Deathstroke is coming to the DCEU in a big way, first as a likely mid-credits teaser or something similar in Justice League (perhaps getting hired by Lex Luthor to kill Batman?) and second as the main antagonist of the standalone Batman film. And we've recently learned that Ben Affleck (director and writer of The Batman) is a big admirer of the New 52 version of the longtime DC villain.
And yet a large number of Deathstroke fans didn't care much for New 52 Deathstroke at all, myself included. In fact, this seems to be why Slade Wilson's story was changed somewhat drastically for this year's Rebirth, which both alters and builds upon the Prime Earth continuity.
For the record, I wanted to like the New 52 Deathstroke series as much as anyone. When it debuted a few years ago, New 52 did a lot of work in remixing the villainous anti-hero in order to fit him in with the Prime Earth order of things, but that wasn't always for the better.
The series had a few bright spots, of course. Legacy was a fascinating villain concept, in my opinion, and it wasn't too difficult to get used to some of the major cosmetic changes the character took on (which we'll get into later). That said, the storyline was a bit messy and inconsistent at times, often leaving Deathstroke's motivations up to the reader's imagination, instead of a logical interpretation of the character's actions and dialogue. There was a lot of artful mayhem, but it never felt like this version of Deathstroke was a calculating genius. Just a tired merc.
Still, there were a lot of creative choices made in order to "level up" Deathstroke as a powerful threat worthy of the popularity he's naturally garnered over the years. And I think that, in and of itself, is what Ben Affleck really meant when he singled out New 52 while talking about his affection for the character. There have been some growing pains, basically.
To be fair, Warner Bros. (and Affleck) will likely be drawing influence from all manner of Slade Wilson stories, perhaps even some cues from Judas Contract. But we can reasonably see where in Prime Earth the filmmakers could craft a new and exciting take on the character as he faces off against Batman on the big screen. In fact, we're already seeing DC Comics moving on and learning from their mistakes with what they've produced in the first couple of issues of Deathstroke Rebirth, which so far alleviate a lot of the complaints some fans had with his failed solo run in New 52.
For that reason, this list will speak a lot to the handful of issues we've read from Rebirth, in addition to how Prime Earth both evolved Deathstroke and somewhat held him back. And hopefully, that will translate into a DCEU Deathstroke that gains the best from all worlds.
#9 Total Motivation
One of the elements I appreciated the most in New 52 was the conservation of Deathstroke's amoral "code" from the 90s comics, as well as a willingness to make him a little more sympathetic. On the other hand, New 52 writers were also a bit sloppy with his motivations. In one issue, he'd diatribe about how "money is everything," later changing his mind to the idea that legacy is everything without really exploring why this changes so arbitrarily again to reputation being everything.
Deathstroke is a heartless guy, sure, but he's rooted in both tragedy and morally gray areas. His most interesting dialogue so far in Rebirth is between him and his daughter, Rose, still trained by Nightwing in this continuity. It's clear that he's harsh with her, claiming she's learned nothing and that her fondness for him is a "weakness." But readers can see that he himself appears to embrace this weakness as well, and he's clearly aware of it.
The solo Batman movie will probably spend more time developing Deathstroke as a dangerous foe, while still touching on the character's psychology. If they spend too much time dwelling on the character's empathy, they'll essentially rush his development and distract from real groundwork on making him a complex foil for Batman. Starting him off a bit more cold and aloof, however, seems like the smarter option, especially if there's room to explore why exactly he is the way he is in a future DCEU film.
#8 Never-ending Backstory
New 52 and Rebirth have their own origin retellings for Deathstroke, but Rebirth actually spends less time on the details, instead using quick flashbacks to accompany a more "current" storyline that kicks us off in the middle of things. It's not perfect, but this type of storytelling combined with the nuts and bolts of New 52 would be great fodder for comic fans watching the character come to life as they find out that he's connected to Amanda Waller (for example) or will be, perhaps setting up his involvement with the Suicide Squad.
