Deathstroke the Terminator: for many, he’s the anti-Batman. With an arsenal large enough to take down a city, the physically enhanced and intellectually superior Deathstroke is usually a match for anyone in most situations. Don’t be fooled by his apparent lack of extravagant super-powers (especially since he actually has enhanced strength and a bit of a healing factor), his wide array of skills more than makes up for it.
If you haven’t heard, it was hinted that Deathstroke would appear in the upcoming Batman film, played by Joe Manganiello. So for those of you who don’t know much about the character, here are the basics so you can catch yourselves up to speed: he’s an incredibly smart, super-powered mercenary and assassin who was physically augmented by a serum and trained in the use of dozens of weapons. However, there is so much more to him than just that. Now, pay attention as we delve into the 15 best stories that define Deathstroke.
15. His First Appearance (New Teen Titans #2)
When talking about who he is as a character, it makes sense to start from the beginning. Deathstroke, AKA Slade Wilson, first appeared in “New Teen Titans #2” back in 1980. In that issue, Grant Wilson, Deathstroke’s son, enlists the services of the super-villain group known as H.I.V.E to essentially give him a superior intellect via a super-serum but, as it turns out, they’re more interested in Slade Wilson. Grant Wilson (under the supervillain name of Ravager), H.I.V.E and Deathstroke attack the Teen Titans, but Grant dies because of a flaw in the serum he had taken. Despite losing his son, Deathstroke strove to complete the contract rather than stop to grieve because he’s a dedicated mercenary who keeps his word.
The issue shows us Deathstroke as the mysterious warrior he continues to be. He’s a mercenary for hire and yet he’s always in control. It also shows us that it’s not just his raw strength and talent that make him a powerful threat, but rather it’s the strength of his conviction.
14. His Tough-As-Nails Origin
Speaking of beginnings, Deathstroke finally received his own comic book series in 1991. It explored the mysterious origins of the character, or at least, one of them, in a series of flashbacks from the perspective of Major Wintergreen, a former associate of Slade Wilson. At a young age, Slade Wilson had enlisted in the army by lying about how old he was. After a tour in Korea, he was reassigned to the US where he was promoted to the rank of Major. He soon met Captain Adeline Kane, who trained him in guerrilla warfare. The two fell in love and she bore him a child, but by that time, the war in Vietnam had begun and Slade was needed.
He signed up for experimentation and it was then that he received his powers as a side effect. However, because he fell into a coma during the experiment, he was no longer allowed to serve in the army. He became a safari hunter by day and mercenary assassin by…well, also by day, since the whole “safari hunter” thing was a lie, as his wife would soon find out. Unfortunately, that discovery was made when their son had been kidnapped by a mercenary known as Jackal. Though Slade and Adeline found their son, Joseph, the boy was rendered mute. The events enraged Adeline, who attempted to kill Slade, resulting in the loss of an eye.
13. His Continuous Feud With The Teen Titans
Because of his son and his affiliation with H.I.V.E., Deathstroke was bound to eventually cross paths with the Teen Titans from the start, and that inevitable conflict escalated and continued for years. He’s fought them head on, trapped them through careful planning and even gone so far as to create his own team of Teen Titans. Regardless, this particular battle has never reached any true conclusion.
It’s a conflict that has been depicted in both comic books and television shows which seem to favor Deathstroke’s more manipulative approaches to battling the Teen Titans. It works and is certainly not out of character for the mercenary. So if you’re looking for examples of his intellect and how he’s a master when it comes to staying a 100 steps ahead of any opponent he’s faced off against, then be sure to take a look at his battles against the Titans. If a group of super-powered teenagers can’t seem to take him down, then who in the DC universe can?
