 1980’s New Teen Titans #2. In his illustrious career of evil, Slade Wilson has worn many hats, from evil mastermind, to go-to soldier villain, to father figure, to reluctant anti-hero…Deathstroke has done it all. 

It’s safe to say that Slade Wilson is the most versatile villain maybe in all of comicdom, something he proved to the general public on the CW’s Arrow where Manu Bennett channeled Slade Wilson’s entire legacy of violence, bringing it to life perfectly and taking Oliver Queen to that next level. But Bennett isn’t alone Joe Manganiello will play Deathstroke in an upcoming DCEU movie and Esai Morales has just landed the role for Titans season 2 on DC Universe

So in honor of this recent revelation, we proudly present but a few of Deathstroke’s career highlights. But please, don’t tell anyone where you heard this info; none of us here at the Den want to find a shiv in our heart.

The Judas Contract

Before Deathstroke, the Teen Titans rogues gallery was not the stuff of legends. The Mad Mod, Mister Twister, and Ding Dong Daddy did not exactly inspire fear in the hearts of mortals. That all changed when Marv Wolfman and George Perez introduced the Terminator in the second issue of their relaunched series. With his inspired design and arsenal of potent weaponry, the Terminator brought a real, concrete threat to the pages of the Titans for the first time. Soon, the Terminator would come to be known as Deathstroke the Terminator (thanks, James Cameron), but the menace remained. In his first appearance, Deathstroke was hired to steal an experimental element from STAR Labs. When the Titans tried to stop him, Deathstroke came within an eyelash of killing the entire team and he severely injured Changeling (who you know better as Beast Boy these days).

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This was quite the introduction to the new villain, but the best (or worst) was yet to come. Y’see, at this time in comics, well into the Copper Age of the ’80s, the “in” thing was to have a plucky teenage girl join a super team. It started with Kitty Pryde in the pages of the X-Men and continued into books like Green Lantern which saw the teenage alien Arisia join the Corps. Heck, the New Mutants and the Legion of Super-Heroes were filled with plucky teenage girls, so it was only right and proper that the Teen Titans had a PTG of their own.

Enter, Terra, a young girl with the powers to move the very Earth. Fans immediately fell for her. This is where Deathstroke’s status as a master planner truly began. Terra was working for him the whole time. She had played the Titans and revealed all their secret identities to Slade Wilson. She was the Judas in their midst and it was all thanks to the string pulling of DC’s newest master villain. This moment of betrayal changed everything; the once innocent kids club of the Titans was forever marred by Deathstroke’s manipulations.

This led to the first moment where fans realized just how dangerous Slade Wilson could be. Using his knowledge of the Titans gleaned from Terra’ betrayal, in Tales of the Teen Titans #42 (1984), Deathstroke takes down each member of the Titans in very personal ways. He takes out Starfire with a letter bomb long before the Unabomber did his thing; he took out Donna Troy by tainting the passionate photographer’s dark room with a potent gas, he electrified Cyborg’s favorite chair causing Vic Stone’s system to overload, and he drugged Changeling’s envelopes so when the narcissist Titan answered his fan mail, he got roofied. Slade Wilson was so much more than a gun and a sword, that he can take out any hero without a confrontation. It was the moment he went from just another villain to legendarily awesome.

Throughout the years, Slade Wilson had served as the Titans’ primary adversary, but he had a tragic past that gave a new wrinkle to the primal villain. He was a family man who had lost his beloved older son and had watched his younger son get his throat slit, rendering the younger Wilson forever mute. Slade was mutilated by his own wife, who shot him in the eye after their younger boy was injured. Ding Dong Daddy my ass. Now, the Titans were all about Slade Wilson, who was about to have an impact on the entire DC Universe.

Read Teen Titans: The Judas Contract on Amazon

His Own Series

Not every villain gets their own series, but there was enough weight to Deathstroke to make him a perfect choice to helm his own book in 1995. Along for the ride was Deathstroke co-creator Marv Wolfman who transformed Slade from the villainous manipulator into an anti-hero in the pages of Wilson’s own title. The book was part Punisher, part Wolverine, part Sgt. Rock…and all Slade Wilson as fans discovered just how much depth this master villain had. Villain titles tend not to last long, but Wolfman found enough material to fill 60 issues worth of kick ass stories.

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read more: Everything You need to Know About Titans Season 2

During the course of the series, Deathstroke fought with and against some of DC’s greatest heroes and villains, and for five years in the ’90s, Slade Wilson was one of DC’s most popular characters, showing that he was so much more than just another villain. Some of the weight of this series has been carried over into Arrow, where Deathstroke is mourning the death of his beloved Shado and many of his traits and motivations have been drawn from Wolfman’s solo series. Slade Wilson’s tradition of violence was brought to a new crescendo in the pages of Deathstroke’s own book, a book so badass, it didn’t even need cover gimmicks…and in the ’90s, that’s saying something.  