Simply put, there's precedent for the DCEU to focus on a Deathstroke that's of the moment, not one that's bogged down in his backstory. This includes an avoidance of letting Batman be the one to take out Slade's eye (which wouldn't make sense based on the test footage we've seen). Like in New 52 and Rebirth, that aspect of the origin will be long dealt with and a factor of the character's current temperament, not something to add for ineffective shock value. If Affleck knows what he's doing, he'll let the "losing an eye" moment fall on the family drama akin to Rebirth, or tied to Grant Wilson's supposed death in New 52.
#7 Deathstroke Evolved
Before New 52 kicked off, Slade Wilson was "peak human," but his genetic enhancements as we know them today were a relatively new concept. The writers of Prime Earth did this for good reason, too, because it allowed them to believably set the character against actual gods and top tier DC characters like Lobo and Wonder Woman. His enhanced...everything...also makes him so virtually invincible that you can understand why someone like Batman would have more than a tough time beating him.
I do get, though, why some fans are a bit hesitant to see DC double down on Deathstroke being so over-the-top unstoppable. It made sense for New 52, of course, because that series focused a lot on pitting the Terminator against increasingly insurmountable assassination targets. But as I mentioned in the intro, Legacy ended up being a great villain regardless, mostly because the concept itself damaged Deathstroke psychologically.
I would love to see the same idea applied to Batman getting in Deathstroke's head, proving to him that all of the power and advantages in the world can't stand up against karma. Granted, we wouldn't necessarily see the real execution of the Legacy costume play out the same way, but there are a lot of ways Batman can use Deathstroke's obsession with reputation against him.
#6 Batman's Match
Like Batman, Deathstroke is always prepared. The main difference is that Deathstroke has a contrasted philosophy and pool of resources. Batman has his money, intelligent allies, focused purpose, and practical psychosis governed by inner demons. Deathstroke has a slew of lethal weapons, physical enhancements, and a strict adherence to keeping his word (and reputation) intact, which in this case probably includes killing Batman.
How can the audience know which character should win? If they're borrowing from New 52, it might have to do with Deathstroke's somewhat sleazy personality when it comes to preparedness. As strong as he is, the character has outright said that there's nothing he hates more than a fair fight. Even with all of the odds stacked against Batman, he'll still find a way to win of course in the most dramatic fashion.
Though I don't prefer his characterization in this way quite as much as I do Pre-Prime Earth, it's useful to move away from having a likable anti-hero, at least for the purposes of this solo film. Especially since that trope is a bit too similar to the setup of Batman v Superman.
#5 The Political Mercenary
Recent Deathstroke stories have de-emphasized the assassin going up against greater-than-life foes (like gods and Justice League members), and instead explored the political intrigue of his mercenary allies and enemies. This interconnected world of spies and even retired contract killers lend to a grounded take on the DCEU Deathstroke, who needs to live in a world where people like Superman are an anomaly.
Though a solo Batman film likely won't get too political, it would be interesting to see the stakes being redefined through that kind of lens. Affleck is working on this script while America is going through one of its most dramatic political upheavals in years, so it stands to reason that a new Batman film could be reminiscent of this tension, emblemed by the cold, unfeeling Deathstroke creating an environment in Gotham that makes it hard for Batman to win, even if he manages to take Deathstroke down. After all, superhero movies in general would benefit greatly from upping the conflict without putting the entire planet in jeopardy.
#4 Wintergreen Support System
One of the worst aspects of New 52 was how it underutilized Wintergreen for seemingly no reason. He's never around to mentor Slade or kick him in the teeth when necessary, but Rebirth has so far reversed course on this entirely by making him a major part of the story once again.
And that's an important consideration for livening up the supporting cast in The Batman. If the film is going to have any Deathstroke-centric characters to off-balance Gordon and Alfred (as it should), then Wintergreen is the ideal choice. He's capable of helping the audience understand Slade Wilson and learn more about him without the need to over-explain his backstory through exposition or Bruce Wayne reading information off of a computer screen.