12. Slade (Teen Titans: The Animated Series)
The animated series (which would get a parody reboot in “Teen Titans GO!”) that ran from 2003 to 2006 placed the mysterious Slade as the main antagonist, plotting his enigmatic schemes and consistently testing the Titans. Since the show was being made for kids, it was subject to limiting censorship guidelines that prevented the series from actually calling him “Deathstroke” due to the word “death” being part of his name. However, everything else about him remained quite faithful to the comic book material.
He’s as calm and collected as one would imagine the comic book Deathstroke to be at all times, as well intentionally enigmatic, allowing the Titans to discover his existence piece by piece while he hired H.I.V.E. to battle the Titans, knowing that they would fail. He’s also adept at finding ways to make people bend to his will, which he did when he blackmailed Robin by infecting his teammates with nanoscopic probes which would end the Titans’ lives if Slade so desired. He barely even needed those awe-inspiring physical combat skills that he occasionally displays.
11. One Year Later
His scheme to blackmail Robin in the animated show was quite similar to his manipulative plot in the “One Year Later” storyline of 2006 wherein Deathstroke, seeking to establish his Titans East, manipulated all of the members including Ravager, Batgirl, Risk and Duela Dent via blackmail, drugging, or mind-control. After battling the regular Teen Titans, the Titans East were eventually freed from possession or persuaded to switch sides which, as it was revealed, was Deathstroke’s intention all along. Surprisingly, he didn’t want a team of fighters or a means to destroy the Teen Titans. The normally cold and ruthless mercenary simply wanted to give his outcasts a family they could depend on.
As was revealed in his origin story, he was a husband and a father before he became an assassin, so it’s interesting to see that he continues to try and fulfil that role, even if it is in his own misguided, twisted way.
10. His Twisted Relationship With His Kids
That fatherly sentimentality is certainly not always clear, especially when you take a look at his relationship with his own children, Grant and Rose Wilson, both of whom ended up donning the suit and mask of Ravager in order to gain his approval. As mentioned earlier, Grant Wilson was very briefly allied with his father along with H.I.V.E., which is the reason why Deathstroke began his feud with the Teen Titans.
Rose’s relationship with her father wasn’t much better. She was a dedicated student and wanted to be like him, so much so that she gouged out her own eye in an unusual show of loyalty. Keep in mind, she wasn’t even always aware that Slade Wilson was her father. Slade knew and hired a mercenary to murder her adoptive family before anonymously sending the Teen Titans to protect her, all in an effort to bring her closer to him. ‘Dysfunctional’ doesn’t even begin to describe this family.
9. Titans: Villains For Hire
Spinning out of the “Brightest Day” story arc in 2010, Deathstroke recruited a team of several villains by promising them their deepest desires. For the Tattooed Man, this was help finding the man who killed his son in order to exact revenge. With the new character named Cinder, it was to help her kill untouchable politicians who were guilty of heinous acts. With Cheshire, it was to eliminate the man who was trying to kill her. Finally, there was Osiris, who desperately wanted to bring his sister back to life. With him, Deathstroke promised to help figure out why Osiris himself was revived during the events of “Brightest Day.”
Dubbed the “Titans: Villains For Hire” arc, the story followed Deathstroke as he manipulated this team into completing several missions for him. It is later revealed that his goal was to create a device called the Methuselah Machine using parts and chemicals obtained during each mission. With the machine, he then brought his other son, Joseph, the former Teen Titan known as Jericho who had died in the next entry on this list, back to life with it. This spectacular story arc showed us just how far Deathstroke is willing to go, as well as how many people he’s willing to manipulate, in order to obtain what he wants.
8. The Judas Contract
“Titans: Villains For Hire” showed how he’s willing to manipulate people, but “The Judas Contract” gave us a glimpse into how far ahead he plots his plans. In this story, sub-plots dating as far back as Deathstroke’s first appearance are finally tied together and resolved in what fans consider to be the best of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s run on the title. The story revealed that Terra’s membership in the Teen Titans was all just a plot to feed Deathstroke intel on the team. It also gave us his origin for the first time, resulted in him severing ties with H.I.V.E. and set up the destruction of H.I.V.E. story arc that began a few issues later.
