Spoilers for Justice League below.
Stick around after the credits of Justice League and you’ll witness a little scenelet that may confuse you. A character you may know from a previous movie shows up and meets with another character, one who looks unfamiliar but who your brain might register as someone familiar. But be careful, because you may be way off the mark. We’ll clear things up for you by answering your burning questions.
Okay, so that was Deadpool at the end of the movie, right?
But he was a mercenary with big swords and a mask with big eyes whose last name is Wilson, and Deadpool has those things and is named Wade Wilson …
Yes, that’s all correct.
But he’s not Deadpool?
No, he’s Slade Wilson, also known as Deathstroke.
Yeah, no, don’t beat yourself up. He’s not well-known outside of certain geek circles.
Oh, I remember him now, he was the guy Will Smith played in Suicide Squad.
No, that was Deadshot, not Deathstroke. Common mistake.
Okay, well, that explains why it wasn’t Ryan Reynolds or Will Smith under the mask. Who was that playing him?
None other than Joe Manganiello.
Oh, fun! He’s always seemed like a nice guy. And I did think it was odd that Warner Bros. was able to put Deadpool in this thing, given that Fox owns his movie rights.
Right you are. But Deathstroke is a long-time DC Comics character, just like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and their superpowered cohort, and Warner Bros. owns DC and all its intellectual property.
What’s Deathstroke’s basic deal?
He’s a brutally effective contract killer whose body and brain have been enhanced by cutting-edge science. He thus has various superhuman capabilities, like super-intelligence, super-agility, super-healing, and the like. He can’t fly or shoot laser beams out of his eyes or anything, but he’s tougher than the average assassin.
Why haven’t I heard of this guy? Is he a new character?
Well, yes and no. He’s certainly new to the DC cinematic universe, so don’t bother rewatching previous entries in the franchise in hopes of finding him. But he’s been slicing his way through DC’s comic-book output for decades. He was created in 1980 by the legendary creative team of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, who popped him into their acclaimed New Teen Titans series. Since then, he’s become a common C-tier DC character, occasionally bumping up into the B tier. He’s usually an antagonist, but has made a number of appearances as a grimly sympathetic protagonist or ally.
Why is he so similar to Deadpool?
That’s Deadpool’s creators’ fault, not Deathstroke’s. Short version: About a decade after Deathstroke’s debut, writer-artist Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza co-created Deadpool in the pages of Marvel Comics, DC’s eternal rival. Liefeld was the main creative force, and when he showed his character designs to Nicieza, the latter pointed out that he looked a helluva lot like Deathstroke. As a result, Nicieza chose to jokingly give the guy the name Wade Wilson as an homage to Deathstroke’s civilian moniker.
Does he have his own comic book?
He does, in fact! It’s a monthly series called, simply, Deathstroke, written by Christopher Priest and currently penciled by Carlo Pagulayan.
Is it any good?
It’s not good … it’s excellent. One of the best superhero (well, in this case, super-antihero) titles on the stands these days. The writing from Priest is particularly worthy of praise. It’s a thrilling tale of fumbling attempts at redemption and the structural societal problems that keep people from being able to do good. Plus, the bleak comedy is quite funny at times.
Wait … Deathstroke … that name is starting to sound familiar. Was he in something else that wasn’t a comic book?
You’re probably thinking of his many appearances in DC’s TV offerings on the CW. Slade is a recurring figure on multiple shows in the so-called Arrowverse, but he mainly shows up on Arrow as the bête noire of hero Oliver Queen. That universe is totally separate from the movie universe, though.
Ah, yes, right! So what’s he doing here? What are they teasing?
Well, that’s a smidgen unclear. Long ago, industry-watchers learned that Deathstroke, played by Manganiello, was set to be the villain in the next Batman solo outing, The Batman. Ben Affleck even teased us with some test footage of the character last year. But that movie has gone through a tumultuous gestation, losing Affleck as a screenwriter and director and possibly even as an actor. Over the summer, Manganiello said he wasn’t sure what the character’s future was, but now, reports say Deathstroke might at least get a solo movie, even if he doesn’t appear in The Batman. So who knows?! Your guess is as good as mine.
Man, I really thought that was Deadpool for a second.
Take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Honestly, it’s a weird choice to toss him out front in a post-credits scene, given that he’s so unfamous. But hey, any excuse to look at Joe Manganiello is a decent excuse.