Some highlights of the series include:

Deathstroke #27-34 (1993)

Written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Steve Erwin and Will Blyberg, where Slade Wilson must travel the world in order to save the wife who once maimed him, these issues show the honor and dedication of the deadly merc who kills many different people in many different time zones to save the woman he once loved.

Deathstroke #46-50 (2995)

Written by Marc Wolfman with art by Sergio Cariello and Will Blyberg in which Deathstroke is hunted by a huge number of superheroes after he is framed for the murder of a U.S. Senator. Those cape and cowl pansies had no chance of bringing Wilson down as, dammit, this is the one time he did not kill someone in cold blood.

Deathstroke #6-9 (1993)

by Wolfman, Erwin, and Blyberg sees the first confrontation between Slade and Batman. Wilson holds his own against the Dark Knight, and even Batman must have a grudging respect for the mercenary. This was during the monosyllabic grunting period in Batman’s history so getting him to admit anything other than he likes breaking femurs was quite an accomplishment.

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Start reading here – Deathstroke The Terminator Vol. 1: Assassins

Panic in the Sky

Panic in the Sky ran through the Superman family of titles in 1992 and it was one of DC’s best crossovers of the ’90s. Plus, it really would make a kick ass movie. The epic saw Brainiac seize control of Warworld and lead an all out assault on Earth. Superman and his fellow heroes were all that stood between Brainiac and world domination. As Superman headed into space, he knew he needed a man to lead the ground forces on Earth. He had all the earthbound superheroes to choose from, but in his wisdom, the Man of Steel went with Slade Wilson.

read more: Justice League Post Credits Scenes Explained

In Panic in the Sky, Wilson wore the mantle of hero and he wore it comfortably, helping keep terra firma safe while Superman took the battle to the sky. Imagine Joe Manganiello, fighting side by side with Henry Cavill in a cinematic adaptation of this story. Yeah, we’ll wait while you’re in your bunk.

Read Panic in the Sky on Amazon

Birds of Prey

Those looking for a Deathstroke/Black Canary connection in comics need look no further than Birds of Prey #22-24 (2000) by Chuck Dixon and Butch Guice (God, that run on BoP was awesome!) I just mention this here to note that in this story arc, Deathstroke led a cadre of killers to Gorilla City to steal an ape’s heart. Let that one sink in, Deathstroke was on a mission to steal an intelligent monkey’s heart. That’s one stone cold killer, man.

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read more: Everything You Need to Know About the Birds of Prey Movie

Monkey heart. God, I love comics.

Identity Crisis

Yeah, The Judas Contact was the defining Deathstroke storyline but his greatest single moment was in 2004’s Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer and Rags Morales. Deathstroke was hired to be the bodyguard for Dr. Light, a man who the Justice League really, really wanted to take down as a suspect in the murder of Sue Dibny, a woman Light once raped. Deathstroke did what he did best; he protected his client from the League and took down some of the League’s most powerful single handedly.

Wilson took down the Atom with a laser pointer, punched Zatanna so hard in the liver she began projectile vomiting (can’t talk forwards or backwards while ralphing bile), cut off Hawkman’s wings, anticipated where the Flash was going to run and impaled the speedster on a katana, and almost, ALMOST, had the willpower to take control of Green Lantern’s ring. Now that’s badass.

Yeah Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman weren’t present, but rest assured if they were, Deathstoke would have had a plan to take them out too. Slade’s rampage was stopped by (wait for it) Green Arrow who stabbed the mercenary in his empty eye socket with an arrow. Thus began a heated rivalry between Deathstroke and Ollie Queen that arguably inspired Arrow’s showrunners to use Wilson as one of the series’ big villains.

Read Identity Crisis on Amazon

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Father Knows Best

One of the most important roles Slade Wilson has fulfilled since his debut has been that of a father. His children have gone on to become major players in the DC Universe, all driven to prove themselves to or distance themselves from their father, starting with his son Grant, an unstable mercenary with meta-human enhancements. When those enhancements proved unstable and fatal, daddy took up Grant’s contracts and came up against the Titans for the first time. Slade’s emotional response to his sons’ death set him apart from other villains as he may have been a killer, but he was also a father.

read more: Complete Schedule of Upcoming DCEU Movies

The second Wilson child that was introduced was Joey, the aforementioned son who had his throat slit in front of his horrified parents. Joey had the power to possess other bodies and fought side by side with the Titans as Jericho for a very long time.