Each Titan gets taken down one at a time, which prompts Dick Grayson (who makes his debut as Nightwing in this story) into probing into Deathstroke’s life, which is how he meets Adeline Kane and learns Slade’s backstory. You almost feel empathetic toward Deathstroke until you learn that he was “romantically” involved with the 16-year-old Terra in order to manipulate her. She eventually went insane and turned against Deathstroke and everyone in the room before unintentionally bringing about her own end. You could say that Deathstroke did have a sentimental side once, but it probably died somewhere in the midst of all that manipulation and fighting.
7. Deathstroke vs Batman
Taking on anyone, regardless of how powerful or smart the opponent may be, is what Deathstroke is known for. One adversary in particular who stands out is the one and only Batman, to whom Slade is frequently compared to in terms of skill and cunning. Over the years, he’s fought Batman multiple times and while the caped crusader does triumph against the mercenary most of the time, Deathstroke has found victory against the Dark Knight on several occasions.
In fact, their first battle in “Deathstroke the Terminator #7” saw Deathstroke effortlessly beating Batman in hand-to-hand combat, pointing out that Batman was just an ordinary man who had trained to fight while Slade had been enhanced and trained to kill. There are few people who could stand up to Batman with such unwavering confidence and make the seemingly invincible and ever-prepared caped crusader appear weak. One of the times Batman defeated Deathstroke, he needed to be the help of Robin and Nightwing. That’s how skilled Deathstroke is.
6. Robin vs Batman
The Bruce Wayne incarnation of Batman isn’t the only version of the Dark Knight that Deathstroke has faced off against. Though to be fair, he didn’t exactly fight him directly. Working with Talia Al Ghul in “Batman & Robin” #9 during “Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” arc, Deathstroke was able to control Robin (Damian Wayne) through an implant in the young boy wonder’s spine. Batman was able to use a taser to electrocute Slade through Robin before hunting the assassin down and beating him up in his own hospital bed, declaring that it was just a taste of what’s to come.
While Deathstroke did lose, it’s clear that even when he’s incapacitated, Slade is a force to be reckoned with. His use of Robin is proof that you can never be certain about when or how he’ll show up to fight. He’s clearly resourceful and his commitment to a battle knows no bounds. You could argue that Batman is similar in that he also uses children to fight for him, but they do it of their own free will and as his ally, not a his slave.
5. The Arkham Series
“Batman: Arkham Origins” and “Batman: Arkham Knight” both included Deathstroke as an antagonist. In “Origins,” he faces Batman as an assassin, one of eight that Black Mask has hired (the fact that other assassins were also hired doesn’t sit well with him). He managed to fight Batman to a standstill and it only ended because Deadshot intervened in an effort to collect on the bounty before Slade could. Meanwhile, “Batman: Arkham Knight” briefly includes him and never actually sees him in close combat. After the twist ending however, you’re able to see him talk to Batman and display his dedication to the fight and only the fight.
If you’re not a fan of the comics or simply haven’t had the opportunity to read them, then the video game features a great depiction of Deathstroke’s skill and persona. He’s a man of his word and a committed warrior. He doesn’t care about the man beneath the cowl, explaining in “Origins” that Batman was only a bounty, and in “Knight” that his only admiration toward the Bat is in the challenging fight he provides Slade.
4. Identity Crisis
When he’s not fighting Batman, Deathstroke’s taking on pretty much everyone else. Unless they’re Superman or Wonder Woman, Deathstroke can probably beat them, even if the opponents are part of the Justice League. In fact, that’s exactly what he did during the controversial “Identity Crisis” mini-series. Prior to the event, Doctor Light had sexually assaulted Sue Diby, the wife of the Elongated Man. On the run, he hired Deathstroke as his bodyguard, who managed to hold his own against the joint efforts of the Flash, Zatanna, Black Canary, Green Arrow, and Green Lantern for a decent amount of time. However, he was blinded by one of Green Arrow’s arrows, which sent him into a rage and led to his defeat.