#3 Grant Wilson Beyond
There are a lot of weird and off-putting plot developments in New 52 made at the expense of Grant Wilson, but I'm not advocating any of that baggage making its way into the DCEU just yet, if at all. But there's an element of the Grant Wilson/Deathstroke relationship as a whole in these storylines that subtly introduces a major shift in the villain's trajectory.
Specifically, we see that Slade Wilson actually pushes his family into the mercenary business, especially Grant. Rebirth tries even harder to get it across that the son and father mostly resent each other, and there's clear disappointment on both sides. It doesn't always work from a narrative standpoint, but the set up is actually quite interesting, in that it better explains how Slade went from being a military boy scout to mercenary for hire, and his willingness to put his son in danger as a result is definitely fascinating.
So really, this is just good material for how the DCEU Deathstroke can make narrative sense as a character, with the harshness he demonstrates with his sons being the ultimate result of what the military put him through. I wouldn't go as far as Rebirth, which straddled the line between amoral and actual child abuse. But balancing Slade's affection for his children with the cold reality of how wearing a uniform "kills his sons" as he points out in Rebirth, would make for some great storytelling if done right.
#2 Plot Armor
Oddly enough, there doesn't seem to be a clear consensus among fans on what Deathstroke should...well, wear. Some prefer him as the sleuth ninja, while others appreciate the heavy armor approach from New 52 and Arkham Origins, which we already know we're getting. And I understand both sides.
On the one hand, Deathstroke limiting his protection against bullets and blades was always representative of his arrogance. Before Prime Earth, he didn't need the best armor because he could dodge and move too fast for anyone to land a blow. That makes sense in theory, and I don't have any problem whatsoever with keeping his suit simple. But I also believe in the merit of letting him have the Nth metal armor, or even Promethian armor.
Yes, Deathstroke is smart enough and quick enough to avoid getting badly hurt, but that doesn't help him much against foes who catch him off guard, or bigger threats he has to face in New 52. The writers clearly added more protection to his armor so that the character could live up to the "Godkiller" idea without the story devolving into repetitive near-misses. In other words, Nth armor trumps plot armor.
#1 Age Matters
Deathstroke isn't typically old for the sake of it. The reason he has silver hair in New 52 and Rebirth is because it best displays the fact that he's seasoned and experienced. At just 39, however, Joe Manganiello is actually younger than Ben Affleck, and we'll have to wait and see if the movie tries to age up Manganiello as a result.
My initial instinct is to worry about this, because it makes little sense to present a fully realized Deathstroke while Batman has been in business for 20 years. This probably means that if Deathstroke has any connection whatsoever to Nightwing in the DCEU (which he should, at least eventually), it will have to be a recent or ongoing conflict. And that gives me hope because it could be why Manganiello was chosen in the first place. Warner Bros. hopefully realizes that audiences have already seen Dick Grayson more than enough times as Robin, and he's too old in this continuity to be the Boy Wonder, anyway.
But if they presented Slade Wilson as someone who is not quite as old as he would be in the comics at this point, there's room to explore his rivalry with Nightwing and/or the Teen Titans sometime in the future. One can hope, at least.
Most of us can agree that New 52 Deathstroke was far from perfect and definitely flawed for the most part. It abandoned what made the original conceit of the character so engaging, halting the evolution of Slade Wilson in favor of cheesy, bloody action peril and a disgruntled old man who can't get over his past traumas.
At the same time, though, the New 52 at least presented some ideal theories for where the character can go next, as seen in the promising (so far) Rebirth series. His reputation is everything, sometimes more important than family. His real weakness is emotion, not intellect or physicality, which means he constantly battles the "liabilities" of people who get too close. There are plenty of ways for the DCEU to adapt these ideas into a worthwhile Batman story, where he's positioned as an exceptional antagonist.