Then there’s Rose, the second Ravager, daddy’s little girl, who was so enamored with her father’s legacy she, wait for it, no, seriously brace yourself now, that in order to be like her father she gleefully plucked her own eye out of her head. EEESSSHH! Despite that little bit of crazy, Rose soon joined the Titans and has displayed the same twisted code of honor as dear old dad. 

His Own Team of Titans

If you can’t beat them join them, or at least lead them, was Slade’s philosophy in 2010 as he formed his own team of Titans including his fellow villains Cheshire, the Tattooed Man, Cinder, Osiris, and eventually Arsenal, aka Roy Harper (another little Arrow connection right there). On their first mission, Deathstroke’s band of miscreants killed Ryan Choi, DC’s current Atom, and that pretty much set the tone for this team right away. The team took on many other madmen and was short lived, but leading the Titans showed once again that Deathstroke, the mastermind, the soldier, the sometimes hero, could also fill the role of leader.

In this same era, Deathstoke took on the Justice League in Titans Annual 2011 by Eric Wallace and Cliff Richards. Even the combined might of those teams could not bring down Slade Wilson, who stands tall by issues end, confident and smug. Wilson makes even Batman lose his temper who wants to take down Deathstroke once and for all. Wilson knows that to stop them, the League would have to kill him, something they would never do, so Wilson saunters away. This was the old Deathstroke’s final great moment as this all happened right before Flashpoint and the New 52 reboot, so the ramifications of Deathstroke’s team did not linger for long, but not many heroes can say they lead the Titans…and even fewer villains.

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Arrgh, Here they be Pirates

In the Flashpoint reality, Deathstroke was a sea pirate, and if that isn’t awesome enough, he also battled the despotic Aquaman on a number of occasions. Aquaman handed Slade his ass, but Deathstroke survived and was able to reunite with his lost daughter Rose to sail the seas away from the conflicts that nearly burned the Flashpoint world to the ground. If you can think of anything cooler than pirate Deathstroke, we would like to hear it.

The New 52

The rebooted Deathstroke is very similar to his predecessor. DC kept the honor and the ability to be a leader or a soldier, but they jettisoned his past with the Titans. Instead, the new 52 Slade Wilson’s past is deeply embedded in the history of Team 7, a group of mercs and soldiers taken from the annals of DC and Wildstorm history. Deathstroke had his own book during the 52 launch, but he has since been relegated to guest star status thanks to some wonky creative decisions (cough, Rob Liefeld, cough). The New 52 Deathstroke has been narratively reconnected with Terra and his children, but we would be lying if we said we didn’t miss his connection to the Titans. That is not to say the new Deathstroke has not had his moments to shine…

In issue #1 of the rebooted series published in 2011 by Kyle Higgins and Joe Bennett, Wilson kills an annoying fly with a paperclip. In that one little scene, readers discover everything they need to know about the merc and how precise he can be. In the same issue, Deathstroke, all by his lonesome, systematically and coldly takes down a band of mercenaries called the Alpha Dawgz (really DC?).

read more – The History of Deadpool vs. Deathstroke

In issue #4 of the new series by the same creative team, Deathstroke escapes from a prison by puking up a hand bomb he ingested earlier and, in a nice callback to the fly incident, a paperclip. Everything may be New in the 52, but at least fans can rely on Deathstroke to be the most well rounded, badass villain on the scene, at least when the right creators are guiding his adventures. 

DC Rebirth

After Wilson’s first New 52 title, DC tried it again with a second volume of New 52 Deathstroke adventures. But like most of the New 52, these tales were rather unfocused with fans unsure of what classic DCU events actually took place within this new DC continuity. Ah, but DC’s recent Rebirth event changed all that. The entire DCU is refocused and reenergized and Deathstroke is along for the ride.

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Recently, legendary Black Panther scribe Christopher Priest along with artists like Jason Paz, Carlo Pagulayan, and others have brought Wilson’s war back in a big bad way. This is consistently one of the best books DC is publishing. The timing couldn’t be more perfect for this return to Deathstroke glory because it looks like Slade Wilson will be a major player in both comics and film for years to come. Slade Wilson has been ratcheting up the kill count for decades, but if recent developments are any indication, the carnage is just getting started. 

Start here – Deathstroke Vol. 1 – The Professional

Oh yeah, one more entry…

Deathstroke once Fought Wolverine to a Standstill!

In the 1982 Uncanny X-Men and Teen Titans crossover by Chris Claremont and Walt Simonson, Deathstroke fought Wolverine to a draw, IN A BOOK WRITTEN BY CHRIS CLAREMONT! Even the bard of the X-Men knew how awesome Deathstroke was and had him be every bit an equal to Wolverine, the most kickass X-Man of them all. In the same book, Deathstroke also defeated Colossus. Not every character gets to kick another company’s hero’s behinds. Let the Manu Bennett/Hugh Jackman fanfic commence!