This epic battle is notable not only for showing how strong and skilled he is in combat, but also how angry he can get should you prevent him from accomplishing his goal. Rather than stay away from the League once the mission was over, he instead breaks into Green Arrow’s and lets him know that their fight isn’t over by a long shot. To say he holds a grudge against those who stand in his way would be an understatement.
The television series “Arrow” depicts a similar conflict between Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson. Depicted here as a former member of ASIS (Australian Secret Intelligence Service) who is driven mad by the loss of the woman he loved and by the serum that saved his life, Mirakuru, Slade hunts down Oliver Queen, his former friend whom he blames for the death. He destroys every aspect of Oliver’s life, including Ollie’s romantic life, business, and family (even forcing Oliver to choose who Slade should kill between his mother and sister), before finally confronting him in one last attack on Starling City.
Actor Manu Bennett does a fantastic job of portraying Slade Wilson as a tragic villain, full of focused anger and driven by a corrupt sense of honor and justice. He’s a lot less cold than his comic book counterpart, and unlike the comic book version, the series shows us a much softer side of him, even considering Oliver to be his brother while they’re trapped on the island together. It’s not wholly inaccurate to say that the soft side of the TV character has no basis in the comics, but this is definitely the first time he’s been depicted as a tragic hero fallen from grace whom you’d rather see redeemed instead of defeated.
2. Deathstroke vs Azrael
Perhaps that coarse surface is expected when talking about a character that spends his time killing and focusing on the next target. It’s the whole reason why no opponent fazes him, be they bat-like billionaire figures, humans empowered by emerald alien technology or even enhanced members of an ancient order of knights. The latter describes Azrael in “Azrael #45,” in which Azrael and Deathstroke the Terminator encounter each other thanks to a deranged monster named Calibax. Azrael wants to take Calibax down because his powers caused Azrael’s companions to fall into comas, but the villain also happens to be Deathstroke’s next target at the time. When met with Azrael’s flaming sword, Deathstroke reacts only by saying, “flaming blade, nice touch. Might impress somebody…somebody else.”
It’s fantastic to see Deathstroke hold his own against the only other character that could take on Batman in hand-to-hand combat. Remember, Azrael is Jean-Paul Valley, who once took over as Bane after broke Batman’s back (and later went mad and fought to keep the mantle when Batman was healed). Though it ends in a truce, the fight was a testament to Deathstroke’s abilities and focus, given that even a display as impressive as Azrael’s sword didn’t even make him flinch.
1. Deathstroke vs The X-Men
Marvel’s Wolverine is the best he is at what he does…in his own comic universe, that is. But in 1982’s “Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans,” Wolverine finds himself face to face with Slade Wilson, who was then serving Darkseid, collecting the residual energy left by the Phoenix Force. Deathstroke the Terminator was able to defeat the X-Men, including Wolverine, the mutant who sounds like he should be his equal or even his better. After all, they’re both highly trained and exceptionally skilled fighters, and while they both possess a healing factor, Slade’s isn’t nearly as effective as Wolverine’s is.
Later in the issue, Wolverine fairs a bit better and technically even wins, but it’s only thanks to the chaos of a major battle involving the teamed up Titans and X-Men that Deathstroke is taken down – by a sneak attack shot from Cyclops, by the way. Even if Slade didn’t exactly win in that fight, it’s a great show of his strength, endurance and skill. After all, Wolverine is practically an immortal killing machine with an indestructible skeleton, so the fact that Deathstroke was able to take down not only Wolverine, but also the entire team of X-Men, just goes to show how much of a badass Deathstroke really is.
Are there any other amazing stories that show off how brutal Deathstroke can be? Let us know in the comments!
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