WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the Titans Season 2 finale, "Nightwing," streaming now on DC Universe.
Something that comes with discussing live-action adaptations of comic book stories is the constant debate about who portrayed a character "better." Whether it's the revolving door that has become the role of Batman on the big screen or even something as mundane as a preference of Lois Lane actors, fans love to duke it out over their opinions.
Naturally, CBR has decided to kickstart a new discussion as DC Universe closes the book on the second season of Titans. In the newest outing of the streaming service's flagship series, the young group of heroes came face-to-face with an old adversary, Deathstroke, played by Ozark star Esai Morales. The Terminator proved a formidable foe for the Titans, but did this new iteration live up to the gold standard that is Manu Bennett's portrayal of Deathstroke from The CW's Arrow? Let's look at the facts.
Bennett's Slade Wilson started his tenure on the Stephen Amell-led series as an ally of Oliver Queen during his time stranded on Lian Yu. As the duo spent the show's first season trying to evade the villainous Edward Fyers, they crossed paths with Shado, the daughter of Oliver's mentor Yao Fei. Both Slade and Oliver grew to love Shado, but she preferred the reformed playboy. That didn't sit well with Slade, who had recently exposed himself to Mirakuru, a Japanese super-soldier drug. With his judgment skewed, Slade vowed vengeance against his protege.
After a battle that seemingly left Deathstroke dead, Oliver believed he had taken care of his former friend for good. However, the Mirakuru gave Slade healing abilities that helped him survive the ordeal. The villain reappeared during the present-day events of Season 2, looking to make Oliver's life a nightmare, and would go on to kill Oliver's mother and put the rest of his family and friends in grave danger. The finale saw the Arrow face off with Deathstroke in an epic conclusion to the season, with Oliver coming out on top and imprisoning Slade in an A.R.G.U.S. prison on Lian Yu.
Season 2 of Arrow is widely considered the best outing of the series, with Bennett's portrayal of the big bad being one of the reasons why. In the comics, Slade has always been depicted as a cold, calculated mercenary who's always one step ahead of his target. While The CW show played on those traits, it also brought out an emotional side of Deathstroke. He was someone who just wanted to do right by someone he felt was wronged.
Deathstroke would return to Arrow for several guest spots, including a fantastic appearance in the Season 5 finale, where he teams up with Oliver to fight Adrian Chase. Bennett's final run as Deathstroke came in Season 6 as he tried to locate his long-lost son. Following an emotional two-episode run where he learned his boy had become a villain in his own right, Slade left on a personal journey to right his wrongs, completing one of the most incredible villain arcs in superhero television history.
With Titans, DC Universe took a similar approach to Arrow, making Deathstroke a dark figure from the team's past -- someone they would rather forget. Previously, Slade was tasked with killing an Amazonian art dealer who had a close connection to Wonder Girl. As the mercenary attempted to complete his hit, Donna's love interest, Garth, aka Aqualad, stepped into the way and took the bullet. When the Titans discovered the identity of the shooter, they decided to go after Slade using his son Jericho.
The group's plan would eventually lead to Jericho accidentally being killed during a fight between Robin and Slade. Everything was peachy keen until the Titans reformed after their defeat of Trigon, causing Deathstroke to rejoin the fray and began devising a plan to get back at the people that took his son from him. To start, he used his daughter, Rose, to break Doctor Light out of prison to distract the Titans. Rose would then infiltrate the team herself, acting like a wounded duck who needed saving from her evil dad.
Unfortunately for this version of the Terminator, the series decided to wait until the penultimate episode to fully reveal his plan, making it much less clear. From the get-go, Morales' Slade was a stoic adversary. It was almost like he was a caged beast waiting to be set free, but he never really got the opportunity.
When the Season 2 finale rolled around, fans expected to see Deathstroke become unhinged and finally get the revenge he was searching for... except Titans had other plans, as it "killed" the season's big bad within the first 15 minutes of the episode. What came after was a lackluster conclusion to the sophomore outing that didn't include its most crucial figure.
So, while Morales' portrayal of the Terminator laid the groundwork for becoming an all-time villain, he was let down by a disappointing conclusion. Conversely, on the other side, the powers that be at Arrow realized early on that Bennett's iteration of Slade was something special and could become a mainstay in the Arrowverse.
Streaming now on DC Universe, Titans Season 2 stars Brenton Thwaites as Dick Grayson, Anna Diop as Kory Anders, Teagan Croft as Rachel Roth, Ryan Potter as Garfield Logan, Curran Walters as Jason Todd and Conor Leslie as Donna Troy, with Minka Kelly as Dawn Granger, Alan Ritchson as Hank Hall, Joshua Orpin as Superboy, Chelsea Zhang as Rose Wilson, Chella Man as Jericho, Drew Van Acker as Aqualad, Esai Morales as Deathstroke and Iain Glen as Bruce Wayne.